How to Dress: Fit and Proportion

A-line skirt, Banana Republic

Back in my career days, I used a personal shopper. I used to shop once a season, and she was able to get me great discounts and deals. This sounds like an extravagance (and, it probably was) but in the long run I picked up investment pieces through her that I still wear today. She also taught me some invaluable lessons.

First: know your body. The first thing she did was take all of my measurements (bust, waist, hips) then she dispassionately pointed out my strengths (long, thin arms and legs, height: I’m 5’8″, my bust is pretty great, my waist is really small), and my, er, disproportionate parts. (My hips are wider than is proportionate, my shoulders are narrow, my head is a bit small compared to my body and finally the high-waisted look was not for me: my hips and shorter torso make any high-waisted pants look like Mom jeans.)

Gorgeous 30s gown, on the bias, would look AWFUL on me

I still work within these confines today. A-line skirts are usually my friend: they don’t highlight my hips. My wedding gown had an A-line skirt. On the bias is usually a disaster, unless the patterns and sleeves balance out the lower silhouette. (On the bias dresses would look AMAZING on Esperanza, whose hips are very narrow.) My hair has to be a little bit poofy: no slicked-back ponytails for me. Sleeves and tops that make my shoulders look wider are good. (I love shrugs.) Waist-cinching belts are usually flattering, low-rise pants are great. Skinny jeans, if worn correctly, can be great as they show off long legs, but they have to be carefully paired.

The other thing she taught me is try on EVERYTHING. Things that look horrible on the rack might flatter you. Similarly, clothes that you adore on the hanger might look wretched on you. You can never be sure. I try on things at Target, as well as Banana Republic, as well as Barney’s.

Even the skinniest models on the runway have disproportionate parts, with a few exceptions: Kate Moss is almost perfectly symmetrical. That’s the key to her look, not her weight. She can quite literally wear almost anything. I have a friend who is not thin at all, but her measurements are perfectly symmetrical. Her bust and hips are the same size and her waist is small. She, too, can wear almost anything.

Here’s this week’s outfit diary, with an eye on proportion:

Sweater: James Pearce, 2006. It nips in at the waist. Long T-shirt, Susan Bristol, Spring 2012. Necklace: gift. Low-rise olive pants: Banana Republic, 2010. Boots: Payless, new.

Shirt: Anthropologie, 2011. The butterfly sleeves create a widening effect for my shoulders. Necklace, gift. Jeans, Old Navy, 2011. Brogues: Payless, new.

The picture for this outfit turned out poorly, so here’s what it looks like on:

Jacket, DKNY, vintage. Skirt: (A-line) Kookai. (MiL bought it for me in France this year: not sure the availability in the US.) Navy tank top: Marc Jacobs, 2010. Navy flip-flops: Target, this year. It was hot mid-week.

Then it turned weird and foggy and drizzly.

Long raincoat that covers my hips: Dana Buchman, 2001. Black sleeveless turtleneck: INC, gift. Jeans, Old Navy, 2010. Shoes: Marc Jacobs, 2010. Pin: Darcy’s grandmother’s.

If we had a date night: this jacket and top creates an optical illusion of wider shoulders. The combination of the halter top and the tufted sleeve of the jacket widens my shoulders. Jacket, Anne Klein, vintage. Halter top: Banana Republic, 2010. Black skinny jeans, Old Navy, 2010. Patent leather heels: Banana Republic, 2010.

A note about brands: some work better than others. I should note here that Old Navy jeans generally fit me well, whereas any pair of JCrew pants pretty much look TERRIBLE on me. The fit models at JCrew must have narrow hips. Banana Republic also is a brand that fits me well. So if my wardrobe seems sort of dominated by those brands, that’s why. I don’t buy high-end brands very often (especially recently) but Marc Jacobs has worked well for me, as has Ralph Lauren and Dolce & Gabbana. (I have a theory they design for women with hips: the corset/skirts they produce are AMAZING.) Also, I loved my Vera Wang wedding dress.

Do you dress for your body? What are YOUR tips for your figure-type? Are there brands that fit better for you than others?


Filed under My Favorite Things

15 responses to “How to Dress: Fit and Proportion

  1. I would love to spend a day in your closet picking outfits with you! You have such great stuff. 🙂 And that is absolutely the best fashion advice: try on everything. Once I learned that, the things I picked up that I never would have looked at twice before!

    I’m big but proportionate. I love Mossimo button downs from Target. Not too much, just enough tuck at the waist, not too tight, just enough room at the bust. I’ve probably bought at least one of every style I’ve seen in the past ten years. If it’s a top with buttons, it looks good. Their pants, not so much on me. At 5’11”, pants shopping is hell. Either too short or too wide-legged. I do have one pair of Ralph Lauren jeans that are awesome.

  2. Huh … maybe I should go try Old Navy for jeans … I really need a decent pair. I hate to confess where I got my last ones. Love the orange/salmon brights this week!

  3. I spent A LOT of time, and A LOT of wasted money buying clothes that I loved on the mannequin but hated on myself. I think I’ve finally figured out what works best for me, or maybe I’m just better at spotting what DOESN’T work. I wonder if working with a personal shopper would be worth the investment; they money I spent on her I could save on buying a few amazing pieces that would last me for many years. I’ll have to think about that some day when I’m done wondering if I’ll ever be pregnant again. 😉

  4. Love this! I’ll be back when I can give a full response

  5. I am a very bland dresser – and I need to fix that. The only thing I know for sure is that scoop neck tops are not for me – they make me look way too busty (even at a 36C). V necks are much better. Besides that, I’ve got nothing 😉

  6. Oh, I would love to have a personal shopper one day! I know some things are just automatic no-nos for me, though. Bias cut dresses, low cut anything, most pants (almost all jeans give me serious mom butt), etc. I have virtually no bust, a large rump in comparison, long legs and the shortest torso of anyone I know! Shopping can be a real challenge. Lately I’ve found that nipped/cropped sweaters with a longer top underneath and skinny pants or skirts look shockingly good. I think it is because it creates the illusion that I actually have a torso!

    I’m very much enjoying your style posts!

  7. These posts amuse me, just cos I think we’re total 100% polar opposites here! I have little interest in fashion whatsoever, am very much jeans/t’shirt/hoodie/trainers – I like the baggy functional comfortable stuff (carharrt, if I had to name labels, but I just realised my only carharrt top is way too small on me now). Wide shoulders, thickish waist and chunky thighs – most jeans look shocking (the levis shop makes me contemplate ridiculous dieting – temporarily. Have a fab pair of Mavi jeans though. Just wearing out now 😦 jeans are like Cinderella’s slipper to me) and skinny jeans? forget it. I know empire waists look stupid (would invite a barrage of pregnancy questions I know) on me, and can’t handle heels of more than an inch. Not very good at going feminine, if I can sit crosslegged on the floor comfortably without displaying my knickers, we’re doing well.

    I spent about 90 minutes in op shops yesterday and came out with precisely nothing. I know its always hit and miss in those places, but it just drove home how bloody picky I am – no frills, no bows, not large buttons, no strappy little girly numbers, nowt floral nor with patterns (unless they’re very very cool patterns, like funky 70’s patterns). Brands-wise (and finances wise) we’re talking KMart. I don’t find a hell of a lot of inspiration in the way of clothes shopping here in NZ

  8. Pencil skirts work well for me and things that emphasize my waist. High waisted shorts also look good I don’t have skinny legs but usually toned. Pointy toe shoes make me look like I have skinnier calves as well. However at the moment I live in track suit pants but slowly getting there! Oh and I seem to hve n obscene obsession with stripes!

  9. i have a hard time finding dressed because the lower half of my body is thicker and wider than my top half. Sheath dresses are out of the question – HOWEVER – I had a silk dress tailored to fit me once when I was shooting a movie. Lesson learned, it`s worth it to have a dress tailored to fit you or even have clothes made for you rather than spend endless hours of frustration trying to find something that fits properly. You can have five ill fitting dresses or pants or have it made to fit you exactly and you will end wearing it more frequently and with confidence.

  10. I think it is great you had a personal shopper. It is one of those luxuries that seems unaffordable but probably pays for itself in the long run by saving time, money and angst! I definitely shop for my body. My problem is that sometimes I forget that the body I’m shopping for is not the scrawny high schooler I was but the fuller figured body I have now.

    I realized last weekend that I have a rectangular body shape. That’s not the most flattering-sounding geometric shape :-/ I have somewhat broad shoulders and a fairly large rib cage but very little waist. I do have long legs and would consider them, my slim arms and my shoulders my best assets. I look good in shifts or sheaths, v-neck shirts, pants that sit on my hips and not my waist (I have a high waist too), A-line skirts, etc. Loose, flowy garments do not flatter me at all. I’m almost 5’10”, which hides a multitude of sins, but my trouble area is definitely my stomach right now. I shop at Talbots, Banana Republic and Ann Taylor/Ann Taylor Loft.

    I am loving these style posts right now! I’m tempted to create a post about outfits for work that look good on me. I need serious help dressing for leisure, though.

  11. Enjoying these posts and seriously need to take notes. You inspire me to go through my wardrobe once and for all. It is much needed!

  12. Love this post. I could definitely use a wardrobe consultant! All too often I buy something that I end up returning because it’s just to right. When I find a brand that fits well I stick with it.

  13. I try to buy for my shape which is in-between petite and regular with small chest, bigger hips and a tendency to gain weight right in the middle. It sucks and finding clothes that fit right is so annoying. I love these style posts, I’ve been taking a more critical eye to my wardrobe and combinations lately because of them.

  14. Do they have Kookai in the States? I have a great proportion, they only problem is that I’m proportionately too big. Ahem. I’m working on that part though.

    Such pretty outfits – stuff I would wear.

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