Basic body shapes – the straight body-line examined

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This post covers the basic outline shape of a woman’s body;  her silhouette. There is a lot of debate about hour-glass, figure of eight, pears, apples, inverted V etc, much of which can be confusing and rather restrictive. The best analysis I have seen fits all female bodies fit into one of two types – a shaped body line or a basically straight body line, (although some would say there is an in-between semi-shaped too). Either of these two body types may be fatter or slimmer. It’s the underlying shape that you will have had since you were a teenager that it is important to identify.

A straight outline includes straight and/or broad shoulders, a wide and/or straight ribcage, no obvious indentation at the waist, low and flatter hips and thighs, and flattish calves.

Here is a great straight body. Although Diana walks with her slim arm across her body to provide the semblance of a waist it is clear that her shoulders are wider than her hips. This is the key feature of the straight body. Many models have this look, which is slightly masculine. Tall, thin or athletic women, carry their clothes well especially if they keep to straight, elegant lines.

Versace sheath, bare legs, mid 90s
Versace sheath, bare legs, mid 90s

The sheath dress is a very good look for women with a straight bodyline (outline shape). The long blue dress below has a similar, body skimming shape, and this allows us to see how narrow Princess Diana’s hips are compared to her wide shoulders, substantial rib cage and ill-defined waist. The one shoulder dress that Diana often chose breaks up the strong horizontal line of the shoulders very effectively.

Shoulders wider than the hips
Shoulders wider than the hips

In the early days Diana was a little heavier, but the transformation to super model occurred when she started to wear clothes that suited her shape. In this pink and white dress Princess Diana looks amazing as she is making the most of her angular look with a structured, boxy, cropped top, attached to a sinewy washed silk skirt that skims her flattish rear and slender hips.

1989 Catherine Walker dress
1989 Catherine Walker dress

On another occasion she gets it right with a very different look. This lovely light blue dress she exposes her large, squarish shoulders but breaks up the line with a high scarf. The waist is created by the crossed chiffon at the front of the dress, and fullness occurs at the hip level.

1987 dress, Cannes.
1987 dress, Cannes.

If you have a similar outline shape (even if you are shorter or fatter than Princess Diana) you can follow the same rules, perhaps with some adjustments for proportion which I will deal with on another occasion. Here are some dress shapes that work well for the Straight bodyline.

  • 1960s style shift dress, where there is no obvious waist shaping and the dress appears rectangular. A lovely, easy to wear style that flatters the slim legs and ankles that usually go with this shape.
    pattern for 1960s shift dress
    1960s Shift
  • 1920s style dropped waist. Although this particular pattern borders on the Am Dram, the shape is nice and would work well without the under skirt. Cap sleeves and lots of strong emphasis at thehemline adds interest
    1920s dropped waist dress
    Dropped waist
  • 1980s pullover dress. A nice comfortable jumper dress, best made up in a firm jersey fabric. The stretch fabric flatters slim hips, and can be worn with a low slung belt, or a firm wide belt with an angular buckle.
    Vogue pattern for pullover dress 1980s
    1980s pullover dress
  • The shirtwaister is a great shape on the straight body – a smart neat look that works well for work, looking smart and sophisticated. Pockets, cuffs and belts provide subtle detailing.
    shirt waister dress pattern, vintage
    Shirt waister
  • dress with over blouse gives a bit of shape to the straight body line, creating a waist line where it is less well-defined.
    vintage pattern for dress with overblouse
    Dress with overblouse
  • column dress – a lovely dress on a long, straight body with slim hips. This is the sort of dress that Victoria Beckham often features in her collections.


If you have a straight body shape one of the good blogs to follow is Thornberry. She is a prolific seamstress and knows how to dress her figure well. And if you want an idea of what not to wear with a straight body, wear a full-skirted, shiny, mauve evening dress.

Diana at the theatre
Diana at the theatre

8 Responses

    • fabrickated

      No I do not Joyce! These are the four little blackened symbols (triangle, inverted triangle, hourglass etc) indicating what body shapes suit each item. I think they just include as many as they can to try to sell more patterns. I am always trying for the “best” look, rather than “may work if you are very slim and an ace fitter”. I have picked out some patterns that I know will work for the body type. Even so they need to be fitted well, the right length and proportion, in the right colour with the right sort of accessories etc. Have you any experience with following them, and it not working?

  1. fabrickated

    Yes! Of course I could. That would have been an even better example. It was so full, and flouncey and ribbony as well as being about two sizes too big for her. She would have looked so much better in a dress more like the evening dresses above or a version of Vogue 2494, the 1948 dress, or the lovely dress chosen by the wife of John Kennedy junior.

  2. sweatyknitter

    Okay – I’m taller than Princess Di was (thus far taller than Marilyn Monroe) but reading your post discovered I fit the curvy body type better (narrow shoulders, curvy hips). But when I was younger I always felt that dressing to show the curves made me look “big” – especially compared to all the little women around me. But dressing in straight lines (think Eileen Fisher) made me look as though I was dressing in oversized clothes (shoulders narrower than hips). So what kind of dress best fits a TALL curvy person?

    • fabrickated

      Interesting question Karen. Taller than Princess Di (5’11”) makes you fairly tall, (taller than the average man), and this could be more important than curvy or straight. I would be interested to know if you have long legs, relative to your height, or if your length is more in the top half (I will do a post on proportions as you have prompted it), and also if you are very slim, normal or heavier. All these things make a difference. If you want to appear shorter you need some horizontal lines for example, but generally with a semi-shaped or shaped body line you will want to look for dresses that accentuate the waist curve. I hope this is helpful but do respond if you want more information.

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