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How to dress to flatter your figure – and why knowing your body shape is the key

A well put-together outfit is all about combining flattering fits and modern or timeless styles, and knowing when to skip a trend is crucial.

By LLM Reporters  |  November 25, 2021
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Shopping for new-season attire has never been as easy as it is today, and now it’s possible to purchase cotton leggings, wrap dresses, high heels, and that brand new ‘it’ bag at the click of just a few smartphone buttons. But despite the obvious benefits of this move into the digital age – which has been further accelerated still thanks to the ongoing pandemic – there are some challenges with online shopping, too.

The process of ordering might be simple, but it’s almost impossible to choose the perfect figure-flattering, shape-enhancing outfit without trying it on first, and often, we’re left with piles of parcels to drop off at the post office as we return the items that just weren’t quite right.

While the risks of getting it wrong are somewhat minimised when shopping with your favourite designer brands – if anyone knows how to create a flattering garment, it’s Gucci, Prada and the like – our differing body shapes and heights make it impossible for one size to fit all. And, if you’re looking to try a new-season trend that you’ve never experimented with before, then the results can be disappointing.

The solution? Knowing your body type, and how to dress for it. A well put-together outfit is all about combining flattering fits and modern or timeless styles, and knowing when to skip a trend is crucial. You might love the look of those metallic midi-skirts on others, but if they just don’t look right on you, then seek out an alternative designed to suit your figure instead, and you’ll thank yourself for it when the compliments start rolling in.

Understanding body shapes

First of all, it’s important to understand the different body types and how they are characterised in order to accurately identify your own. The proportions between the upper and lower halves of the body tend to differ from person to person, particularly where discrepancies lie between the bust and hip sizes. Body shape is also influenced by the broadness of the shoulders and the slimness of the waist, and how each of these relate to one another.

Looking in the mirror can give you a fairly good idea of your body shape – you’ll be able to tell instantly if you are curvier on the bottom or the top, for example. But to accurately assess yourself, it’s wise to take your measurements, or to have someone else do it for you.

woman wearing purple coat
First of all, it’s important to understand the different body types and how they are characterised in order to accurately identify your own

Once you’ve noted the numbers, the next step is to confirm which of the four sections of your figure is the widest. Then, assess how your waist compares to this – is it wider, equal, or narrower?

Many people will find that they are a different clothes size on the top to the bottom, with one larger than the other – while others will find that they are the same. For those who fall into the latter category, shopping for all-in-one outfits like dresses and jumpsuits tends to be much easier – but for the former, it’s still possible to get a great fit if you know what styles are designed to flatter you.

Dressing for your body shape

Body shapes tend to fall into five different categories, and while the names might make them sound overly simplistic – after all, what human is exactly rectangular? – they do serve as a handy guide when working out which garments are likely to flatter your figure, and which aren’t.

The five main body types are:

The rectangle

As we mentioned, no human is entirely this shape, but this body type is so called because it refers to those with similar measurements at the waist, hips and bust – without one element being notably curvier than the others. Characterised by boxy shoulders and a fairly undefined waist, this shape is defined naturally by straight, vertical lines – so the goal here, when dressing, is to create the illusion of curves yourself.

Outfits and accessories that draw attention to the waist are a great place to start, and belts worn on what is generally the narrowest part for most people will nip you in and give you a more feminine shape. Mid or high-waisted pencil skirts and trousers work well, as do belted trench coats – experiment with what you like the look of to create added definition and give you a welcome confidence boost.

Clothes to avoid include anything that conforms to the shape of the body, especially straight lines and silhouettes, must be avoided by those, as they visually stiffen the figure. If this is unavoidable, then again, turn to belts and embellishments to draw the eye inwards at the waist.

smart looking woman
The proportions between the upper and lower halves of the body tend to differ from person to person, particularly where discrepancies lie between the bust and hip size

The inverted triangle

As the name suggests, this body shape emulates an upside-down triangle, meaning that the body is widest at the top and narrows at the bottom. In the inverted triangle, the shoulders are the broadest part of the figure, followed by the bust but contrasted by slimmer hips and thighs. The waist tends to be similarly slim, sloping down to the hips with little contour. 

If this shape sounds like you, you’ll need to buy your tops, jumpers and shirts in a larger size than your jeans, trousers and skirts to ensure you are comfortable in them – so don’t be tempted to squeeze yourself into the same size for both for fear of having to move up one.

Inverted triangles should steer clear of certain necklines, such as halter tops, boat-necks, wide straps, and others that create horizontal lines around the shoulders, as these can further accentuate the width in this area and make you look out of proportion. Instead, opt for deeper-cut necklines such as V-necks and scoop-necks, which will draw the eye towards  your collarbone and bust and create the illusion of more vertical lines from your upper body to slim these features. 

Like the rectangular body type, you should also work on your waist with belted or even cropped tops if you are comfortable in them. To emphasise the hips and add width to balance out your upper and lower halves, wide-legged trousers such as palazzo pants or flares, as well as straight jeans and baggy boyfriend jeans are all great choices.

The apple

In terms of proportions, the ‘apple’ body type can be described very similarly to the inverted triangle in that its defining features are a broader upper body and slimmer lower body. To some extent, it is even a variant of the inverted triangle, but the difference is that apple-shaped bodies tend to carry weight around the waist, resulting in a rounder overall shape. 

Because of this subtle difference, apple-shapes should take a slightly different approach to the inverted triangle, distributing focus between the upper and lower halves to draw attention away from the waist. 

Begin with a top that fits just right – neither loose nor tight – and combine that with straight-legged trousers to show off the shapeliness of the legs, which are often the best feature amongst apple-shapes. Of course, you could also start building your outfit from the bottom up – there is no right or wrong way to do so. But steer clear of bold colours or patterns on one half and opt for similar colours or colour palettes across the board so as not to highlight one half over the other.

Fashionable outfit slim tall lady
A well put-together outfit is all about combining flattering fits and modern or timeless styles, and knowing when to skip a trend is crucial

The pear

This body shape is the opposite of the inverted triangle, and comprises narrow shoulders complemented by wider hips and thighs. While the pear does also resemble an upright triangle as well, it is more commonly likened to the fruit due to the characteristic curve of the hips and derriere. 

The goal for pear shapes is to accentuate and draw attention to the upper half, so don’t be afraid to experiment with colours, prints and tactile fabrics to add volume and create a sense of balance to your figure overall. Embellished tops and jackets are another great way to make the most of this shape, so don’t be afraid to try out this season’s festive sequined tops.

Sweetheart necklines, boat-necks, and wide-strap tops all do well to bring attention to the shoulders while giving some semblance of broadness to balance the width of the hips. A benefit of having a smaller upper body is that your figure lends itself well to layering, which works well in the winter, when jumpers, jackets and scarves are essential to keep warm.

In terms of fit, it’s important to note the importance of ensuring the garment you opt to wear on your upper half is neither too long nor too short. Crop tops can further emphasise a smaller upper body – and thus, in turn, a wider lower half –  while a shirt that reaches down the hips can pronounce the width of this area too much and make you look several sizes larger than you actually are.

The hourglass

Perhaps the rarest body types on this list, the hourglass shape is widely idealised for its natural balance and proportion of the upper and lower halves of the body. Although this body type does also have the tendency towards a larger bust area, this is often considered to be an attractive feature and adds additional feminine curves alongside the hips and derriere.

Hourglass body types will likely want to show off their figure with form-fitting clothes like dresses, pencil skirts, and miniskirts, but the best option overall is a V-necked wrap dress. A key trend right now, they accentuate a narrow waist and offer a flattering fit to curvier parts of the body, without clinging or bulging in any of the wrong places and giving you a smooth and attractive silhouette.

Most trouser styles can be worn by the hourglass, but mid to high-waist varieties are the best choice if you’re eager to show off your waist whilst avoiding accentuating your hips. 

There are few clothing styles that hourglasses should avoid, but leaning towards softer, stretchier fabrics is a top tip for creating an all-round flattering outfit. Avoid thick or inflexible fabrics, as these will create rigid contours and stiffer lines, which will do a disservice to your natural curves.

Although body shapes vary from person to person, it is crucial to remember that figure is no indicator of beauty or fashion potential, and no matter what your natural shape, there are plenty of ways to make the most of it. And, armed with the right knowledge to see shopping success – even online – there’s no time like the present for a winter shopping spree.