Body shapes and Waist Length Guide

Everyone’s heard of the body shapes: pear, apple, hourglass, and rectangle. Knowing which of these four you fall into is a giant step toward maintaining balance and proportion. Confidence is not enough: you can’t fight what nature gave you. If you’re unsure where you fall or what they all mean, read on.

The basic body shapes

I’m a lumper, not a splitter, and unlike the current trend which creates up to twelve or fifteen body shapes, I believe every woman’s body is a variation on the core four shapes.

  • You are a pear if your hips/butt/thighs dominate, your waist is defined, your bust is smaller and your shoulders are narrower. You gain weight in your butt and you may be called “hippy.”
  • You are an apple if your bust dominates, your shoulders are broad, your waist in undefined, and your hips/butt/thighs are narrow. You gain weight in your mid-section and you may be called “busty.”
  • You are an hourglass if your bust and hips are equal measurements and you waist is at least nine inches smaller. Your shoulders may be broad and your thighs may be thicker (essentially you’re a pear and apple combined, with the waist). You gain weight everywhere. You may be called “curvy.”
  • You are a rectangle if your bust, waist, and hips are all fairly streamlined with no significant differences in measurements. You may be called “skinny.”

The best technique is to create a stripped down silhouette of your shape, or your favourite celebrity’s shape, and your eye will instinctively be drawn to your dominant region. That is how I determined the celebrity twins for the shapes.

Note: If you have breast implants, refer to your natural shape because this will determine your weight gain, which governs your body shape.

Scale of body shapes.

Scale of body shapes.

Easy, right? It all comes down to a combination of skeletal structure and distribution of fat cells. Picture each body shape as a justice scale, one scale marked “bust” and the other marked “hips.” The pear has more weights on the hips scale, and the apple has more weights on the bust scale (the hourglass shape is considered “balanced” with equal weights on both scales). When an apple wears a billowy, unfitted blouse with skinny jeans, she adds more weights to the bust scale and nothing to the hips scale. In reality, she should add weights to the hips scale to achieve balance.

Dressing the body shapes

Pears

Pear shapeThis the most common shape for women. You may have a chest, but it won’t compete with your hips.

Yay’s

Anything that brings attention to your top is great. You can do ruffles, sequins, cowls, bright colours, multi-colours, shoulder-pads, flowing fabrics, patterns, you name it. Necklines include boatnecks, round-necks, high-necks, turtlenecks. Narrow shoulders are feminine, so sheers and cuts that highlight them.

Your waist is defined, so show it off! Belts are your best friends.

For pants, think of any pant leg style that balances out your hips: flare, bootcut, straight, along those lines.

Dresses that wrap or hug your figure, particularly if the embellishments are above your hips.

Coats should be nipped at the waist and should hit past your hips, closer to your knees.

Wear pants that fit both your waist and your hips. A defined waist means defined hips.

Bring up your waist by dividing your outfit above your hip line.

Drapey dresses and belts bring the eye to your hips.

Nay’s

Any necklines that emphaize your narrow torso and smaller bust: v-necks are especially problematic. With wider hips, pointing out your narrow top can call to mind a bowling pin – great for bowling balls, not so great for looking balanced.

Loose, un-fitted tops that hide your waist. Coats that hit at the hips or above.

Full skirts or dresses that are too short so that they just emphasize your butt instead of your butt filling out the skirt.

The skinny leg and the peplum skirt. These perennial trends draw attention your hips in a very bad way.

Celebrity twins: Beyonce, Tina Fey, Jennifer Lopez, Katie Holmes, Sandra Bullock, Christina Aguilera, Kate Middleton, Taylor Swift, Kate Winslet.

Apples

Apple shape

Your waist may be slightly defined but your large bust and narrow hips are very dominant.

Yay’s

Open up that bust! Operative word here is “open.” A vertical neckline will pull your shoulders in, making them appear more feminine and sloped, and minimize your lack of waist. V-necks, square necks, sweethearts, you name it. If it shows skin and hints at cleavage, wear it. Don’t let cleavage go too low – no matter what you wear, your bust stands out so hinting is better than being blatant. Love higher necklines? Keep them tight and use colour patterns to break up the shirt.

Billowy, straight-leg pants will minimize  your narrow hips and balance out your top.

Full skirts and flared skirts that hit at the knee give the illusion of hips. Dresses with embellishments on the lower half will draw the eye downward.

Nay’s

You’re the opposite of the pear. Avoid anything that draws attention to your top: sequins, ruffles, structure, bold prints, etc.

Figure-skimming skirts and skinny leg pants will just emphasize your narrow hips and bring out your wide torso.

Avoid belts of any width.

Celebrity twins: Angelina Jolie, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jessica Simpson.

Hourglasses

Hourglass shape

I’m pretty strict about who in Hollywood is an hourglass. It’s all about your fat, so hourglasses should be soft and curved and the waist should be obvious. The typical athletic routine is a death sentence to the hourglass, and it is the shape most susceptible to being ruined by core strengthening exercises because these bulk up the waist and weight lifting bulks up the already-broad shoulders and arms.

Yay’s

The key is to balance both top and bottom. Your narrow waist ties together your bust and hips. If you do nothing else, cinch your waist. Observe the chosen figure to the left.

Your big bust needs to be broken apart with open and preferably vertical necklines: v-necks, square necks, round necks, etc. Boatnecks can work as well if your shoulders aren’t terribly broad.

Your hips are dominant as well so wear wide-leg pants that echo your curves.

Pencil skirts and fit-and-flare skirts (fitted at the hips and a flared hem) were made for your type. Pencil skirts highlight your awesome thighs and flare skirts echo your waist and hips.

Nay’s

Great cleavage, a great waist and great legs can spell disaster if all are emphasized together. Too tight, too much cleavage, and too short bring you into an undignified territory that should be avoided.

Your shoulders tend to be broad and your thighs are thicker, so especially avoid structured tops and short skirts.

Unfitted waists – this is the most serious mistake any hourglass can make. Frump, frump, frump!

Again, the skinny leg pant. That pant leg is the worst pant leg I could wear, total disaster.

Belts can be problematic for a short-waisted hourglass, though if it is very skinny and a matching colour to your outfit it will cinch in your clothes without emphasizing your bigger bust.

Celebrity twins: Scarlett Johansson, Sofia Vergara, Sophia Loren, Salma Hayek (hey, all of their names start with S).

Rectangles

Rectangle shapeThe boyish/skinny/athletic/scrawny/ruler/boxy figure – so your chest is small, your waist is fairly straight and your hips are narrow. Don’t be dismayed! You have the ideal figure for wearing clothes that give the illusion of a shape – it’s like a clean canvas. You have to work the hardest but you can wear (almost) anything – you really only obey two rules.

Make sure you’re not just a skinny pear.

Yay’s

Tops: Flowing, flouncy, soft fabrics. Ruffles, sequins, anything curved and soft and anything that draws attention to your upper torso and shoulder areas.

Create a waist by belting a loose dress.

Flared pants will give you curves. Skinny jeans can look good on you if you’re tall!

Focus on full skirts, loose dresses, anything that gives you curves and doesn’t emphasize your straight lines.

Nay’s

Structured clothes, box shirts, shoulder pads.

Horizontal necklines highlight your broad shoulders, but a plunging neckline will highlight your small chest. Avoid both.

Celebrity twins: Cameron Diaz, Gwyneth Paltrow.

Torso length and waist length

An area that I have only recently begun learning about, but it has helped my style tremendously and I have solved a few dilemmas and mysteries surrounding why certain waistlines were downright unflattering. To begin, torso length is determined by measuring from the base of your neck to the top of your hip bones – standing straight, the measuring tape straight and taut. You can have either a short torso (like me) or a long torso (like my mother).

Short torsos are seventeen inches and shorter, and long torsos are, obviously, eighteen inches and longer. The primary problem a long torso will run into is that waistlines on skirts sit too high.

Then there is waist length. Standing straight, how many fingers can fit between your lowest rib and the top of your hip bones?

  • If you can fit less than three, you are short-waisted.
  • A hand is a balanced waist, and more than a hand is long-waisted.
  • The four body shapes tend to favour a certain waist length, and so this can indirectly confirm your body shape as well. Pears tend to be long-waisted, hourglasses tend to be short-waisted, and apples fall in the middle (I think…).

Where you break up your outfit is key to balancing waist length: your natural waist is usually not the best place to put your belt, pant or skirt waistline. Find the most proportional waistline height and use that. Measure that waist measurement and always keep it in mind when shopping. Your waistline might grow or shrink, but that proportion should stay the same.

Leg length is not as important in my book, because I think it partially determines your height, and height has little influence over proportion. Even a petite woman obeys the waist length rules, but she’s shrunken.

Short-waist tips

If wearing pants/skirt and a top that is tucked in, break it up slightly below your naval – give your bust some room.

If not tucking in your shirt, wear a shirt where the hemline falls naturally just below your naval.

Don’t belt if you can help it, and avoid dresses that have elastic waistbands.

Wear a slightly-structured blazer that hangs just below your naval.

Long-waist tips

A low-rise skinny jean on a long-waisted woman can emphasize her shorter legs and long torso. I once saw a waitress with a distinctly long torso and short legs; she wore petite skinny low-rise jeans – she was all torso and her legs looked like stumps.

Break your outfit apart closer to the natural “pinch” in your waist – high waist skirts can work wonders on  you.

Wear bolero jackets, short cardigans, and long necklaces that hang where you want to split your figure.

Belts are your best friend as you have lots of torso to cover.

In summary…

First determine your body shape, and then your length of waist. These combined give you a powerful, finely-tuned tool to help you wear the most flattering clothes possible.

As long as you’re “confident”

If the dress was cerulean, not sky, blue...

If the dress was cerulean, not sky, blue…

You can wear any colour as long as you’re confident.

Sound familiar? That’s the favourite easy advice of fashion “experts.” Part of me thinks it’s a ploy so that you don’t regret buying that trendy colour even though you look positively sick wearing it.

With our subject to the left, that brunette in sky blue is impeccably styled and yet she looks… washed out. Do we see her confidence? I don’t think so.

I believe that when you look good, you will be confident. This requires objective knowledge of what flatters you. I know that I am stylish from within, but we’ve all been there: the perfect new outfit laid out in my closet the night before is a horrendous disaster in the morning. My confidence is zero, and I will not leave the house until it is at full throttle. On the flipside, we all get that little extra bounce in our step when wearing our favourite (flattering) skirt or shoes. You know the irony of it, though? We can trick ourselves into thinking we look good and thus feel confident. For example…

I am a winter, but I naively acquired pieces in oatmeal or pale lavender. I wore them proudly. I didn’t know any better, and I thought I looked good. I was confident. In reality I looked horrible, but I was confident that I looked good. See my point? Confidence is very subjective and it should not be relied upon – I have completely lacked confidence when taking style risks that ultimately improved my look, and my confidence increased from there.

If Zooey, a classic winter, had selected this dress in any jewel tone, or since her eyes are blue, a vivid blue instead of sky blue, she would have hit it out of the park.

Forget confidence in a vacuum. This means investing in a body-length mirror and a well-lit room, acquiring clothes in shades that flatter you, and dressing your figure. No exceptions, if’s, and’s, or but’s. Confidence will come from within.