Dressing for Your Shape #1

Check out my latest charity shop bargain. It ain’t silk, but it looks like it, and I love the pattern. Isn’t it lovely?

When I first saw this pretty thing on the rail, I assumed it was vintage. Turns out it is one of the dresses designed by Trinny and Susannah. For those of you who aren’t aware of this bossy pair of stylists, T+S have have produced several books and TV programmes, all with the focus on dressing ‘real women’. Programmes usually began with them making a woman stand in front of a mirror in her underwear, pointing out her flaws but getting her to admit if she has “great tits” or a “good arse”. Brutal, yet popular. Β Their key message was to ‘dress for your shape’, highlighting your best features and de-emphasising the less attractive ones. They went on to design a range of dresses:

A selection of their range - it's all about the curves, ladies!

Their most recent book,Β The Body Shape Bible, categorises women into 12 shapes; going beyond hourglass/pear/apple etc. (though they feature) to include ‘column’, ‘lollipop’, ‘goblet’…and the flatteringly-named ‘brick’. They then tell you how to dress for that shape, with emphasis on creating curves where there aren’t any, or enhancing the ones that are hidden under baggy clothing.

I've yet to decide which shape I am...

Dissecting 'The Brick'...

Dressing 'The Brick'...













Looking at the dress, it was definitely designed to emphasise the waist, widen the hips and display the breasts (when I tried it on my mum rolled her eyes and said, “your boobs…”). I’d love to know which of their shapes it was intended for – I suspect someone a little straighter than me…

Excuse the picture - I couldn't find the tripod...

Hm. I suspect fake tan would play a part in my makeover.

I’m always ambivalent about the idea of Β ‘dressing for your shape’ – on the one hand I want to feel good in what I wear, and on the other hand I resent being limited by a neckline or sleeve length. Watching some of their programmes, though – rightly or wrongly – I realise I have absorbed quite a few of their ‘rules’, eg:

1. v-neck/wrap tops minimise big breasts – avoid polonecks and crew necks at all costs!

2. large rings make fingers appear more dainty

3. ankle straps truncate your legs

4. 3/4 length sleeves show off the wrist, the slimmest part of the arm

5. baggy clothes make curvy women look like sacks of potatoes

Contrary to popular belief, none of my oversized rings contain sleeping draught.

Some of us like dressing by the rules more than others, but prescriptive or not, T+S seem to have helped women rediscover a happiness with their bodies. Many of us feel horrified when we look at photographs of ourselves, but their philosophy takes this one step further; you may feel knocked down, but you then have to build yourself up again – and this is a crucial step that many body-conscious types miss out.

What do you think about this?

Should we dress to flatter our shapes?

What rules do you abide by?


Read Dressing for Your Shape #2

Read Dressing for Your Shape #3


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72 thoughts on “Dressing for Your Shape #1

  1. YES YES YES!! We absolutely should dress for our shape!!! And doing so still allows us to dress with our personality, but in the most flattering way possible! YES!


  2. OK that is a gorg dress, but I cant see what I am typing due to the tears running down my face over the ‘brick’!!!! Oh dear I do miss them. I do believe in dressing for your shape but my god I am none of those and I would shit myself if I saw a cornet woman coming towards me!
    I mean I would never wear a skin tight body con dress, I really need to wear one that nips in at the waist to flatter my shape. But then again I also wear things that aren’t necessarily traditionally flattering. I would love to see what T&S thought of my drop crotch Westwood pants (which are actually very slimming). Loving the new blog, I have such blog envy of your beautifully spaced paragraphs, ahhhh soon, very soon I will have it too x

    BTW Your blog has kept updating like usual on my blog roll – do I still need to change the URL?

    • If one more person tells me I have beautifully spaced paragraphs…

      I would love to know what they think of your VW pants too – they were raging about peg trousers on an episode I watched, so they’d have a field day with you!!

  3. Great post! I should check out their book, as I think I’m somewhere between a vase and an hourglass. It’s very difficult finding clothes off the rack, particularly bottom separates, so any help is appreciated. I also with that label was available state-side!

    Over the past months, I’ve been starting to follow a few rules for myself: low-scoop or V-neck tanks and tees to highlight the breasts (I prefer “highlight” over minimize), biker jackets for creating a great neckline for the waist and chest area, more fitted waist options, and stretchy denim that finally hugs the curves! I’ve also committed my feet to heels, as the height helps create more balance for my curves and shorter legs.

    • It’s a fair point – some people want to highlight rather than minimise. I think many of us are ‘naturally’ aware that certain necklines and shapes suit us…but I also think everyone is drawn to things that are ‘wrong’ for them, too. And I can’t deny that I like what heels do for my legs!

  4. That dress is adorable and suits you beautifully! You have fantastic legs!!!!
    I think I’m between a cornet (watch out Pearl!) and a brick and I am petite, very difficult! I think you should stick by a few rules because they are true visually, the rest you can take it or leave it, afterall not everyone is exactly each body type and it would be too dull to stick rigidly by them all the time.

    I will never wear a skin tight dress nor a mini skirt more because I would never feel comfortable in them. Now that I’ve slimmed down I COULD wear tight dresses and shorter hemlines to make me look taller BUT it’s just not me. Plus I think my knees are too chunky, however, I see other women and think wow, my knees aren’t as chunky as hers and SHE’s showing them! So it’s more about self perception and and how good we feel in certain outfits.

    • I agree with that. I recently started going to Zumba classes, and being around women of all shapes and sizes gave my self-perception a slap!

      And on that note – thank you for saying I have fantastic legs! I don’t think anyone’s ever said that to me before.

  5. But what happens when you have to get naked? Seriously. All the illusion-creating falls and T & S’s ideas fall. I have narrow hips, small boobs and a small waist – in many ways a “child” body type. Do I dress in frilly dresses and t-bars then because it suits my bodyshape? Naaah. Although its no excuse to look stupid though. Great post – I look forward to part 2! xx

    • What happens when you’re naked? That’s where Gok Wan comes in!!! I’m sure they’d get you in angular vests and slash necks – they’re not that into dressing young…

  6. I believe everyone should ‘know what suits them’- but the body shape ‘rules’ Trinny and Suzannah (and magazines) sell us are far too simplistic. They often end up as constraints and indeed ‘breed’ criticism when none is needed. They assume, for example, that a short woman will have short legs- in fact, it’s the proportions that matter: you can be leggy and petite (I’m not, btw. I have sturdy little legs). They also assume that a slender hourglass with slim legs (all averaged out) is the ideal and we should all aim for it. It smacks of that media classic that if you have an asset you also have to ‘need’ something to cover/shame too, it seems to be. Often however, real ‘stunners’ (if you take all women deemed attractive, not just fashion/model types) our massively out of proportion by the T&S classic formula (flaunting an HUUGE chest, or long legs with no attempt to hide their teeny bosoms, or unashamedly tiny and short). Not to mention that the bland ‘UK size 8-10, mid curved hourglass’ is a very ‘white middle class WASP UK ideal’- getting a bit political, but T&S did always try to turn women of every class, size and ethnicity into cut-price Monsoon/Coast dressed Sloanes.
    I think perhaps that’s why Gok Wan and Nicky H-J overtook them in popularity.

    So, for example, Kylie looks fab in a whole lot of things that are against her ‘rules’. Of course, she can afford to have clothes fitted to her, but it does just go to show: if you shop well enough, you CAN wear a maxi or cowl style being tiny and pert, you CAN wear a mini and boots without appearing dumpy legged.

    I definitely believe dressing for your shape is great. I just think that the media’s quick fixes are both crude and tied up with ‘covering flaws’ and appearing WASP and unchallenging.

    • Love the point about ‘cut-price Monsoon/Coast-dressed Sloanes’ – it’s true! Been watching reruns, and if I’d heard them rave about Hobbs’ pull-on kitten heel boot one more time… But in all seriousness you’re right to make the political point, too: it is very white middle class.

      It is a shame that there is such a focus on ‘flaws’; too often we get stuck in that mode and become afraid to take risks and enjoy our clothing.

  7. That dress is gorgeous on you, Mrs B, and a splendid fit, too.
    I loathe rules, if you feel good you look good, end of. Besides that book is so complicated, I’ve no idea what shape I am. No wonder I see it at every car boot sale I ever go to. xxx

    • I found it quite a frustrating purchase, as by their rules, only a handful of pages are relevant to the reader! They make some good points…though the fact you wouldn’t get me in a collarless jacket is more about my taste than about shape-consciousness.

      Glad you like the dress! xxx

  8. I’m not a big fan of Trinny and Susannah or of ‘dressing to flatter your shape’; I find it over-simplistic and don’t like the way that it assumes everyone is trying to achieve a particular ideal of beauty. I’ve worn several outfits in the past week which definitely didn’t do anything to make my figure look like more of an hourglass, and felt really happy in all of them!

    • That’s the key, I think: happiness. Too many women suffer from the opposite, and I suppose their intention was to use this book to pave the way to a better attitude to dressing. I agree, though – they do adhere to a particular ideal…god forbid we don’t show off the waist!!!

  9. I think about dressing for my shape a lot, but I often wear 60s shifts which widen my pear shape. But if I like the outfit, I’ll wear it anyway. Since I wear mostly vintage I can’t always seek out clothing that fits my specific body type best. That dress is really cute and flattering on you, I think it was a keeper even if the rules can be tossed!

    • I’m glad you think so – I sure love it!!

      That’s the thing – rules or no rules, we are always drawn to certain things. I look terrible in Breton stripes, but adore them. It’s as though I try them on again and again, refusing to admit that they don’t suit me. Good point about vintage, too; unless you send time and money getting things altered, you can’t always rely on them adhering to what’s a beautiful shape now.

  10. i have no idea what shape i am, and i probably don’t do the best job at dressing it you however mrs b look lovely in this frock! x

  11. I’m similarly ambivalent. Knowing what flatters you can be such a powerful thing, but thinking that you “shouldn’t” wear certain things is so limiting and can cause unnecessary shame. These tools are like any others: use them to the degree that it helps you, but don’t be ruled by them.

    I can never find myself in the shapes they define…. but I fear I may be a “lumpy brick.”

    • Not the dreaded brick!! πŸ˜‰ I think they could have come up with a term that was slightly more flattering.

      My cousins and sister used to get so frustrated with me when we went shopping together – I kept saying, “I shouldn’t wear that style”, or “I can’t wear sleeves like that” etc. They practically forced me to try on new things…and I’m very glad about it!

      • Ha ha getting political again but the ‘brick’ and the other unflattering ones are those, perhaps, furthest from the build of office-based-white-women: muscled, sturdy- often because the women works in a physical job. The antithisis of their ‘small waist, moderate hips/bust’ ideal. But why should it be implied it is inherently ugly? The word ‘brick’ has ugly, practical connotiations.

        I notice neither of theirs have a horrible name like ‘brick’.

  12. That outfit is a great find. I feel like it looks great on you. I used to watch a very similair show called What Not to Wear. I do use some of the rules, and I find the are usually right. I look better in v-necks, knee length skirts, wide leg trouser pants, a-line dresses/skirt, and pointy toe shoes. I used to love watching the people be transformed. But, sometimes it was sad to see them lose their personality.

    My view on fashion is if I think if it looks good, I’m going to wear it. I have a large bust, and carry my weight on my stomach. So billowy tops, and empire waists make me look pregnant. I tend not to wear them, or buy them. But, I think that’s as far as my rules for myself go.

    • That’s such a good point about personality!! Some of them were real characters, and they’d try and get them in myriad pastel shades. I also felt uncomfortable with them making the women buy patterns they hated – when are they ever going to wear those?!

      Ah, I can relate to the empire/pregnancy conundrum!

      • I think the worst is when you do step out of your comfort zone, and someone asks if you’re expecting. I’ve had that happen a few times. I guess I just look like I should always be pregnant or something.

      • Oh I know, it’s horrifying when that happens – I’ve had it a few times, and it ruins my whole day. As an experiment, once, I pushed it out a bit more and pretended I was pregnant – it was so liberating to be free from self-consciousness!!

  13. Like other commentors, I think it’s good to use tips to help you select clothes that visually enhance your body-type but I don’t think you should adhere too closely to them or consider them “rules.” There’s enough regimentation in the world; we shouldn’t import any into our personal expression.

    That said, I’m definitely a brick and quickly learned your tip about big rings. My hands look massive unless I add big rings to make them look relatively smaller.

    • It’s true – it’s so easy to step over the division between ‘guideline’ and ‘regimentation’ – it can be incredibly limited, and can take all the joy out of buying something you just love.

      I have to say, I love the ‘big ring trick’ – I like my hands so much more.

  14. I’m not sure what shape I am either–maybe closer to a “column” as I don’t have much in the way of curves? I always used to wear things like oversized men’s shirts and jackets or whatever else I felt comfortable in, and it’s only been in the last few years where I’ve started to pay attention to whether something flatters my shape, or gives me one. I think it becomes more important when you get past 40 and your body starts to change (and do some weird things that no one warns you about!) that you pay attention to how your clothing fits, and that you emphasize the good stuff.

    • I do feel better when I have more shape – I can’t deny it. It’s just so easy to focus on the negative and knock yourself down, without thinking about what looks good on you and wearing it to feel fantastic.And I think you need to tell me about these weird body moments!!

  15. Yes, Trinny & Sussanah, used to see their shows alot. The colour in this dress is some kind of wonderful with the peplum, I have a few peplum jackets that I simply ADORE! This is an excellent find!
    -Madison -xxoo

  16. First things first: I adore this dress. The cut, the pattern, everything — it looks fabulous on you!

    Now then: I’m in a bit of a mental/emotional feedback loop on this whole issue of dressing your shape. On one hand I agree with the comment above that what’s really happening here is about making my unique, beautiful body look like someone else’s — the sharp point of the Beauty Myth. On the other, as I alluded to in my most recent blog post, I find I *like* the vision of my body that I see in those kinds of outfits. I’m a “column” or maybe a “coronet” on T&S’s list, but I gravitate toward looks that make me appear more “hourglass.”

    Then back on the first hand I think to myself, “Woman, you like that look because you’ve been *conditioned* to like it. It’s called oppression, and you need to liberate yourself!” And so on — feedback loop. Can’t wait to read part two here!

    • I so understand the feedback loop – I go through the same mental process. How you recondition yourself to put this to one side, I don’t know. I suppose society has always dictated that certain shapes are de rigeur…and if you’re lucky, you fit the mould at some point in your lifetime!

  17. Erm is Trinny the skinny one? I’ve met her in real life she is certainly not a pear who is she kidding?

    Really interesting subject, being an image consulting, in particular a male one I need to be up on my body shapes etc. But I’ve always found it difficult to learn, I understand the theory but when you look at different people in the street you quickly realise that it’s not as simple as everyone fitting into one of 12 moulds. That’s why I tend to like literature that focuses on highlighting assets and lessening the impact of those problem areas, whatever they may be.

    • I agree with that – I’m quite surprised that they restricted themselves to 12 shapes, as they used to take a more ‘body part by body part’ approach. On the one hand I turned eagerly to read their advice and felt frustrated that I wasn’t one of the 12, and on the other I felt relieved that I wasn’t so easily categorised. But, if books like theirs encourage people to try new things, then I suppose it’s all to the good.

  18. I loved T&S, and I’m really impressed with that dress. I never looked at their designs but you’ve got a corker there. I think rules can be really useful, for people who need guidance. But no-one should ever feel ‘obliged’ to follow them, it is meant to be fun so if rules aren’t for you then ignore them xx

    • Their designing phase totally passed me by, but I have seen some beautiful ones on eBay. The ‘obligation’ is the killer – if you can use this to make you feel good, then great; if the rules make you scared to go shopping, then sod em! xx

  19. I dress to flatter my shape most of the time, but sometimes I cave and go for the mermaid shape dress even though it makes me look super hippy according to my mom. I guess I’m just one of those really lucky girls to have an hourglass shape so it’s not too hard to find things I like.
    I really love that purple dress! Turned up sleeves are one of my favorite things πŸ™‚

    • The purple dress is very cute, I agree. I think most of their stuff has sold, but I definitely recommend looking on eBay from time to time.

      You are lucky to be an hourglass – though I thought that brought its own problems! It sounds like you’re wearing what you like an enjoying it…and that’s the main thing!

  20. That’s a gorgeous dress! I’ve never heard of these designers, so thank you for sharing. I love all of the different names of body shapes that they came up with — normally, magazines only feature 3 or 4 different shapes!

    I’m to the point in my life where I know what looks good on my body shape and what doesn’t. It really makes a difference in how you see yourself! Any body type can look good when we wear what works for us. We’re not all the same and that’s what makes life exciting!

  21. I’m not keen on T&S, I find the way they keep calling everyone darling quite irritating. and their obsession with emphasising boobs – though at least not as bad as gok wan! And I remember this one episode where they were talking about what beauty products to take on planes (this was pre liquids ban) and Susannah was pulling out literally 20 different mini bottles of stuff that were all supposedly ‘essential’. I don’t joke.

    That said, I’m cool with rules. I think they can be really helpful for people that don’t know much about dressing or don’t have an interest, and just want to look good with minimum fuss. Not everyone is a fashionista and blogger. Of course rules are there to be broken, but hopefully broken intentionnally. Once I got into dressing consciously and photographing myself, I soon figured out what I liked and didn’t like, rule or not. I am very curvy, especially around my bum and thighs, so by the accepted rules I should be minimising these bits but feck it!

    p.s. when you’re done with that dress, I’ll happily buy it off ya!

  22. I totally wrestle with this–of course I want to look my best, but I’ve always hated the usual “dress your body!” pages in magazines, because they assume so much of about what look I’m after. Like, just because I’ve got a thick waist doesn’t mean I want everything I wear to “create instant curves”! I’m plenty curvy! I’ve just got a thick waist!

    That said, I really want to check out this book. It sounds more inclusive than the ladymags (not least of which because of how many shapes they offer; I suspect I’m a cello, which feels better than “pear” because I’m not that pear-y though I am wider on the bottom).

    • It definitely gives you a few more options! I think I’m a short vase…

      I completely agree with you on the curves point – I’m not short of a few curves either, but the whole fashion mag thing becomes so generic. It’s as Perdita says above, just because you’re a certain dress size, doesn’t mean your boobs and ass always fit in with the rest of the template!

  23. I did a post on a similar subject a few days ago, great minds think alike I guess! I love the points you make, I have been rethinking T&S a bit too. I don’t mind their tips if they give them to women who ask for help themselves, but I dislike it when they force their opinion on people in the street who have no qualms about the way they look. We don’t owe it to anyone to be attractive at all times, appearance isn’t everything in life. I agree with the commenter that brought up the beauty myth πŸ™‚ Check my post here: http://stylingdutchman.blogspot.com/2011/05/you-cant-argue-with-taste.html

    and I love that dress!

    • I loved your post, and I’ve recommended it in Part #2. You make a valid point there – if people are genuinely happy with the way they dress, who are we to rip them to shreds and give them pointers? As you say, it’s not our job to look attractive to make other people feel better.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  24. Am I a perv if I say, “Who cares what shape it’s designed for, you look foxy in it!”

    The pattern is really, really lovely.

    Overall, I do try to dress for my shape– as I want it to appear though, not by anyone else’s standards. I love to make myself seem curvier than I am, as I love a womanly hourglass figure… though some days I say to hell with it, deal with the “when are you due?” questions, and wear an empire waist or trapeze dress..

    • Pervy or not, I appreciate the compliment!! You can visit again… πŸ™‚

      Maybe that’s the key – not that we have to ‘dress for our shape’, but that we have to learn to toughen up against the rude comments. The “when are you due?” questions are the worst…

  25. I can’t stand those two (T&S) but I have to admit that this dress is lovely – the print, the cut, the fabric and it looks wonderful on you. I’m sure T&S have helped a lot of women find out how to dress for their shape after grinding their self esteem down under their braying – I much prefer Gok Wan’s approach who shows you can be nice to people (or at least good naturedly humourous) about encouraging them to dress for their shape.

    • I have to say, having re-watched a lot of their programmes, I found some of the ‘grinding down’ quite uncomfortable. Some women found it liberating, of course, but for most shopping was a gruelling experience. Gok is much more about the ‘you are FANTASTIC’ approach – his are more consistently uplifting programmes…I just wish he didn’t make people wear wide belts all the time!

  26. What a pretty dress!

    I too am a big fan of Trinny and Susannah. I used to daydream about going shopping with them and learning from their expertise (although I don’t think I’d have the courage to be on TV in just bra & knickers!) πŸ™‚ I had no idea they designed a range!

    • Nor did I til this little discovery. And no, I don’t think I could endure the 360 degree mirror in my underwear…though I did almost apply for Gok’s ‘How to Look Good Naked’…!!

  27. First, that dress looks amazing on you. What a great find.

    As for the topic at hand, I have never really been able to fit my body into a standard “shape”. I am mostly an hourglass, but a bit heavier on the bottom. That puts me between hourglass/skittle on the T + S scale. because of that, I use the hourglass as my starting point, but I don’t strictly buy based on that. I buy things that flatter my figure and emphasize the things I like about my body, regardless of whether or not they were designed for an hourglass figure. I look for things that fit my measurements instead of working about “shape” per say.

    Great post!

    • Thanks for visiting, B! You have to be flexible and find the balance between the things you love and the things you feel good in.

  28. Boy, I don’t know which of those shapes I’d be! I was once an hourglass, but two pregnancies have reduced the ratio between my waistline and bust/hips, so maybe I’m a cello now. Or a vase. Huh. I’ll have to look for the book when it comes out in the States. Not that it really matters much – I think the hourglass idea is the most flattering to me, and to my vintagey and historical fashion tastes in general, so I’ll continue to pursue it with snug waistlines and things that emphasize the bust.

    I get intimidated by too many shape-flattering rules. I just try to remember the hourglass idea; and 3/4 sleeves because I don’t like my arms; and V-necks because they’re flattering and display necklaces well; and darker, flowing straight legged or boot cut trousers to elongate the legs.

    I’d love a few days of analysis and shopping with Trinny and Susannah. They can be candid, but they’re not cruel. We had their “What Not to Wear” show for a few months in the US, but for some reason it was called off. We have our own “What Not to Wear” show featuring Stacy and Clinton. That show was very dear to me in 1998-1999, when I decided to lose some weight, change my hair, and really think about wearing flattering shapes and colors.

    • I mean to say, “2008-2009”. I’m getting old and distracted…lost a decade there! No, in 1998-1999, I was wearing a lot of black and getting that hourglass shape with corsetry.

      • I follow much the same rules – I do love the hourglass shape, and I think it’s because it feels more within my reach. V necks and 3/4 sleeves are favourites of mine, too!

        I’d love a bit of a boot from T+S too; I have beautiful clothes, but probably don’t appreciate my assets like I should – a bit of straight-talking would go down a treat!

  29. Pingback: Dressing for Your Shape #2

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