Styles to Showcase Your Shape

Choosing the most flattering garment silhouhettes can make an amazing difference in how trim and balanced any woman’s figure appears.  In this post you’ll find tips for flattering each of the 5 basic body types we identified in last week’s segment.

If you want to dig further into this topic, check out our e-booklets – with pages and pages of illustrated detail for the various body types. These booklets expand on the style information from the LOOKING GOOD … Every Day book and the Craftsy video.   You’ll find a link to the appropriate title under each body type summary below.

Of course body types aren’t the entire story for figure flattery, and we’ll be talking about ways to minimize various figure “situations” in future posts. But here’s the starting point:

An hourglass looks best in styles that repeat her curved shape and defined waist. Best jackets, shirts and dresses are shaped in toward the waist with vertical darts, waistline tucks or princess seams.  Ideal sweaters and knit tops are either shaped from the side seams or made from ribbed fabrics that skim her body.  Best skirts and pants ride at or near her natural waistline rather than exaggeratedly low.

She generally looks best with tops tucked in (unless her figure is very full-busted or short-waisted) , and wears belts well.  Belting over a straighter shirt or jacket, however, usually creates a bulky, unflattering look.   Hourglass e-booklet here.

A rectangle looks best in straight or semi-fitted styles that enhance her more angular shape. Overly shaped dress styles will be too snug through the waist and create unflattering horizontal wrinkles.  Shaped jackets will spread open at the waistline, pushing the lower edge into an awkward ruffle over the hips.

Details like shirt-tail hemlines, side slits, lightweight fabrics and diagonal draping all add a sense of feminine curve to a rectangle’s straighter frame.

Pants or skirts with a traditional waistband are difficult to fit since a rectangle’s waist is proportionally larger compared with her hips.  Lower-rise pants, styles with a waistline facing or drawstring all achieve an easier fit on this body type. Rectangles generally look best in shirts and sweaters worn out over the waistline of a skirt or pants.  Her best belts are either narrow and color-matched to the garment or looser belt styles that hang lower in front, slightly on a diagonal.  Rectangle e-booklet here. 

A triangle needs to balance her shape by calling attention to her upper body, visually minimizing hips and maintaining waistline definition. Slimmer skirts and pants minimize lower body fullness.  The secret is to purchase the garment to fit her hips and have the waistline taken in. Tapering straight skirts and pant legs creates a sleeker, trimmer look.

A shaped, waist-length or high hip length jacket sidesteps the fitting issues created by a smaller shoulder and wider hipline.  If the jacket is made in a brighter color, more interesting fabric pattern or texture and with eye-catching details, it commands all the visual attention, allowing those hips to virtually disappear.

Removable foam shoulder shapers are almost a must to create visual balance for this figure type. A triangle also gets a slimming, shapely effect by wearing shirts and blouses tucked in, thereby defining her narrower waistline and visually elongating her legs.  The exception is a triangle with a very full bust or short waist.  Triangle e-booklet here. 

An inverted triangle needs to balance her proportions by minimizing upper body while emphasizing trim hips and great legs. Sleek, straighter shirt and jacket shapes and vertical design lines slim her upper body.  Wearing a jacket or cardigan slightly open lets its front edge expose a vertical strip of the blouse or T-shirt color underneath.  Adding a long pendant necklace can create the same center front focus when wearing a single-layer top over a pant or skirt.

Interesting fabrics and eye-catching design details in skirts and pants draw attention to her slim hips and shapely legs.  Her best bottoms are soft and sleek rather than overly full , stiff or bulky.  Inverted trangle e-booklet here. 

The goal for an Oval is to strengthen her shoulder line to balance middle body fullness, while skimming through her waist area and creating attention up around her face.  Soft, drapable fabric – neither stiff nor clingy – work best on this figure type.

Straight styles, without darts or princess seams to shape inward at the waist, work best for this figure.   A long jacket or vest, worn open, creates a visually dominant vertical.   And a substantial shoulder pad gives lift and definition to the entire silhouette.

Bottoms purchased for her relatively larger waist measurement may need to have the side seams taken in to avoid the sloppy look of excess fabric. Choosing bottom garments with drawstring or elastic wait finished can also work well.  Details close to the face draw attention away from tummy fullness.  Oval e-booklet here

About Nancy Nix Rice

I help other women feel confident about how they look every day - regardless of their age, budget, lifestyle or the size tag in their pants - so they put wardrobe concerns on the back burner and go share their gifts with the world.


  1. Mimi on June 21, 2017 at 5:51 am

    I believe the best bottoms for an Inverted Triangle are not sleek but full–the opposite of what’s posted here. A full bottom half balances the larger top.

    • Nancy Nix Rice on June 21, 2017 at 7:37 am

      I can understand that thought process Mimi. You are right that balancing the figure is key. I prefer to do that balancing with visual interest in the bottom garment (like Donna’s patterned skirt in the photo example) rather than with actual physical volume, which often seems to add over-all weight to the figure. Minimizing tactics like receding colors on top and style details or accessories the create a center front focus and vertically bisect the broadeer upper body contribute as well. Of course nothing is an absolute in wardrobing because there are so many variables interacting in every outfit, so there could be a situation where a fuller bottom garment might be the perfect choice.

      • Mimi on June 28, 2017 at 6:39 am

        I’m a thin and petite inverted triangle, so adding a bit of fullness and volume to my pants or skirt really is essential to balance my figure properly. Not all your readers want to look thinner lol! But I can certainly see how a larger body type might not want to add any more fullness.

        • Nancy Nix Rice on June 28, 2017 at 7:25 am

          Inverted triangles are the body type with the most variance within the category too. Or course for all women, body type isn’t the whole story, any more than “4 Seasons” adequately describes all the possible color patterns. But they are a great starting point for a more nuanced discussion to follow. Thanks for being the “Poster Girl” for that understanding!

  2. Maxine on June 23, 2017 at 10:21 am

    Thank you Nancy. I have printed out the booklet, and will put it in a binder so I can refer to it often. I am just starting to sew for myself, so this will really be helpful when choosing patterns. Your book has also been helpful. Thank you for all this great information.

    It is much easier to see what others are wearing, than ourselves. Knowing the basic styles, colors, patterns that benefit our own figures gives us a place in which to start our wardrobes. Why not make ourselves look better? It can be easy.

    • Nancy Nix Rice on June 23, 2017 at 11:31 am

      So glad you find the info helpful. I know when I started in the image business, I could see what worked on other people much better than I could see it on myself. Utter lack of objectivity. For years I dressed myself by the “rules” because I coulnd’t get an accurate impression from looking in a mirror. But we all get better at it over time, thank goodness. Thanks goodness too that those of us who sew can create options for ourselves beyond what is offerred in retail at a given time.

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