Basic body shapes – the shaped body-line examined

posted in: Style advice | 4

In my previous post I considered the straight body line, and discussed Princess Diana as an archetypal straight body. This post complements it by describing the curved, or shaped, body-line. There is a half way house too – the semi shaped body, but it is easier to start with if we think about it as a dichotomy. Remember at this point we are not discussing how tall or short, heavy or slim a body is. We are trying to get to its essential shape – if it is made up more of obvious curves rather than straight lines. You need to identify the basic silhouette rather than look at how much you weigh (hopefully a relief in itself!)

The shaped body-line has the following characteristics; narrow or sloping shoulders, narrow, tapered ribcage, obvious waist, high round hips, and shaped calves.

Here is a great, shaped body. Standing at ease we can see her relatively short legs and “long-waist” ie the length between bust and hips. This is not a traditional “model girl” figure, but it is nevertheless a beautiful body. Marilyn looks her best in structured formal evening wear (generally not very comfortable clothes), clothes that flow round and flatter her curves. Ruching, pleating, gathering and draping work well with the shaped body-line.

Marilyn Munroe in white swim suit
Marilyn in swim suit

When dressing this shape we need to emphasis the waist as straighter styles, especially if they end at the hips or thighs can make the wearer appear wider.

Fitted dress
Fitted dress
Marilyn Munroe in fitted pink dress
Fitted pink dress

If you have a shaped or curvy body-line the best dresses would be

  • 1940s styles in general, but a good example of a skirted evening dress
    vintage 1940s evening dress pattern
    1940s evening dress
  • 1970s style – any fit and flare dress that fits neatly above the waist with an A line or flare from below the bust or waist. This length looks good and can make your legs look longer.
    1970s dress pattern Valentino
    1970s dress
  • wrap dress – a great look on a shaped body. the top is fitted and the skirt is loose and comfortable. Best worn about knee-length or full length.
    DVF wrap dress 1970s
    DVF wrap dress
  • fitted waist – any dress with a seam at the waist that allows strong waist definition and close-fitting. A little detail at the shoulders balances out the hips.
    fitted waist dress
    fitted waist dress
  • fitted sheath dress This dress will emphasise curves but needs careful fitting. The tabs with buttons at the shoulder and neat sleeves add balancing width at the shoulder.This length, very popular in the early 1950s can be flattering especially if your legs are long and slim, but generally I would advise finishing at the knee to allow ease of walking.
    vintage pattern for fitted sheath dress
    fitted sheath dress

Here is a picture of Marilyn in jeans and shirt. She looks lovely because she is so pretty, but truthfully this is not the best look on her, compared to her waisted dresses.

Marilyn Munroe in Jeans
Marilyn in Jeans


  • 4 Responses

    1. amaryllislog

      This series of posts are so informative. I’m closer to a Diana shape but refer to my figure as a tree trunk (no defined waist). I appreciate the thoughts on what clothing styles work on each figure.

    2. Stephanie

      These two posts give a great deal of food for thought. I’ve always thought of myself as having more of a straight body line as I’m narrow everywhere, with less waist definition than a curved shape, but now I think I am perhaps a semi. Something to think about. I know intuitively what works on my body and eventually get to it, but I also like to try other styles for experiment.

    3. Joyce

      I am guessing I am the softer curvy shape …as I look better in a fitted top with waist details , or at the very least Fitted at the waist. My shoulders are narrower then my hips,, my waist is a little high. I am drawn to the forties style… fact, for my friends 60th birthday party last weekend , I treated myself to an up-do (sp?) with victory curls…………very sculptural……. fun fun fun! I would do that again sometime for some rather important event.
      I love fitted vests and jackets, however I find it extremely hard to find a dress that compliments my body shape, as I have inherited a protruding tummy … which I find is better skimped over by the layers of a jacket, vest or shirt. Naturally it is hard to find this in the retail stores, another reason I like to sew. Its wonderful to be able to control of these elements, isn’t it :~ ) If I’m really lucky I can find a shirt with the pleat in the middle of the back yoke that gives me the inch I need to get around my hips (off the rack) .
      Referring to one of your other posts > this is why I usually try to wear a darker bottom, to balance the smaller top, and I like shoulder details too.
      Anyhow………yes I agree with above comments, extremely informative………thanks so much for sharing Kate.

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