Denim jackets, figure flattery, and Burning Man

Here's some navel-gazing, with a related K/R:

I just got back from Burning Man (it was so cool to run into JAileen at my grocery store stop on my way!). I've been going to the festival every few years since 2005, and it's always fascinating.

If you search google for photos, you'll see that the fashion is out of this world. But you'll also notice that women's outfits are skewed towards the very sexy side of things. That's not really my style. Since I'm often working on large art installations, my usual look is a cowboy hat, tank top, black denim shorts or short skirt, and tall Frye boots. Less sexy, more practical, maybe with a post-apocalyptic vibe. At night, I either wear a more interesting outfit (silver leggings, silver crop top, a few layers of warm jackets) or a practical flight suit / coverall (mine is flame resistant, warm, and dustproof!). My friends, though, have some fantastic outfits, and every year, I wonder whether I should put in a bit more effort.

That gets me to figure flattery. When I'm there, I wear skin tight leggings with no compunction. When I'm back in the default world, though, my style definitely leans towards relaxed and JFE. Five years ago I wore black skinnies, fitted tops, stompy boots -- the outfits that my local friends wear and consider cool and attractive. Styles shifted overall, and I traded in my super-skinnies for boyfriend or high-waist vintage jeans, my fitted tops for relaxed buttoned shirts, etc. But the people around me are wearing fitted clothes and they look awesome.

As I near 40 I've been thinking about this more. Why am I avoiding the figure-flattering look that my friends value? Have I overdone it on the relaxed fits? My relaxed look feels very me, but I do like my figure...

And that leads us from navel-gazing to a practical decision: this jean jacket. Jean jackets are a staple for me, but I haven't had a great one in years, and I've been searching. Everlane just released this great solid black, rigid denim option. It's boxy but not huge. I think I love it. But I also wonder if I'd be happier in one of the more flattering, figure-hugging options out there, like these two from J Crew and Banana Republic. Am I making myself look too shapeless?

What say you? Is the Everlane jacket The One (for now)? I think it's very true to my usual style. I almost wonder if I should size up for an oversized look?

This post is also published in the youlookfab forum. You can read and reply to it in either place. All replies will appear in both places.


  • Joy replied 5 years ago

    That jacket looks very much your style. I like the one that you are wearing, but you know best what you will want. At 40 do not even try to compete with the younger attendees. You have a wisdom and sophistication they can only dream of.

  • Gretchen replied 5 years ago

    The jacket looks great, and I think fits your style. Wonder if it might be a good bridge if you want to start exploring more fitted options - pair with some skinnies, or a more figure hugging top? 

  • karen13 replied 5 years ago

    So I love that jacket on you andI think you have to go with what you are feeling. I definitely have different standards of comfort in different situations, I have a ton of gear. I hike/ski/workout almost every day and if I’m going to get sweaty,or if it is hot or cold I place comfort and function way above even JFE. My looks then are ridiculously unattractive and it doesn’t really bother me much. I’m going to sit 8n front of geyser for a week laterthis month, and my outfits are not going to be flattering in any way, shape or form. But I value the being physical comfortable more in thos extreme situations. And pockets!!!

    That being said, I think you should experiment with some more fitted looks to see how you feel. Photograph them, Post or not, but wear them to see how you feel. Then you f you like the, and want to tweak them, ask for ideas.

  • Jaime replied 5 years ago

    Interesting issues. I have gone through a similar thing with makeup as I have gotten older - why is everyone enhancing and spotlighting while I am correcting and ignoring. Anyway, I do like the jacket for you and think you should have both sorts - second hand is always good for denim jackets I find.

  • Sal replied 5 years ago

    It is interesting - I have been pondering this and I don't have an answer - just a series of thoughts,

    - If you like your own style, then there is no need to change it - you have an original and cool look.
    - however there is no reason why you can't tweak your style to fit a change that you may be feeling....we do evolve and what is right at a different stage can suddenly feel wrong

    When I was in my 20s I did a lot to avoid being thought of as the young blonde girl (at work, travelling, in bars etc) and I never wore body con, short or sensual looks - it might have been partly the 90s look - but I fought this despite being at my physical peak:)  I worry less about these things now.  I feel more confident and less worried that wearing a dress will make someone underestimate me.

    I would feel free to experiment - it might only need to be one or two pieces - it might be a tweak - it might reinforce that while your friends look good in their style - you want your own look.

    WRT to the denim jacket - I do like it and see it actually as flattering as styled here.  You can carry off volume well.  I think fitted denim jackets look best over dresses and I am considering one for this use.

  • Jenni NZ replied 5 years ago

    Having watched your style for 20 months I like it more and more. Once I told you yours and my style were completely opposite- but now I think what is similar about them is trying to dress in the way that WE want, not what anyone else wants. Of course what we want can change and that may be a subtle style shift, I think I'm having one in the past few months. But I don't personally think that what your friends want to dress like needs to influence you too much so long as you feel yourself and feel attractive to yourself and your boyfriend. I really like the Everlane jacket, looks very you and very cool. If you can actually avoid society's inexorable need to make us feel unattractive as we age, kudos. It seems ridiculous to me from the vantage point of 57 how upset people get about ageing even in their late 20s. That whole rubbish about staying 29, crazy-making. I don't think the jacket makes you look shapeless, either.

  • Style Fan replied 5 years ago

    I like your style.  It is interesting, cool and true to who you are.  I also think it is flattering.  I like the Everlane jacket on you.  It looks very flattering to me.  There are many ways to be attractive.

  • Jessikams replied 5 years ago

    A very meaty post. Many thoughts:
    - re the jacket, I have one million jackets so of course my answer is “buy a few different ones!” Fitted and boxy jackets serve different purposes: fitted may look better over a dress, big can fit over a sweater, long can cover a midriff gap nicely, etc.
    -the more interesting issue is “body con.” I am also just about to turn 40. I find that lately I wear things that really show my body. Not necessarily showing it OFF in a sexy way: rarely cleavage or whatever. More like, I’m not embarrassed or trying to hide “flaws” anymore. Most noticeably, I wear tight high rise jeans although I have really short legs and kind of a big booty. Perhaps the culture has shifted and it feels ok now to just have whatever body you have and not try to mask it.
    -I think you have a lot of freedom here, and no need to succumb to a feeling of time pressure or a need to show your body now “while it looks good.” With our improved diet and exercise, bodies look good much longer now. And there’s so much inspiration out there: older ladies who are not afraid to say “look at me!” (Iris Apfel, Accidental Icon etc). You have all the time in the world to play with your look, I think. If you’re changing it means you’re still alive!
    -so cool that you do installation art. Applause.

  • Jenni NZ replied 5 years ago

    Jessikams, maybe we have JLo and KimK to thank that it's OK to show booty now?! "It only took Jennifer Lopez for women to stop asking Does my bum look too big in this? and start asking Does my bum look big enough in this? instead" ?!

  • ChrisM replied 5 years ago

    I love your willingness to be open to change but true to yourself.

    The outfit shot is just you. Fantastic! (Love the gladiators - what brand?)

    Maybe tweaking the proportions might give you the change you need. I like your idea of oversizing a black denim jacket a lot (here’s where thrifting would be handy), then also consider slimming up the trousers a little.

    If you can, like Sal, look to the confidence that age brings. I would not go back to my 20’s or 30’s for anything, so it’s tough to look there for inspiration. I also like Jenni NZ warning about the pressure to feel somehow “less” as we age.

  • Kathie replied 5 years ago

    I like your tightly cultivated, minimalist aesthetic, and the relaxed looks are very much a part of that. But, I agree with everyone who’s encouraging you to try some fitted looks, even if only in a dressing room. Then try to picture yourself at work, out for an evening, etc. and decide if that’s a style direction you want to go. It may only be for a couple pieces, to give you a slight change of silhouette on occasion.

    The jacket looks great- I wouldn’t bother to size up. But, why not try the J Crew one as well? Especially if you have trouble finding good denim jackets.

  • cindysmith replied 5 years ago

    I love your style! I say choose whichever one you think you will wear the most. I think that the everlane one looks great on you

  • RobinF replied 5 years ago

    I like the jacket, it doesn't look unflattering to me. I agree with the advice you have received above though, it can't hurt to give one or two things a try and see how it feels. 

    Love the sandals!

  • jussie replied 5 years ago

    I also like your style. I think you’ll find your friends admire your super-cool outfits and wished they were as stylish lol. I know it’s not cool to say “super-cool” but I can’t help it :).
    As for the jacket, I tend to stick with the traditionalist advice to pair an oversize garment with a fitted one to balance it, so I’d try it with skinny-ish pants or a distressed biker legging. It would be nice to put it over a chunky knit in winter...
    In terms of the body con issue..... my confidence has been very beaten up because of coming of age in the Kate moss/heroin chic era. I always felt way too “big” to wear any type of figure hugging garment, even when I was 21. I still struggle with it a bit but am slightly better/more relaxed now.
    Good luck with your style shift. Just go with it I say.... :)

  • Elizabeth P replied 5 years ago

    I love your style, and I think the Everlane jacket is perfect for you.

    I say experiment with a few more body con pieces for socializing with your friends... see how it feels.  But never feel your style NEEDS changing... cuz you've got it nailed.  I've also moved away from body con (not that I was ever super into it) and more into relaxed pieces, I just find them more comfortable. 

    And thanks to you, that BR jacket is now in my shopping cart... :).  I'd love a black one suitable to wear with dresses, which this appears to be.

  • LaPed replied 5 years ago

    I think there are a couple different facets to this question. There's the issue of how you want to present your body to the world, but there's also the matter of how closely you want to adhere to the norms of your peer group. I know that for me, personally, I tend to be uncomfortable when I look just like everyone around me. I remember feeling a little frisson of disappointment this summer when I started noticing culottes and cropped wide legs everywhere. I still enjoy wearing them, but not as much as when they still felt new and different. I don't consider myself a trend chaser at all, and am pretty picky about the trends I buy into. I also don't think of myself as someone who dresses to stand out from the crowd, but I do like to stand apart from it. 

    Cultural and personal values aside, I can see a fitted denim jacket being a useful thing for you to have in addition to an oversized one. Use it over dresses, or paired with wide leg pants or skirts. Granted, I'm someone who likes to have a wide range of silhouettes to play with, everything from bodycon to oversized, and I would get bored easily if I tried to limit myself. Adding a few fitted items to your repertoire doesn't seem like a style 180 to me, just a matter of wanting to tweak your current look or introduce more variety/versatility.

    Also, I hope we get to see some examples of your installation art...

  • replied 5 years ago

    Adding my agreement with the others who think your personal style is really fantastic, and that you have honed it down well. BUT, I completely understand (because I think it has happened to me)  the inner fear/voice suggesting that figure flattery has been subsumed in the desire to create a "look" .  Not sure if I'm interpreting your thoughts correctly, and my articulation is limited by lack of sleep and lack of coffee .  Anyways - I know nothing about Burning Man (I've always thought it to be that meeting in the desert of alpha males pounding their chests around a fire, and I gather I'm grossly misinformed - haha) , but those events can be great motivators to restart the creative fires , sartorially speaking.  Anyways - I think the Everlane jacket looks great on you. 

  • Janet replied 5 years ago

    Great, thought-provoking post. I agree with a lot of what Jessikams said, as well as LaP and Elizabeth.

    No shame in zigging when other people are zagging — I think it’s kind of fun to buck environmental norms a bit, especially as an artist. But if you’re feeling a bit more like exploring some more fitted silhouettes, why not? I personally really like the idea of an overall fitted silhouette but with an open, oversized topper — showing and hiding the body simultaneously. I could see you doing this really well.

    I love your style and admire how well it seems to capture “you.” I think that jacket looks great.

  • JAileen replied 5 years ago

    What?! As you near 40? Obviously you are very careful with sunscreen, because I would never have guessed.

    The jacket looks great on you. I like the overall look, too. A jean jacket is so useful in the Bay Area. I was down visiting my mother last month and wore a white jean jacket nearly the whole time. It was cool, but not cold, and the jacket was just right for the fog/smoke, breeze, and AC.

    As you ponder this fit choice, you can always dip your toe in the water. Test out a different look. If you like it, fine.

    We had a creepy young neighbor who went to Burning Man several times, to ogle women.

  • Angie replied 5 years ago

    KILLER look.

    Greyscale, our styles evolve and this is where you want to be right now - especially for your academic setting. Who knows how you'll feel next year! And it's also fun to keep a very specific look - like the sexy body con one you're referring to - for a very specific setting. Makes it more meaningful. 

  • replied 5 years ago

    The jacket fits well as is, and looks a good length for skirts, but always good to have options. Do you have a specific festival capsule with the leggings or just otherwise wear your usual? If not, cant hurt to have one!
    And levels of body con to relaxed are really up to your comfort zone. It can depend on the setting, time of year, or tbh hormonal cycles how you feel (at least for me). Something that feels perfectly normal most of the time may feel all wrong for a few days.

  • Stagiaire Fash replied 5 years ago

    A bangin body looks great in non-fitted looks. There is a term for it that I can’t remember, but the idea is that by not putting it out there on stage, you draw a different kind of attention to it. So no, I don’t think this jacket or your other jfe items make you look slouchy.

    It sounds to me like you’ve got 2 questions going on: fitted or not, and how much to fit in with what’s going on around you. Thus far you’ve aimed for the middle of the pack, maybe even slightly to the more modest side of wherever you are—so if others are topless at Burning Man (you must be laughing at the impressions we all have), you’re comfortable in leggings that you wouldn’t wear elsewhere, because it is all measured relatively.

    Maybe, as you near 40, you’re questioning how much you want to set your scale according to your surroundings. Obviously, the answers will differ depending on the setting. I think the lilac professional looks are great for that setting. But in other settings, maybe you want to be more unmoored from the pack (fleet?).

    Anyway, that jacket looks great on you.

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