Entering the body-shape abyss

Every few years there seems to be some new expert with a book or a TV show that claims to tell us definitively what our body shape is and how to dress it in a flattering way. For years I was convinced I was a pear shape (aka triangle, depending on the system) because my lower half was bigger and I didn’t have broad shoulders. But when the pencil skirt craze hit, I tried one on and found that they were a lot more flattering on me than a-line skirts, which are recommended for pears.

The other truism I’d always accepted was that your body shape type doesn’t change if you lose or gain weight, it just gets bigger or smaller in the same type. Maybe that’s true for 5-10 pounds, but I no longer think it’s so for larger changes (more than a size or two worth). After all, it’s true that your bones don’t change, but flesh can fill in curves and make them straighter, or vice versa.

In Imogen Lamport’s body shape system, which is the most comprehensive and reasonable one I’ve found, I thought I was closest to an 8 – an hourglass, but one with a high hip so not a lot of space between waist and hip (unlike an X, the other kind of hourglass). Now I’m thinking that maybe I was an 8 when I was skinnier, but right now I’m more of an H, which is a shape that doesn’t have much of a defined waist. When I was younger I gained weight in my hips and thighs and butt; now I gain it more in the tummy and the area between my bra strap and my waist – (the upper tummy?). Anything chosen for the 8 shape – something to emphasize the waist – ends up emphasizing the flab in my midsection instead. Without a conscious plan I’ve been choosing more H-friendly silhouettes that glide over the midsection but are not too big either.

In real life, people see you from all angles and not just straight-on like in a mirror. I’ve still got my swayback and my ample butt, which probably makes me look more pearish 8 from the side and the back.

It’s a lot to ask for sewers to take into consideration – not only do you have to make a decently-constructed garment and one that fits you, but you also have to choose a silhouette and a fabric that will flatter you. And you can make silhouettes fit you that maybe you couldn’t buy in the store, because you get to choose the measurements. So I can make myself a full-skirted 50s dress if I want, even I could never buy one thanks to my long torso and wider hips. But that doesn’t mean that I should.

What about you – do you find that thinking about body shape types has helped you choose the right things to sew, or do you just make what you want, regardless of your figure?

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