Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Body Conscious: How to Dress to your Shape

It’s happened to all of us. You fall in love with a picture in a pattern book or magazine, rush out to buy the pattern, find the perfect fabric, make the garment, then absolutely hate the way it looks when you put it on. Most of us accept this as one of the pitfalls of sewing. After all, you can’t exactly tell how a particular style is going to look on your body before you start to sew. Or can you? Learn how to identify your figure type and choose styles that flatter it and you can leave these fashion blunders behind.

The first step is to determine your figure type. Most body shapes fall into four basic profiles: hourglass, triangle, inverted triangle, and rectangle. To determine which category you fall into, stand in front of a full-length mirror (wearing undergarments or a leotard) and take an objective look at your proportions. Focus your attention on the differences or similarities in the size of your shoulders, bust, waist and hips. Do you have wide hips and a small upper body? Are your shoulders broad in comparison to your hips? Do you have little or no waist definition? Determine whether or not your body proportions are narrow, average or wide and record your answers in the chart below. If you find this difficult, ask a friend to provide an objective assessment.

Flatter Yourself
Once you’ve determined your figure type it’s a simple matter to choose clothes that accentuate your best features and minimize the drawbacks. Vogue Patterns makes this easy by including a Figure Flattery Key (left) on every pattern catalog page and envelope. (You’ll also find them in the “Guide to Backviews and Fabric Requirements” in every issue of Vogue Patterns magazine.) To see if the style will be flattering check to see if the symbol for your figure type (rectangle, hourglass, triangle, inverted triangle) is in the bar. Then follow these tips to make the most of what you’ve got!


Boxy figures with little difference in bust, waist and hip measurements fall into this category. Rectangles have balanced shoulders and hips, but lack curves to define the waistline. This figure type is not necessarily overweight. Rectangles can be thin or have a trim athletic build, but their figures have a “straight-up-and-down” appearance rather than a curvy hourglass shape.
Your Goal: Create the illusion of curves and waist shaping.
•Use button plackets and neckline details to draw the eye upward.
•Choose body-skiming styles with minimum shaping.
•Layer vests over tops that fall below the waistline.
•Place pockets or other pattern details at the hips or bust.
•Wear flared skirts and bias cuts.
•Pair short skirts with long tops.
•Use pleats and gathers to widen the hips. This will make the waist appear smaller.
•Place blocks of color or pattern at the waistline.
•Choose styles with belts, waist shaping or peplums.
•Wear wide or boxy styles.
•Use large patch pockets.
•Allow top and jacket hemlines to fall at the waistline; keep them above or below.



This “ideal” shape (which few of us have) is balanced from top to bottom with a trim waist in relation to shoulders, bust and hips. The bust and hips are about equal in measurement and the waist is about 10" (25cm) smaller than the hips and bust. Keep in mind that this figure type isn’t necessarily a model-size 6. Hourglasses can be full-figured and curvy as long as body measurements are in proportion to one another.

Your Goal: Make the most of your curves without overemphasizing them.
•Use contrasting colors, pattern details, and interesting necklines to show off your proportions.
•Elongate the figure with vertical lines.
•Keep upper and lower details of garments balanced.
•Choose slim pants and straight skirts.
•Pair close-fitting tops with full skirts.
•Wear boxy, bulky clothes that hide your shape.
•Overwhelm a petite frame (under 5'4") with big prints, oversized tops, or too-long pants and skirts.
•Choose Empire styles if you have a large bust—they’ll look tent-like.



Most of us fall into this category (also known as pear-shaped). Triangles are bottom-heavy with a small bust and narrow shoulders in relation to their lower body. Hip measurements are significantly larger than bust and shoulders.
Your Goal: Minimize the hips and thighs and create fullness above the waistline.
•Add details such as appliqué, embroidery or textured stitch patterns to the upper body of your garments.
•Use wide collars and necklines (boatnecks are great!) or shoulder yokes to draw attention upward.
•Keep top hemlines well above or below the widest area
of the hips; skirts just above the knee or longer.
•Camouflage heavy hips and thighs with dark colors.
•Avoid pleats, gathers, and in-seam pockets (they’ll gape).
•Hem tops and shirts to hit directly on the hips.
•Choose raglan sleeves or halter styles that drag the eye downward, emphasizing your lower half.
•Place patch pockets, bulky side seams, or tight banding at the hips: instead, use them on top to balance your shape.
•Wear short skirts—they’ll widen your rear view.


Broad shoulders, a full bust, and heavy upper arms characterize this figure. Inverted triangles tend to be top-heavy with wide shoulders and/or a large bust in relation to the lower body. They can be curvy and voluptuous on top or athletic in build.
Your Goal: Minimize the bust and shoulders and emphasize the hips.
•Add details such as pockets, patterning, and textural fabrics to the lower half of garments to balance out your appearance.
•Choose styles with drop waists, peplums, and pockets.
•Use raglan sleeves and V-necklines to draw the eye downward.
•Balance out your figure with full skirts.
•Draw attention down and away from bust and shoulders with border prints.
•Use yokes or pattern details that call attention to the shoulders or bust.
•Place pockets on bodice—they’ll make your upper half appear wider.
•Add details such as ruffles to necklines—instead, keep them simple.
•Layer pieces—it adds bulk where you don’t need it.
•Choose styles with wide lapels or shoulder details.
•Wear Capri pants, miniskirts, and narrow silhouettes—they’ll make you look more top heavy.


The eye is immediately drawn to the hemline, so choose your garment length carefully.
•Keep skirt and shorts hemlines above or below the widest part of your leg.
•Long skirts create a slimming vertical line, but a too-long hemline will overwhelm a petite frame.
•Capri and pedal-pusher pant lengths can make a full-busted figure appear top heavy.
Choose the length of tops and shirts with just as much care:
•A hemline that hits at the fullest part of your hips will make you look wider.
•A hemline that falls below the hip will elongate the body creating an illusion of slimness. Just keep it in proportion to your height—a too-long tunic can overwhelm a petite frame.
•Cropped tops will make your upper body appear wider and draw attention to the waistline.

It's all in the Details

The style and placement of design details such as, pockets, necklines, collars, and sleeves can make or break the figure flattery of a garment.


Pockets (especially patch styles) create width and need to be carefully placed. Keep them away from a full bust or large hips.


Low necklines, V-necks, and shawl collars slim and lengthen, drawing the eye downward—a plus for broad shoulders, but a hindrance if you are trying to draw attention away from a large bust.
Turtlenecks, high necklines, and rolled collars carry the eye upward, shortening the neck and causing the shoulders to appear wider. They can also make a broad upper body seem boxy.
Square and scoop necklines draw attention to the shoulders, while elongating the neck.


Full sleeves camouflage too-heavy or too-thin arms. They also add width to the overall silhouette.
Slim sleeves narrow the garment’s overall shape for a thinner appearance. Just be sure they’re not too tight on heavy arms.
Raglan and kimono sleeves draw the eye down to the lower body, diverting attention away from the shoulders and bust.
Puffed sleeves disguise sloping shoulders and make shoulders appear broader.
Bell sleeves add width to the lower body, making the top half appear slimmer. They also draw attention to the hips.
Three-quarter sleeves create a lean, elegant line, but highlight
the upper arm—something best avoided if arms are heavy.
Fingertip-length sleeves add length and width to a silhouette.
Use sleeve length to your advantage—make arms appear slimmer by keeping the bottom edge of short sleeves above or below the widest part of your arms, and shorten long arms with sleeves that end just above the wrist.



Full, or loose-fitting, silhouettes such as roomy tunics, shift dresses and palazzo pants cover up less than perfect features. They also add width, so choose with care.
Slim, or close-fitting, silhouettes such as shaped jackets, body-defining tops, and slim pants and skirts lengthen the body, creating the illusion of slimness. Just keep in mind that close fitting does not mean tight!
A-line silhouettes camouflage the hips and waistline, counterbalancing a full bustline or wide shoulders.
High-waistline silhouettes, such as Empire styles, draw atttention up and away from the hips and thighs, however, they do not flatter large-busted figures.
Low-waistline silhouettes, such as peplum jackets and drop-waist dresses, can help
balance out a top-heavy figure by adding width to the hips.


Thick torso: Untuck your shirt and leave the last few buttons undone to lengthen and slenderize the upper body.
Pot belly: Choose flat-front pants over pleats for a slimmer appearance.
Large bust: Minimize by choosing tailored shirts (instead of oversized tops) and tuck them in.
No curves: Feminize a boyish figure with bias cuts and diagonal patterns.
Short legs: Slim-fitting pants, and dresses and skirts that hit just above the knee give the illusion of longer legs.
Heavy thighs: Boot-leg cuts and pants with a slight flare will make thighs appear thinner, but skip the bell bottoms if you’re petite.


•If you’ve got great legs show them off in short skirts.
•Baggy clothes and floor-dragging dusters make you look like you’re trying to hide something.
•Slenderize with tastefully-tailored or body-skimming (not tight!) styles.
•Flaunt a trim waist with belted styles or cropped tops that hit just above the waistline.
•Showcase shapely shoulders in strapless tops or portrait collars.

With thanks to Vogue Pattern Magazine


Samantha said...

Where might I find a copy of this to use for educational purposes?

Helen said...

This is taken from Vogue Pattern's website. If you go to and click on tech centre at the top, most of this post can be found there. Happy teaching!

Anonymous said...

hi helen, i'm having broad shoulders n small bust, what should i wear?? i will be having a model casting w a modeling studio this friday, help!!

ynyr_yeng said...

hi helen, i'm having broad shoulders and small busts, what should i wear?? im going for a model casting with a modeling studio this!!!

Helen said...

Hello! Think about your shape in terms of your bottom half, too, much as it may make you weep! I would think about off the shoulder styles that could break up your decolletage and then smooth lines over your torso to create a fluid shape. What's your rear like??! Do you have curves on your bottom half? Try to ignore your bust for the moment, so you can concentrate on balancing your shoulders with your bottom half - are you an inverted triangle (shoulders rather than bust being the larger point for you)... Think about a detail over the bust that could amplify it visually....
But having said all that - strong shoulders are 'in' at the moment, so you may be most interesting for the modelling agency in skinny jeans, slim top and shoulder-strong jacket... To be honest, they'll be able to see past your outfit to your shape anyway, and will take you if they want you, regardless of what you wear!

Good luck and best, Helen

Anonymous said...

thanks for your sharing! great helpful!!!Thank you
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