“Your measurements — as scary as they may be — can help you determine your body type.Wavebreak Media/Thinkstock
It turns out architecture is important for more than building skyscrapers. The overall shape of your body creates the basic framework and contour of the clothes you wear. A big basement or modest mezzanine can have an impact on how you look in, say, a pencil skirt or V-necked sweater. Knowing where you shine or where you need some clever camouflage will help you choose more flattering clothes, and probably save you a little money and a few embarrassing missteps, too.
Nobody’s perfect, and that’s kind of comforting. Really. Those super skinny fashion models may look great, thanks in part to airbrushed photos and starving themselves until they have practically no shape to begin with, but the rest of us usually have at least a few body image issues to contend with. From pouchy tummies to butts that shift south a little further with each passing decade, our bodies are our ever-changing temples, where time, gravity and a genetic disposition to carry those few extra cookies around our hips can create dressing challenges. The good news is that clothes are great at accentuating the positive and eliminating the negative — well, concealing it anyway.
Body typing maps the human form and offers practical wardrobe solutions for common problems. If you look like an avocado in those green tights or think you may have had a waist once but it probably took a train for the coast a couple of decades ago, keep reading. We’ll share what you need to know to identify your current body shape and make the most of it — or least of it — depending.
For this little tutorial, you’re going to need a full-length mirror, ideally a three-way mirror. What’s with all the screaming in horror? This is important. Once you know your shape, you’ll be able to recognize your fashion friends and enemies at 10 paces.
Before you start evaluating your physical flaws, take a second to remember who you really are first. You are a soldier in the trenches: You probably work, clean, cook and still try hard to do it all with good grace. You wash hundreds of loads of laundry a year, run errands and pay bills. You’re a mother, lover, daughter and friend. You’re a lady when it calls for it and a street fighter when things get tough and Superman is on a break. It’s a brave new world, and you may just be the bravest part of it, so give yourself some credit.
Now, grab a measuring tape and meet us on the next page.
Female Body Types Explained
We have mixed feelings about body types. They suggest that it isn’t OK to look just exactly the way you look right now. There does happen to be an ideal shape for the female form in Western culture, though. It’s somewhat curvy with a definite waist indentation that has nearly equal proportions top and bottom. It’s called an hourglass figure, and generally, fashion favors that basic shape more than any other. If your body isn’t smaller at the waist and balanced at the bustline and hips, you may need a little assistance in creating the illusion of an hourglass to appear more balanced in the clothes you wear.
What follows is a list of basic female body shapes. Don’t be too anxious if you’re not perfect. Few of us are. During a lifetime, a woman’s body shape can change, and body shape can be modified somewhat through exercise and diet, too.
- Hourglass — An hourglass figure is characterized by balanced bust and hip measurements and a well-defined waist. You can probably wear most styles well. If you have a large bustline, though, you may want to steer clear of turtleneck and other high-neck styles and very baggy clothes that may make you look heavier than you are.
- Pear shaped — A larger hip measurement than bust measurement, often with a less defined waist. Cheats: Wear lighter colors above the waist and darker colors below the waist (minimize with darks and maximize with lights). Stick with A-line skirt styles and jackets with a defined or belted waist.
- Triangular — A variation on the pear shape that also includes narrow shoulders. Cheats: Follow suggestions for the pear shape above and also choose blouses with collars and shirts and jackets with slightly padded shoulders.
- Rectangular — Balanced bust and hips with little or no waist definition. This shape can look either boxy or slender and boyish. Cheats: Create the illusion of curves by wearing fitted styles that taper or belt at the waist. If you have narrow shoulders and hips, look for waist length jackets or sweaters, and pair them with gathered skirts or flared slacks.
- Apple, Oval or Diamond shaped — Little waist definition, a rounded stomach that’s either high or low on your frame, heavy thighs or wide hips (sometimes called saddlebags) and perhaps a pronounced bottom. Cheats: An apple shape can be hard to conceal. One strategy is to direct attention away from the stomach area to your face or another attractive feature (like your hands or legs). Jewelry, scarves and distinctive hair ornaments or hair styles sometimes work. It’s good idea to choose like colors in blouses (shirts and jackets) and slacks or skirts for an overall, monochromatic look. You should also consider investing in quality foundation garments that help lift, support and define your shape.
- Inverted triangle — Unlike the ideal hourglass figure, an inverted triangular shape is smaller in the hips than through the bust and, usually, a nicely defined waistline. Your body can also give the impression of an inverted triangle if you have narrow hips and broad shoulders. Cheats: Opt for darker colors on top and lighter colors on the bottom. Flowing skirts and wide leg or flared slacks also help create more volume in the hip and leg area to create a balanced silhouette.
Are You Vertically Challenged?
It’s possible to have the perfect hourglass figure and still have short legs and a long waist (or long legs and a short waist) in relation to the rest of your body. Here’s a quick test: Measure the distance from the fullest part of your hips to the floor. Now take a measurement from the fullest part of your hips to the top of your head. If the second measurement is about equal to the first, your body is in good proportion top-to-bottom. If the head-to-hip measurement is longer, you have a long torso relative to your legs. If the hip to floor measurement is longer, you have a shorter waist relative to your legs. This comes in handy when you’re sizing separates or deciding whether or not to tuck in that blouse (or wear those low-rider jeans).
Lots More Information
- Tips for Working With Your Body Shape
- What fashions work for women with curves?
- Apples or Pears: Are you dressing appropriately for your body type?
- Hard to Fit Challenge. Thinner Frames
- Hard to Fit Challenge: Broad Shoulders
- Hard to Fit Challenge: Large Bust
- Hard to Fit Challenge: Petite and Curvy
- Hard to Fit Challenge: Tall Women
- 10 Fashion Myths
- 10 Ways to Develop Your Personal Style
- How to Look 10 Pounds Thinner
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- Franklin, Caryn. "Inspirational standard shape fashion tips that will compliment your body shape and wardrobe…" How to Look Good. (3/20/12). http://www.howtolookgood.com/dress-for-your-shape/standard/
- Kelly, Clinton and Stacy London. "Dress Your Best: The Complete Guide to Finding the Style That’s Right for Your Body." Three Rivers Press. 2005
- MIT – The Tech. "Dressing Your Body Figuring Out Fashion." 4/4/08. (3/20/12). http://tech.mit.edu/V128/N16/fashion.html
- News Medical. "Study finds most people dissatisfied with their bodies." 11/21/07. (3/20/12). http://www.news-medical.net/news/2007/11/21/32752.aspx
- Shop Your Shape. "Calculate Your Shape." (3/20/12). http://www.shopyourshape.com/
- Style Makeover. "What’s Your Body Shape?" (3/20/12). http://www.style-makeover-hq.com/body-shape.html