Thursday, April 05, 2007

Shape Shifting: How To Dress A Part Pear/Part Hourglass Shape

I love getting questions from readers, but I know that there's a limit to how much advice I can give, based on my own experiences. So I like to throw these questions out to the rest of you guys, because I'm always impressed with the insights from commenters. If you've got anything to add on to my post, or if you disagree with what I've said, leave a comment and hopefully the question-asker can get the fullest, most informed answer possible.

Hi Meg,

Great site! My question: what qualities comprise the hourglass body shape? For years, I was convinced I was a pear--small bust (AA), slim arms, defined waist (4-6), ample hips/thighs/bum--and dressed accordingly. However, I just noticed that my shoulders and hips are proportional. Does this feature crossover into hourglass land, or do I still need boobs to make the cut?

Any thoughts and/or fashion advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

Confused (yet content with her weird birthday suit nonetheless),


Hey Lisa!

So funny you should ask that, because I'm in the same position as you! Wide shoulders, medium bust, small waist, large hips (that are equal to shoulders). I've been trying to figure out the same question, but after years of wearing clothes that weren't totally flattering, I've discovered the following:

For people with our body type, I think the first priority is minimizing hips/thigh/butt. I try to stick to the rules about wearing darker colors on my bottom half, and tops that are lighter and have detail that draws the eye away from my hips (ruching at the bust, an interesting neckline, etc).

Short skirts tend to emphasize my bottom half, so I find that showing skin on top (sleeveless tops and anything with a V-neck tends to work for me), while wearing a knee length skirt or pants is the most flattering.

I also like to wear tops that fall below my hips, so they don't cut me off at my widest part. Long tops are also very trendy right now, so you shouldn't have any problem finding them in all price ranges.

A lot of times people recommend tops that widen or emphasize shoulders on women who are pear shaped (like blazers with very defined shoulders), and I always avoid that, because my shoulders don't need any extra emphasis, it's my bust that needs it.

And I think the biggest thing for our shape is emphasizing the curves by showing off the small waist (wrap dresses are fabulous, belted tops are great, and anything that's fitted at the waist and shows off the curves is a plus!).

But of course, I sometimes come across a really cute outfit that looks okay, but emphasizes the fact that my bust is so much smaller than my hips. Or a lot of times I'll find a dress that fits in the hips but is too baggy across my chest. I wear my favorite push up bra (it's actually a water bra, so it adds a cup size) on these occasions just so I'm more even overall.

I'm so glad you mentioned that you're still content with your body, it frustrates me that so many women hate their bodies because they have feel like they don't fit into a certain mold, or that clothes don't look good on them... one of the best lessons I've learned is that wearing the right clothes can dramatically change the way your body looks, if you pick pieces that fit great and are really flattering to your type. It was a hard lesson for me to learn that there are a lot of things that I simply can't wear on my body (tent dresses or any top without a defined waist, anything emphasizing the shoulders, and skirts that are stretching across my hips and thighs are definite no no's for me) but I know I'm better off buying what looks good on me, not just what looks good on the rack.

Anyone else have experience dressing this body type? If you've got other tips I've left out, please leave them in the comments!


Bec said...

If you're worried about your shoulders: You should avoid halter tops (these minimize the chest and accent shoulders) and also the obvious offenders, shoulder pads and most cap sleeves.

Try accenting your small waist with a high-waisted pencil skirt and belt - its such a classic look!

willikat said...

i don't know waht body type i am either. i'm busty and have wider shoulders and smaller hips, but i'm not a triangle. and i don't have a waist at alll.... l ame. when i look at body types in magazines (you know... "find the perfect jeans for your body type") i feel i fall into a boyish category, but then i have the bust and a little bit of a booty... agh. the life of a woman!

Anonymous said...

Fitted jackets are nice on this body type, as are monochromatic looks with an accent belt.

Anonymous said...

Willikat, I'm built kind of like you. I'm 36/27/30 so my waist to hip ratio is technically in the "high risk zone" for heart problems but I think the real issue is that I have no hips and not that I have too much fat around my midsection.
I have the opposite problem with dresses as Meg- often times a dress will fit on top (I have broad shoulders, too) but then be too loose in the bottom half.
My main clothing goal is usually to try to create a waist and lengthen my legs.

Aruek said...

This site is pretty interesting: Shape Matters

You enter your measurements and it tells you which of 7 body types you are and gives you clothing advice.

I thought I would be Type Y but I ended up being Type P, I guess because my bust is larger than my hips.

Kai Jones said...

There is an excellent discussion of body types and how to dress them (including where each type typically gains weight and how that changes dressing yourself) at

Anonymous said...

Here's what I think. A person with roughly equally wide shoulders and hips, a defined waist, and a small bust, is still an hourglass despite the small bust. I fit this description myself.

A prominent example would be Audrey Hepburn. She was clearly an hourglass shape despite having a small bust (and despite not being "curvaceous" in any sense).

There are two things that might make us think we are actually pear-shaped: in the first place, an hourglass shape is so balanced in its appearance, that it takes very little to tip that balance. If you have a small bust, you're more likely to tip the balance towards looking pear-shaped when you're not.

Sleeveless bodices, for example, always make your shoulders look narrower than your hips by drawing the line no further out than your armpit, rather than at your outer arm as a sleeve would do. Most tops and dresses these days seem to be sleeveless.

Bias cuts clutch around the butt area, so put on a sleeveless bias-cut dress and you would very quickly become convinced that you're pear-shaped. (And, in my case, squat - I have short legs, and the rear-squeezing points out how close my buttocks are to the ground!)

I don't think the answer is necessarily to avoid certain clothes, so much as to be aware of how easy it is to overbalance. With this awareness, you can either accept the tradeoffs of a particular outfit, or else add counterbalancing elements. For example, I don't look half so short and squat in a bias-cut dress if I simply wear heeled shoes. I might also add a cardigan with sleeves to avoid looking pear-shaped, or I might decide that the look is great overall and be proud to be a pear for the day.

Anonymous said...


I am a bottom heavy hourglass. I do have a bust, even if it does not completely balance my bottom, my shoulders are round and not really broad. I don't wear shoulder pads, especially not straight ones, it doesn't work. I have a feminine figure and shoulder pads just look like what they are, something artificial. I normally wear form fitted tops, not tight, but with defined waist. I like everything with raglan sleeves and square, boat or v-neck. Which would mean, if you have broad shoulders, do not wear raglan sleeves. I like my skits to have bounce at the knees (A-line, circle skirts), I do wear them exactly above or below the knee or floor length, all with defined waist. If I want wolf whistles, I wear a pencil skirt with defined waist. Think Marilyn Monroe in Niagara. Knee length is actually in this case more provoking than above knee. I like it more fun and less sexy (which the whole outfit is, not because it shows skin, which it doesn't, but because its form-fitting). Dressing wise I like the fifties line and try to avoid everything looking like something from the thirties or forties or the geometric and baby doll stuff from the sixties. Empire line works, but only because my bust is not really large, just a pretty good contrast to my waist.
And I sometimes wear brightly or crazy colored skirts. With a defined waist, some form fitted top and some movements in the skirt it actually works, even with broad hips.