Shape and Style

Posted by Jill Chivers in My Story

Hello and welcome to blog #92… Way back in July, I posted a working definition of “shop your wardrobe”.  I talked then about the building blocks of a truly working wardrobe.  These building blocks are:

  1. colour — knowing what colours bring out your best — physically and emotionally  (we explore this in detail in Month 5 of the Shop Your Wardrobe 12 month online course)
  2. style and shape – knowing what your own shape is and how to dress for it.  Not somebody else’s shape, or the shape you had two years ago.  That doesn’t work.
  3. personality – dressing for who you are, in all the many roles that you play.  Clothes play a part in informing and expressing our identity, which is also one piece of this jigsaw puzzle (we explore this in Month 3 of the Shop Your Wardrobe course)
  4. lifestyle – having a wardrobe that supports the lifestyle you have, vs the one that you fantasize about or you had 3 years ago
  5. mixing and matching – ah, here’s the key to unlocking the hidden potential in many wardrobes.  Knowing how to do this properly is the thing that will turn your wardrobe from working “I only work union hours” to “How high was it you wanted me to jump? No problem!!” (we explore this in more detail in Monhth 2 of the Shop Your Wardrobe course)
  6. shopping consciously – only bringing into your wardrobe items that you truly need and will fill a gap.  As opposed to that random, dazed or frenzied approach to shopping that many of us have been doing where literally anything could end up in our wardrobes… even crazy things like a military-inspired poncho.  Not that I have personal experience of such things, naturally… Shopping isn’t the answer, I’ve discovered.  It isn’t even the question…. (we explore this in more detail in Months 4, 7, 8 and 11 of the Shop Your Wardrobe online course)

Well, dear readers – guess what?  I’ve blogged about all of those topics (that’s the underlined ones – if you click on those words, they’ll take you to the posts written on that topic) except one… Yes, one ole lonely topic remains unexplored.  And that’s what we’re going to talk about today.

Shape and Style

So we all know about Trinny and Susannah.  Altogether I’d say they are a force for good, although I can’t say I agree with everything they do (they probably feel the same about me.  Oh wait!  They don’t even know me… riiight).

One of the things I agree with them about is that we should dress for the shape we have.  This is a great concept and relatively easy to apply.

It’s certainly preferable to the alternative.  Which often comes in the form of:  “I’m a size 12 and that’s all that’s it, and any item of clothing that does not have the word “12” in the label of it, I won’t even try on let alone buy”.  That kind of mentality when shopping for clothing is is just not helpful.

Particularly if you know anything about the sizing conventions that the fashion industry, er, uses (or doesn’t, or mis-uses, or manipulates).  That number in the label of that piece of clothing?  Weeelll, it’s not as random as which celebrity is going to end up in rehab this week, but it’s not far off it.  Don’t get hung up on it.  And if you’re really worried about it?  Chop that label out as soon as you get home (don’t do it in the store – they don’t like it).

What I don’t agree with Ms’ Trinny and Susannah about are the names they give their shapes.  Brick.  Bell.  Skittle.  Cornets. Vase.  And that’s not getting onto the food item labels.  I don’t even know what some of those inanimate objects are (is a skittle something that you knock down with a bowling ball, or a confectionary item you buy at the supermarket in a packet?) let alone how they could conceivably be applied to a living breathing human woman’s body.

Who wants to be a brick? I sure don’t!

Does any woman seriously wish to identify with a “brick”, I ask you?  I just can’t imagine anything less appealing.

In what way is that label, or metaphor, or however it’s meant to be thought of…. how is it affirming a woman’s sense of herself as attractive and desirable?  “Erm, well, your body resembles a piece of formulated potted clay mixed with sand, pressed into an object of extreme utility and ugliness.  But, please – do feel good about yourself now you know this about yourself and you have embraced your inner (and outer) brickness“.


Women’s Body Shapes come in two distinct categories, with endless variation on these two themes.  Women’s bodies are either:

  • curvey or
  • straight or
  • a combination of both

That’s it.  No musical instruments or confectionary items required to describe your body shape.  (how does one dress a Cello, I wonder?)

Many years ago when I worked as an image consultant, I came across these images which are kinda cute:

They are two examples only (out of many) that illustrate a woman’s body shape.  One is curvey and the other straight (hands up who can guess which one is which??  Oh – too easy, huh?!).  When you know what body shape yours is, you know how to dress for it.  Or at least, you have some clues.  All bodies leave clues, and not just the ones on the slab in episodes of CSI.

How Do you Tell?  The easiest way to tell what your body shape is to wear something form fitting (a black unitard is the ideal garment, but not many of us have one of those lurking in the back of our underwear drawer… so a swimsuit does nicely, as does regularly underwear… we should all have the latter lurking somewhere in our drawers, yes?) and look in the mirror.  A good full-length mirror in proper light.  Many of us have those strange mirrors that, no matter what image is presented to us, sends the message of “OMG, you are completely hideous“.  You don’t want to use that mirror.  It’s not going to give you an accurate reading.

And… So What?  This is the kicker in the question.  Once you have an idea about your body shape (which is likely to be something like:  “where am I curvey?” and “where am I straight?” and  NOT “am I cruvey?” or “am I straight?”… and yes, we are still talking body shapes here, people)…. then you have a big whopping clue in how to dress.

Dressing for your body shape so you feel and look fabulous must take into account these four things:

1. Accentuating.  The long-held principle about dressing for your body shape is that you dress exactly like your body shape… so curvey ladies wear curvey (flowy, soft, drapey) clothing.  Well, that’s true if you want to accentuate that body part.  I worked with a woman who had a large bust and she was seriously considering having a breast reduction she was so self conscious about it.

We talked about how those “curvey” tops (round-necked t-shirts, turtlenecks, anything conjuring up the words “sweater girl”) accentuated her bust… if she didn’t want to do that, she had to dress in the opposite — so… v-neck tops were the way to go (and here’s a a bonus tip for any big-breasted woman who wants to camouflage that part of her body – a v-neck wrap top is your best bet – soooo flattering). Not that there isn’t a place for our 1950s blonde bombshell below, right?

So, don’t apply the “dress exactly like my body shape” principle wholus bolus, ok? It depends entirely on what you are seeking to achieve, GF. You want to accentuate your long neck?  Wear a plunging neckline – your neck will look as long as a giraffes.  You want to camouflage that same swan-like neck?  Wear a turtleneck or a scarf around it.

See what I’m saying here?

Can you see me?

2. Camouflaging.  This is the opposite side of the same coin.

Large ankles?  don’t wear shoes with straps that go around them – wear a sturdy heel with what’s called an “open vamp” where the shoe finishes near your toe and then there’s skin — glorious skin — all the way from your toe cleave up to your… knee.

Full rear-end?  Don’t wear a jacket or top that stops at that widest point — wear something that skims over the widest point and finishes where your body is slimmer — if this means you are wearing duster-length tops and jackets that finish at your knees, then that’s what it means.

Large upper arms?  Don’t wear cap sleeves (and don’t flap your arms around too much, activating that excess flesh- it can frighten small children and some wildlife) — instead wear a sleeve that comes at least to your elbow if not a three-quarter length sleeve that is not too tight.

And that’s just a few of the “large/full” body parts that we could talk about all day and half the night.  I do know of some women who are seriously concerned about their thinness, and so there are legitimate “too small this” or “too small that” body parts, as well.  I get that. There are camouflage options for almost every conceivable body part that you can imagine.  Except perhaps a head that is too large or too small.  That’s a tough one to camouflage.

3. Fabric and drape.  Here is a key that is rarely talked about when it comes to shape and style.  The fabric that an item of clothing is constructed from makes all the difference in the world to how that item looks on your body.

For example, I look good in straight skirts (not that I own that many) – but if they are in a stiff fabric (like a heavy cotton for example), they don’t look as good as if they are in a drapey knit fabric.  Same construction (straight) but different fabric — resulting in a  very different look. Dare I say, a more flattering look.

Nana knew a thing or two about the drape of a garment. She lived a kaftan-rich life.


The fabric that is going to look best on you depends on how much, er, flesh is on your frame.  Fleshier bodies tend to look good in drapier fabrics.  This does not mean you end up looking like Nana Mouskouri in her famous kaftans.  No.  There is such a thing as too much drape. And some things truly are best left in the 1970s.

But do consider the fabric of the item you’re wearing, not just its cut.  There’s a reason why v-neck tops in drapey fabrics tend to look great on big busted ladies.  The shape is ‘straight’ and the fabric moves with their bodies.  Perfecto!

So don’t just look at the cut and shape of the item you’re wearing – like many things in life, you need to look at what it’s made of.

4. Cut and shape.  So the final piece of the style puzzle is the cut and shape of the item.  Anywhere you put a curve shape on your body, it’s going to soften that part of your body. I once had 4 jackets altered so that the front panels were curved, rather than the straight edges I bought them with.  They softened the midsection of my torso where that part of the jacket sat.  Niiice!

Jackets everywhere! Which one suits you best?

Long deep V details (in tops, shirts, jackets, skirts, shoes …. even earrings) will draw the eye vertically (giving the ole “she looked me up and down” look its name).

Boxy jackets that finish at the hipbone will draw the eye to that part of your body (unless it’s over a dress of the same fabric, which just reduces the effect, not eliminates it entirely).  If you are a very thin, this can be a flattering effect – it gives your body some shape.  Otherwise, use with caution.

An a-line skirt that flares out at the knee will have a completely different impact than a bell-shaped skirt that tapers in at the knee.

A grandpa-collar jacket that buttons to the top will create a different optical effect than a one with double-notched lapel and a single button.


Come – join us!  Rainbows!  Unicorns! We have it ALL! You see what I’m saying here about body shapes and clothing styles, right?  There’s only so much a 2000 word blog posting can do, I know that… so if you are interested in any of this stuff in more detail, you can Google it and try to work it out for yourself.

Or your capacity for internet-inflicked pain is at a low threshold, you might like to take Door #2 and join our program here – we’d love to have you join us!  In Month 5, we’ll give you the sweet and lowdown on style.  You’ll love it.  No bricks in sight. Now that’s a relief.  Right?

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