Woman holding onto railing.

Women's figures rarely fit into one mold, but smart women learn to highlight their best body parts and minimize any problem areas.

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In the fashion world, women's bodies must be slim -- almost straight up and down, in fact. In the real world, however, more women have bodies with curves. Sometimes their bodies curve quite a bit more in one area than they do in another.

Too often, real women with curves feel that fashionable clothes weren't made with their bodies in mind. What looks good on those willowy models might look ridiculous on them -- if it fits at all.

But the curvy woman need not despair. Learning what fashions work with her particular set of serves can help a woman choose clothes that are fashionable and flattering. Before she can make these choices, however, she must figure out what type of figure she has.

Keep in mind that a woman rarely fits exactly into one mold. A woman with an ample chest, for example, may also be short or tall, overweight or underweight. But figuring out her most distinctive body characteristic and how to accommodate it can help her know what clothing styles will work best for her.

Here are the four most common types of women with curves:

  • Hourglass. This is the classic figure-8 shape with a shapely chest balanced with shapely hips and thighs. Her waist is usually small and well-defined.
  • Funnel. This woman is curvier on top than below the waist. She usually has a chest that is noticeably larger around than her hips are. She tapers from her bosom to her slim hips and slender thighs
  • Pear. This is the most common body type for women. The widest part of a pear'-shaped woman's body is her hips. She often -- but not always -- has a short waist and long legs that aren't skinny. You might think of a pear as having an A-frame shape.
  • Apple. An apple-shaped woman is fuller around her middle. Her curves are amplest around her belly. She may also have large breasts. Often, she has thin legs and a flat rear.

Whatever your body type, the basic goal of choosing fashions should be to play up your best features and draw attention away from any problem areas. Don't hide your curves; dress in a way to make them look more in proportion with the rest of your body.

Read on for tips for each body type.