Body Types ~ an easy guide to dressing for your shape - Styled by Sally

Body Types ~ a quick and easy guide to dressing for your shape


Like many of you, I used to live by Trinny and Susannah’s ‘rules’ as dictated in their Body Bible series of books, and of course their famous TV show What Not to Wear. I can honestly say that I credit them both for inspiring me to change careers at 35 and pursue my other passion, as a personal stylist and personal shopper in Melbourne.

For many years I was also a bit of a stickler for ‘the rules’ but I never subscribed to Trinny and Susannah’s hard and fast body types. So when working with clients, I’ve never categorised them into any one body shape. The reason being is that very few of us fit neatly into one category of body type.

Yes, an overall ‘shape’ can be described as apple, pear, inverted triangle etc but my opinion has always been that this is a very narrow definition and one which doesn’t give the full picture.

Case in point, me. I have a defined waist, shoulders and hips pretty similar… so technically that makes me an hourglass. But do I look like an hourglass to you? No, I don’t think so either. What this ‘category’ doesn’t take into consideration is that I also have a small bust, high waist, saddlebags (an area that has improved over 8+ years of Pilates!) and I am 6ft tall.

So my approach to addressing body types with clients is to break down their shape and look at their PROPORTIONS. Does someone have narrow shoulders or broad shoulders, are their shoulders wider than or narrower than their hips, how tall are they, big bust, average bust or small bust, flat tummy or post-baby tummy, slim hips, wide hips, long legs, short legs, long body, short body… you get the picture.

The problem with putting someone in a “pear”, “apple” or any fruit related box as per above image (I’ve certainly never referred to any client as a peanut!) is that it doesn’t take into consideration any other body proportions, let alone someone’s height. The shapes above and below ONLY consider the body’s silhouette, not height or any of the proportions I’m going to mention.

Here I’m going to break down the absolute basics when it comes to dressing for your shape. SIMPLE. EASY. PRACTICAL. The below are the most common proportions I see in my clients and the tips apply to ALL heights and sizes.

All it really comes down to is identifying your proportions and creating a silhouette this is BALANCED.

Shoulders narrower than hips
The aim here is to create the illusion that your shoulders are as wide as your hips, i.e. create balance. Tailored jackets and shirts, V-necks, boat necks, halter necks, set in sleeves, capped sleeves, horizontal stripes on the upper body will help make your shoulders look wider.

Shoulders wider than hips
We want to create the opposite effect by making the hips appear as wide as the shoulders. A-line skirts, fit and flare dresses, wide leg pants, pleated skirts, horizontal stripes and lighter colours on lower body, will all add width to the lower body, creating balance with the shoulders.

Long body/Short legs
We want to make the legs look longer and not accentuate an already long body. Pants and jeans with higher waistlines, waisted skirts, dresses with a waist seam and waist belts that sit on the natural waist, tucking in and wearing heels (even low ones) will all help to balance upper and lower body.

Short body/long legs
It’s now about creating the opposite silhouette by lengthening the torso and avoiding a ‘top heavy’ look. Avoid wide waist belts, very high waists, shapeless tops, cropped/boxy jackets and cardigans and instead looking at longer lined jackets, waterfall cardigans, mid-rise waistbands, tonal outfits and a good bra that lifts the boobs.

Small bust/big tummy
This can be a challenging area to balance but the key is to create the illusion of a bigger bust, to distract from the stomach. There are all the obvious choices like push up bra’s and suck in knickers, but other considerations are plunging necklines, statement necklaces, scarves, patterns, wrap around tops and dresses, batwing tops and anything that draws the eye up.

Big bust/short waist
The key is to break up the ‘square’ appearance of the upper body, so deep scoop and V-necks do exactly that. A very good bra will lift the boobs and lengthen the torso, hip length tailored jackets will create both shape and draw the eye vertically, wearing similar colours from head to toe will elongate and disguise a short waist. And NO waist belts.

Now I know that hasn’t covered every variation of body types, but that’s my exact point, there are SO MANY! If you can recognise your proportions as mentioned above (narrow shoulders vs broad shoulders, shoulders wider than hips, hips wider than shoulders etc) then you can start to identify how to BALANCE your shape via the clothing choices you make.

And if the above still has you wanting more, below are my absolute non-negotiables when it comes to dressing for your shape and feeling great every day!

Recognise YOUR assets and choose clothes which flatter these parts of your body: rather than thinking about what you don’t like about your body, I challenge you to think about what you DO like. In any outfit, ensure these body parts are accentuated, highlighted, on show.

Not every trend is for every body: trends come and go, but just because a fashion magazine (or dare I say a stylist!) tells you something is ‘on trend’ doesn’t mean it’s the right trend for you.

Clothes should never finish at your widest part: i.e. cropped pants not finish on the calf, sleeves should never cut across widest part of upper arms, waistbands never on your hips, belts not worn on your tummy

Don’t underestimate your bra and knickers! Good underwear does a great job of lifting, sucking and smoothing: don’t be afraid to wear shapewear to achieve the perfect fit, whatever the occasion (and not just for ‘special’ occasions)

A good tailor is worth their weight in gold: everything can be altered for the right fit. Keep this is mind next time you try on something that is almost perfect.

And most importantly, feel great in the clothes you wear, regardless of your shape, size, height or age!

The simplest way to look your best.

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