Late 20th Century body shapes – which decade are you?

Yesterday I did a post, illustrated with vintage patterns, showing which styles are best for each of the three main body types (shaped, semi-straight, and straight).


Are you a curvy girl with a shaped figure? Then the shapes of the 1950s will flatter you. These two patterns are reproduction of two designs from the 1950s. I really like that the big companies have reproduced some of their archives (but sadly they don’t seem to cover the 1960s). The silhouette is now quite different, with lots of fullness at the hip, which serves to make the waist look tiny. Of course the drawings are exaggerated but this look basically evolved from Christian Dior’s post war New Look. The full, petticoated skirt really makes the torso appear diminutive. The close-fitting through the bust is often achieved with princess lines, allowing a nice long slim diaphragm. The shoulders are natural and soft, probably without pads, although the skirt would be supported with at least a stiffened petticoat, possibly more. The necklines are often open and a little bit revealing, making the neck look slim and long. My personal view (as someone with the traditional hour-glass figure) is that these very exaggerated skirts are not as easy to wear. I prefer the 1940s skirt look, although the upper half of these dresses are very fetching. For shaped women I suggest trying them more as a knee-length dress, with some of the fullness removed.


I have to admit I favour the 1960s. I just love the simple styling that allows neat tailoring. The ideal body shape for the 1960s is a straight figure, summed up with the well-fitted sheath (the dresses on the left). The dresses on the right are more of a shift shape, with an A-line flared skirt, which was also very popular in the 1960s. The shift is a much looser fit than the sheath, shapes are rather better for women with hips and bottoms. However the most interesting about the sixties is that it is essentially a youthful silhouette (girls have straight body shapes, women tend to curves) although all these models appear to be in the 30s or 40s.


Although there is an association of 1970s clothes with extreme trouser shapes, huge collars and lurid colour schemes, in reality the 1970s produced a wide range of wearable dresses for shaped bodies. The simple shapes of the 1960s now have much more bust and waist shaping introduced. I especially like these empire lines which can really flatter shaped figures. We often see the nice slim fit through the upper body, a defined waist (often a high, empire waist that flatters a nice bust, and makes the legs appear longer. I noticed that Sewitorthrowit just made up this dress. I love her blog and it made me laugh that she had made this dress up twice (and hated it both times). With the more tailored styles we still see waist definition and elegant sleeves.


If you like the 1980s the patterns are really cheap. In fact most charity shops have them for 50p or £1. Your aunty will have some flappy blouses and enormous pleated trousers patterns in her store, for sure. The 1980s is also a decade that has a bad reputation, which isn’t really deserved. The best body shape for 1980s styling is also the straight or semi straight body. The fitted, column dress often has plenty of shoulder detail – often complemented by a dropped or absent waist and hip detail. The shapes are actually similar to the 1920s look, to some degree, but more relaxed.

I am going to stop at the 1980s; I cannot personally really discern clear trends as we went into the next decades and century. To sum up

Ideal decades for different body types
Ideal decades for different body types


Which decade do you like best?

7 Responses

  1. SewRuthie

    I really like the simpler 70s styles and have a few original patterns from others as I was only a child during that decade and sewing for my dolls and stuffed pandas only!

  2. mrsmole

    It is the 60’s for me. It gave us more freedom to use colors and shapes and the youthful looks our mothers never had. It was the first generation to have their own look and not borrow from the previous ones.I have patterns I sewed back then and can’t bring myself to ditch them. I have clothes from the 70’s that I made that continued in the straight vein and have those patterns too. A wise woman once told me that we should keep one outfit from each decade. I know your recent closet cleaning campaign would make me toss all these relics so I’m not even starting down that road…ha ha I don’t know how you can post every day with so many interesting topics packed with historical and up-to-date information. Thank you so much for all you do and share, Kate!

  3. Karen

    These past 2 posts have been such fun to read. I admit to being in love with 60’s styles. I was a teenager then so I loved and sewed all the latest fashions and the shapes suited my figure. I agree with mrsmole that there was such freedom and excitement during that decade. It was so fortunate that I was an accomplished sewist and able to make all the latest trends on a budget. I purchased all my fabric with my babysitting money.

  4. Jay

    I like aspects or individual designs from most decades. Be glad never to see the linebacker shoulder again, or the Dynasty effect though, the 80s did throw up some good designs but the overall experience was awful. 50s full skirts are definitely not easy to manage, but there’s something great about the style. The 60s were neat, but mini skirts? I won’t be re-running those. The 70s brought us bright prints on floaty fabrics, ( good), as well as some truly laughable crochet efforts.

    • Karen

      In my world (mid-west) mini skirts didn’t appear until the very late 60’s and ran to the early 70’s. I preferred the midi skirt length worn with boots.

  5. Sew It Or Throw It

    Oh that dress.
    You’re right though, the sleeves are very elegant, and it’s neat to see an almost identical sleeve in your more tailored example from that time period.
    I like this series on body types you’re doing, it’s so fascinating and also heartbreaking to think that something as concrete as one’s physical body type can be subject to the whims of trend.

  6. Bunny

    Love me those fifties! I find the garments are feminine, ladylike and just so Liz Tailor!
    Thanks, Kate, for this series, very enjoyable.

Leave a Reply