Over the years, “How do I dress for my body shape?”, or some version thereof, has been the question I’ve been asked most frequently. While dressing for your shape makes style simpler, getting started can be super confusing. I’ve put together some simple guidelines for each shape to help make dressing your shape easier. Before we get started, keep these things in mind.
1. I focus on the 4 basic body types. In my experience, every shape is a variation of these four, or a combination of these four. The more body shapes there are to “learn”, the harder it is to identify your unique shape.
2. Start with your dominant body shape, then look for a secondary, and borrow from those guidelines as needed. If you don’t know where to start, look for the one you identify with the most, and start there.
3. Every body, even those who share the same shape, is different. You may be slightly Apple shaped, or an extreme hourglass. The more extreme your shape is within the category, the more the guidelines will help you.
4. Take the advice that works for you, and leave the rest. Body shape advice should make style easier and more fun, not put you into a rule-following prison where you’re afraid of trying something new. Like Pablo Picasso said, “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist”. Once you know why things work better than others, you can manipulate the guidelines to get the results you want.
5. Learn what body types are, and are not. Check out our podcast episode Body Type Basics to learn more.
Still not sure what your body type is? Take our Quiz.
The Apple shape is characterized by shoulders and bust that are larger than the hips and a waist that is not well defined. Apples often have shorter necks, narrow hips and great legs. This body shape almost always wears at least one size bigger on the top than they do on the bottom.
A common misconception about Apples is that they’re always heavy, and this simply isn’t true. Women of all sizes can be bigger on top than on bottom, and have an undefined waist, or roundness in their midsection. While some women do become more Apple-shaped when they gain weight, there are some who are this shape regardless of what the scale says. Don’t assume that because you’re a size 8, you can’t be an Apple, or that because you’re a size 18, you must be.
The inverted triangle shape is a variation of the Apple. Both are bigger on the top than they are on the bottom, but the inverted triangle shape is more about the shoulders, while the Apple shape is more about the shoulders/bust/tummy. Inverted triangles sometimes have a little more waist definition than Apples but the guidelines remain generally the same. Inverted triangles can borrow guidelines from the Rectangle shape as well, especially if they don’t have a tummy they want to camouflage. Inverted triangles with well-defined waists are rare, but not unheard of. If that’s the case, follow the Hourglass guidelines. (link to the other body shape posts in this paragraph).
The biggest challenges for Apples are finding clothes that fit well, and styles that balance out your body. If you thought it was hard to shop for your Apple shape, you weren’t wrong. Very few retailers make clothes with your proportions in mind, but that doesn’t mean style is out of your reach. With a few tricks you can have the fabulous wardrobe you want.
The goal for Apples is to bring the eye down and highlight the bottom half, while de-emphasizing the upper body. Remember, when in doubt, white pants always look fabulous on you!
Tops & Jackets for Apples:
Because Apples often have fuller busts and shorter necks, open necklines like v necks, scoop necks, or even bateau necklines (that aren’t too straight) are good choices. Avoid necklines that come all the way your neck–you’re better off opening the neckline and showing a little skin.
Keep your tops basic and embellishment-free. Avoid details that add volume like puff sleeves, gathers, ruffles, etc… Although one trick, and I have no idea why this works, is to look for tops that have a horizontal seam right above the bust line. No gathers or ruching, just a straight line. They’re super flattering on Apple shapes.
If you’re in between sizes, choose the bigger size. Apples look best in tops that aren’t super fitted, and don’t cling.
Woven blouses are a great choice, as they glide over your body without clinging, but knits with lots of drape work well too. Avoid structured knits on top, like ponte, or fitted sweaters.
Raglan sleeves are magical, as they draw the eye up and inward, making your top half look smaller. Vertical, set-in sleeves are a good choice as well, but be careful with drop shoulder and dolman tops, as they’ll visually widen your shoulders.
Look for sleeve detail, like ties, buttons, drape, etc…which will draw the eye out from the midsection to your lovely arms. As with any body shape, three-quarter length sleeves will make your midsection appear three to six inches smaller.
Look for tops that end from mid-hip to the top of the thigh. Avoid tops that end right at the waist, and tucking your top fully is not your best look, as it will put a harsh line right across your midsection. My best advice is “Never put a horizontal line across the widest part of anything”.
One styling trick I like to use with Apples is half-tucking a slightly oversized, or drapey top. It conceals the midsection, while giving a little structure, and the slightest hint of a waist.
Layering open cardigans or jackets over a woven or patterned top is a great way to visually lengthen and minimize your upper body.
The best jackets and coats for Apples are unstructured and embellishment-free. Look for straight-cut, single-breasted, or open styles. Moto jackets worn open can also be a great choice to add some shape to your midsection, without clinging.
Dresses for Apple Body Shape:
As with any body shape, the waist of your dress needs to hit the waist of your body. Because your body does not have a defined waist, your dress shouldn’t, either. If you do have a slight waist, make sure the waist of your dress hits it properly.
One bit of traditional Apple advice that I disagree with is that wrap dresses and empire styles are good choices. If you are an Apple without a tummy, or an inverted triangle, these styles may work for you. However, if you do have a midsection you don’t want to draw attention to, avoid these styles, as they can put all the focus right where you don’t want it. Shift, a-line, and straight-cut styles are a more sure bet.
Patterned dresses are often a better choice than solids, as they distract from a larger midsection.
Bottoms for Apple Body Shapes:
One thing Apples don’t want to hear is that in order to balance your upper body, you’ve got to add some volume down below, but tight fitting bottoms can emphasize the difference between your top and bottom, creating even more imbalance, so proceed with caution.
The best bottoms for your shape are mid-rise, and flat front. Look for pants with wide, flat waistbands, as they’ll fit your midsection best.
Look for pants labeled “modern fit” and avoid “curvy” fits at all costs.
Finding pants and jeans that fit an Apple body properly can be challenging. My best trick is to go for jeans that fit your rear and hips well, and use an extender to give you a little extra room in the waistband. Under a belt, or an untucked top, no one will know you’re wearing it, and you’ll finally have jeans that fit comfortably.
While your tops should be basic and embellishment free, have fun with bottoms. Light colors, prints, and details are great on your lower half.
Knee length skirts are best for your shape–from right above to right below. A-line, pencil, and straight skirts are great choices, as well are fuller box pleat skirts, as long as they start at the right spot (link to pleats episodes). Avoid circle skirts.
To lengthen and streamline your legs, keep your footwear and hosiery low contrast, and avoid ankle straps on shoes. Match your shoes to your hemline (pants) and to your skin (dresses/skirts/shorts).
Styling Tips for Apples
Start with a great bra. Because the Apple shape is often accompanied by a bigger bust, the right bra is essential to making the most of your shape. If you do have a little waist definition, good support will highlight it and make you feel less boxy. Learn about finding great bras here.
When it comes to accessories, remember that the goal for your body is to lengthen and minimize your upper body, so look for pieces that draw the eye up and down, like longer necklaces, drop earrings, etc. Avoid those that add bulk to the neck and bust, like short necklaces and chunky scarves.
To create the illusion of a waist, wear a column of color (matching top and pant) under a different color layering piece, and add a wider, stretchy belt under the jacket or cardigan. This will give a focal point in the middle of the body, while hiding the lack of waist definition.
Become besties with a tailor. Pants, especially, can be challenging for Apples. If you find pants that fit you well in the waist, a tailor can take in the hips and legs for the perfect fit.
Audrey Hepburn said, “Happy girls are the prettiest”, and she’s right, so wear what you love. Some women only want to wear things that are traditionally “best” for their body shapes, while other women don’t follow the rules at all. Both approaches are right, as long as the end result is that you feel great. Don’t get so tied to the rules that you forget to have fun with your wardrobe!