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Finding The Right Dress For Your Body Shape

Over the years, I've written, discussed, debated and presented more times than I care to remember on this subject but feel I should revisit on the blog as I've had several requests.

Finding the right dress - shouldn't be too difficult should it? I mean, we've got literally hundreds of shops that we can choose from these days. I guess that's part of the problem, too much choice. Totally and utterly overwhelming.

So, let's strip it right back (not literally because that would be rude) and work with just one shop. I've chosen Boden as unlike some retailers, they do seem to cater for different shapes.

Google body shape and you're bombarded with pictures of apples and vases and funnels and cornets. Confused much. Basically it all boils down to the same things with different names. A bell, a triangle and a pear are all identical body shapes. For the purpose of this exercise let's keep it pretty simple and work with the following terms:

Neat Hourglass - Full Hourglass - Triangle - Inverted Triangle - Lean Column - Rectangle - Round

1. Neat Hourglass

The clue is in the name - 'neat'. Everything is neat...bum, bust, shoulder line. All evenly proportioned so you wear the same size top and bottom and typically you're a size 10 or smaller. Think Kylie Minogue. If this is you, I hate you (lol).

You obviously have a cracking figure and so should show it off. I'm not talking Nell Gwyn naked or anything but your best dress is one that hilights your figure (let's say skims as opposed to clings). Wearing a sack style will actually add pounds to your lovely frame. You don't need to correct any proportions as you're perfect in every way!

I've chosen a simple style dress that will really make the most of your figure. Nipped in at the waist (always a winner on neat hourglasses), neat over the bust and hips.

Boden Daisy Dress 

It's quite a structured piece but to be honest you can do a softer fabric too. The choice is yours. I do actually think you have it easy as there are so many styles you can choose from.

2. Full Hourglass

So you're this shape if you are curvy and evenly proportioned. That means, shoulders and hips are the same width, you have a defined waist and a full bust. We're talking Marilyn Monroe.

You'll look your slimmest when you show your waist. I can't tell you how many ladies I've come across that cover up in sacks because they're too embarrassed to show off their curves. Your dress should follow your body line but not cling. And fabric is key. Stiff material will stand off your curves and add pounds to your frame. Look for fluid, soft fabric without too much volume. You don't need to correct any proportions, your main aim is to concentrate on not building up any area at all.

This dress ticks every box. The fabric is perfect - soft and fluid.

Boden Broderie Jersey Dress

The neckline is low but not so low that you risk falling out of it, nipped in at the waist and skimming  over the hips. Honestly this is a fabulous cut for a full hourglasses.

3. Triangle

Also known as a pear shape. You're this shape if your shoulders are narrower than the hips. You'll have a defined waist and full hips or thighs. Your top half will appear smaller. Leona Lewis is a typical triangle, as she gains weight it tends to go on her bottom half.

Right, there's a few secret tips that we need to discuss here. What we are trying to achieve is a balanced top and bottom half, obviously you don't have this. So, we need to create the illusion. How? Easy. We can build up the shoulder line through use of wide necks, patterns on the top half, brighter colours, detailing on the shoulders such as epaulettes. One really easy fix is the cap sleeve which widens your shoulder line. Turning to your bottom now, you'll probably be quite curvy. A soft fabric is essential so it drapes over your bottom and thighs. Dark, plain colours are excellent as they minimise. Oh and show off your waist. Be grateful you've got one, some of us don't!! In essence, show of your waist, highlight your top and minimise your bottom half.

And as if by magic Boden have designed a near-perfect dress for the triangle.

Boden Summer Sun Dress

Look at the cap sleeve how it broadens the shoulder line and balances wider hips. The neckline detailing in this area also helps. Nipped in at the waist and draping softly over the hips and bottom. I'd grab this in both colour ways (it also comes in white but the top half works so hard at balancing that a lighter colour will be fine) if you're a triangle.

A final note, this is one area where I could really have an argument with Gok Wan. He ALWAYS recommends a halter neck. No No No. What is the shape of a halter neck dress? A triangle. Why would you want to put a triangle on a triangle shape. All it does is hilights your.......triangle.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

4. Inverted Triangle

You've probably guessed that this shape is the opposite to the previous one. Your shoulders will be wider than the hips. It's unlikely that you will have a defined waist and your bottom will be quite flat. Rebecca Adlington is this shape, quite typical for a professional swimmer.

This time we need to minimise the top half and build up the bottom. Forget wide necks and details across your top, they really will make you look wider. Look for plain, dark fabric with possibly a v neck that draws the eye down and away from this area. A simple, uncluttered top half. You can go to town with your bottom half by building up the hip area...pockets in dresses, stiffer fabric that stands off the hips, patterns and bright colours.

The dress I've chosen has some of the elements that you should look for. A plain upper and patterned below the waist. Absolutely no detail at all at the top. The eye won't settle on a plain, boring area when there's something much more exciting going on on the skirt. Result! We've diverted the eye from the shoulder line.

Boden Zig Zag Dress 

Had this been a halter neck, it would have been the perfect dress for an Inverted Triangle ;-)

5. Lean Column

We're talking skinny gazelle catwalk models here. Narrow shoulders, small waist (possibly non-defined), narrow bottom and a small bust. Erin O'Connor is a lean column.

To be honest, some women love this look and why wouldn't you, it's so gazelle like. But if you're hankering after a few curves, then there are a few tips you can take on board. If you're flat chested, look for dresses with detail in this area - ruching and frills are good (as is pattern and any detail). Use texture and layering to cut up your torso. Wearing say a plain green midi pencil dress can make you look a little runner-beany, adding a knitted cardigan and textured tights breaks up the 'long' effect and creates interest. Obviously a winter solution (a.k.a. today brrrrrrr!). Hilight your waist, belts are great and use a stiffer fabric that stands off the hips giving the appearance of curves. Soft drapey fabrics will literally hang from you as you don't have curves - avoid like the plague!

The Elsa dress has detailing around the bust area, making it difficult to see whether there's actually anything there or not so that's the boobs sorted. It hilights the waist and the skirt stands off the hips giving the illusion of curves.

Boden Elsa Dress

All in all, not a bad choice for a lean column.

6. Rectangle

I often hear ladies saying that they're an apple shape when in fact they're a rectangle. It's important to identify your shape as wearing 'apple' clothes will do you no favours at all. You'll have a straight shoulder line, flat bottom and straight hips, no waist and a straight ribcage. You may carry weight around your tummy and have a defined bust. This is where ladies go wrong, they automatically think 'apple'. I'm struggling to find a celeb with a rectangle body but probably Susannah Constantine back in the day of Trinny & Tranny. Oh and me! I'm a rectangle.

Avoid detail at the waist, stomach and bust. Really this area should be kept uncluttered. Simple clean lines. Your dress should have a straight line (think pencil dress) or a loose shift. As a general rule, I've found these two styles are the most flattering. With regards to fabric, a drape will hang from your frame (in a bad way) so a slightly more structured fabric works best. BUT if you have a bust then you might want to consider a slightly softer material to accommodate. Tricky one I know. The most important thing is to ensure that the dress line is straight overall and that you feel comfortable in it.

This dress is pretty much working for a rectangle. The lines are straight and uncluttered (if you ignore the pattern) and the neckline is a simple v.

Boden Bluebell Dress

If your smallest point is just underneath your bust, an empire line could work really well for you. It gives the illusion of curves without having to hilight the non existent waist.

7. Round

Also known as the apple shape. You'll have a rounded shoulder line, curved back and carry all of your weight around the middle with a flattish bottom. But oh boy, do you have great legs. Dawn French is a typical round.

The single most important point for rounds is fabric fabric fabric. It should always be soft and fluid that hangs well. Stiff material will stand off your curves making you look bigger than you actually are. Look for dresses that hang from the shoulders with a straight line that follow the body but don't cling. Too much volume will of course add pounds to your frame. Keep everything simple and uncluttered but use lots of chunky accessories to make it your own.

The Pintuck dress is not far off the mark. I would have preferred to show you a sleeved version so you can see it hanging form the shoulder line. Can you see how it drapes from the top and the line is straight.

Boden Pretty Pintuck Dress

And as I suggested, keep the dress simple, you can then accessorise it with lots of chunky bangles and an oversized necklace.

But you know, all that said, there's always exceptions to every rule. Sometimes I look at women and the dress they're wearing and think, 'how on earth does that work'. Because sometimes it just does. But hey, you know me, I love a bit of rule breaking.

I'm actually on a dress mission myself. We've got a big event coming up in June and of course I have nothing to wear. Last year it was full on sequinned ball gowns. It's not my bag. So I have to find something that I love but won't look too out of place. Any help gratefully received. Anyone...? Have you seen anything that would be appropriate for a rectangle with a Soft colour palette. See! It's not easy is it finding the perfect shape in the perfect colour.

Think we'll tackle how to wear white next time. Off to do a bit of research. I may be a while.

13 comments on "Finding The Right Dress For Your Body Shape"
  1. Thanks for the comment on the blog Donna! See I love it when you do these types of posts - it's complicated to me yet fascinating - think I've worked out which one I am! It's very apt you should post this today as it's Day Dress theme on #mystylechallenge over on Instagram - hope you don't disapprove of my choices! Good grief if ever we get to meet I'll be sweating like a pig with nerves in case I'm wearing the wrong thing! ;) xx

  2. Thanks Jenny. Yes I love your choices, totally cool. Hey, don't think I get it right all of the time because I don't. But as I get older, I kind of 'get' what suits me x

  3. I am as confused as ever :( But hey, that's ok, cos I haven't worn a dress in years and imagine it will be another few months before I will again ... so I've time to figure it out!!!!

  4. Hi Donna....you have made my day...I decided I am probably a neat hourglass...let me know if you think differently...scrolled down to my shape and you featured the Boden Daisy Dress I have chosen to wear for my sisters wedding....does that mean that at 44 I am finally making the odd correct clothes decision...yay :-) xx

    1. Kareema that's perfect for you. It's so, so pretty x

  5. Fab blog post Donna - lots in here to help us all!

  6. So interesting Donna, I am not too sure what I am....but I will probably guess a petite triangle....if you know what I mean?!! It seems Boden have a fab selection for all shapes and sizes at the moment. You have chosen some really gorgeous dresses here!!
    Helen xx

    1. Thanks Helen. They have got some great dresses this season haven't they. All very wearable x

  7. Unlike my colour palette, body shape is one subject that I'm completely certain about! I've always been a pear, even with not an ounce of fat on me as a child my bottom half was bigger than my top, so I guess there's no fighting it! I do love the shape of a cap sleeve, as my arms are quite toned, although I'm always drawn to the kind of dress shape that you've given for apples. I must stop doing that - they're never flattering on me! :-D

    I'm loving these posts by the way. I imagine they're quite labour intensive, but they're massively useful. Thankyou! xx

    1. It's almost impossible to change your body shape as often it's determined by our bone structure. But sometimes Becky you love something so much you have to wear it regardless of whether it's the most flattering shape. I say, wear and enjoy x

  8. Can I be a neat triangle?!! Lol! I'm no Kylie but think that's what describes me best! These posts are so helpful Donna. My BFF is looking for a dress to wear to a wedding so will make sure she reads this! x