Friday, November 15, 2013

Back to Basics: Body Type

As promised last week, today we're talking style basics, specifically, body type. It goes without saying that every body is different, and categorizing such a diverse reality is difficult. Since this is a blog post, and I can't meet all of you individually, we're going to keep it real simple, and hopefully clear. Once you have the general principles down, you can work within them and from them to get a real grasp of your own unique silhouette as it appears to others.

So first, a brief explanation of body type and a listing of the four basic types (some people use a system of six or more types, but I'm giving you the four most recognized and most useful classifications). Body type is related to proportion, specifically one's bust, waist, and hips in relation to one another, and also one's weight loss and gain patterns (i.e. where you lose last and gain first, and vice versa). Body type is not size. You can be a size 2 or a size 20, and be any of the four body types.

The four basic types are Pear, Heart, Box, and Hourglass. Each body type has the general silhouette of the name that identifies it. For greater clarification, the characteristics of each are as follows: 

PEAR: A pear shape is characterized by a proportionally larger lower body. The pear shaped person may or may not have narrow or sloping shoulders that add to this appearance of disproportion between upper and lower body. Weight is carried in the lower body, and is usually gained in the hips, thighs and buttocks first, and lost there last. 

HEART: A heart shape is characterized by a proportionally larger upper body, as a result of broad shoulders and/or a fuller bust, and a narrow waist and thinner legs. Weight is usually carried in the middle.

BOX: A box shape is characterized by bust (or possibly shoulder), waist, and hip measurements that are nearly identical. This body type has no clearly defined waist.

HOURGLASS: An hourglass shape is characterized by bust and hips that are evenly proportioned to  one another, and to the waist. The hourglass shaped person will usually gain and lose weight evenly in her upper and lower body. 

Substitue the word "BOX" for "BANANA"  // image via

Now to determine one's own body type. There are many online body type "calculators" and formulas to determine one's body type. After trying various methods, I have found that the simplest, most productive way to determine one's basic body shape is as follows (this is as taught to me by Mary at ISY Fashion and Communication):

First, take your measurements au naturel. Use a flexible tape measure and measure around your bust at its widest point, your waist at its narrowest point, and your hips by going around the largest point of the buttocks.

image via

Next, ask yourself these questions. Is your hip measurement two inches or greater than your bust? If so, stop reading these questions and skip ahead, because you have a PEAR shape. If not, is your bust measurement two inches or greater than your hip measurement? If so, then stop reading. You have a HEART shape. If you have answered "no" to both questions, and your hip measurement is eight inches greater than your waist, you have an HOURGLASS body type. If your hip measurement is less than eight inches greater than your waist, you are a BOX body type.

Keep in mind that each of our bodies is more than our bust, waist, and hip measurements. Some have long arms, a short neck, narrow shoulders, long legs, a short torso, etc, etc; we are each made of a unique combination of these elements. Any one of these other body elements (though some more than others), can alter the way the eye perceives an overall body shape. Once you have determined your basic body shape, consider these secondary aspects to get the fullest picture of your silhouette.

Okay, so now you know which category you fall into, but you may still be wondering why knowing your body type is important to dressing well and looking your best. Well, the human eye finds proportionality pleasing. Furthermore, if a figure is proportionate, no one individual feature is highlighted and the face remains the focal point. This is a good thing, ladies!  Yet, very few of us have a "perfectly" proportioned figure. So what's a girl to do? Create the illusion of proportion through dress! Knowing  one's body type helps us know what to minimize and what to maximize to achieve this illusion.

Join me next week for some style basics on how to use line, color, print, and texture to "create" proportion. 

And P.S. This recent post from Garance reminded me how common it is for us women to idealize a body type that isn't our own, especially at the expense of our own. Why does that damn grass always have to seem greener...


  1. Confirmation: I am a box. Or a banana.

  2. I'm going to re-measure now. I went to some find-your-body-type calculator once (why?), and it said, "Body type not found." Hah! I'm a freak of nature.

    1. Oh, Laura, I hope it's not the one I recommended in a post about a year ago (I've come so far since then ;) !

      This method seems to work better than the others... You'll have to let me know how it works out!


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