how to figure out body shape

How to Look Good in Your Clothes by Dressing for Your Body Type

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If you feel like you never look good in your clothes, learning about your body type can make all the difference for your closet and your confidence! Especially if you have a hard-to-fit body (speaking as someone in this club)!

When you know your body proportions, you can play up the parts you love and creatively disguise those you don’t. When you understand your measurements, you have a starting point for selecting pieces that fit. 

After taking my measurements and learning I have a triangular body shape, my lightbulb moment came from seeing that my hips are 43 inches and waist is 31 inches. I’m smaller up top with a defined waist and larger on the bottom. Jeans that fit my hips and rear often don’t fit my waist. No wonder!

Looking at the sizing chart for Madewell’s trendy Perfect Vintage Jeans in my usual size 31, the hips measure 43, and the waist measures 33 inches. Everyone raves about these jeans. But they don’t work for me. They gap horribly at the waist.

I also tried the curvy fit with no luck. Oddly, the curvy fit shows the same dimensions in the sizing chart as the regular jeans. I contacted customer service about it. They suggested that I try their styles with stretch. 99% cotton denim wasn’t stretchy enough. 

I finally had some handy information that I could use when looking at sizing charts for jeans. When I buy jeans or pants, I look at the sizing chart, the fabric content, and the description to see if the jeans fit straight in the hips and thighs or are more relaxed. And I’m always prepared to try two sizes. 

As a result of taking my measurements, I now have several pairs of jeans that work great for my body!

If you’re curious about the best jeans for your body type, read How to Find the Best Jeans for Your Body Type Every Time.

Since enrolling in style coaching school, my mission is to help free you from dressing room frustration so you can find more fun and ease in getting dressed. I see you, and I get it.

In this article, I’ll tell you exactly how to get in the right mindset to analyze your body, take your measurements, and determine your body type. Plus, you’ll learn tested strategies for dressing each body type so you notice more of what you like about your body and less of what you don’t.

Before measuring, let’s talk about being in the right mindset for looking at your body shape. 

How to adopt a self-loving mindset for body analysis

I get it if thinking closely about your body shape feels like a dreaded task. If you don’t feel good in your body, mentally practice viewing yourself in a more self-loving and positive light. We are often very hard on ourselves, seeing only our flaws and things no one else sees. 

You can choose to hold a new mindset about your body. I’m not suggesting that you move from disliking a part of yourself to loving it. That’s often too giant a mental leap to make, and your mind won’t believe it. Begin to build more neutral ways of talking to yourself about your body. Instead of “I hate my thighs,” try, “I’m glad to have thighs that get me from point A to B.” 

Fixating on the aspects of your body you dislike keeps you from seeing the beautiful parts. I disliked my stomach, hips, and thighs so much that I didn’t appreciate my graceful hands, wrists, and ankles. Widen your perspective and allow yourself to see the parts of your body that you can genuinely enjoy.  

As our bodies change with time, it’s essential to celebrate who you are on the inside and value your inner beauty. 

Your value as a person extends far beyond your external appearance. And true beauty comes from what’s inside. I’m sure you know someone whose physical appearance became even more beautiful to you as you got to know them deeper. Maybe it was their charisma or passionate nature, ability always to be themselves, big heart, goofy and fun-loving personality, mischievous smile, or compassionate and loving soul that created an intangible effervescence that was undeniably lovable. 

Your physical appearance does not determine your worth.

With that said, it’s natural and healthy to want to create a physical appearance that you take pride in! Understanding your body shape is a great way to start. 

Let’s look at how to take your body measurements. And then, I’ll talk you through how to identify your body shape and share ideas for how to dress it so you feel good day in and day out.

How to take your body measurements

Taking your measurements helps to determine your body type. We’ll need you to measure four spots on your body: your shoulders, bust, waist, and hips. 

When you know your proportions, you can use tried and true strategies to draw attention to the parts of your body you like and distract from other regions to create a silhouette you love. 

If you resonate with having a more feminine silhouette,  you want to create an hourglass shape by using tricks to balance your shoulders and hips so they appear to be the same width. And also define your waistline.

Now, let’s get to measuring!

how to measure your body

Use a cloth tailor’s measuring tape that you can buy for less than $3 on Amazon.  

To discover your body type, take measurements around the widest circumference of your shoulders, bust, hips, and the slimmest spot of your waist.

The most accurate way to take measurements is to strip down to your undergarments and stand in front of a mirror. Please give yourself a lot of loving grace, grab the measuring tape, and then wrap it around four spots on your body. 

First, around the widest spot on your shoulders, take the circumference. Hold the end of the tape on one shoulder and wrap it around the other shoulder until the tape meets up with the first shoulder. Hold the tape loosely so it skims the body and almost slips off. Make sure the tape stays level around the back of your body.

Repeat the process to measure your bust. Draw the tape around the broadest spot on your bust passing the tape under your arms. Hold the tape very close to your body without cinching in too tight. Make sure the tape stays level around the back. 

Now, find your natural waist. This is the slimmest spot right under your rib cage. It’s the part that pivots when you bend to the left and right. Measure holding the tape to your body without tugging it tight so you get an accurate reading.  

And last, measure at the widest part of your hips. Stand with your feet together and measure around the rear end or at the top of your thighs, whichever is wider.

As long as you’re measuring, take one more measurement that’s super helpful: your leg inseam. This will help you select pants that are the right length. Measure from your crotch down to your ankle bone if you prefer ankle-length pants. Or to the spot where your pant hem hits your shoes at the top of your foot. 

Make a note of your measurements each time.

Keep those measurements handy and then see the picture they create. Is there one number that’s larger than another, or are they all relatively similar? Intuitively, you have a sense of the shape that’s playing out in those numbers. But let’s look at it more deeply by exploring the body types. 

The 5 body types

Triangle body type

The simple definition of a triangle body type is that your upper body is smaller than your lower body.

triangle body shape

You wear a smaller size on your top and a larger size below the waist, with fuller hips and a curvy bottom. This is my body type.

If you want to get into the math, divide your hip measurement by your shoulder or bust measurement. You’re a triangle if your hips are 5% bigger than your shoulders or bust. 

When choosing pieces, you want to play up the top of your body and downplay the bottom half. 

Up top, go for styles that draw the eye up. Have fun expressing yourself through your tops. Choose pieces that visually widen and draw attention to your upper half, like boatneck tops, horizontal stripes, puff sleeves, pockets, and bright and light colors and patterns. 

Down the bottom, go for minimalist styles to downplay your lower body. Choose simple flat-front pants and dark-colored mid-rise or high-rise bootcut and flare styles that balance the width of your hips. And simple bottoms with minimal details, like invisible pockets. Skip whiskering, distressing, patch pockets, and buttons on the hips, which draw your eye to your bottom half.

As a triangle body type, we’re in good company with singer and actress Beyoncé! 

Triangle Body Type | Beyoncé | Photo Credit: Frazer Harrison/ Getty Images

Notice how the puff at the top of the sleeve balances her bottom half. The colors in this dress are just stunning!

Inverted triangle body type

As an inverted triangle, your shoulders and back are wider than your lower body. 

inverted triangle body shape

You wear a larger size up top than on the bottom. Your shoulders are athletic, and your bust may be pronounced. Your hips are slender, and your waist is straight up and down, with little definition. You have beautiful, slim, long legs.

Here’s the math in case you want to crunch the numbers. Divide your shoulder or bust number by your hip number. Your shoulder or bust number will be over 5% bigger than your hip number.

When choosing pieces, your goal is to play down your upper body. Meanwhile, accentuate your bottom half to balance your shoulders and define your waist. 

For the top, choose styles in dark and non-shiny fabrics. Look for great black, dark gray, navy, or aubergine tops in scoop necks, deep v-necks, and peplum tops. Dark colors downplay your upper body.

Have fun dressing your bottom half. Mid-rise and high-rise wide legs and bootcut pants are great on you. Play with colorful pants and jeans to draw the eye down. White and light blue jeans are meant for you. Look for beautifully colored trouser pants with patch pockets on the hips and flap pockets on the back. Cargo pants draw attention to your lower half with the extra pockets. 

You’re in good company with model Naomi Campbell!

Naomi Campbell
Inverted Triangle | Naomi Campbell | Photo Credit: Vogue

Here, she shows off her beautiful shoulders with this halter-style neckline.

Rectangle body type

You’re straight up and down, and your bust, waist, and hips have similar measurements. Your bottom is slight.

rectangle body shape

Let’s look at how to analyze your measurements. Divide your waist number by your shoulder number. When you look at your numbers, your shoulders and hips are within 5% of each other.  And your waist is 25% (or less) smaller than your shoulders. 

You have beautifully balanced proportions and look great in almost anything. When getting dressed, create curves by highlighting your waist. Accentuate your legs, soften your angles, and play with feminine styles like flutter sleeves if it feels like you. Try wrap tops and fitted tailored shirts.

Wear a bra that offers good shape. Tuck or front-tuck your tops and push up your sleeves to add waist definition. 

Choose pants that highlight and create curves and maintain balance with your top for bottoms. Mid-rise or high-rise bootcuts and flared jeans and pants add some curves. Use details like whiskering and pockets to add definition to your bottom half. 

As a rectangle, you’re in good company with actress Cameron Diaz.

Cameron Diaz
Rectangle Body Type | Cameron Diaz

I’m sharing this photo because it clearly shows her straight body shape. But this dress is a miss for her. You’ll want to choose a dress with more waist definition that creates curves.

Hourglass body type

Your hips and shoulders are the same width, and you have a defined waistline. You have curves all over. 

hourglass body shape

You wear a similar size up top as down below. You have a well-defined waist and are curvy. 

Here’s how the numbers will look. Your shoulders and hips are within 5% of each other. Your waist is 25% smaller (or more) than your shoulders and hips. 

You have the balanced and shapely body type that most women envy. When getting dressed, enjoy your balanced proportions and lean into your curves.  

For tops, choose styles that show off your waist. Try tailored shirts, peplums, and wrap tops. Round necks, boat necks, and v-necks highlight your bust. 

For bottoms, you can do low, mid, or high-waisted jeans and pants in bootcut or flare shapes to showcase your curves. When choosing your rise, keep your proportions balanced. Stretchy fabrics prevent gaps at the waist. 

You’re in great company with actress Scarlett Johansson.

Scarlet Johansson
Hourglass Body Type | Scarlett Johansson | Photo Credit: Esquire

See how the double seam at the waistline draws your eyes to her narrow waist?

Round body type

You are curvy overall and have balanced shoulders and hips but without a defined waist. 

round or oval body shape

Your shoulders may be rounded with an average to large bust. Your legs are shapely. 

When you look at your measurements, they are similar, perhaps with a little extra in the middle. 

Your goal is to give more structure to your shoulders, elongate your body, and create more of an hourglass shape. 

For tops, choose v-necks, wide or deep necklines, scoop necks, wrap tops, empire tops, and tunics that nip in at the waist and gently flare out. ¾ length sleeves reveal the slimmest part of your arms. Look for hems that stop above or below the widest part of your midsection. 

On the bottom, look for high-rise or mid-rise trousers or jeans in flowy fabrics or dark denim. Draping fabrics skim your body flatteringly, while rigid materials hold their shape and add volume. Dark colors elongate your lower half. Go for flat-front bootcut, wide leg, and straight styles. Tapered styles that reveal your ankle can be flattering when you wear them with a bit of heel to elongate the legs. Jeans and pants with some width in the leg or hemline create balanced proportions with a wider upper body. Choose jeans with some stretch and supportive technology. Keep the details simple with minimal pockets and minimal details like whiskering, distressing, or rips. 

Oprah Winfrey shares your body type. She looks luminous in this dress.

Oprah Winfrey
Oval Body Type | Oprah Winfrey | Photo Credit: Gilbert Flores/Broadimage

Notice how the neckline draws your eye up to her face and how the gathering and rushing at the midsection define her waistline. Just stunning.

Your bone structure determines your body shape. But your body changes with time. After a weight loss or gain or pregnancy and menopause, retaking your measurements is good. 

Learn how to dress for your body shape, but don’t let those guidelines trump your sense of personal style. Find a way to marry the two so you feel great and like you!

Hi, Friend. I'm Marya. I'm so glad you're here!

I’m here to help women feel good inside and out through approachable everyday style inspiration and encouragement for midlife. Once upon a time, I worked as a therapist and coach. Now, I’m a holistic style blogger studying style coaching! Be So You celebrates leaning into who we were meant to be! 

Read about my  journey to self-discovery at 40. Follow me on Instagram here and Pinterest here. Send me a quick question through my contact page here.  

Fit Note: I’m midsized at 5’6″, 160 pounds, with size 12 jeans.

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