Tips for Working with Your Body Shape: Beyond Apples & Pears

Not every woman's body is shaped like a dressmaker's model.
Not every woman's body is shaped like a dressmaker's model.
Inti St. Clair/Getty Images

As the majority of women will tell you, most clothing is designed for the exception, not the rule. If you're in the supermodel category, you've got it made, and the rest of us kind of hate you. If you're among the other 98 percent of women in the world, meeting the often-warped cultural beauty ideal -- the tall, slim hourglass -- can require some know-how.

Of the women who make up the rule, a huge number are so-called "apples" or "pears" - basically, full in the middle and then tapered at either the bottom or the top, respectively. Many a style column is devoted to these body types. They're not the only ones out there, though. Other body types include the rectangle, the curvy hourglass, and the inverted triangle. Here, those bodies get their due.


The first step in working with your shape is to figure out which shape that is:

You're probably a rectangle if:

  • Your bust, waist and hips are in a line, straight up and down
  • Your waist is not well-defined
  • You also may have smaller breasts and a flatter butt -- a shape sometimes called "straight" or "boyish"

You're probably an inverted triangle if:

  • Your shoulders are wider than your hips
  • You have moderate-sized breasts, waist and narrower hips
  • You also may be slender

You're probably a curvy hourglass if:

  • You're balanced top-to-bottom and cinched in the middle
  • You have voluptuous breasts and hips
  • You have a smaller, well-defined waist
  • You also probably have some junk in the trunk

Now, on to the good stuff: How to look your best if any of these body types describes you.

The curvy hourglass has a bit of a head start.



Curvy Hourglass

Jennifer Hudson looks sleek and curvy in a solid grey dress cinched at the waist.
Jennifer Hudson looks sleek and curvy in a solid grey dress cinched at the waist.
Stephane Kossmann/Renault/Getty Images

The Goal: Keep the balance, slim it down.

If a great-looking figure is about balance, and it typically is, a curvy hourglass has a leg up. This body type is already proportionally balanced top-to-bottom. To meet today's beauty ideal, all that's left is slimming down those curves a bit for a sleeker look.



There are lots of ways to fake slim. Color is an easy one -- darks and solids tend to create the illusion of leanness. Choose black, chocolate brown, navy or charcoal, for a start. Simple cuts are best, and a lot of frills will just add bulk.

An hourglass has a small waist compared to her bust and hips, and that womanly feature is one to accentuate. A belt (not too skinny) at the natural waist can be a great way to highlight that femininity.

Adding "bulk" to the very top and/or the very bottom can make everything in between look smaller, so wide-leg or flare-leg pants can be a great way to go on the bottom. If you're feeling particularly sassy, you might consider trying a brimmed hat. Hats aren't the easiest thing to pull off, but they can really draw the eye upward, away from any problem areas (and up to a great-looking makeup job).

Styles to Avoid

Large prints, especially light-colored ones, are not the curvy woman's friend. They tend to make big things look bigger, and sometimes a little sloppy.

Other likely no-no's for the Rubenesque woman trying to achieve a slimmer look include skinny jeans, jeans with whiskering or fading on the thighs, pencil skirts, and Spandex. That last one is a no-no for almost everyone. Ultra-dainty shoes, fantastic as they are, don't do much to slim a larger body, either.

Look to Try: Wide-leg pants in a ponte knit, long-length fitted cami, lightweight cardigan with a wrap-around waist, platform boots.


Inverted Triangle

The Goal: Minimize upper body, maximize hips

The inverted triangle body type is wider on top -- a swimmer's body, if you will. Or sometimes it's not the shoulders but the bust that throws the shape off-balance. If the ideal is the skinny hourglass figure, then what we need to do with clothing is to add some width to the hips and make the upper body look narrower.



Giving the hips a bit more oomph is the easier effect to achieve. There are lots of ways to accomplish this, including skirts and pants with side pockets or pleats, full skirts, or a thick belt worn low on the hips. Balance can also be achieved via boot cut, flared, or wide-leg jeans, which draw the eye downward and provide width low on the body to counter broad shoulders.

Removing width is harder than adding it, but there are lots of ways to do it. Making the shoulders appear narrower relies on balancing them with the above methods, avoiding any added bulk, like shoulder pads or puffed sleeves, wearing dark colors on top (dark tends to slim), and simply drawing attention elsewhere. Accessories can accomplish this nicely -- wearing a bracelet instead of a necklace, for instance, draws the eye downward. Platform shoes can have a similar effect.

Styles to Avoid

Inverted-triangle types may want to avoid skinny jeans, tapered pants, and pencil skirts, which will all tend to accentuate the width of the upper body. Boldly printed or heavily embellished tops will draw attention to a broad upper torso and should be worn sparingly, if at all.

Look to Try: Flare leg jeans, simple cotton tunic, wide leather belt on hips, platform sandals.

Up next, it's about adding curves…



Cameron Diaz fakes curves by balancing her upper and lower body and by wearing an allover print broken up by a black belt.
Cameron Diaz fakes curves by balancing her upper and lower body and by wearing an allover print broken up by a black belt.
Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic/Getty Images

The Goal: Create balanced curves.

Lots of curvier women envy a boyish, rectangular body, which is narrow and tends to be pretty lean; but rectangles have their own issues to work with. Namely, they've got relatively thick waists and no curves. Luckily, the illusion of curviness isn't too hard to create.



Quickest way to add roundness? Look for contours in clothing, liked shaped waist bands and seaming. Contoured waists are popular on jeans, and lots of skirts have shapely seaming around the hips that can mimic a shapely lower body and a nipped-in waist.

Dropped-waist tops and dresses (which are loose at the natural waist and fitted at the hips) can be a great way to draw attention away from a thick waist, too. If that top or dress has a billowy top torso, all the better -- a loose, flowing top can make your bust look rounder. Rectangles can also look great in low-rise jeans, which skip the waist entirely and can make the butt and thighs look a bit curvier with well-placed pockets and fading.

Also, go for a pair of attention-catching earrings to pull the eye upward.

Styles to Avoid

Fitted looks that are belted at the natural waist typically don't work great for rectangles, since they draw attention to a thick middle. A belted shift dress, for instance, might be something to reconsider. Fitted tops and one-piece looks can have the same problem.

Look to Try: A printed, silk, drop-waist dress, statement earrings, and strappy sandals.

All of these guidelines are just that: guidelines. Ultimately, you're the best judge of what works for your body. Be honest about your shape, creative with your style and, always, classy with your overall look, and chances are you'll do just fine at matching your uniquely beautiful shape with the more standardized type of beauty most of us are (exhaustively) working toward.

For more information on working with your body type, look over the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

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More Great Links

  • Dressing for Your Shape: Square, Inverted Triangle. Parents Connect.
  • Kuchinsky, Charlotte. "Finding the right pair of jeans for you." The Beauty Biz.
  • What's Your Body Shape? Style Makeover HQ.