The thoughts, sewing projects, and fabric oglings of a dedicated sewist.

The Ideal Body

I've been thinking a lot about an article on The Ideal Silhouette that I read in the most recent issue of Threads magazine.

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Christina Hendricks - image via

I'm not out to get into a debate about the The Ideal Silhouette - the hourglass - and how close/far it is from real women's figures or how fair/unfair it is as a standard.  I do think it is what many of us - me included - strive for at some level because it's the shape we've associated with beauty from a young age.  And we are disappointed in our clothes and in ourselves when we don't meet it.

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Marilyn Monroe - image from TinyPic

What I am fascinated with is the technical problem of how to achieve it through illusion when it's not your real figure.

I'll come clean.  I have no problem with a little bit of fakery if it makes me feel good.  Left to nature, I have the body of a boy: small hips, no waist, broad shoulders, not much in the bust department (and I was dismayed to find that giving birth and nursing two lovely little people made what little I had almost disappear).  And of course, when I put on weight I don't become more curvy, just the same shape but broader.  So I fake it.  I wear a Wonderbra ("Hell-oooo B-cup!") and I try to wear clothes that make me look more shapely.

One of the things I liked about the Threads article is that it broke down why and how to take measurements to do a self-analysis of your own figure for both horizontal measurements and vertical measurements.  I've not been able to figure out if I'm an inverted triangle (keyhole) or a rectangle (column), and this article gave me a simple way to figure it out.  So now I have a new badge for myself!  I am an inverted triangle because my shoulders are a full five inches wider than my hips.  The length measurement that is the least "ideal" on me is the top of head to underarm (so this is why I like a teased crown!).  And I now have a reason now to buy the fedora I've been hankering after ("Thank you, Threads!").  You can download the article and do your own self-analysis here: Self-evaluation worksheet from Threads article.

I also liked that the article expanded the range of figure types from the four I frequently see (Triangle/Pear, Inverted triangle, Rectangle, Hourglass) to six.  The new ones for me were the Figure 8 (like the Hourglass but the shoulders slope down and the hips sit lower on the body) and the Oval (self-explanatory), and I have clients in both those categories.

The information on how to use illusion to give your self your ideal silhouette is also helpful.  And I say your ideal silhouette because Threads gives you permission to create a different sihouette than the Ideal.  Interesting, huh?  Most of the guidance I saw for my figure type is stuff I've naturally done because I like the way it makes me look (prints on bottom, solid colors on top, sleeveless tops, no poofy sleeves, fitted bodice) but it also gave me some new things to try (raglan sleeves - who knew??) and some ideas on how to cheat and make a style work for me that doesn't really fit my body type (bright colors or yoke/hip embellishment so that a pencil skirt looks more curvy).  I also now know why my attempts at wearing skinny jeans were doomed to failure (accentuates my shoulder/hip imbalance).  I've been eyeing a book by Peggy Sagers at Silhouette Patterns for some time now called Dressed to Kill Gently, which addresses the topic of illusion and focal points.  Doesn't that sound exciting??!

Most of all, I find the creation of this kind of illusion really fun.  It draws on my creativity.  It helps me appoach designing and sewing in a more strategic way.  It makes dressing feel a little bit like an art.  Does it add meaning to the world in any way?  Probably not, but it does aid acceptance of who I am and I'm a better person generally when I achieve that.  I will never have a tiny waist no matter how many times I do the Ab Ripper X workout.  But I can appear to have a smaller waist by working some fashion magic!  And that sounds like much more fun than removing a rib.

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Five figure types - from The Fitting Room
5 comments on "The Ideal Body"
  1. Great article and tips, Lisa! I'm SO surprised to see the hourglass as the ideal figure, as I've always thought the current high fashion model-type figures (very narrow, very thin, small bust) was more the ideal body; maybe that's the ideal in fashion? It's what I've always wanted because it seems like clothes look so great on that frame, but no matter how thin I've ever gotten - I'll never be narrow or bust-less ;) Anyway, we women... the grass is always greener, or the body always better, eh? - Julia

  2. Awesome ... not sure how Threads lays it out, but I'm sold and off to find out "what" I am :)

  3. Ooh, good link. I'm going to check it out. I am definitely pear shaped but I've never quite fit the mold perfectly since my shoulders are wider. I'm very small through the bust, though (sad face). I also like the idea of creating illusion. I don't think there is anything wrong with it, especially if it make you feel good.

  4. @ Julia - Interesting point! I think there is a big difference between fashion models and the ideal figure. I almost think of fashion models as hangers - they are fairly indistinguishable and from my experience of making clothes for others, those without curves are the easiest to fit. (The challenge of fitting curves is much more fun!) I think most of the iconic female figures - women whose figures we remember and think of as sexy - are more hourglass. Selma Hayek. Elizabeth Taylor. Rita Hayworth. Jane Russell. Catherine Zeta Jones. And my favorite, Christina Hendricks aka Joanie. And I like this. Let's celebrate our curves (or our ability to create them)! Any one else have thoughts on this?

  5. @Liza Jane - based on your blog, you definitely know how to dress well! I love the styles you choose. I wonder if you'll turn out to be a Figure 8 because of the wider shoulders? Although, how could all shapes of women fit into even 6 categories?