How To Best Dress Your Shape: Proportion Is The Key

woman swimming underwater

Photo by Jeremy Bishop


Size doesn’t matter!

I repeat: Size doesn’t matter!  But shape does, and I’ll show you why…

You know that outfit you saw on the mannequin and thought would be perfect for your beach vacation? The billowy, peasant blouse that tented out over the skinny, cropped jeans? But when you put it on, instead of wistfully romantic, you felt awkwardly stout. I’ll tell you why…

Clothing doesn’t look the same on different body types (and “mannequin” is not a viable body type).

Actually, let’s get away from body types (apples? pears?…again, no!). Because what we’re really talking about is called:


Imagine an actual hourglass. I know, it’s cliche, but it is exactly proportioned, and because of that symmetry, is pleasing to the eye. Equally full on top and bottom, while more narrow in the middle. This is balance.

Balance is necessary for a flattering outfit. 

Not size. Size doesn’t matter. Whether a 2 or a 22, balance creates the most flattering perception.

It’s what stylists use to make their clients look their best. And you can use it too.

Whether your hourglass is fuller on top or bottom, or doesn’t narrow in the middle, there are fashion tricks stylists use to create a more proportionate and flattering shape. 

We simply “fill” the empty part of the hourglass by showing the eye where to focus.

Let’s take this step by step…

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Create the shape you want others to see…

Despite your shape, you can create an illusion of symmetrical proportion. It’s accomplished by detracting from your body’s widest points using pattern, color, texture, shape, as well as some other tricks I’ll show you.

Pattern Play:

Look at the two dresses below. They are exactly the same shift dress on exactly the same model, but in two different patterns. Notice where the placement of the stripes draws your attention on each dress and how the one on the right makes her appear more bottom heavy. 

Beachlunchlounge Alina Stripe Linen Shift in Ice Blue and in White Snow


Color Control:

You can use color placement to attract or detract attention as well.


1. Eileen Fisher Shaped Linen Blazer 2. Eileen Fisher Mandarin Collar Boxy Shirt 3. Caslon Camo Printed Utility Jacket 4. Cynthia Desser Blue Lace Agate Necklace


Shape Shifting:

Shape is the strongest tool in your arsenal when choosing how to best flatter your figure. Experiment with tucking and untucking your shirt to quickly see how turning the look of cutting your shape in “half” to instead creating “thirds” can immediately make your legs look longer and your waist look smaller.

Top: FRAME Stripe Clean Collar Pleated Shirt  Left: Lafayette 148 New York Quintin Blouse  Right: Lafayette 148 New York Justice Linen Shirt


Proportion Is The Key…

The first step to finding your most flattering fits is to find and highlight your waist. Rememberyou are looking to create the illusion of an hourglass. This can be achieved no matter the size or location of your waist (some are higher than others).

Both shift dresses below flatter the models’ shapes, but the darker dresses do it best. It’s because the added v-neck and stitching detail draws our eyes to their waists and enhances the curves of their bodies.

Left to Right: Lafayette 148 New York Ensley Shift Dress / Lafayette 148 New York Brett Contrast Stitch Dress / Lafayette 148 New York Plus Size Ensley Sheath Dress / Lafayette 148 New York Plus Size Brett Contrast Stitch Dress


Bigger Is Just Bigger…

Some cuts are meant to look oversized (like the striped jacket below, voluminous cardigan sweaters, or the billowy, peasant blouse I mentioned earlier). But that doesn’t mean they are flattering. Rather than hiding perceived “figure flaws”, they exaggerate and create more width. (However, these same oversized shapes can be a benefit if you have no curves and are trying to create some, as you’ll see later.) 

Notice how the shape of the jackets below create different silhouettes. The ones that more closely follow the curves of the body are most flattering on both models. 

Left to Right Top: Lafayette 148 New York Rainey Open Front Jacket / Lafayette 148 New York Malika Jacket / Lafayette 148 New York Tamaya Metropolis Jacket / Lafayette 148 New York Heather Linen Jacket / Bottom: Lafayette 148 New York Plus Size Rainey Open Front Jacket / Lafayette 148 New York Plus Size Malika Jacket / Lafayette 148 New York Plus Size Metropolis Jacket / Lafayette 148 Plus Size Heather Linen Jacket



Train Your Eye…

As you’ve seen, you can use pattern, color, and shape to create the image you want others to see by showing them where to look. See if you can identify below why one outfit works better than the other.

Left to Right: Lafayette 148 New York Layken Linen Jacket / Lafayette 148 New York Cairo Jacket / Caslon Knit Tank Dress / Amour Vert Tie Waist Body Con Dress


Make Smarter Choices…

Training your eye to recognize how pattern, color, and shape effect the overall silhouette will lead you to making smarter purchases.

Left to Right: Nic + Zoe Sand Ripple Jacket / Lafayette 148 New York Avalynn Midi Dress / Lafayette 148 New York Augustina Piazza Print Dress

Fine Tune Your Image…

Before you know it, you’ll identify the finer details that can really make a difference.

Left: Topshop Sleeveless Midi Shirtdress  Right: Topshop Tie Denim Midi Dress

Create Your Hourglass…

Let’s take this “hourglass concept” a step further…

As I said before, whether your hourglass is fuller on top or bottom, or doesn’t narrow in the middle, there are fashion tricks stylists use to create a more proportionate and flattering look. 

We simply “fill” the empty part of the hourglass by showing the eye where to focus. You’ve learned some ways pattern, color, and shape can be manipulated. Now let’s fine tune those strategies to your figure. 

Quick Note: This is simply a starting point, using some of the most common stylist tricks. Every body is different. Use your measurements to determine your shape and experiment with the various suggestions below to see how they work for you.


Left to Right Top: Tart Emerson Cutout Back Tank / Majestic Paris for Neiman Marcus Metallic Cowl Neck Top / Loveappella Wrap Tie Back Peplum Top  / Middle: St. John Collection Swarovski Leaf Chain Belt / Gucci Rose Leather Belt / Bottom: Eliza J Floral Metallic Jacquard Skirt / Veronica Beard Maldon Belted Wide Leg Pants / Reformation Jackie Belted High Waist Pants


Bigger on Top

If the top of your hourglass is your fullest part, you’ll want to draw attention to (or fill) the bottom, while maintaining a narrow center. Boldly patterned skirts or pants draw the eye downward. Trouser cut pants balance a larger upper half with their fuller cut legs. Cowl necklines and soft v-necks direct attention toward the waist. The inverted triangle they create is slimming. Be sure to stay with a wider strap if going sleeveless. A spaghetti strap will accentuate a larger chest, while a thicker strap balances it. Highlight your waist with belts, belted pants, cinched or tucked tops, or inverted pleats that jut out from the waist (like the full skirt above). 


Left to Right Top: Mad Jewels Bohemian Beaded Statement EarringsBaublebar Kew Crystal Collar Necklace / Middle: Vince Camuto Cold Shoulder TopMadewell Hillside Daisies Tie Front TopCece Ruffle Tie Blouse / Bottom: Diane von Furstenberg Calliope Colorblock DressKut From The Kloth Lauren Crop JeansGibson Notch Collar Blazer

Bigger on Bottom

If you are fuller on the bottom, you’ll want to attract attention to (or fill) the top portion of your hourglass.  A statement necklace or earrings draw the focus upward. A brightly colored or boldly patterned top also commands attention. Look for tops with ruffles, bell sleeves, embroidery, or other embellishments.  A jacket with sharply structured shoulders is an excellent shape for you as it visually fills the top to balance the bottom. Cleverly patterned dresses, like the shift above, create the illusion of a narrower bottom half. Lastly, mid-rise jeans tend to be the best fit for you, as they flatter your waistline. 


Left to Right Top: Lafayette 148 Plus Size Heather Linen JacketCynthia Desser Blue Lace Agate NecklaceVince Camuto V-Neck Rumple Blouse / Middle: All In Favor Button Back TopAkola Tassel & Cluster Earrings7 For All Mankind Dojo Wide Leg JeansMadewell Eco Edition Denim A-Line SkirtGal Meets Glam Lauren Botanical Garden Dress

Bigger in Middle

If your hourglass is full in the middle, you’ll want to draw attention to (or fill) both the top and the bottom to create the look of a smaller waist. Trouser cut jeans or wide leg pants create a fuller lower half with their flared legs. A-line skirts, like the denim one above, also create a fuller bottom by “belling out” away from the body. Next, balance both of these fuller bottoms with fuller tops. Statement jewelry and structured shoulders both draw the eye upward. V-necks are inverted triangles that form a slimmer top and highlight the waist you’ve created. Structured, one button jackets are an excellent choice, as they visually carve out a waistline. Empire waist dresses are flattering as well because they accentuate your high waistline. 

Left to Right Top: J. Crew Ribbed Halter Neck TankFRAME Cheetah Calf Hair BeltBoden Richmond Stretch Cotton Pencil Skirt / Middle: Milly Degrade Chevron Flare DressAnne Klein Haviland Wrap Dress / Bottom: Amour Vert Francoise Jersey TopMadewell Eco Edition Denim A-Line SkirtAG The Farrah High Waist Skinny Jeans

Hourglass Shape

If you’re already shaped like an hourglass, your waist needs to be visible to maintain that coveted proportion.  It’s ironic that the most coveted shape is one of the hardest to maintain. Because both your top and bottom portions are already full, the moment you eliminate the narrow center, you are visually as wide as your widest points. Clothing that follows the lines of your shape flatters you most. Wrap dresses, skinny jeans, and pencil skirts are knockout on you. Fit and flare dresses, as well as A-line skirts are great because they jut out far enough away from your widest points. V-necklines accentuate and point to your narrow waist. Striped tops narrow as they hit your waist, creating a slimming effect. And belts, tucked in shirts, belted pants, and anything else that highlights the waist are the stars of your show! 


Left to Right Top: St. John Collection Colorblock Milano Dress / 1901 Stretch Cotton Twill BlazerVeronica Beard Selene Ruffle Top / Middle: Nicholas Floral Print Silk Crop TopMadewell Eco Edition Denim A-Line Skirt / Bottom: 7 For All Mankind Dojo Wide Leg JeansEliza J Floral Metallic Jacquard SkirtJudith & Charles Tilberg Colorblock Dress

Straight Shape

If your shape is straight, you’ll need to create your hourglass by adding some curves to (or fill) both your top and bottom halves. Jackets or tops with structured shoulders draw the eye upward.  Look for tops with ruffles, bell sleeves, embroidery, peplum details or other embellishments that create a fuller silhouette. Then balance these with trouser cut or wide leg pants, inverted pleats (like the full skirt above) or A-line skirts. They flare away from the body and are symmetric to the attention grabbing top you’ve paired with them. Cleverly patterned dresses, like the ones above, carve out the curves for you. 


Use Your Stylist Strategy

As you’ve seen, size doesn’t matter! Shift your focus away from changing your body and, instead, toward making your wardrobe work for your best assets.

You’ve learned how pattern, color, and shape can be manipulated to create the image you want others to see. You’re training your eye to recognize balance and you know that bigger is just bigger.  And you’ve got a cheat sheet for creating your hourglass!

Now, go through your closet (even better – edit your closet!) and experiment with the different shapes you own.

Which are most flattering? Why?

What could you use more of and what should you avoid? 

Don’t get discouraged. Maybe that oversized cardigan can be belted. 

Have no doubt that you’ll be making smarter purchases and feeling confident in how you look from now on.


Did this help you?

Please share it with your friends (just click on the social media share buttons below)! They’ll thank you because it’s such a relief to learn you don’t need to change your body. You just need your wardrobe to work for you!

Until then,


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  1. Joannah on June 25, 2019 at 2:13 pm

    Incredibly helpful! Thank you so much for the mass amount of time and effort it must have taken to put this wealth of knowledge together.. In an easily readable, easily comprehensible, visually informative (the pictures are so great) way. Learned so much, thank you!

    • Erin Ross on June 25, 2019 at 6:03 pm

      Thank you so much, Joannah!! There are plenty of lists out there that tell you which cuts look good on different body types, but unless you truly understand WHY something works so well on you, you’re just a slave to those lists. Experiment with different styles in a fitting room to really gain an understanding of how you can manipulate your shape. I’m so happy you commented! It keeps me motivated!