back to basics with shape

I’ve found that trying to figure out my style, revamp my wardrobe and figure out where I should be spending my sewing time is such a big topic that it’s hard to even know where to start. After posting about sorting my stash on the basis of colour, however, it occurred to me that maybe that was the start: although everything changes to some degree over time, colouration is probably a person’s most immutable aspect, and is thus foundational.

soft summer palette, which seems to be the most flattering for me

OK, so what comes after colour? I’d say physical proportions are next. Even when weight gain or loss isn’t an issue, shapes change over time according to physical activity and aging.

I think I’m what you’d call a petite hourglass, but for me the focus on top is shoulders rather than bust (unlike my great-grandmother, who was reportedly described by my great-grandfather as “boobs on legs”). Considering Imogen’s analysis of vertical proportions over at Inside Out Style gave me some insight into my shape and some of my fitting issues.

1. At 5’2″ (157.5 cm), I’m short. This I knew.

2. All things considered, however, my vertical measurements are pretty well proportioned. My torso and legs are close to the same length. This could explain why a guy friend in high school exclaimed with teenage male tactlessness, “I didn’t know you were so short!” Although I am short, I apparently don’t necessarily “read” as short. Once when I worked in retail, a mystery shopper credited me with an extra 3″ of height – and I was wearing sandals! (Thank you, mystery shopper :-))

3. Despite generally even proportions, all hell breaks loose between my waist and leg break. As far as I can figure, this is down to having a short waist (my hips bones are close to the bottom of my ribs) and a short pelvis, of all things.

(Ali over at The Wardrobe, Reimagined posted this interesting discussion of proportion and fashion rules in the context of being short-waisted. Imogen offers tips for dressing a short waist generally, as well as tips for the short-waisted X-shape.)

This could explain a few issues: the curvy, hard to fit bottom; the fuller upper thighs; my obsession with (and unattainability of) completely flat abs despite being slim; why my tum seems to inflate like a balloon when I get bloated.

This is where the bulk of my fitting issues seem to congregate. Regular (non-petite) shirts fit well enough on the top, but my waist starts a little higher than they expect, and my hips flare out quickly, which results in the bottom of the shirt riding up a bit with loose horizontal wrinkles across the back. Trousers/pants are all wrong at the top. Petite pants are still too long in the rise, while regular pants that come to the natural waist are up in my ribs – blech. Regular low rise is like a mid-rise on me, but I still need to cinch in with a belt because the garment’s hip curve is too gradual.

4. My ribcage is narrow and almost columnar. Not a major issue, but it certainly makes finding non-sports bras a challenge, and my preferred bra style has a nasty habit of showing at the neck of T-shirts. (It appears that my narrow ribcage is indirectly responsible for my preference for crewneck shirts, and thus the too-small necks of the T-shirts I made last winter.) Clingy tank tops are unflatteringly boyish.

5. My feet are short. Like, vertically. (Not a clothing issue, but still…) Shoes tend to gouge the sides of my ankles while boots compress down and get wrinkles, or at least they did until I discovered heel lifts.

exhibit A

exhibit B

And then there’s the photographic evidence. Funny how you can look at yourself in the mirror everyday and yet the photos look different somehow. (One kindness about photos: you don’t get the top-down view of tum.)

OK, so here’s what seems unfamiliar to me about these photos: my tum looks flatter than I expected; despite the fact that in certain trousers, my front thighs feel prominent, they don’t look it; the front/back view is a fair amount wider (and to me looks heavier) than the side view.

So, the basic points I’ve gleaned for my shape are:

  • I need waist definition
  • but no belts at the waist
  • no baggy tops, no dropped shoulder seams
  • tops should end at about the high hip
  • waistbands must be contour (and below the natural waist) as there’s not enough real estate there to accommodate an unshaped waistband (just thinking about it makes me feel claustrophobic)
  • no detail or bulk at hips or waist (which is just as well – then I don’t have to worry about fitting trousers and putting pockets in them)
  • loose trousers should probably be approached with caution – fabrics will need decent drape
  • avoid garments that increase width (whatever those might be)

Oh dear, it’s sounding like everything should be fairly fitted. I guess I’ve got my work cut out for me, because fitting is the part I struggle with the most.


About Zena

I sew sometimes.
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4 Responses to back to basics with shape

  1. Thanks for the links – you are also Elliptical in your side view- you may find this useful

  2. Tanit-Isis says:

    I took some similar photos recently (haven’t had the nerve to post them yet) and was a bit disconcerted at the difference between the figure I think I have and the one in the photos ;). Some things my mind exaggerates, others it minimizes (in both good and bad directions…)

    I think you “seem” taller than 5′ 2″ in my head, too. πŸ˜‰

    Good luck with the fitting challenges. I think you’ll look kick-ass in the kind of clothes you describe.

    Oh, and I like the haircut! (Which you’ve probably had for years, but y’know. πŸ™‚ )

    • Zena says:

      Thanks πŸ™‚
      The haircut is pretty new – from about March of this year. Now that I once again live in the same city as my hairdresser, I figure I can manage a slightly more labour-intensive style (as opposed to long enough to put into a ponytail).

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