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Dressing For Your Body Shape Series | Identifying Your Body Shape

Let's revisit body shapes. I've had so many requests and it's been playing on my mind since Christmas. Easter is knocking on my door so it's time I rolled up my sleeves and got down to business.

I thought we'd start by looking at the different body shapes in detail so that you can (hopefully) identify your own. Then over the next few weeks, we'll put this knowledge in to practice. We'll look at how to choose the best pieces of clothing for your shape:

1) Trousers and jeans - click here to find your perfect trousers and jeans styles
2) Skirts click here to find your perfect skirt styles
3) Dresses
4) Tops
5) Knitwear - click here to find your perfect knitwear styles
6) Jackets and coats
7) Activewear - click here to find your perfect activewear & fitness wear styles
8) Swimwear

And anything else I (or you) can think of along the way.

I've written about body shape before and so rather than reinvent the wheel, I've regurgitated, sorry I mean updated this to kick off this series.

So here goes...

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.

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

In summary

Look for:

- fitted styles to show off your figure
- belted styles to show off your waist


- clothes that hide or swamp your figure

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 and Kelly Brook.

You'll look your slimmest when you show your waist (look at Kelly above). I can't tell you how many ladies I've come across that cover up in baggy shapes because they're too embarrassed to show off their curves. Your clothes should follow your body line but not cling (yup, Kelly is normally a victim of the cling-on). 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 or bulk (I'm looking at you Kelly ↓↓). You don't need to correct any proportions, your main aim is to concentrate on not building up any area at all.

In summary

Look for:

- clothes that follow the body line
- waist definition
- soft, fluid fabrics


- clothes that either cling or swamp your figure
- stiff fabrics

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. Beyonce is a typical triangle, her weight tends to go on her bottom half.

Right, there are 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.                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

Hilighting the hips will emphasise the fact that they're wider than the shoulders. You don't want to do this! Kim K might be game, but it's not for real life is it? Take a look at this photo...

In summary

Look for:

- neck lines and shoulder lines that build up these areas
- plain dark bottoms
- clothes that show off the waist but drape over the hips and bum

- stiff fabrics on the bottom half
- clothes that stand off the hip

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. And, a straight, clean and sharp bottom half to hilight your bottom and hips. The dress above is perfect for Rebecca.

Emphasising the shoulder line will make you look very broad. Have a look at this!

I want to chop off the sleeves of that dress!

In summary

Look for:

- plain neck and shoulder lines
- uncluttered and clean cuts
- crisp fabrics with structure


- anything that hilights your top half such as embellishment on the shoulders
- drapey fabrics

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 will want to hilight it. 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 tops/dresses with detail in this area - ruching and frills are good (as is pattern in fact, any detail). Use texture and layering to cut up your torso and play with proportions: cropped trousers/long jackets for example. Colour blocking is also good!

Wearing say a plain green midi pencil dress can make you look a little runner-beany, Soft drapey fabrics will literally hang from you as you don't have curves - avoid like the plague!

In summary

Look for:

- detailing such as frills
- colour blocking
- stiff fabrics


- drapey fabric
- one colour top top bottom

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 and/or wide ribcage. You may carry weight around your tummy and have a defined bust. This is where ladies go wrong, they automatically think 'apple'. Sarah Ferguson is a rectangle. Oh and me! I am too.

Avoid detail at the waist, stomach and bust. Really this area should be kept uncluttered. Simple clean, straight lines. 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 overall line is straight and that you feel comfortable in it.

In summary

Look for:

- straight lines
- no clutter
- fabric with structure


- drapey fabric
- volume around the tummy area

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. 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. And show your wrists, we all have nice wrists and keep everything in proportion.

In summary

Look for:

- drapey fabrics from the shoulder line
- clothes that don't swamp the figure


- stiff fabrics
- too much volume

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

Something I'm asked regularly is, what happens to your body shape when you lose or gain weight. Well, there isn't really a straight answer to be honest. A full hourglass will become a neat hourglass but a triangle will always be a triangle because of bone structure. Something to bear in mind for the future as you may have to adjust the way that you dress. And this is also applicable to age because yes, our body shapes may or may not change.

I hope you'll stick around for this series of posts and do feel free to share things that have worked for you. We'll kick off with trousers and jeans, so watch out for that one.

Right I must zoom, off to see our daughter in London, just a quick 24 hour stop over. We're off to Theatreland tonight to see The Phantom Of The Opera. As it stands at the moment, I'm going nowhere as I'm still in bed writing this post.

Got to go, catch you after the weekend.

8 comments on "Dressing For Your Body Shape Series | Identifying Your Body Shape"
  1. This is so interesting, thank you! At 5ft 4 and small framed I have always classed myself as petite and wondered why petite clothing doesn't fit or suit me, or why oversized stuff swamps me. According to your blog, I am a neat hourglass, which makes perfect sense now. I have been looking for a dress for a graduation and now know that I need to look at fitted rather than flouncy (shame as I rather like the flouncy midi dresses). Thanks once again.

    1. Me too, I like floucy and midi but not with my shape. At least knowing what doesn't suit, saves us time trying on stuff that we look pants in!!!!

  2. I'm looking forward to the rest of this series of posts. Any advice on this subject gratefully received. I think I am a larger​ busted short waisted rectangle. I agree that uncluttered lines work well for us. I wish I could wear tucked in tops but just can't, but I have discovered through trial and error that a dress with a waist seam on the natural waistline will work well for me, provided the dress is structured with waist darts and either a straight or full skirt. But yes too drapy or too much volume on me is not good.
    Hope you have a fantastic weekend Donna. X

    1. Your technical knowledge of cuts and patterns is amazing Elaine x

    2. Wish it was, you're too kind. I'm just a beginner​ with a lot of enthusiasm! Hope you had a nice weekend. X

    3. It was fabulous Elaine, everything was perfect x

  3. Based on this I'm a neat hourglass which is quite interesting. I definitely need to tone up more but I'm the same size top and bottom with a waist. I have massive runners legs though, I swear each of my legs weighs at least a stone each, ha ha! I think I'll make a note of this and do some Googling, thanks for this Donna :-)

    1. Yes I'd say you were a neat hourglass Lou although not sure what bits you need to tone up, you have an amazing figure x