The Body ‘Con’

Whether or not we like to admit it, we are all fashion victims to some degree. Even if we never waste a cent on glossy magazines and laugh at TV make-over shows, we are still hostage to whatever is trending on the world’s catwalks. No sooner have the flashbulbs popped in Paris and Milan, than the high street stores are busy whipping up their own, more affordable, copies of the designer collections. That said, some styles translate more easily to the general population than others. A post office mail bag might look great on a size zero model, with the right shoes and makeup, but most of us carry a little more padding – and it isn’t necessarily evenly distributed padding, at that.

The good news is that many of the best known models also fall far short of what most people regard as the ‘hour glass’ ideal. For magazine features, designer clothes must often be tucked and pinned to give the impression of a perfect fit. Even for models, creating the illusion of a perfect body shape is a lot to do with smoke and mirrors.

So what about the rest of us? If you are anything like me, you have probably, at least once, craved a fabulous dress that you’ve seen in a photo or shop window, only to find, when you try it on, that the proportions look wrong or it just doesn’t fit properly. It’s hardly surprising, given that most ready-to-wear clothes were originally styled on a perfect size 10 hour glass mannequin with average B-cup bust. Nevertheless, each fashion outlet adapts the latest trends for its own target clientele so, as long as you know what to look for, you’ll be able to pick out the most flattering styles in any given season’s fashion offerings. The trick is to understand the proportional relationship between your shoulder width, bust size, waist definition and hips. Once you understand your underlying body shape, successful dressing is then just a simple matter of compensation.

Here’s my guide to pulling off your own body ‘con’. The outfits below are all adapted from commercial sewing patterns from this season’s catalogues.  However, to better illustrate the effect of the styling, I’ve included a miniature version of the naked figure onto which I drafted the dress design.

Hour Glass - highlight your trim waist with a shaped and fitted dress

The Hour Glass

The key features of the hour glass are proportional shoulders, bust and hips, with a nipped-in waist. Naturally, given the nature of clothing design and manufacture, the neat hour glass is the easiest to dress. Practically any style will work but, if you happen to be blessed with this ‘ideal’ body shape, you may as well show it off to its best advantage with shaped, fitted and belted styles that follow your curves and highlight your trim waistline.

Similar styles will work for a full hour glass figure, i.e. those with proportionally larger bust and hips, but still exhibiting a well-defined waist. The keys to success in dressing a fuller figure are to create smooth lines with open necklines and vertical detailing, highlight shapely legs and avoid fussy details that might accentuate your already generous bust and hips.

Pear - add width and detail above the bust to balance out generous hips

The Pear

So often you hear about the pear body shape in the context of an article about weight or health. But this really isn’t fair. Just because your hips and thighs are proportionately larger than the upper half of your body, doesn’t necessarily mean you are overweight. A classic pear has a trim waist and an average bust size, so a little compensation to even up the balance between your top and bottom will have the compliments flowing in no time. Square up your shoulders. Choose wide oval, square or boat necklines, or deep V necklines. Choose styles with neck or shoulder detail, or tailoring detail such as princess seams, tucks or rouching to focus attention above your bustline. At the same time, minimize your hips and thighs by avoiding detail in that area and steer clear of jackets and tops whose hemline hits your widest point.

Inverted triangle - minimise wide shoulders by adding a bit of volume at the hip

The Inverted Triangle

Someone really ought to think of a more flattering name for this body shape. The inverted triangle is the reverse of the pear, having broad shoulders, a full or average bra cup size, trim waist and narrow hips. In fact, this body shape is often the fruit of hours in the gym and is typical of swimmers and other multi-disciplinary athletes. On the other hand, while you may have enviable upper body muscle tone, bodycon dresses or outfits with close-fitting skirts often appear disappointingly baggy below the waist.

Unsurprisingly, to balance up your narrow hips with your broader upper body, you need to soften your shoulders, highlight your trim waist and add volume and detail to your hip area. Happily, the current trend for retro 50’s styles, with nipped-in waists and full skirts, could be right up your street. Choose styles with deep V-necks and that give the impression of clean vertical lines above the waist, keeping patterns and detail for the bottom half of the outfit. Contoured belts and waistbands help with waist definition. Circular skirts, a feature of 50’s styling, or those with flared panels or soft pleats will add volume to your lower half.

Lean Column - add texture to your bustline and volume below your waist

The Lean Column

Now, really, you ought to be a doddle to dress. You are the darling of the fashion world. You are the kind of girl who can eat anything and everything and no one ever understands where it goes. You have a naturally narrow frame, small bust, flat hips and butt, and very little in the way of waist definition. You are, in fact, Kate Moss!

On the other hand, it would be nice to at least give the illusion of feminine curves. To do this, your clothes need to highlight and add volume to your hips and bust, while making the most of your naturally narrow waist. The easiest way to do this is to add detail and texture to your bustline and volume below the waist. Rouching and ruffles work well for you, with a wide neckline, and may be a puffed sleeve to add width to your shoulders. Semi-fitted dresses work better on you than a clingy bodycon. Add volume to your hip area with a smooth flared skirt or soft pleats, rather than lots of gathering.

Rectangle - choose semi-fitted styles that just skim the bust and hips

The Rectangle

This is me. My weight has crept up in recent years, but my overall shape has remained relatively unchanged:  straight shoulders, a broad rib cage, a flat bottom, and an undefined waist that no amount of diet or exercise can ever significantly improve. If you recognise yourself from the above description, it is likely that you too are a rectangle.

Until relatively recently, clothes shopping was a pain. My sizing would appear to vary wildly, even within the same store. The problem is actually not the sizing but the style. All clothes are designed with a certain amount of ‘ease’ allowance. Different styles allow for different amounts of ease. A close-fitting dress will be designed around an hour glass ideal and will have just enough ease to allow for reasonable movement, whereas the sizing of a shift dress will be determined by the bust measurement and could have several inches of ease to create a very loose fit elsewhere. Somewhere in between these two extremes lies Nirvana in terms of dressing a rectangular frame. The trick is to minimize the volume of your waist, while giving the illusion of curves.

The best plan is to keep everything sleek and uncomplicated. Steer clear of styles with puff sleeves or droopy shoulders. Clothes should hang from your natural shoulder line. A streamlined look is what you are after. Choose semi-fitted styles that just skim the bust and hips, without drawing attention to your waist. By the same token, avoid wide waistbands and belts. Wherever possible, go for straight vertical lines that will tend to elongate your figure.

Apple - styles with vertical design details create a slimming effect

The Apple

The apple is characterised by a general roundness of shape:  rounded shoulders, wide rounded back, a bit of a tummy, wide hips and a flattish bum. In terms of stylish dressing, the good news is that a lot of the advice for those with a rectangular body shape, works well for you too. Once again, the aim is to deflect attention from the waist area, this time by focussing attention upwards, and to streamline your overall silhouette with straight lines.

Completely avoid tops that end over your abdomen. Choose long line jacket and cardigan styles, whose hem is at finger-tip level. Avoid stiff fabrics that will add bulk.  For the most slimming effect, choose styles with vertical design details like princess seams, deep V-necklines or contoured panels in a contrasting colour. In terms of printed fabric, tonal mid-sized motifs, uniformly distributed, will work better on you than busy multi-coloured designs. Finally, don’t forget the impact of accessories. A well-chosen piece of jewellery is an effective way to create a focal point above the bustline.