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 Hourglass shape is characterized by shoulders and bust that are equal to the hips and a waist that is well-defined.
Variations on this body shape include the high-waisted Hourglass, also called the “8 Shape”, and the “Spoon Shape” which features higher hips that are often called “Shelf Hips”. In this variation, instead of being rounded, the hips appear square and long. In both variations, women appear to be bigger on the bottom, although their measurements would indicate Hourglass. It might be helpful to borrow some of the pear guidelines in addition to the Hourglass advice.
The main challenge for Hourglasses is fit. Although this body type is considered the feminine ideal, nothing seems to fit right. Button front shirts pull across the bust, and pants gape at the waist.
One misconception about Hourglasses is that as they change sizes, they’re no longer Hourglasses. However, because body shapes are about proportion, not size, if your bust and hips change as well, chances are, you’re still an Hourglass. Also, some Hourglasses, as they age, will find their waists have less definition than they used to, but that doesn’t necessarily mean their shape has changed. You may be less Hourglassy than you were before, but if you still have the same fit challenges, you’re still an Hourglass.
The goal for Hourglass bodies is to maintain the balance between the upper and lower body, and highlight your curves. Hourglasses often want a flowy, oversized, “boho” look…in theory. In reality, these styles hide curves and make Hourglasses feel boxy.
Tops & Jackets for Hourglasses:
Choose the right neckline: Higher necklines, like turtlenecks, mocks and crews flatter a smaller bust and longer neck, while more open necklines, like v’s and scoops are better for a larger bust and shorter neck. Because Hourglass bodies come in both variations, pick the neckline best for your upper body.
Often, Hourglasses have slightly rounded shoulders. Set in sleeves and boat neck tops will help strengthen the shoulder line. Drop shoulder styles will make your shoulders appear broader and rounded.
Knit tops are ideal for Hourglasses, because they define your curves, instead of hanging straight like woven tops do. If you don’t want a body-con fit, still look for knits, but choose, lighter, drapier fabrics instead of fitted items with high stretch.
Look for blouses and tops with wrapped waists, belts, peplums or ruching to highlight your shape.
If you have a larger bust, watch out for large pockets on the chest, or extra embellishment between your shoulder and your bust.
Avoid a horizontal line across the widest part of your hips by having your tops end a little above, or a little below your widest spot.
The best jackets and coats for Hourglasses have lots of vertical and princess seams. Belted jackets and coats are also a great option.
Avoid round collar, boxy jackets, and beware of jackets with breast pockets.
Dresses for Hourglass Body Shapes:
Your body was made for dresses, and many Hourglasses prefer dresses over separates. If that’s you, go for it. Dresses are easy and always look put together.
As with any body shape, the waist of your dress needs to hit the waist of your body. Because your body has a defined waist, your dress should, too. Styles like fit & flare, wrap, sheaths and belted shirtdresses are perfect. You’ll struggle more with breezy shapes like shift or trapeze dresses.
Rompers and jumpsuits are a modern alternative to dresses that will flatter you just the same.
Bottoms for Hourglass Body Shapes:
Look for pants labeled “curvy fit” to solve the gap-in-the-back problem, or have your pants tailored.
High rise styles are amazing for your shape, and look great with partially, or fully tucked tops.
Hourglasses can wear most styles of pants–the slimmer the fit, the curvier you’ll look. Because your goal is to maintain balance, consider your top so you don’t become top or bottom heavy.
Look for pants with diagonal front pockets, or no pockets at all, as side entry pockets tend to pull and pucker. Also, approach cargo pockets with caution, as they add bulk wherever they’re placed.
To elongate your legs, match your shoes to your hemline (pants) or to your skin (dresses and skirts).
Skirts that define your shape without adding bulk are an easy choice. Try pencils, a-lines, and skirts cut on the bias.
Hourglasses can also wear fuller skirts to highlight their small waists. Look for circle, or pleated skirts. Remember, pleats should always start at your smallest point. These should sit directly on your waist, and your top should be fully, or partially tucked.
The best skirt and dress length for your shape is right at, or below the knee. Midi lengths can work well too.
Styling Tips for Hourglasses
Start with a great bra. When the bustline sags, Hourglasses feel heavier and boxy. A great bra will do more for your shape and your wardrobe than just about anything else. Learn about finding great bras on this podcast episode.
Don’t overload on accessories. Your shape doesn’t need a ton of embellishment. If you’re an Hourglass with a full bust, be wary of big scarves and chunky necklines. Instead, look for pendant necklaces that end above the bust line. If you’re an Hourglass with a small bust, go for bolder necklaces that sit close to the bust.
If you want to go for oversized, flowy styles, make sure there is structure somewhere, like a fitted sleeve, or a half tuck.
To camouflage a tummy while maintaining your curves, look for drapey and/or patterned tops, layered under a jacket that hits at the waist.
Become besties with a tailor. There’s only so much stretch can do. For things like button front shirts, you may have to size up and have a tailor take in the sides a little bit. Some extreme Hourglasses may find they still have a gap in the waist, even when buying curvy styles. And then, there are things like skirts, that rarely come in curvy styles. These are things a tailor can do easily and will make your wardrobe look like it was custom made for your body.
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!