Have you ever anxiously awaited for your dress to arrive in the mail, only to throw it on and let out an audible sigh of disappointment? How could this dress look that bad, you think. It was so cute on the model and my favorite style blogger looks so chic in it! Well, I’ll let you in on a secret, it all breaks down to body shape.
How to determine your body shape is an integral first step to styling clothes and choosing clothes that look best on you. We all want the hourglass figure of Marilyn Monroe, the height of a supermodel, and maybe the perky chest of our youth. But, just because we don’t check those boxes doesn’t mean we can’t dress for our body shape and highlight our own best attributes.
Before we go over how to find your body shape (both using measurements and without them), let’s go over the basics of body shape.
What is female body shape?
Female body shape is the proportions of your body in relation to your shoulder, bust, waist, and hip measurements. Depending on your proportions and measurements of your body it will fall into one of the following categories: inverted triangle, triangle/pear, rectangular, oval/apple, or hourglass.
It is possible that you fall into more than one body shape category if your measurements are very close, and if that is the case you should take both body shapes into consideration when shopping and styling yourself.
Can your body shape change over time?
Yes, your body shape can change with age. A great example of this is during puberty, your hips and bust may become larger and therefore change your body shape. Your body shape can also adjust after childbirth, or after/before weight loss/gain.
While your bodies physiological structure will not change dramatically each year where you body holds weight can change over time and can impact your dominant body shape. For instance, if you tend to gain weight in your stomach/lower half, you may evolve into a pear shape if you gain weight.
What is the most common body type?
The most common body type is an inverted triangle or pear shape. This body shape is characterized by a larger hip, with a narrow bust, and subtle waist definition.
What is the rarest body type?
The hourglass body shape is the rarest body shape as it requires equal bust/shoulder and hip proportions with a dramatically smaller waist size.
While this body type is frequently coveted, ideal body shapes are always changing and one body shape should never be looked at as superior.
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Taking measurements to determine your body shape
In order to determine your body shape, we need to first start by taking measurements. It’s a quick and painless process, but here’s what you need to start:
- Fabric tape measure
- Fitted clothes: Opt for a top that doesn’t squish your chest down and doesn’t have padding. Avoid any heavily padded bras. And I find leggings work well for bottoms.
- Pen and paper to write measurements down
Time: It takes about 5 minutes to do and can be done solo or with the help or a trusted friend/family member.
How to measure my body (to determine body shape) video tutorial
For the exact method to determining what your body shape is, follow the steps in the above video.
If you don’t want to watch the video, here is a synopsis:
You will be measuring 4 points along your body. You will measure your shoulders, your bust (widest part), your natural waist, and your hips (widest portion).
You want to keep your measuring tape parallel to the ground for the most accurate measurements.
Your measuring tape should be taught, but it should not be squeezing your body.
Jot down each measurement after you take it.
Note: If you omit your shoulder measurements you body shape may change. For instance if I just use my bust, waist, and hip numbers my body shape is a pear shape. But if I include my shoulders, my body could be considered an hourglass shape (just barely). So it is important to use all the data, and take into account both body shapes when shopping. But with either shape, my measurements don’t perfectly align and that is normal.
Now there are mathematical formulas to examine exactly what body shape your measurements equate with, and I will include those if you want to do it this way. These were created by Oprah’s fashion expert, Bradley Bayou. But, I just use general guidelines, which I will also explain.
No-measurements body shape approach
Now, for some people getting a measuring tape out and writing down their body measurements in ink sounds like a nightmare. And, I totally respect that and understand how that could be triggering.
If you don’t want to use a measuring tape you can find your body shape without measurements by just looking in the mirror. You will need to be wearing form-fitting clothing as we mentioned before.
Here’s how determine your body shape without measurements:
Stand with your feet should width apart directly in front of a full-length mirror. Wearing an all-black outfit can help you see your shape more clearly. Evaluate your body from top to bottom and see where the widest part of your body is.
I like to snap a quick pick to refer back to later and to help clarify your body shape.
When reviewing the photo, or looking at the mirror pay attention to the following:
- What is the widest part of your body- bust, waist, or hips?
- Is my waist defined? Does it appear noticeably smaller or larger than the widest part of my body?
- Where do you tend to gain weight easily? This can be a good indication of where you hold your weight and what body shape category is dominant.
- When shopping how far apart are your tops and bottoms in sizing? While sizes vary greatly from brand to brand, knowing your jeans are always 34, while your tops are frequently size small can give you an indication of your body shape.
What is my body shape? And what does it mean?
So by now you either have your measurements in hand or a rough idea of your body shape from looking in the mirror.
What you need to remember is that body shape is a tool to improve your style, and no one body shape is better or worse than another. Use this information to make more informed decisions on your clothing styles, points of emphasis, and silhouettes.
Inverted triangle body shape
If you have an inverted triangle body shape :
- Your shoulders and bust are wider than your hips
- You gain weight in your upper body first
- You don’t have a lot of waist definition
- A smaller butt
- prominent shoulders.
For this body type, your shoulder and bust measurements will be larger than your hip measurement. In order to quickly assess this, your shoulder measurement should be at least 4 inches bigger than your hip measurement. If you go by your bust measurement then your bust should be about 2 inches larger than your hips.
If math is your strong suit and you want an exact formula, here is how you determine if you are an inverted triangle body shape: (you are looking for your shoulder or bust measurement to be 5% bigger than your hip measurement)
shoulders (or bust) ÷ hips ≥ 1.05
Dressing Inverted Triangle Body Shape:
Anything with a nipped-in waist will help balance out your body shape. Opt for fitted jackets, flares, or anything with a higher rise. Avoid tops with large shoulder details especially when paired with skinny bottoms. Wrap tops and dresses also work well as they help accentuate the waist and don’t hug your bottom half.
The goal with this body shape is to add some waist definition and add the illusion of curves to our bottom half.
Style icons with inverted triangle shape: Angelina Jolie, Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Demi Moore
Triangle Body Shape (or pear body shape)
If you have a triangle body shape (which is the most common among women):
- Your hips are larger than your bust
- Your waist is defined and smaller than your hips
- You tend to gain weight in your hips and thighs
- You may have narrow shoulders (although again as we mentioned your body shape can change based on whether you use your bust measurements or your shoulders, so don’t get too hung up on this).
The triangle body shape consists of a larger hip measurement and a smaller waist and bust/shoulders measurement. As a general rule we are looking for a hip measurement that is at least 2 inches larger than your shoulders, or at least 4 in larger than your best.
The exact calculation would be for 5% bigger hips than your shoulders or bust:
hips ÷ shoulders (or bust) ≥ 1.05
Dressing the triangle body shape:
When dressing the triangle body shape we want to highlight our small waists and minimize the attention on our lower half. While it is great to have those curves, the best outfits exude a feeling of balance.
Opt for a roomier bottom that doesn’t draw attention to your larger hips. Fit-and-flare dresses work well for this body type. High-rise pants are your friend, as are straight-leg pants.
Avoid having tops that end right at your hips, or anything that has volume around your hips, as that will make your body feel unbalanced. Puff sleeve blouses are a great option to help add some volume to your shoulders. Off-the-shoulder dresses and tops can achieve this as well.
Style Icons with triangle body shape: Beyonce, J Lo, and Kim Kardashian (although she does a lot to try and look more hourglass!)
Rectangular Body Shape
If you have a rectangle body shape:
- Your bust, waist, and hips are almost equal
- You have little definition in your waist
- You don’t have curves
The rectangle body shape is also called the “athletic” body shape and has a roughly equal size bust, waist, and hips. In order to qualify for this body shape, your waist measurement needs to have less than an 8 inch difference from your hips and shoulder.
If we are talking exact measurements, we are aiming for a waist that is less than 25% smaller than your shoulders or bust and this is how you calculate that:
waist ÷ shoulders (or bust) ≥ .75
Dressing the rectangular body shape:
The rectangular body shape is very flexible because of the balanced proportions between the upper and lower half. Our goal then is to add some definition to the waist and to add the illusion of more curves. Boat necklines can help broaden our shoulders, paired with wide legs will create a more narrow waist.
You will want to avoid boxy cuts and anything that is too straight up and down. High-rise bottoms and belts will help define your waist and give the illusion of an hourglass shape.
Embellished dresses also work well. They highlight the waist while also adding some volume to the shoulders and hips.
Style Icons with rectangle body shape: Nicole Kidman, Kate Middleton, Natalie Portman, and Cameron Diaz.
Apple or Oval Body Shape
If you have an oval or apple body shape:
- Your waist is equal to, or greater than your bust and hip measurements
- You have no definition in your waist
- You (generally) have a larger bust
- You gain weight in your middle/stomach first.
If your waist is larger than your bust, waist, or hips by about 2 inches, you probably have a circle body shape.
Here’s the exact formula to figure that out:
Waist ÷ shoulders and bust ≥ 1.05
Dressing the circle body shape:
This body shape goes by many names: circle, oval, and apple. It can be one of the trickier body shapes to style because you want pieces that draw the attention away from your midsection and ideally elongate your entire frame.
In order to do this, structured pieces will be helpful. Empire cuts and wrap styles will also help define your waist and give you the illusion of more balance. You can also opt for tops that draw attention to your cleavage, instead of your stomach, if you’re comfortable with this.
Avoid boxy cuts or anything with a lot of embellishment along the waistline. Anything that draws more attention to your middle should be used carefully. And, generally, avoid clingy tops that will highlight any bumps.
Longer jackets and cardigans will help draw the eye vertically and help this body shape.
Style icons with a circle body shape: Queen Latifah, Amy Schumer, and Jennifer Hudson.
Hourglass Body Shape
If you have an hourglass body shape:
- Your bust/shoulders and hips are about equal in measurements
- You have a very well defined waist
- You most likely have a larger bust and butt
In order to determine if you have an hourglass body shape, you should look for your waist measurement to be at least 8 in less than your shoulders/bust/hips.
The exact formula to determine the hourglass shape is:
waist ÷ shoulders (or bust) ≤ .75 (waist is 25% smaller than your shoulders/bust) and
waist ÷ hips ≤ .75 (waist is 25% smaller than your bust).
Plus, your hips and shoulders should be within 5% of each other.
How to dress an hourglass body shape:
The hourglass body shape is very coveted because of the balanced proportions and well-defined waist.
Wrap tops and dresses highlight your petite waist and curves well. High-rise bottoms also draw attention to your proportions, however it can be hard to find jeans that fit your waist properly at times.
Boxy items can make you appear larger, as it eliminates your waist and only highlights the larger portions of your body. Similarly, low-rise pants can overly-accentuate your hip without any waist definition. Pencil skirts work very well with this body shape, but should ideally hit above your knee.
High-waist wide-leg trousers will be extremely flattering. As are tops that cinch in at the waist or are generally fitted. You want to make sure tops fit your bust and waist well.
Style icons with hourglass body shape: Blake Lively, Christina Hendricks, Marilyn Monroe, and Scarlette Johansson.
Benefits of knowing your body type
Understanding your body type will make getting dressed so much easier. For more information on body shape, check out this post.
Next time you order online, you will have your measurements and can check the sizing guide before you add-to-cart. This will lead to fewer returns, and more fashion successes.
Knowing your body type is not about changing how you look, in fact, it is about leaning into your ideal silhouettes that highlight your body shape’s strengths.
Remember, it is important to know that body shape (while it can be a mathematical equation) is fluid. Depending on what measurements you use, your age, and where you gain weight your body shape can fall into two categories.
We saw this with my body shape above when I used my bust measurement versus my shoulder measurements.
If you fall generally into two body shapes, take notes from both body shapes and try things on. Ideally, your clothes will make your body feel balanced and proportionate.
If you want some tips and tricks on how to dress better using style hacks, check out this post.
Once you learn your body shape, your perspective on your closet and wardrobe may shift as well. And if you struggle to build a wardrobe you love, that actually represents your dream style AND works for your lifestyle, check out my Craft the Closet of Your Dreams Playbook here.
Now that you’re equipped with this body shape knowledge you can go master your style and show off your best self.
Pin the below image so you know how to determine your body shape at any time!