This colour doesn't flatter you

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Senior Member
Hi everyone :)

I was wondering how often do you use the word flatter to mean make somebody look attractive, suit somebody. Do you hear people use it that way, or would it be rather uncommon? Do I run the risk of being laughed at, if I say "This hairstyle doesn't flatter you" or "This colour doesn't flatter you"? I take it that most people would simply say "You don't look well in this hairstyle" or "This colour doesn't suit you".
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  • DocPenfro

    Senior Member
    English - British
    If I were you, I would stick to "suit you" for all occasions. You are on safe ground with this one.

    "This colour (etc) doesn't flatter you" is suggesting that the person's natural looks are so unimpressive that they are in need of a bit of artificial enhancement.

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    You're giving me ideas, Doc. I've been in need of a bit of arificial enhancement for some time now.

    I think the Doc is entirely right to warn you not to use this expression, Dreamlike. It's too dangerous.


    Senior Member
    American English
    I've been in need of a bit of arificial enhancement for some time now.
    More information than we needed, perhaps . . . . :eek:

    I don't think it has quite those negative connotations in the US, gentlemen. I should check with my wife tonight, but possibly someone more in tune with these things will help us out.

    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    I don't think there is a big problem with the negative connotation DocPenfro suggests. Talking to friends about clothes etc we say things like this to each other, we also say "it doesn't do you any favours" which is similair.

    These terms are certainly current and usable.

    Whether you can get away with such personal comments is more to do with your relationship than the exact words you use, in my experience. Best to avoid the whole topic unless you are on very good terms with someone!
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    Senior Member
    Thanks for all your insights.

    I agree with you, suzi. You have to know a person well to comment on the appearance, or discuss things that either enhance it or not, for that matter. Even if you have a close relationship with somebody, this topic is sometimes best avoided. I have a friend who's a very self-conscious person, and can be easily offended. His appearance is a sore point with him, so I'm better off not trying to give him any advice about it.

    So, the bottom line is, not everyone agrees on the point made by Don:
    This colour doesn't flatter you = you're looking for the colour that will make you look more attractive than you really are - and this is not the right colour
    This colour doesn't suit you = you don't need any enhancements - but you look better in other colours (the colour in which one looks well differs from person to person :))

    Then, would "flatter" and "suit" mean the same thing, the only difference being that of register/formality?


    Senior Member
    English - Canadian
    In American English I don't think there's really any difference, in meaning or connotation, between "doesn't flatter you" and "doesn't suit you" but "doesn't flatter you" isn't as common. It's more common to use "flattering" (e.g., "That color isn't flattering" or "that isn't a very flattering color").


    Senior Member
    English - American
    The phrase "doesn't flatter you" disparages the color, not you. It is <negating an opposite - whatever the technical name for that is> to avoid the negative phrase: "makes you look worse". There is good reason to avoid the negative; it sticks in the mind and makes you feel bad about yourself, in spite of the fact that nothing negative has actually been said about you. It makes no distinction between "extraordinarily beautiful reduced to really beautiful" and "unattractive reduced to completely ugly", yet "looks worse on you" can only make you feel as though the latter was intended. Instead, "doesn't flatter you" can almost connote that you don't need to improve your beauty.

    (AE) I would expect to hear it from a saleswoman trying to sell a different dress or a different color of make-up (she might even be correct). Less often I might expect to hear it from an actual expert on choosing colors that do flatter (in the sense of "make existing appearance better*"). Note that this makes no assumptions about the actual level of beauty possessed by the subject; it merely states: "Colors exist that will improve it, but this isn't one of them".

    I wouldn't use it unless I actually was an expert on the subject.

    * This actually is one of the meanings of flatter.
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