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The Importance of Understanding your Body Shape


The Importance of Understanding your Body Shape

Before any one can truly start to develop their own style they need to understand their body shape in order to learn how to choose clothing that flatters their shape. I think the tendency is to not want to think about it and then become incredibly frustrated when trying on clothes. If the clothes don’t fit we think that the problem is our body when in actuality, it is the consequence of a clothing industry that does not, and can not, cater to all the different shapes and sizes. I know that I used to feel down on myself when the clothes I tried on did not fit properly. I would blame it on my perceived “imperfections” which was a very self-destructive thought process. This changed when I started designing my own patterns and was forced to analyze my body and understand where and why it does not meet the commercial standard. And that is what it really is, a commercial standard that seems to have become a social standard.


There is no standard sizing systems that is used in the clothing industry. Clothing brands and manufacturers choose a sizing system according to their preference. On top of that, the sizing standards used by pattern companies are completely different than the clothing industry. When buying clothing I tend to be a size 8 however in patterns I am between a size 14 and 16. So the first thing to do is throw out the concept of size. In this case, it is not the size that matters but the fit. The size has nothing to do with your shape. Sizing is simply a mathematical formula used by the clothing industry to fit “standard” body sizes even though the majority of female bodies do not fit a standard.


An Example of the difference between US and EUR pattern sizes

The process of turning a sample size into additional sizes is called grading. When grading a pattern from a size 0 to a 16, there are points on the pattern that are increased incrementally. The problem is that it does not reflect the different shapes of real people. Just because you have a large chest does not mean that your arms are proportionately longer, however if you are buying a long sleeve top the sleeves will get longer as the size increases.
If you are purchasing a fitted dress and you are large in the bottom and small on top, you will need to buy the size that fits your hips which means that the top half will be too big. This is the same for pants. If you do not fit into retail clothing sizes and you want properly fitted clothing, you will either have to tailor your clothes, have custom made clothing or learn how to sew your own clothes (which is not as hard as you may think.)

In order to analyze your body shape, I think the best starting point is to know the terms that are often used by the clothing, nutrition and exercise industries to define common body shapes, such as apple, pear, rectangle, hourglass and inverted triangle, and try to understand where you fit into those categories. Of course, some of us may fit into multiple categories which makes it confusing when trying to apply the rules for each category. That is why I don’t believe in rules when it comes to clothing. I believe in guidelines instead. Rules are stringent and guidelines are fluid. What applies to one person may not apply to another because there are so many other influencing factors. The industry defined body shapes are simply reference points that we can use to start with and to build on.


My next series of posts on this topic will be a closer look at the different types of body shapes and how to dress each one. I will provide a personal analysis of my own body shape and explain the adjustments I make to my clothing in order to fit areas of my body that do not meet an industry defined “standard” size. Lastly, I will discuss the fitting of different pieces of clothing and the alterations that are required to fit different types of body shapes.


I am very passionate on these topics because I believe that there is huge social pressure for women to fit the clothes that are being aggressively marketed by the clothing industry. It is a marketing strategy that is destructive and needs to be challenged. Women need to understand that it is not us who need to fit the clothes but the clothes that need to fit us. Clothing should not be what breaks us down but what builds us up.

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