You can wear a larger variety of lines in your clothes than any other figure type; but remember that while your hips are not wide compared to the rest of figure, neither are they narrow. ~ Emmi Cotten (Clothes Make Magic, 1949)
Do you have a coveted “hourglass figure?” Generally speaking, a woman with an hourglass figure has similar bust and hip measurements with a waist that is about 10″ smaller. It is called an “hourglass figure” because it resembles…wait for it…an old fashioned hourglass. I know. Crazy, right?
Though the hourglass figure has taken on almost mythical proportions, if we aren’t careful, we can end up looking rather frumpy. The focus of this blog post is to take us from frumpy to fabulous!
Why We May Look Frumpy With an Hourglass Figure
There are lots of ways we can end up looking frumpy if we aren’t careful:
- Wearing boxy or baggy garments that hang off of our bustline and make a straight line to the hips (See illustration #11, below). Boxy and baggy garments hide our true shape and adds visual weight to our figure.
- Wearing empire bodices that are gathered just below the bustline and flare out to the hips. Not only do empire bodices hide our true shape but the gathering gives the illusion that we are in later stages of pregnancy. This may or may not lead to awkward conversations in the checkout line at the grocery store.
- Wearing non-supportive or ill-fitting bras. We need to make sure we have the proper foundation to provide a visual balance between the top and bottom halves of our figure.
- Wearing heavy fabric. We need fabric that drapes and flows over curves. Heavier fabrics such as denim, corduroy or brocades are generally not able lie smoothly over our curves.
- Choosing clothes that fit our bustline and hips but are too big everywhere else. This one is hard, I know. But, too often, if it fits at the bustline and hips, we are swimming in the garment everywhere else (including the sleeve length).
- Choosing clothes that are too tight across the bustline and hips. Even though the hourglass figure looks best in fitted clothing styles, that is not the same as tight. Tight clothes just make us look uncomfortable and as if we had too much to eat at the Super Duper Deluxe Carb Coma Inducing Pancake Breakfast fundraiser put on by the Boy Scouts.
- Choosing garments with too many frills, details, or embellishments that give the illusion of being top or bottom heavy or accentuates “trouble zones” (see illustrations 2, 4, & 7, below). As we’ll learn in a moment, well placed details can help give the illusion of balance but if they are in the wrong place or there are too many, we end up looking frumpy or wonky.
How to Go from Frumpy to Fabulous the Midcentury Way!
I don’t know about you, but one of the things I love about the mid-20th century are the clothes. Fortunately for us, our midcentury mentor, Emmi Cotten has suggestions to help those of us with hourglass figures always look fabulous:
- Make sure the shoulder and hip width are visually balanced (see illustrations 1, 3, & 10). A simple way to make sure they are balanced is to check to see if the shoulder seam of the garment is at the shoulder joint like it should be. A saggy shoulder seam–unless it is a design feature–will throw the balance off.
- Wear shapewear under a pencil skirt or wear a longer top or add details that hide the bumps (see illustration 9 for the “don’t” and 5, 6, 8, & 10 for the “do’s”). Longer tops should flare out from the waist while the camouflaging details should give the illusion of a smooth line.
- Choose garments made with princess seams. For those of us with hourglass figures, princess seams are our best friends because they are able to follow our curves while providing structure to woven fabrics. Second best are “fish eye” darts to create sleek lines (these are vertical darts that pull the fabric in at the waist without adding bulk like gathers do).
- Wear clothes by fit and proportion, not size. One of the advantages of being able to sew is that clothing size is less important than fit. Wearing clothes that fit well makes a tremendous difference in making sure we look fabulous.
- Be judicious about wearing knits and make sure they only skim the body. I know I have a tendency to wear knits because I tell myself they are easier fit. But, we run the risk of them either too tight across the bustline and hips or being too baggy. In my effort to Only Wear Beautiful Clothes™, I have begun to reevaluate my collection of cashmere sweaters that I’ve built over the years because I’m not sure they are making me look fabulous (that is, until cold days, then I’m grateful for how warm they are).
The Bottom (and Top) Line
The main thing Miss Cotten wants us to remember is that balancing the visual width of the shoulders/bustline and the hips while allowing the eye to follow the natural curve into and out of the waist is critical if we want to look fabulous.
Do you have an hourglass figure? Do you have a story about a garment that looked fabulous on the rack but hideous once you put it on? Share it in the comments!
To your fabulous Technicolor life!
Previous posts in this series:
Illustration credit: Burda – Modelli Autunno/ Inverno 1956/57