Body Types: Dressing Your Body at Any Size

 Poplin client  Gretchen  shows how pairing her real clothes can transform her from having a Rectangle body type with a larger bust to an Hourglass body type.

Poplin client Gretchen shows how pairing her real clothes can transform her from having a Rectangle body type with a larger bust to an Hourglass body type.

It's about balance, not about size. As a personal stylist for women, I find this concept comes up pretty regularly. The loudest voice we hear is our inner voice and more often than we'd like, that inner voice can actually be the voice of the inner critic. 

We're all familiar with the inner critic. She has all sorts of opinions on career, parenting, keeping the house clean and so on. She also, has some very strong feelings when it comes to our bodies. 

It doesn't have to be this way. Although her voice will always be the loudest, it doesn't have to be a negative one. We can reframe the conversations we have with ourselves, especially when it comes to our bodies. That's where I come in. I work with a woman to identify what she is trying to communicate the the world, then marry that with her budget, body type and lifestyle and we create a strategy for her moving forward. Each client has a password protected webpage to show her what is flattering, and what isn't which also helps simplify her life. 

In truth, I worry that shorthand conversations about body types sound like criticism of someone's body. That's not how I see it. If you only know one thing about dressing for your body, here's what it you need to know:

It's not about size. It's about balance.

As humans, we like balance. We simply think things are more attractive when they are balanced. That's good design. When you put on the right pair of sunglasses, you suddenly look better. That's because they are balancing out your face. We can apply that concept to our bodies.

The current ideal in Western culture for a woman's figure is the hourglass. That doesn't mean it's right. It just is. This is often where the inner critic comes in. She's telling us that we need to change our bodies to have hourglass figures. I disagree.

You don't need to change your body, you just need to change your clothes. 

In a nutshell, here's what you need to know. Remember, this is about shape, not about size. So, the general same principles apply whether your body is petite, plus or somewhere in between. 

 

How to Dress Each of the Five Body Types

Dressing your body to achieve visual balance is all about knowing how to influence where the eye goes. What's the focal point of your outfit and your body? If you are wearing a fitted tee and a pair of leggings, the eye will likely go to the places where you carry your weight and/or where you are more muscular. 

Draw the eye with light or bright colors, textures, prints, details (zippers, etc.) or skin. Yup. We always look at skin. Discourage the eye with dark colors, stiff fabrics, solids. 

One more thing: All the images in this post are from Poplin photo shoots. They are wearing their own clothes using their own budgets and based on their own personal styles. Yes, they are REAL women. Notice that regardless of size, each one seems to have a balanced frame. The right clothes can do that.

  Abby  is a client who lives and works downtown. 

Abby is a client who lives and works downtown. 

  Jeannie  and Abby work together. It's especially fun when I work with several women in the same office, PEPS group or circle of friends. 

Jeannie and Abby work together. It's especially fun when I work with several women in the same office, PEPS group or circle of friends. 

1. Triangle. 

This is the most common body type. I'd guess that's because after women have babies, they often continue carrying their weight on the bottom half. But, really, the why is a mystery to me. This also happens to be my body type. So, I know it well. 

Balance by: Drawing the eye up to balance your frame. Or, minimizing the bottom half. 

 Jordan is a past Poplin contributor, focusing on extended sizes.  

Jordan is a past Poplin contributor, focusing on extended sizes.  

 Maria is one of my very favorite people. She had a Diamond body shape for the past three decades and transitioned to a Rectangle shape after her weight loss journey. 

Maria is one of my very favorite people. She had a Diamond body shape for the past three decades and transitioned to a Rectangle shape after her weight loss journey. 

2. Diamond.

I often have people ask if your body type can change. In some cases, it sure can. I've seen this most commonly with the transition from Diamond to Rectangle or Diamond to Hourglass, depending on the woman and her changes in weight. (Trans individuals often transition from Rectangle to Hourglass or Inverted triangle to Hourglass.) I feel like society and the media can be kinder when it comes to the Diamond shape, so I especially love seeing a woman who really knows how to rock this body shape. The Diamond body shape is already balanced, so the goal is to not have one half dominate the other. In other words, don't do too many things to draw the eye to the top then minimize the bottom, making you seem bottom heavy. The same is true for the bottom compared with the top.

Balance by: Drawing the eye to the vertical center and slender arms and legs. 

  Mandy  loves bold prints and I knew Marimekko was for her. But, the shapeless shifts aren't flattering for her frame. So, we ordered this jumpsuit and had the tailor shorten it and give it a waist. 

Mandy loves bold prints and I knew Marimekko was for her. But, the shapeless shifts aren't flattering for her frame. So, we ordered this jumpsuit and had the tailor shorten it and give it a waist. 

 Nancy is a naturally balanced petite or a slim hourglass. She has a defined waist, but isn't super curvy. The strategies are the same. This dress with ruching at the waist, shows off her slim hourglass figure. 

Nancy is a naturally balanced petite or a slim hourglass. She has a defined waist, but isn't super curvy. The strategies are the same. This dress with ruching at the waist, shows off her slim hourglass figure. 

3. Hourglass.

If the current ideal in Western Culture is the Hourglass, you might ask why someone would need help dressing that body. Fair question. I often tell clients who have this body shape to, "not mess up with God gave you." Essentially, maintain your natural balance by minimizing both the top and bottom or maximizing both the top and bottom. 

Balance by: Showing off your small waist. Play up or down your curves with equal attention to the top and bottom.

 This photo of  Lusha  illustrates how balancing your frame with certain cuts is effective. 

This photo of Lusha illustrates how balancing your frame with certain cuts is effective. 

 While this photo of my client,  Lusha , shows how to balance your frame with prints. We've balanced a print on top with a print + an a-line skirt to balance the bottom. Because she has broad shoulders, if she had this top on with a pencil skirt in the floral print, she still would not have a balanced frame. Make sense? 

While this photo of my client, Lusha, shows how to balance your frame with prints. We've balanced a print on top with a print + an a-line skirt to balance the bottom. Because she has broad shoulders, if she had this top on with a pencil skirt in the floral print, she still would not have a balanced frame. Make sense? 

4. Inverted Triangle.

Often called a, "swimmer's body" the Inverted Triangle often has more to do with bone structure than weight. This is actually my favorite body type to dress because buying clothes can be so challenging for women with this shape. And, balance is an issue. But, once they know HOW to dress this body, the transformation is huge.

Balance by: Drawing the eye down. Or by minimizing your top half. 

 This dress creates an hourglass figure on  Aga . Style tip: When you are looking at a piece on the hanger, what shape does it have? That will help you know if it can create an hourglass for you, when you need one. 

This dress creates an hourglass figure on Aga. Style tip: When you are looking at a piece on the hanger, what shape does it have? That will help you know if it can create an hourglass for you, when you need one. 

 Draw the eye to different areas to give the illusion of more curves. I-Hua's outfit details include her sleeves, her bold pants and the buckles on her shoes, to name a few. 

Draw the eye to different areas to give the illusion of more curves. I-Hua's outfit details include her sleeves, her bold pants and the buckles on her shoes, to name a few. 

5. Rectangle. 

I often hear clients with a rectangle shaped body say, "I'm straight up and down." One misconception is that a woman must have a small bust to have a Rectangle shaped figure. Not true. She could be a rectangle with a large bust. This has a slightly different approach that I take with clients. After all, we're all about balance, right? But if her shoulders and hips are aligned, she's still a rectangle.

Balance by: Drawing the eye to multiple locations on the body to give the illusion of curves. Create a waist with feminine cuts and/ or belts. 

Of course, this is the VERY top level of how to dress your figure. And, we're humans, not droids, so we'll have lots of variations within this framework. But, this should give you a good place to start. And, of course, I'm here for more help. 

Just remember, it's about balance, not about size. Whether you are a size 2 or a size 16 or 32, if your top and bottom halves are balanced, you are going to look and feel better about how you look. This translates into more confidence which then becomes power. Plus, it's fun. So, there's that. 

Let me know what you think!

All photos in this post were taken by the talented Amy Paine. Kat St. John is the genius behind the hair and makeup. Whether or not you are a Poplin client, feel free to reach out to Amy for a session or Kat to have your hair and makeup done for a special occasion or for a lesson. 

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