Thursday, February 11, 2010

Of Apples and Pears: the Body Type Question

Image from Built By Wendy Dresses

If you're a woman who hasn't grown up in a cave, you've probably been exposed to at least one magazine article about the major body types - and how to dress them - at some point in your life. These articles break women's bodies down into several supposedly distinct shapes: there's always the pear, the apple, and the hourglass, and then some random ones thrown in for good measure--i.e. rectangle, boyish, and so on. And, as sewists, you're probably also aware of Vogue Patterns' "key to figure flattery" (see image below) that supposedly helps you pick out sewing patterns by matching your body to a geometric shape (rectangle, triangle, etc.). I know these guides are supposed to help shed some light on our figures and fitting challenges, but I confess that they always leave me more confused than ever.

First of all, I never feel like any of the descriptions accurately describe my body. Pear? Yep, got the hips and butt, but not the narrow shoulders. (Yes, I know I wear a larger size on bottom than on top, but I honestly don't think I'm proportionately large on bottom. Feel free to tell me if I'm delusional here.) Hourglass? Close, if someone who wears a B cup can be considered an hourglass. All debating aside, though, isn't it kind of ridiculous and surreal to be trying to classify my body in such a weird, object-focused way? Or do I only feel this way because I don't identify strongly with any of the standard categories?

Vogue's Key to Figure Flattery

I just bought a copy of the new, well-reviewed sewing book Built By Wendy Dresses, and it does more of the same thing, identifying five body types. I was amused, however, to see a new category: "average." Ha! I was even more amused to identify so strongly with the description: "Hips and shoulders are aligned, bust size is neither small nor large, and the difference between hip and waist measurement is right around the standard of 10"."

Okay, mystery solved! I'm average. I think. Woo hoo. (Also amusing: one of the figure types above - athletic - is "also known as the carrot." The carrot! Now there's one I haven't heard.)

But more than just plain confusing me, I've actually started to get quite pissed off by all this classifying of body types and its supposed importance. Seriously, what would I possibly do with this revelation of my physical average-ness? I'm not going to start dressing any differently. And also, the Built by Wendy book compares body types to celebrity figures: J. Lo, Keira Knightly, Scarlett Johansson, and Angelina Jolie. Okay, but what about, say, Queen Latifah? See where I'm going with this?

The other thing that peeves me about the whole thing is the assumption that women need to compare their bodies to a fruit in order to understand how to dress. I mean, I've kind of gotten it figured out just from, you know, WEARING CLOTHES for the past 30 years.

What do you all think? Do you find all this apple, hourglass, and pear stuff helpful? Or irritating?


  1. No, I don't find it helpful at all! I think it's no better than zodiac signs for describing someone's character. Ha, and did you notice, when you are "average", you don't seem to get a celebrity comparison...sorry, gertie, you are just average...celebrities are special. No, I think this is stupid and I don't ever seem to fit into a category either...

  2. I'm glad I'm not the only person who doesn't seem to fit into any of those categories! I'm still waiting for the day when I can positively identify ANYONE as an 'apple' or 'hourglass' shape, let alone myself. Not only is it a bit insulting, it's unhelpful. I don't want to be worrying about whether something is suitable for my pear-bum or carrot-chest when finding clothes that I like and that fit is hard enough to start with!

  3. I could never figure out what category I fit into. I guess I'm closest to "Athletic", except it's just the shoulders. My bust is a B cup. I would almost be an average, because my measurements are an exact Burda size 38, except for my shoulders for which I often have to go up to a 40. When I read about my supposed shape (Y, V, or athletic), it usually says women often morph into that shape as they age but some women are born with it. That makes me feel a little strange (born with it).
    I agree that those categories are really confusing, but I guess if you're 16 and don't really know what suits you yet, they can help point you in the right direction.

  4. ha, that book seems to have got things right for once, I definately fall into the hourglas catagory. Your right about the confusion regarding body shapes, I have loads of books on the matter (christmas gifts) and none of them have ever helped. Its okay something saying that this shape will fit you and that shape won't, but when you go into a shop and your waist is more than 12 inches smaller than your hips, thaose shapes won't fit you anyway because you are a different size in different places. Also even within the specified categories women vary in shape. I have a very small cylindrical ribcage(my underbust measurement and my waist measurement are the same) and a large bust, which might be the same measuement of another hourglass, only she may have a small bust and a large, tapering ribcage. The underbust measurement can tell us so much about proportions and yet it is so under-valued throughout the clothing industry.(including home sewing)

  5. I don't really fit into any of the categories I guess...caught between "average" and "hourglass", but I still might continue to think of myself as hourglass, because it sounds far more...elegant than just plain average

  6. Hmmm... I'd say I'm something in between Hourglass, Pear and Average?
    My shoulders and hips are in line, but my butt gives another extra inches to the hip circumference. I have a really narrow waist, but small bust.
    So, when you look at me from the front, you'd say I'm a hourglass, from the side I'm an average (with extra large bottom), and from the back I'm definitely a pear.
    I built my sense of fashion over the years, by trial and error method. However, I like reading those advices on which type of garments one should wear depending on her/his body shape. We can't all fit into the same category, for obvious reasons, but knowing some tips and tricks can't harm you...

  7. I'm very much an hourglass, which I suppose makes it easy. At least it does now. For years I hated my hips and chest and could find nothing in the shops I liked, so would cover everything up in swathes of black - which of course only made it worse and earned me the comment from my husband that I was beginning to look like a Sicilian Widow... These past few years, the internet has been my liberation, with access to fabric, vintage patterns, and a sewing community. A gorgeous daily dose of therapy that has meant I now actually like my shape and dress accordingly...

  8. I really don't find it helpful. The closest I can think of with my physique is athletic because I'm small but I'm not skinny because I have a bit of muscle and meat on me, but my shoulders aren't so broad that you'd notice... so I don't really fit into any of the categories listed there. It's annoying really, I'll work it out for myself I think.

  9. I've never been able to fit into any categories neatly, so I just started ignoring it all together. ;) lol. I used to be categorized as an hourglass, which even at a slightly heavier weight (meaning more hip and bustine girth), my chest never quite fit the "hour glass" type. Pear, on the other hand, doesn't really work either (although like you, I tend to wear things a bit larger on the bottom to accomidate things, but visually you don't look at me and think "pear!"), nor does average (typically, my waist is anywhere from 10"-12" smaller than the hip measure). So... I'm some weird mix up of all the above, I think! lol.

    I dunno... I know some women who love the categories because it helps them weed out what won't work for their shapes. I, just find it more confusing because things that shouldn't work on my bod do, and the things that are supposed to be super flattering aren't always a sure thing. I guess over the years I've just learned by trial and error what does work on my unique shape (which, I think is what irks me the most about categories, as much as I get the fact that they are helpful to some. Everyone has a slightly different shape, and no matter how many different "types" you try and define, ten to one, most women don't fit neatly into just one.).

    ♥ Casey
    blog |

  10. As someone who grew up rebelling against fashion and the fashion industry (and still managing to develop a nasty eating disorder), I came to the conclusion roughly a year ago that I had no idea how to dress myself. I gained 70lbs following recovery (which is a GOOD thing), but all my clothing and style choices revolved around clothes that looked good on my coathanger physique. 70lbs changes that.

    So I was stuck going from store to store trying to shop while also trying to avoid being triggered into not eating for a couple months. Everything I tried on that I liked before looked WRONG on me, and not being able to wear the clothes I was in love with in addition to coping with gaining lots of weight made recovery almost impossible.

    It was finally picking up a sewing book and resolving that I was going to give up on the entire fashion industry and make what *I* wanted to that helped. For the first time I saw bodies laid out in general style types that wasn't shaming or pressuring like in magazines, but gave good advice on how to play up or down your assets to achieve a balanced figure. I took this and applied to RTW shopping and my sewing, and for the first time in fifteen years, I'm happy with my body.

  11. Personally, I agree with everyone else who says they don't fit easily into any one category, however I wouldn't say that it confuses me.

    Like with any other system, this is a *general* guideline, not the holy bible. I believe it's primarily meant to save you wasting your time on garment types that will be blatantly unflattering on you. I'm familiar with the little icons on that back of Vogue pattern envelopes, and you may notice that there is often more than one depicted on any given pattern - they suit more than one type and, I would think, a combination of types.

    My perspective is that if you identify with more than one of those types, consider yourself able to wear any of the styles/garment-types that go with any of them. This is one of the reasons I decided about a year ago that I would make muslins for darn near everything. Not only does that help with getting the fit right, it helps with seeing if the garment will really work on you.

    So, I would also say then, if there's a style that you just L-O-V-E, but it "supposedly" doesn't work on your figure - do a muslin of it anyway, you just might be surprised! And if it doesn't work, you haven't wasted any of your good fabric!

    These guidelines aren't hard and fast rules. C'mon! We're sewists, we're inherently flexible in our approach to clothing!

  12. According to the info that you provided, I'm caught between "Average" and "Hourglass". Sigh... I think the Vogue Pattern's description kept it simple. Everything else just adds to the confusion.

  13. Hmm, this is a really insightful post. I also feel confused about body types, but there's the bust-waist-hip consideration, there's legs/torso ratios, etc. My mom always warned me that I was on the hip-heavy side, but when I measure and look in the mirror, my shoulders are obviously wider (yet I wear a bigger size on the bottom). I took a diagnostic on (entering crazy measurements, like my rise and my "low and hig" hip measurements) and they told me I was an M, which something between athletic, inverted triangle, and hourglass (but with a rounded bum, which I definitely don't have). Gee, thanks!

  14. Woah. 13" different between hip and waist for hourglass? That's crazy. I've only heard 10" before! Anyway. I've always liked to take quizzes and find out what 'type' I am - not so that I can live my life according to the result of that quiz, but just out of fun. Similarly, I find it kind of intriguing to classify things but don't find these body shapes helpful in terms of buying clothes in anyway, whatsoever.
    -Andi x

  15. Actually, I have found it quite helpful. I don't spend a lot of time shopping, so trying on everything in the store to see what suits me is just OUT! It takes long enough to find pants to fit my 36 inch inseam.

    (I used to be an hourglass, but the sand is slipping to the bottom over the years.)

  16. no, I don't find the categorisation of bodies to be particularly helpful, if anything, annoying. If I were to dress to maximise my 'positive' points - small waist and C cup - to detract attention from my 'negative points' - wide hips, full backside and thighs, I wouldn't be able to a) ride my bike, b) walk fast c) keep warm and d) get my (mostly male) Saudi students to concentrate in class. (I know it's not PC to single out a nationality for generalisations, but trust me on this one!) Added to which, the styles which are suggested for my body 'type' make me feel cut in half, like those glamorous assistants that climb into boxes to get sawed... The way you dress has to fit what you spend most time doing and the way you move. Glossy mags seem to assume that their readers are all under 30 but very successful, about a (UK) size 8 and tall, women who crave to look sexy, and who go straight from work to bar. What I see around me are women of all sizes in 'compromise' clothes i.e. colours and styles that make them look alike no matter what their shape, who wear little make-up and sensible shoes. I don't think this is necessarily a good thing and wonder if it's just where I live / work. As far as knowing what suits you... a good full-length mirror and honest friends and family members help most. Also, a conversation with yourself about how you want to look, and how you want to be seen by the people you see each day will be more helpful than worrying about apples, pears, and things that you should be getting your vitamins from rather than comparing yourself to.

  17. I think I'm a pear - a tiny, stunted one, but a pear nonetheless! My top half is definitely a full size smaller than my bottom, and I struggle getting dresses to fit my narrow shoulders.

    There was an underwear company that put out an ad campaign recently to do with the body shapes - I thought it was so stupid! Hourglass, column, it isn't relevant when you're talking about panties only! Sheesh. It's just another selling point - "buy our stuff! We recognize that women have diverse body shapes!"

  18. I find it all just as confusing as you do. I never had a chance to wear all the styles I would have liked, despite being tall and thin most of my life. In the last few years of dedicated research into fitting my body, I learned that my shoulders, upper chest, upper back and neck are simply outside the "normal" body proportions. So... once I knew how to construct a garment that fit me in the shoulders, I thought I had the key to the candy store. Not so. Many things I sewed did not flatter me and I struggled with the disappointment of time and resources wasted. I am going to write a blog post about this and how I found solutions for my specific proportions.

  19. Re: your penultimate paragraph - it seems clear to me as I wander around central London that there are so many women who just haven't got it from years of wearing clothes, who wear what's 'in fashion' regardless of whether it looks good on them or not... so maybe it's not as simple as we think?

    Otherwise - another great thought-provoking post, thanks Gertie! That's my wandering bored mind sorted for this afternoon ;-)

    @carina_ x

  20. I think this categorization is just another way to identify ourselves, like the size "number" that we where. I'm trying hard to be indifferent to the number, especially since I've started sewing garments for myself again. I think we need to let go of the fruit as well. Our exact measurements are the most helpful thing out there, and, of course, our life experience (like you say) of what looks good on our particular, individual, unique shapes.

    Having said all that, though, it may take years of collective therapy to let go of our obsession with size and what to call it.

  21. Hehe, I was peeving about that this morning, when I started to read one of my new sewing books from the beginning. "No I'm not tall, so I can't be H- or oval-shaped... no big breasts and slender waist, so no hourglass... my shoulders are somewhat broad but so are my hips, so V- and A-shaped is out... no my belly isn't that big, not O-shaped... hey, no more shapes to choose from!"
    Guess I fall into the average-category, too...

  22. Again, you hit the nail right on the head - the fruit menu is never especially helpful. However, I do think that specific advice can work for different physical attributes and I like the way Trinny and Susannah do it in What Not To Wear - i.e. just as big bust, short legs etc. No trying to say that if you happen to have a big bust AND short legs you're somehow irregular for not looking like a fruit.

  23. Winona of Daddy Likey fame wrote a bit about the fruit-to-women system of body classification in her book, and I agree that it's a bit insulting. It's also not going to be completely accurate for everyone 100% of the time, because none of us are all pear, all apple, all hourglass. We're us, and unique each one!

    But I think systems like this are meant to provide loose guidelines, not box us in. If you have biggish hips, clothes that suit pears MAY suit you, so try them out. If you carry most of your weight in the middle, clothes that suit apples MAY suit you, even if you don't have the typical apple-slender-legs. These "rules" aren't hard and fast. No "rules" in style and fashion are. They're just a jumping-off point.

    Still wish they could've gone with a non-food system, though ...

  24. "there's always the pear, the apple, and the hourglass, and then some random ones thrown in for good measure--i.e. rectangle"

    Geez Gertie, you kill me and my Rectangle'd self...I'm just a "random" shape to you, and here I thought I was special ha ha!

    Of course I thought I was an Hourglass until a few years ago because by *measurements* I was. Still am! And apparently it never occurred to me to look straight-on in the mirror and notice my *silhouette.*

    [Not tm Tim Gunn, but god knows he's started to get more women to think in terms of 2-d vs 3-d.
    And reminds them that size may shift, waistlines may play hide and seek, bustlines may inflate or shrink...but hip/shoulder proportions don't change.]

    Now that I know what I'm looking for, the zillion body shape guides don't faze me. I'm too busy trying to figure out if I can visually shift the short legs AND long arms part of the equation etc etc!

    I am constantly referring people to designer Bradley Bayou's "The Science of Sexy" [dumb name about creating Hourglass proportions, fairly inclusive discussion about body shape as he dresses and visually references Queen Latifah, Oprah, Kyle Minogue etc]. Some people won't want to create or maintain HG proportions, I know, I know.

    In his guide--and I stress the word--one will still be an Inverted Triangle, but one will be a Short Plus Inverted Triangle or a Tall Medium Weight IT and yes, while the basics remain the same there are differences that can affect fit and style choices. My sister and I are the same height, the same shape, and the same proportions--but we wear very different sizes. In general, the same things work and crash on us.

    Also useful IMO: Bridgette Raes "Style Rx." She's big on proportions, and uses RL women (clients) to demonstrate; includes women of varying sizes. And yes she acknowledges sometimes advice for one proportion conflicts with advice for another...aka long neck (cover) AND bigger bust (tastefully reveal).

    Neither of the above are geared to sewers, of course, but they may be useful.

    BTW, you may be a "slight" Pear/Inverted Triangle. Like Halle Berry, oh the company!

    [sorry so long!]

  25. If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, it's more than apparent that you are FAR from average, dear Gertie, and putting you and everyone else in those boxes I do find irritating. I think women's bodies are so unique and different that they defy categorization and explanation. Faced with such a reality, someone at some point tried with the whole fruit thing and it sort of worked. But seriously, do people sit around saying--look at all those apples!

    I'm super confused by it all. I'm more hourglass than anything, but I'm also short. It seems like any writing that's done on the subject of the "hourglass" figure is for people who are like 8 feet tall. Yea, that's not me. Style for me is more trial and error than anything else, as I imagine it is for most women who don't fit into these absurd vegetal categories.

  26. Having written about this not too long ago, I have to agree that all of these so called systems are confusing. The British duo of What Not to Wear go even further with about 10 different classifications of mixed nomenclature that is even more confusing. They mention the shape vase being one, and then give examples of some celebrity who has this body shape. Again women are asked to compare themselves to some gorgeous creature for whom looking good is their business. Way to feel good about ourselves.

  27. A few years ago, Simplicity made an attempt to include a similar "helpful" guide to body types, and which of their patterns would be suitable for each type. Instead of comparisons to fruit, they compared each designated body type to a capital letter--either an H, an O, an A, or an X. Yes, the system was called HOAX, and I've never been sure if that name was completely innocent or not.

  28. It's irritating. Not your post, the classifications. Like you, I've had this body and dressed it all my life. I guess all the classifications do is tell me what to call it in geo-fruit terms.

    And, Gertie, you'll never be "average" in my opinion.

  29. I have wide shoulders, but rounded...ummp, large breasted umm yeah and narrower in the waist & the labels are plentiful for my body type... boy shape - um not so sexy label, atlethic - explain the mushrooming I see every now and then, inverted triangle, Y shape, V shape and read that its the second best female body shape after the hourglass figure.... provided I wear clothing that balances my lower body to my upper body... ummm not sure about all that.

  30. Holler! Not helpful at all. In fact, knowing that I am a petite 'pear' just makes me more self-conscious about my hips. Or they just have petite, like everyone under 5'3" is the same shape, and wants desperately to appear taller. Not trying to get on a roller-coaster here, perfectly happy being short.

    Though I can see the appeal, I suppose what I really don't like, especially in women's mags, is the emphasis on hiding flaws.

  31. Let's unpack the appeal of the "body type" categorization by realizing, first, that these "body types" are a marketing technique to get people to buy a book or magazine article in which they appear. They are a very successful marketing technique, and follow some classic rules of sales copywriting. Given that they are a sales technique, it's helpful to figure out what they are really selling, which is not the ability to categorize yourself properly. They are selling hope, the hope of being stylish, fashionable, and beautiful.

    More importantly they are trading on the fear every woman has of that moment in the dressing room when none of the things go on over your body. You've gone through the store with the pumping dance music, grabbed a bunch of cute things and planned when you will wear them and BAM! nothing works in the dressing room.

    The shape guides say very comfortingly, "there is nothing wrong with your body, the reason you have agony in the dressing room is that you haven't diagnosed yourself properly. Once you do that, you can make the most fashionable clothes work for you, and therefore be beautiful and stylish if you follow the rules." They also say, "if you follow these rules, you won't have that dressing room agony because you will be able to pick out flattering things before you get in the room."

    On an unrelated note, I think that these "types" are more pertinent for people buying ready to wear than sewists. Because if you think about it, someone with a disproportionately prominent rear (hand raised) will have more luck finding a RTW A-line skirt or relaxed jean that fits well than a RTW pencil skirt made for very specific proportions. But, that doesn't mean a pencil skirt that's fitted properly can't look very good on someone with a larger butt. Trena of Slapdash Sewist had a brilliant post about this a while back, about Pear shapes --

    One final thought, I do think that thinking about your whole body and creating balance and an overall proportionally pleasant figure can help to move away from over focusing on one specific part as a "problem" area and give you a sense of perspective. But I'm not sure the fruit chart comparisons do that.

  32. I'm a pretty standard "pear" shape and when shopping RTW, it does help me to narrow down what will most likely fit and look good on my body. What has been interesting to me, at least, is that once I started sewing, there are so many styles that I had written off completely that actually are quite flattering on my body. The key, of course, is being able to sew the darn thing to fit your measurements. So, 30 years of research into what I can and cannot wear is being tossed out the window and I'm trying new styles that I would have never been able to purchase in RTW. It's actually pretty exciting, to tell the truth and not something that I expected to come out of this whole sewing thing.

  33. Agreed. I always thought that I fit into that pear shape, but I, like you, don't have those narrow shoulders. Funny enough when I would go try on clothing types, to see what I looked good in and then sew my own versions, I actually look good in things that accentuate the hip area. Ha ha ha. When you are a pear shape, you should accentuate the bust and the top half of your body. How crazy is that? When I accentuate that portion of my body, I end up looking like a football player. Silly, silly. These body image types are really dumb. Totally, totally agree. And why are we comparing ourselves to celebrities again, don't magazines do that enough?

  34. I don't think the categorizing is that helpful, but there is something I like about it.
    I like the explanations on what kind of clothing accentuates what part of the body and why, about the lines of your clothes, on balancing outfits.
    However, I don't like the suggestions these kind of theories make for me at all!
    For example, in the most basic theory I would be a pear, but I also feel rather average. The suggestions for pear shapes are all on optically widening the upper body so as to create a balance + not to accentuate your hips and bum.
    But what if I like doing that??? Just because my hips are bigger doesn't mean they are hideous, right? Well, I just have to look at the tips for the opposite body shape to know how.
    That's what I think is weird: why can't they just explain this all without telling each type to do what? Can't we choose ourselves what part of our body we would like to accentuate?
    By the way, I also HATE the Trinny and Susannah tips for people with small breasts. Their clothes are always covering the area above small breasts onto the neck. Come on, are you serious?

  35. Thanks so much for your body-positive articles! I find charts and such helpful insofar as they help me remember what flatters my body type. I hate them, though, because the description of the 'pear' or hourglass (or whatever I happen to be according to each source) usually has a kind of 'your curves are a deficit' tone. Which is totally subjective and stupid. I also seek out vintage patterns because they are designed for a curvier body type, which makes me feel normal.

  36. I find the categories to be frustrating. I often don't fit into any, and I'm closest to the dreaded "rectangle" or "boyish."

    I feel that I look and dress rather feminine... But nothing is less womanly than being told that you are shaped like a board.

    In my opinion, the point of sewing your own clothes is to express yourself-- not to categorize.

  37. I got my copy of the book a few days ago and had a mixed reaction to that section.

    On the one hand, most women probably don't fit into any of those exact types, and they're all depicted as pretty skinny overall.

    I'm typically an "hourglass" (even by that 13" difference--except now that I'm pregnant I have no waist to speak of) but I'm always confused as to why so many books claim that an hourglass woman must also have broad shoulders, as if the shoulders and bust mysteriously grow at the same rate. I have narrow shoulders and a narrow ribcage. Oh, and despite my hips being more than 10" wider than my waist, I have a super flat butt. Which some other book says means I'm a "top-heavy hourglass." (?)

    But on the other, I DO like the idea of designers at least THINKING about what will flatter different body types and shapes and sizes, even if this is an imperfect start and there are no hard and fast rules. So much fashion seems designed to look good on a coat-hanger or tall skinny straight up and down figure (can't remember what type that is). So I love to see designers or companies that cater to larger sizes and a variety of shapes.

    And really, I DO need to keep my "hourglass shape" and large bust in mind in pattern and clothing selection. I don't buy patterns designed for wovens that don't have decent darts or princess seams or SOMETHING that I can adjust for a fitted waist so my clothes don't hang straight down from my boobs tent-style. As a result almost all my RTW tops or dresses are very stretchy knits or wrap styles, even though I wish I could buy sheath or shift dresses.

    That said, I doubt even post-pregnancy I will probably use the actual patterns in the book--despite her nod to different shapes and real women, none of the patterns or alterations suggested really take into account anyone who needs a major FBA. And I seriously disagree with her statement that a straight loose-fitting shapeless dress with no darts or waist to speak of is great for larger or full-busted figures!

    I do LOVE LOVE LOVE the book overall though, as I think it provides so much enthusiasm for just digging in and making alterations to patterns and drafting your own facings, collars and what-have-you. I similarly haven't made any actual patterns from Sew U Home Stretch, but I refer to it ALL THE TIME for inspiration and ideas, and it gave me the confidence to make major modifications to commercial sewing patterns.

  38. I don't really mind these; maybe it's because I usually do fit neatly into one of the categories (not mentioned in the post, but usually "petite"). And I do find that whenever magazines have "shape" suggestions, I do find them helpful.

    I also don't necessarily think it's possible to find things that fit perfectly all the time. With wildly varying sizes among designers and clothing companies, everything does require a bit of tailoring to look perfect on you.

  39. I find it amusing!! Like a parlour game!! Which ass size is yours?? tee hee!
    I'm hourglass! ;)

  40. I've never fit one. I'm like an upside down pear.

  41. Although I'm never satisfied with the assortment of body types, I wish that more sewing patterns used symbols like Vogue. I'm more of a combo hourglass/pear, but I avoid styles not intended for pears because I don't want to emphasize my full thighs. If I already know something will look good on me despite what the pattern key says, then I just ignore it, but every now and again a new style comes out and I don't know what it will look like on me. Sure, I could just make the item and see, but why waste precious sewing time on something that may be unflattering? Its much easier to just look at a little key and see "Ah ha! Pears are omitted, so this will be unflattering to my full thighs. Now I can move on to any of the other gazillion pattern choices out there." To me, its not that I am being compared to fruit or geometric figures, just my silhouette, and I am not my silhouette.
    No system of classification ever is or ever will be perfect, but with a little common sense and some honest self appraisal you can make it work. And I'd rather have an imperfect system than no system at all. For example, over at Pattern Review, there has been a discussion off and on over the years about adding some sort of figure classification system so people can better find reviews and patterns that address their specific figure concerns. The discussion always gets out of hand because everyone wants a different system (ei: Vogue, My Shape, Trinny and Susannah, etc.) and so nothing ever happens. In the meantime, I had to find out the hard way that a particular dress doesn't really flatter my figure even though there are close to 40 reviews of it.

  42. Apparently I am a carrot. Or maybe a carrot who like cupcakes, since I don't exactly qualify as "slim-waisted". Don't really care for the celebrity comparison either, in my mind A. Jolie is just hollywood skinny, not athletic. If they compared it to competitive swimmer, maybe I'd listen. Can't wait to get the new Built by Wendy book, was looking at her Stretch book last night.

  43. I used to find it irritating because, like you, I saw characteristics that matched me in all the body shapes, but none that fit me completely. The best body shape quide I found is online at
    it actually has 8 body shapes, based on actual research. and finally one that matches me! The spoon.(which is different than the pear, kinda like average in your book. )
    So when I found it I felt really validated. But it wasn't really life changing. :) like you said I had mostly figured out what works through trial and error. But it does have a cool guide to styles that work for you. And its like anything, once you know the rules, then you can learn to bend them.
    It's a really cool site, I reccomend to all to check it out. Plus you can input your measurments and it will tell you which shape you are.
    And yes, queen latifah's shape is in there.

    oh, has a good breakdown too, a spoon is a figure 8 in that one.

  44. I actually like the fruit-based shape categories. Perhaps because I'm a petite pear, and that just sounds so much cuter than saying that I'm short-chested, an AA cup, and have humongous thighs and hips... It's a way of disassociating ourselves with things that might be seen as flaws, instead of obsessing over the things about our body we might not like, we fit into a nice little fruit, that many other women (of differing height/weight/etc) also fit into - a community of fruits. No two apples are alike, just as no two women who fit into the apple category are alike. For this reason, I like it better than just being a triangle or whatever shape, because geometry is too rigid.
    Using fruits make me think of cute japanese fruits, with little eyes and smiles - even more disassociation. Wouldn't you rather be a smiling little pear than worrying about having thunder thighs and a small chest?
    I don't really use this to decide what to sew/what looks good on me, because I like accentuating my pear-ness, which is apparently a no-no. Fit and figure flattery seem to be ignored by many, some for fashion's shake, oftentimes just because off-the-rack is all they know, and won't go outside of their designated number. And it's so easy to be drawn into the amazingness of a garment on a hanger, and forget about how it will look on a body.
    There a site,, which is like a streetwear site meets wardrobe remix, but you can enter in your body types (not picking 'apple', but combination of small chest/average stomach/etc, even skin/hair/eye colour) and find others with the same body type, and see how they style their clothing. Much more interesting! If sites like pattern review had something more along those lines, choosing a combination of things which equal your body type, than you could search for patterns that flatter people with larger thighs, or that large chested women might want to avoid. Much more helpful than a rigid shape (but i still like the fruit...)

  45. I don't think it is useful at all. I look at a pattern and decide if I think it will work for me. I am larger on the bottom - so maybe a pear. But I am far from large down there - hips only 90 cm! So I hardly need to hide them in full skirts.

    Oh, I wonder who Anonymous is who is discussing the underbust measurement. I would love to hear more about that!

  46. He he, I don't get them either, I am short waisted and so if I wear a belt on my waist I look like boobs with legs... so erm would I be a radish?

  47. I personally ignore it. I feel its inaccurate. I think women struggle enough with body image anyway. After wearing clothes your entire life you can figure out what works & what doesn't. What makes you feel good & what doesn't.
    Besides I def don't fit into any catagory. So I've made my own....fierce!

  48. Well...I'm busty on top so I'm an apple...yet my waist is narrower than my torso and hips so I'm an hourglass...but my hips are wider than my torso so I must be a pear. I guess that makes me a fruit salad.

  49. I don't think What Not to Wear would exist if all people knew how to dress their bodies in a flattering way (if that's something they care about).

    The best option is probably to go to a mall, grab a handful of different kinds of silhouettes and cuts off the racks, and try them all on.. and maybe bring an honest friend for a second opinion. If the food-and-inanimate-object types help initially, good, but it couldn't hurt to try on things for yourself and see what you like best and feel comfortable and beautiful in.

    So, I don't really mind them either way if it's useful, but it does bother me when people almost compete over these labels, like what can qualify as "curvy" and "I'm more hourglass than you are". Confidence can be lifted without putting others down!

    I'm another person caught between "average" and "hourglass".

  50. I think these kinds of classifications can be particularly helpful for some people (for example, if you have a small waist to hip ratio), but they've personally never done anything for me in helping me figure out my fit issues. My measurements would make me mostly average, but with a bit less waist definition. And as you might imagine, this does absolutely zip for helping me figure out how to alter patterns. Some things that work really well for me (like the full bust alteration) I've learned from trial and error, but I would LOVE to take a pattern fitting class or some such thing.

  51. I'd love to see a corresponding list of fruits or geometric shapes to describe male body types.

  52. This tutti-frutti stuff confuses me too. It seems that perhaps I am 'average' too according to this book. But that does not take into account my height, the shortness of my waist or the size of my ridiculously thin ankles. So how this helps me create flattering garments I do not know.

    And btw, your figure is not 'average', it's stunning!

  53. I must confess I have, in the past, found these systems slightly helpful. It's clear from the comments that people are eager to learn about what flatters them and yet baffled at being told they are an "x" shape or whatever.

    My view is that it is about proportion. One has both horizontal proportions (ie, hip width, shoulder width) and vertical proportions (ie shoulder to waist, waist to hip, hip to knee). Most systems focus on horizontal proportions but vertical proportions are also a key to flattering fit. What the advice comes down to, typically, is to try to use clothes to approximate "ideal" proportions; ie if your hips are big, also add width somehow to your shoulders, etc. Whether that is a praiseworthy goal is another issue.

    I recommend a croquis, or a scale drawing of yourself, to "try out" patterns you aren't sure of. Make one by tracing a photo; sketch the line drawings of patterns on top of it, play paper dolls.

    Also, to those who can't believe the 13" difference between waist and hips - mine is 15", whether I gain or lose weight. We come in all shapes and sizes, and I think that's OK.

  54. Funny, it's the first time I realised that this kind of categories are being used for patterns. I thought I sew myself so I could make clothes that actually fit my obviously non-standard-average-RTW-size body.

    So why even bother about bodyshapes? There are no general rules that apply to everybody in one category anyway. Example: I have really large breasts and wide shoulders but turtlenecks look great on me, despite all the rules and suggestions one stumbles upon.

    But if you are living without a mirror and selfesteem, those types may give you a starting point.

  55. I think that the "body type" quiz is just useful for fun, just like the other silly quizzes I used to love in the teen girl magazines back in the day. (Oh, YM, I miss you...) Knowing that I am an "inverted triangle" has helped me not at all. Half of the things that "they" say are good for that shape look terrible on me. I think you are right, anyone will learn what clothes looks best on her by...wearing clothes!

  56. Oh, Gertie! You are the lucky one with the average-body type that can look good in almost every style! I think most women fall into some kind of hybrid of shapes. I am a pear/hourglass blend, with boobs, flat tummy, small(ish) waist, and bigger thighs/hips. All one needs to do is go to your local WalMart where you are likely to see some "apple" shapes who may be trying to dress as if they are "athletic", etc ....There are a lot of folks out there who have NOT gotten the memo as to what types of clothing is flattering to them! (FYI, I love WalMart and shop there often, so I hope I have not offended anyone). My point is, I know that the skinny leggings/blousy longer top is NOT a good look on me because I need to define my smallist area, which is my waist. I think that most of us who make our own clothes are already well acquainted with what shapes and styles are most flattering to us, and it becomes second nature. But yay for you! Being "average" for once, is a good thing--just about any style is flattering to you!

  57. Another rectangle here! I find the classifications on patterns helpful in that since I accept my body for what it is, I want to be able to find clothing and patterns that flatter my shape. The amazing thing is that according to most of the Vogue patterns, nothing does flatter me! And the patterns that miraculously come with the rectangle indicator are often horrifically shapeless. I end up just buying what I want and disregard the shape schemes, since if I want to sew retro (and who doesn't!) there's no way I'm going to find something that "suits" a rectangle-shaped body.

  58. Have you ever gone for a bra fitting? Given your interest in lingerie, ironic if you haven't. Surely you've heard most women wear the wrong size? I don't think you are a B-cup!
    Love your blog, btw.

  59. Put me in the "I find this irritating" category. It may help some, and great. But for me it's just another marketing tool that inadvertently (or perhaps not) makes a lot of women feel worse about themselves.

    I note the "celebrity comparisons" are almost always thin (or very thin) actresses. I may be "hourglass"-ish but I could fit about three Emily Blunts in my arse alone. And these comparisons are also jaw-droppingly beautiful actresses, of course, and young, with beautiful skin, and able-bodied, and (usually, but not always) white. And so on. So instead of being encouraged to think of who you really are, you're encouraged to compare yourself against (surprise!) a stunning Westernized beauty ideal. You know... I have nothing against these beauties or other beauties, but the conversation and the "tips" and comparisons and fruits and shapes remind me of Kate Harding's discussion of Blake Lively's "aspirational" hair.

    Thanks for the article, Gertie!

  60. I think referring to body types as shapes works more as a starting point than any sort of definitive guide. They're definitely not the be all and end all (seeing as a lot of people seem not to be compatible with any of the shapes), but I think as a tool to become more aware of what your body is like, and then how to dress best for your shape, it doesn't hurt to know even the most basic information.
    I may be biased however, having always fitted into the hourglass category, body typing was never an issue for me.

  61. Stephanie G.

    The guidelines have nothing to do with what flatters you. The guidelines have to do with alterations. An hourglass figure is a waist that is 10 inches or more smaller than the fullest part of the hip and the measurement of the chest right under the bustline. Breast size doesn't really figure into it. Pear is carrying your weight in your abdoment, and your waist will be larger than your hips. A top heavy triangle would be a woman like me, I am narrower in the hips than the shoulders because I lift weights. Swimmers get a similar shape. The triangle on the other end is narrow through the shoulder blades and wider through the hips. Dancers and runners can end up like that. Rectangles are easy alterations. If you are a beginner, pick the rectangle - it will be easer on you for fitting issues. Getting yourself closer to the shape simply means an easier fit. If you are an expert at fitting, then please yourself with the pattern choice but understand that sometimes you end up redrafting certain parts of the pattern. Instead of being insulted by a chart that is designed to help inexperienced sewers avoid alteration disasters, you can get anything you want by taking a class on fitting, drafting, and tailoring. Then, once you can fit things, you can work out anything. I suspect the pattern companies know that most of their customers are not professionals and they are trying to help you not waste time and money. If I only knew twenty-five years ago what I know now, I would have taken a couple of night school classes.

  62. I agree - irritating. I do think certain styles look good on my "carrot" "athletic" "rectangle" body shape.

    However, I don't believe Vogue got it right when they did the shapes - none of their retro styles are suited to "rectangle" but I think I can make one work!

  63. I think I'm an average hourglass pear as well, if that's possible. I ignore the Vogue figure flattery icons and buy patterns I want to wear. For the record, you look gorgeous in the clothes you managed to choose without the aid of fruit and vegetables.

  64. Magazines and main stream stuff tries to fit everyone in a box... it just doesn't work that way. It is irritating but at the same time I think they are hoping for you to identify with one... I am plus size soooo I really dont identify with any of these "shapes"

  65. I find it rather helpful. I think that artists have an easier time knowing how shapes will lay on their body. I have a really hard time visualizing things on me. I always look at Vogue's shapes to help me determine if a pattern will work or not.

  66. Lol, body types, never fails to frustrate me. I too don't fit into any of the "groups", while i am bigger on my bottom half, my shoulders are too broad to be a pear, yet my bust is too small and waist too wide for an hourglass. I didnt even fit into one of the trinny & susannah's (from "what not to wear")body types and there are , i think, 10 of those. I have come to the conclusion that i shouldn't be comparing my body to a piece of fruit anyway,lol. Also i have to wonder if theres these categories for men? Hmmm

  67. I have never been able to figure out what I'm suppose to be. I think if you took an hourglass tall gal and squished her down into 5' 1" you'd have me, round with an oval torso and short little legs and arms.
    The irony is that us heavy, short women could really use some help figuring out clothes, but we are ignored.

    I have even heard about some health recommendations based on your shape...pears are suppose to have healthier hearts or some such (don't quote me, I could have it reversed). Again, not much help if you don't know what part of the fruit salad you are!

  68. I think pear is a much shorter word to communicate my bodytype than narrow falling shoulders, no D cups, waist and prominent hips. And even if I do not listen to style gurus, you can categorize eras and types of dress do work and what doesn't. On me, 50ties work, 20ties don't. And because I told you I am a pear you instantly know why. And why, as much as I like Myrna Loy I cannot dress like her or like Audrey Hepburn, but to get inspiration I look at Marilyn Monroe or Brigitte Bardot, even if I am not the sex bomb type. At least there I see what I should not wear, if I don't want to be the sex bomb type.
    I use pear as a short-hand to communicate and to asses, not to let it define me. Maybe because I am a really typical and obvious pear, it works for me.

  69. ohhh goodness, this subject is a fun one.
    There were a few reasons I started to get serious about my sewing skills: i had learned to do so as a part of my profession (learned to make costumes even though that is not what my expertise is), to tailor clothes more appropriate for my shape since very few fabrics and styles in ready-to-wear fashions flatter me, and because i have several friends who have very unique body shapes due to genetics or disability and it was beyond frustrating for them to try and force themselves into RTW fashions just as I had to.

    I have found that the general "shape" categories can serve as a very loose starting point, and that's it. I am technically a pear (i have a 13 inch difference between my waist and hips... O_O), but just like you Gertie, i do NOT have the narrow rounded shoulders. I have shoulders that could cut glass, and i look fantastic in a halter dress (of course, one of the things pear shaped women should no wear, or something).

    I have learned that the rules for dressing to certain shapes can be bent or broken depending on fabric, pattern, texture, and fashion taste. a good friend of mine wears clothing that i find simply outrageous and could *never* get away with, but she looks fantastic. i have another friend who is a plus size girl with a body shape that is supposedly difficult to dress, but she never fails to find clothing that makes her look like a city princess.

    i have also found that those "shapes" go out the window once you get past a certain size- which is insulted and infinitely frustrating, and negates the point of the whole "shape" notion in general.

    again, i find it a good loose start, but i never adhere to them strictly. i figure as long as the cut or style flatters a person, who cares what shape they are or if it follows the "rules" or not? rejecting the idea of getting pidgeon-holed into a shape was the reason I started making my clothes to begin with!

    <3 Beth

  70. I was introduced to the body shapes in my 8th grade home ec class. My teacher thought it was important I know where I landed in the grand scheme of things. Personally, it embarrassed me almost beyond words. My measurements were (I've had a baby since then and a reduction....)
    41 1/2 - 30 - 40. She said that I was an hourglass but I couldn't dress that way because the way a normal "X" person dresses would make me look fat..... Confusion at it's best.
    In the end, we threw the list out of the window, I wore whatever I thought was nice and lived to tell the tale.
    Return the book! =)

  71. Same here, I don't find the fruit stuff helpful AT ALL! It is only confusing. Yes, my hips are wide in relation to my upper body, but I also have a defined waist and some people would say that I have a really boyish figure all around. At some point I was trying to figure out whether I could dress according to my body shape, but gave up because I just couldn't figure out which box to tick, and I'll admit it, I got really irritated reading about things that women with certain body shapes "weren't supposed to" wear. These days I just go for the things that I like and whatever feels right.

  72. I haven't read everyone's comments, but I've always been a very short hourglass figure, and I tend to just wear stuff I love and try it out rather than follow guidelines that a man has probably set long ago.

    I'm really interested in Built By Wendy's new book though...

  73. with broad shoulders, small bust, tiny waist & wide hips i usually adhere to the pear or hourglass guides even though neither is a perfect fit. that being said, they usually provide a good general outline. i think it's also just knowing what looks good on you. for me, i have to wear things fitted in the waist, otherwise i look terribly off proportion wise. through trial & error i've discovered i can only wear knits if i add bust & back darts to the pattern.

  74. I've never found those things helpful at all mostly because my body shape is like if an hourglass, a pear and an apple had a baby that be my shape. And they never have that in there. I just go by my bust and hip measurements and wing it.

  75. I find it particularly annoying when they make us pick the shape we fit into and then spend the next three pages trying to teach us what to wear to hide that shape.

    Yes, i have an hourglass.


    No, i do not want to wear "flattering blouses to hide a large bust" or "flared jeans to balance large hips". The whole concept is ridiculous.

    I know what i feel comfortable and appealing in & if no one else agrees, i don't give a shit.

  76. Cherry, will you be my comment-spouse? Because I love what you've just said. Deeply.

  77. Totally agree with Vix about Bradley Bayou's "The Science of Sexy". Not crazy about the name of the book but his recommendations were right on for me.

    He takes into consideration shoulder, bust, waist, hip, height and weight then gives tips on what to wear and what to avoid. I found his book through Annie Jackson's site. This link has a couple pages from his book and a little more explanation:

  78. It would be my pleasure, Kelly. haha

  79. an athletic shape has a large bust? oh, boy -- how off is that? sure, the broad shoulders may come with physical activity, especially if you're of the strength-training ilk, but most women i know who are truly athletic tend to lose some inches in the bust department over time.

    rest assured that when i think "angelina jolie," "athletic" is not the first adjective that springs to mind...

  80. The whole body shape thing seems false to me. Before them mass production of clothes everyone made clothes to fit themselves. Clothing "sizes" is really a false idea to make mass manufacture of clothes possible - we are all different sizes and shapes!

  81. I may be the only one, but I actually find this one of the few useful ways of knowing what will suit me. It may well be because I am very much a pear shape. The fact that I am quite tall and slim gave me the impression that I should be able to wear anything, but somethings would just stay in my wardrobe unworn and I couldn't work out why. Once I started thinking in terms of pear shape styles I looked much more in proportion. It also allowed me to have some sort of structure when looking for clothes which was not at all related to clothing fashions, therefore allowing me to keep my own individual style.

    I do think the fruit based terms and they way they are described seem very negative, however. They imply some sort of deformity and adding in 'average' just increases the idea that some shapes are more 'normal' than others. I also agree with another reader that some people really aren't aware what suits them (we are both from London though, maybe girls here are more bothered by what is in fashion than what actually suits them!?)

  82. Hello! I'm new to sewing and even newer to this blog!
    I totally get your frustration about the "body type" crazyness...why would I ever want to see my body described as Pear? ever worse as Average (your body looks very much like mine)...I'm no average, I'm pretty perfect, thank you!

    They also take it one step further...after the body type here comes the colour type...Winter and Summer types, cold or warm skintones...uggh...I'll wear the shapes and colours that I love the most and won't succumb to any categorisation!!!

    ps: I love your blog already, it's helping a lot with my first sewing projects :) thank you!

  83. I know I'm late to the party here for commenting but I find it reassuring that so many other people have a problem with this body shape classification thing. There are as many body shapes as there are people on the planet--7 billion at last count. I say, give it up and wear what makes you happy.

  84. I find it useless too. If you look at me you'd say I was hourglass. But my measurements make confusing reading. I have a waist that's significantly smaller than my hips, but my chest is bigger than my waist. That and being around the 5ft mark means I'm not in proportion. Makes following any of the 'rules' with dressing to shapes useless. I can wear things I'm not supposed to be able to wear?!?

  85. I know this is an old post, but thinking about body shape classifications bugs me so much that I have to respond.

    Unlike many of the commenters here, my frustration doesn't stem from being unable to classify my body as one shape (or fruit). I'm a pretty typical apple shape. Whenever I gain weight it's always in my bust, waist, and upper arms. While my lower body is not what you'd call petite, it is comparably smaller than my upper body. What I DO have a problem with, is the fashion industry's attempts to dictate what I can and cannot wear on my body. Everything they tell "apple" types to wear is just SO BORING. No fitted or full skirts. Just A-line skirts, hip-length shirts/jackets, and small-medium sized prints. What I love about sewing is that I can make clothes that I love that fit and flatter my body, and it doesn't have to be a g** d*** A-line skirt. I realize that super-tight wiggle dresses, or overly gathered skirts don't look good on me, but I can adapt these things to wear comfortably on my lovely apple body.

  86. I just looked up 'apple shaped body' because I thought I might be one. Instantly it comes up with "overweight! Diabetes! Post partum and undefined!" As it happens I, like you, do not perfectly fit a category. I'm not even an 'average'. Maybe I'm just 'boring'. The fact that I've survived and am in the process of recovery from anorexia is meaningless, because, right now I am technically overweight. It seems they would rather I was dead than round. I also have a healthy diet and do plenty of exercise and have had lots of random people saying I look great. So it is all utter bullshit, eat, wear clothes and enjoy life and stop obsessing about body shape.That's advice I give everyone who is struggling :)


Thanks for your comments; I read each and every one! xo Gertie

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