Beyond the fact that all women have such things as shoulders, waists, and hips, practically anything can happen. Nature, in her enthusiasm for infinite variety, has produced endless combinations of different kinds of waists and hips and shoulders in figures. ~Emmi Cotten, Clothes Make Magic, 1949
Okay, fess up. Do you really know what your figure looks like? I don’t know about you but I am notorious for thinking that my figure looks just like a designer’s fit model. I’ll order something absolutely adorable from a favorite online catalogue or make a garment and then am shocked (SHOCKED! I tell you!) when the garment doesn’t look exactly the same on me. In fact, a lot of those beautiful garments look downright dowdy on me. Why? Because I haven’t chosen the garments realistically based on my figure.
In my recent blog post, Is Your Outfit Fighting Your Figure, we looked at how optical illusions affect how we see something. Today, in our quest to only wear beautiful clothes, we are going to objectively analyze our figures so that we can start creating optical illusions that are the most flattering for our figure types.
Our Figure’s Building Blocks
Miss Cotton, our magical clothing mentor, tells us to forget about our measurements. What we need to analyze are the various building blocks that come together to create our overall shape. For example, our hips may create a square, a rounded triangle, or a angular triangle. Our shoulders are narrow, medium, or wide.
Generally speaking, all figures can be classified if we consider them from the standpoint of comparative proportions. When we stop freaking out about our measurements, we can analyze what shape the building block resembles–square, triangular, etc.–and the proportion of it in comparison to the other building blocks of our shape. Thus, there is an unlimited number of combinations and we just have to find our own. Do we have square hips, narrow shoulders, long but wide waist, and short legs? Or, do we have long legs, rounded triangle hips, narrow waist, and wide shoulders?
Note that there is no “right or wrong” figure to have. We are simply exploring how everything works together to create an illusion. For example, medium width hips can look wide if we have narrow shoulders.
We need to put aside all of the garbage put out by the media about what our bodies are supposed to look like and carefully examine the building blocks we have to work with to create a flattering look for ourselves.
Using the Following Charts
The yardstick that we use to judge our figure’s proportions is a basic figure with medium proportions. Use the basic figure as a starting point to determine similarities or dissimilarities to its proportions.
Miss Cotten tells us to get undressed down to our undies. If we normally wear shapeware or control top hose, we should keep those on because they impact the overall shape of the building blocks when we wear clothes (which is why we wear them!). We are to stand in front of a full length mirror far enough away that we can see our entire body (Miss Cotten recommends about 10 feet away). If possible, have print outs of the following charts and circle or check the proportions that are most similar to yours.
Step 1 – Basic Figure: The Three Hiplines
The first thing Miss Cotten advises us to do is to figure out our hipline first and then go from there. Type 1 has a square hipline, Type 2 a medium hipline, and Type 3 a triangular hipline.
Step 2 – Torso: Width Variations
After we determine the shape of our hips, we then examine where our torso is the widest. Type 4 has a wide waist, Type 5 wide hips, and Type 6 wide shoulders. For those of us that are “hour glass” figures, we should just look at our bone structures. For example, yes, my bust and hips have very similar measurements but my shoulders, themselves, are actually quite narrow compared to my hips and bustline (which leads to all sorts of fun and games when I’m trying to fit a garment around my ample bosom but the shoulder seam ends up being somewhere around the middle of my upper arm…not exactly the look I am going for).
Step 3 – Torso: Length Variations
Now we think about our torso and leg proportion. Three different women can be the same height and width but clothes will look significantly different on them because of the torso/leg proportion. For example, I’m 5’3″ which “should” put me in a petite size but I’m more torso than legs so I need a misses bodice and petite skirt and petite sleeve for the best fit in a garment.
Type 7 has a low waist and short legs; the upper part of this figure is long compared to the lower part. Type 8 has a high waist and long legs; the upper part of this figure is short compared to the lower part. Type 9 has a high waist and short legs; the upper part of the figure is short compared to the lower part, as in the case of Type 8, but the length below the waist is differently distributed.
Step 4 – Face and Shoulders
Now we will type our face shape. Standing close to the mirror and wrapping a cloth around our heads, we should compare our shapes to the ones shown. I’ve read in other beauty books that an “oval” face is the “ideal” shape but Miss Cotten doesn’t show it as one of the options. Looking at the silhouettes, I’m thinking that the pear-shaped face is the closest to an oval-shaped face.
Figures 1 – 4 are problem face profiles. Check to see if you have one of these profile issues. Miss Cotten then tells us to examine our neck and shoulder area. As much as I’d love it to be so, I don’t even come close to have a swan-like Audrey neck. I’m actually a combination of the wide and short neck and shoulder combination, which is why turtlenecks always look like they are trying to strangle me.
Step 5: The Side View
There was a day, about a year ago, when I saw what I looked like from the side and started laughing. You see, from the front, I thought I was “all that” (does anyone even say that anymore?) and looking great. From the side, I looked like a pigeon–full bust sticking out in front and my sway back and bodacious backside rounding out the look. Now, a little over a hundred years ago, that would have been awesome because women were wearing corsets to give them that shape. But it wasn’t what I was going for and it motivated me to really, really, really commit to doing those core exercises to strengthen those abs to get my spine back into a healthy alignment (yeah, I’m shallow–it took realizing I look like a pigeon from the side to do something about that swayback…). From an Only Wear Beautiful Clothes standpoint, the swayback was preventing my clothes to hang correctly because they would bunch up above my backside.
Check to see if you have any of these special problems:
- Bust is large compared to the rest of your figure, or inclined to be flat or low.
- Figures with diaphragm problems are widest above the waist from the side view.
- Figures with abdomen problems are widest at or below the waist from the side view.
- To determine if you have a flat back, examine your from both the side and side-back. Most figures with flat backs are well filled out just below the waist at each side of center back.
- Curved back
Putting It All Together
Once the analysis is finished, trace or sketch the figures to create what in the fashion world is called a croqui. Croquis are the figures fashion designers use when they sketch their designs (as an aside, most of them are elongated which is why a design sketch looks fabulous and then looks totally different on a real person). By having a croqui of ourselves, we can have a good idea of what our building blocks look like when put together and can then objectively decide if a garment’s line is going to look good on us.
If you are feeling brave, you can take a digital photo of yourself in your undies and then draw the building blocks over it for your croqui.
In the upcoming lessons from Miss Cotten, we will examine the specific figure types and the clothing styles and lines that are the most flattering for that type. Further down the line, we will take a peek at hair styles and then clothing colors for various skin tones and hair color.
When you did this exercise, did anything surprise you? Did you always think you were a different figure type and discovered that you are completely different? Share your thoughts in the comments.
And, if you found this post valuable, won’t you share it with your friends using the share buttons at the end of the post so that they can join the conversation, too?
Until next time, have a fabulous Technicolor day!
Image: Vanity Fair Grecian Gown image courtesy of Lisanne! on Flickr.com.