October 12, 2011

Body analysis for dress design

On monday, I suggested considering your proportions as one of the starting points for designing your dress. Today, I've decided to try and show what I meant by that.

In general, seamstresses have a better idea about the shape and size of their own bodies than other people. After all, a lot of sewing time goes into fitting and altering-to-fit. As a pattern maker, you will need to hone that awareness even more.
And after all, we've all been there, made something because it looked so good in the pattern magazine or on the envelope, spent many hours making and fitting it only to end up with a garment which doesn't actually suit our body and our style. Pattern making (especially for a beginner) takes even more of your time and you won't want all that effort to be wasted.

So: how to look at, and analyse your body shape. Please allow me to introduce my example: Lauriana (I'm standing a bit funny in the front view. My shoulders are not that uneven)
From the front we see a long neck, angular shoulders, a fairly featureless upper torso and a significant difference between waist and hip, with the widest point fairly far down, at the top of the thigh. The legs are shapely. All in all, the body is a bit bottom-heavy.
From the side, the most striking thing is its flat-ness. Breasts hardly stick out, the stomach is flat and buttocks are there but make a fairly small curve.

These are the observations. Having made these, consider what to emphasize with clothes.
Forget the beauty/fashion magazine tricks for dividing women into apples and pears, rulers and inverted triangles. Although their tips can be useful, each woman's body is different and not every woman may want to work towards the same 'ideal'. Just to give and example, I filled out one of those body-type questionaires once and it said I was a ruler. When I look at my front view though, I'd say I'm a pear. Granted, a rather small pear, but still.

Personally, I like my waist-to-hip ratio and I like that wider hip in general. I feel it's what gives me a feminine figure, despite being skinny. It is also very appropriate for a vintage-inspired dress. Because of it, I think I can pick any of the skirt shapes I mentioned before (pencil-skirt, A-line, circle skirt, gathered skirt). I think for length, depending on the style of the skirt I can do lengths between 15 cm above and 10 cm below the knee (the latter only for very full skirts). And ankle to flour length of course, but that's not really what I'm going for now.
The upper torso is a bit more difficult. With the width of the rib cage and small breasts, it can easily end up looking like a rectangle. It's a fine body shape for normal clothes (probably easier than those hips) but not grea
t for vintage styles which are all about ladylike curves.
Of course, there are tricks. For a 50's-style dress, I usually keep a bit more ease at chest that at the waist and I don't go for any of those (very period accurate) smooth bodices with high necklines. Mine is an upper body flattered by the roomy drape of a cowl neck or by big collars which grow from V shaped necklines (a 'bare' V-neck is out of the question, of course. Now that is a style for the bigger busted ladies among us). All those design elements add width and fullness at the bust. To show off the small waist, I like to wear my vintage style dresses with a (usually dark coloured or black) belt.
(Oh, and of course I know I could wear a push-up bra but I don't like those and I actually don't consider small breasts to be a problem)

Oh, and have you ever wondered about the difference which is made to your shape and posture by wearing heels? Here's an example of that:

Obviously, I don't expect anyone to show off herself in this way here on the internet, just for the draft-along. However, I do think it's a great idea to have a look at yourself this way. In my job, I meet women every week who didn't know they were hiding a waist under shapeless tops and above low-rise trousers. Don't be that woman, study what you've got so you can figure out how to show it to its advantage. If you want to share pictures for advice, the Flickr-group photostream is for members only, so there is some privicy there (please tag such pictures as 'body-shape')

The following people left comments about wanting to join the draft-along but have no email adresses on their profiles:
abaffledcat, Jacqueline deRuyter, Barbara, tantmonokrom, Ewa, Amy (I did read your comment about not having time now, but you may want to be signed up anyway so you can follow along later), ginevra/occasional glimpses, Anna Keaton and overflowingstash.
Please get in touch with me through aicha_hockx AT hotmail DOT com to get your invitation to the Flickr group.
Of course you can also email me at that adress with questions or if you've only just decided to participate in the draft-along.


  1. Great post! I agree that knowing one's bodyshape is of uppermost importance. It spares you from a lot of frustration and adds a lot to self confidence.

  2. Absolutely agree with Barbara. Sewing has helped a LOT with understanding my body shape vs. the "average" and why certain looks do and don't work for me---but this is taking it to the next level.

    I'll have to think about whether I'm prepared to post analysis pics (if I even have any leotard-type clothes to work with in the first place...)

  3. I also agree--sewing definitely has helped me "see" my natural silhouette better, and I've nearly abandoned low-rise anything as a result. I love strong shoulders and things nipped in just slightly above the waistline. Like you, my small bust and narrow ribcage go out to a big difference in lower hip. Oh, I sent you an email--thanks!--I forgot this was Blogger/Google which doesn't have a contact page...

  4. What about tracing out a photo to use for figure analysis & as a croquis for designs? That way people can preserve their modesty! Bathing suit is another possibility.

  5. I'm a bit stuck as to how you work out that you have "a long neck, angular shoulders, a fairly featureless upper torso and a significant difference between waist and hip" etc. How long is a normal neck? Similarly stuck on things like the shoulders and the back. How do you know if you have a narrow or wide back, or big shoulders?