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 Rectangle shape is characterized by shoulders and bust that are equal to the hips and a waist that is not well defined.
In my experience, the Rectangle shape is the easiest to dress, and the hardest to give advice to. This shape is easy to dress because most clothing today is designed with this shape in mind. The Rectangle body is well-balanced, and there aren’t obvious fit challenges.
However, Rectangles are difficult to give advice to, because there is the most variation in this body shape. Also Rectangles do tend to shift shapes as they lose or gain weight, unlike other body shapes that stay roughly the same.
A common misconception about Rectangles is that they’re always long and lean, or boyish and athletic. This isn’t true, and leaves a lot of women confused, as the Rectangle body shape is the most common,and most women don’t fit into the generalizations out there. Rectangles can have narrow or broad shoulders, large or small busts, wide or narrow hips… There are few secondary characteristics of Rectangles that apply broadly.
The only thing all Rectangles have in common is a balanced top and bottom half, and a relatively undefined waist.
Dressing your shape will be much easier if you identify your secondary body shape. If your bust is larger, or your midsection thicker, borrow from the apple guidelines. If weight tends to go to your bottom half, borrow from the pears.
The biggest variation of the Rectangle is a shape one of my clients coined “the hourtange”. Not as curvy as an hourglass, but not stick-straight, either. If you can’t decide if you’re an hourglass or a Rectangle, let your pants tell you. Hourtangles don’t usually deal with gapping waistbands, where hourglasses do. Either way, hourtangles will benefit from using the Rectangle and hourglass guidelines. The goal for hourtanles is usually to enhance the curves they have.
Another variation is the “I” shape, or the banana body shape, as it’s sometimes called. This is the long and lean Rectangle, often what we would describe as “lanky”. This shape is very straight, and the goal for this shape is usually to create some curves or movement.
The opposite of the “I” is the the “H” Rectangle, which one book calls the brick body shape. This shape is also very straight, but without the leanness. This can be a very muscular body, or a Rectangle with a bigger frame, or extra weight. The goal with the “h” is to create curve or movement, but also make the body look longer or leaner.
The last variation is the “O” body type, or the oval. For some Rectangles, when weight is gained, it is evenly distributed, and they keep the straight, Rectangle shape. However, for some Rectangles,extra weight goes to the midsection, giving the appearance of a rounded middle. Women with this shape often confuse themselves for apples, but apples tend to have bigger shoulders and busts, too. However, ovals can benefit from the apple guidelines, as they share some of the same challenges.
Because clothing is designed with Rectangles in mind, this shape doesn’t deal with fit challenges the way the other shapes do. But Rectangles are often still confused by how to dress their bodies, especially when they don’t fit into the “I” body shape, or have a “boyish” figure. Thinking about your goals for dressing your shape, as well as borrowing guidelines from your secondary type will help you make the most of your Rectangle shape–no matter what variation you are!
When it comes to goals for dressing your body, you can choose to either create/enhance curves, or let go of the idea of curves, and embrace your straight shape. It’s completely up to you and your preferences. The less curves you have to start off with, the harder it will be to create some.
Tops & Jackets for Rectangles:
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 Rectangle bodies come in both variations, pick the neckline best for your upper body.
If your goal is to create movement or curves on top, look for styles that feature ruffles, color blocking, diagonal lines, etc… This will move the eye around and make you appear less straight.
Tops with belts, drawstrings or wrapped waists will also create curves and give your midsection definition. Peplums are great for creating a waist and adding volume to your hips.
Tops with rounded details like scoop necks and curved hems will soften a straighter figure, while linear shapes like boat necks and straight hems will add structure to a rounder figure.
When it comes to embellishment on your tops, consider your goals. If you want to make your bust appear fuller, look for things like breast pockets, stripes across the chest, etc.. If your goal isn’t to create a fuller bust, avoid them.
Interesting sleeves, like cuffed, flutter, bell or layered will also create movement on your upper half.
Rectangles find it easier to wear volume, so if oversized styles are your style, go for it. Just remember to create structure somewhere on your body, so you don’t drown. You can do this by looking for tops with fitted sleeves (or scrunching them yourself), or half tucking your top.
If you are letting go of the idea of curves, or want to camouflage your midsection, flowy woven fabrics, or knits with drape, are your best choice. If you want to enhance your curves, or create some, look for more structured, fitted knits.
Tops that end at your hip or below are the best option. Shorter tops can create a harsh line across your midsection, making it appear wider.
If you’re trying to create curves, look for jackets and coats that are nipped in at the waist, or belted styles. If you’re embracing your lack of curves, single button jackets work well, as do unstructured styles like a boyfriend blazer.
Dresses for Rectangle Body Shapes:
As with any body shape, the waist of your dress needs to hit the waist of your body. Because of this some Rectangles look great in a fit-and flare style, while others who have no defined waist should look for shift or swing dresses.
Shirt dresses seem to work particularly well for Rectangles, either with or without a belt.
To create curves, try a very fitted sheath dress, or a wrap dress.
Jumpsuits and rompers are a modern alternative to dresses, and can be just as flattering on your body. Follow the same guidelines for dresses to find the right styles.
Bottoms for Rectangle Body Shapes:
For Rectangles, there aren’t many “avoid this” or “look for this” when it comes to bottoms.
To create curves on your lower half, wear very fitted skirts, jeans, and pants.
If you’re ok with surrendering curves, you can really wear any style of bottoms you like. The trick is to maintain balance between your upper and lower halves. For example, if you wear a top with a puff sleeve that adds volume to your upper body, pair it with bottoms that add a little volume down below, like a bootcut jean, or trouser leg pants.
You also have lots of options when it comes to skirt styles. Ruffles, pleats, and cargo pockets will all add volume to your bottom half, creating the illusion of curves, while straight, bias, and pencil styles are great for your curveless hips.
Skirts that flare out from the waist, especially in structured fabrics, will give your hips some volume, making your waist appear smaller. Again, it’s less about the specific skirt style, and more about what you’re pairing it with on top.
Unless you are an hourtangle, avoid “curvy” fit bottoms. Look for modern fits that are straight through the waist and hips.
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 Rectangles
Start with a great bra. No matter what kind of Rectangle you are, the right bra will help you make the most of your shape, and is the first step to building a flattering wardrobe. Learn about finding great bras on this podcast episode.
Use accessories to highlight the parts you love, add volume to areas you’d like to fill out, or to create long vertical lines. Shorter, statement necklaces and stud earrings will draw attention to the bust and neck, while longer necklaces create vertical lines. Chunky scarves can help add volume to your upper body.
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.
For Rectangles, styling your shape well is less about finding the right pieces individually, and more about how they work as a whole. When you try on clothes, try on a whole outfit, and swap out different components to find the right shape and proportion.
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!