Reader Request: Unexpected Proportions

Tips for flattering a figure with unexpected proportions

Cee popped this question into the suggestion box:

It would be wonderful if you could address issues about dressing “unusual” combinations. For example, broad shoulders and a small bust, or a larger tummy and a flat bottom. I think often styling advice is based on the presumption that if you have one feature, it will be paired with another. Of course, we all know we carry our breadth, length and weight in lots of different ways.

My guess is that women with “unusual” proportional combinations become acutely aware of them while shopping. While casual observers may anticipate that the majority of bodies will express some form of balance that falls within the statistical norms, I don’t think it’s carefully monitored. For instance, I’ve never looked at a woman and thought, “Gosh, she’s got a small bust for such broad shoulders.” But when the woman in possession of those traits goes to try on clothes, she may find that manufacturers expect her to fill out certain clothing based on how big or small she is elsewhere.

This is how “curvy” fit jeans were born. For ages, jeans manufacturers assumed that if you had an ample butt and hips, you also had an ample waistline. Gapping. An epidemic of jeans waistband gapping for decades. Curvy fit jeans were the vendor attempt to cater to women who curved in at the waist a bit. Not the universal balm they may have hoped for, but an interesting phenomenon nonetheless.

Other pairings of traits, however, are unlikely to get this treatment unless there’s a large vocal minority demanding them. For instance, Cee used the example of a large tummy and flat bottom. In my experience, many women with large BUSTS have flat bottoms, so some fit accommodations might someday be made for that combo. But less common ones will likely be left to their own devices.

And that’s frustrating. Because – and this is the main idea I want to express here – it means that to highlight or downplay one aspect, you may be forced to work around the other. Many figure-flattery techniques achieve one goal while subverting others. Irritating as it may be, you may not always be able to flatter everything about your figure all at once. And, for the record, that goes for EVERYONE, not just those with unusual proportional pairings.

So it comes down to choice and analysis:

  • What about your body do you love best of all? Can you make highlighting that your top priority, and be willing to compromise on needing to highlight or downplay other aspects?
  • Can you make a study of which garments and combinations of pieces achieve the highest number of your goals at once? Your body is unique, so this list will be completely individual.
  • If balance is your goal, which outfits balance you best and why? If there are some that balance in one area but fail in others, how does that feel?

This is all vague and general, which may seem like a cop-out. But even if you took a sample of 50 women who all had tiny waists and proportionally large hips, they’d all carry that combination a little differently. So it’s really up to each woman as an individual to suss out what works and how she wants to implement it.

How many of you feel like you have “unusual” combinations of features or proportions? Does this cause frustration? Pride? Both depending on the situation? What techniques do you use to dress your best?

Image courtesy sassyislove.

  • http://breebronsonsbabies.blogspot.com Bree Bronson

    I don’t know if this is a “right” comment for this topic but I’ve learned first recently that clothes that I *like* may be very different than the clothes that *suit* or *flatter* me and my shape. For exmple many colours make me look really pale or even sick. I’ve got long limbs so certain outfits emphasize that way too much.

    If only had I realized this earlier – my shopping would have been so much easier!

  • Jennifer

    This is something that has been makig my shopping life unpleasant since my breasts exploded in high school. I maxed out height-wise at 5’1 in 9th grade, but where I stopped growing “up,” I started growing “out.” Through those four years I went from a junior’s size 3 and 32B bra to a size 12 and 32H! However, my height and bone structure remained the same- petite. Very narrow shoulders, narrow hips, and a tiny ribcage, but with plus-size features like huge boobs, a curvy butt, and a large belly. Pants are not too horrible to find (usually just a matter of hemming), but tops! Petite fits in the shoulders, but leaves no room for my breasts. Plus-sized is roomy for my boobs and belly, but makes me look I’m a little girl wearing mommy’s clothes. Tailoring the shoulder area is quite an expensive undertaking, and many tailors simply won’t do it.
    That was a less-than-helpful post I suppose, more to say that YES! we women with “different” proportions do exist. !0 years post high school and 9 months post baby, I am hanging out at 36H and size 16 (but still, under the pounds, very petite). Perhaps I need a style consultation!

  • Suze in CO

    Oh, Lord … can I just vent a little bit? Most of my life I’ve been dealing with the assumption by “plus-size” clothing manufacturers that anyone who wears clothes in the 18W – 22W range must have huge boobs to go along with the rest of her body. My poor little C cups (not, on their own, particularly small) can’t even begin to fill out the bust lines on some of these clothes!

    • Thursday

      This is what I deal with too – plus-sized, but with a B cup bust, and a narrow waist in comparison to my very roomy hips.

  • http://stylinstacy.com Stacy

    I think everyone is a little unique in how things fit, don’t you?

    My shoulders are wider than my hips (37″ shoulders, 35″ hips) and I carry my weight in my waist. Now my narrow hips make it look like I weigh less as long as I can de-emphasize my waist. I am in that “health risk” group where my fat is carried around my organs and not in my butt! I have never felt comfortable in a bikini, even when I have been a small size, since I have always carried extra there. I see fashion spreads that say a shirtdress is universally flattering. Nope, not on me. Makes me look bad since it tries to cinch in a waist that is chubby. I look like a sausage.

    Basically, anything that tries to focus on a waist that I don’t have doesn’t look good on me. No belts at the waist and no dresses fitted at the waist. I know my strong points and those definitely aren’t it!

    Over the years I have learned how to de-emphasize my waist. Luckily I have 34D boobs, so I can make my boobs and hips the focus and not my midsection.

    • KL

      As a fellow waistless gal–but with a 32A chest–I definitely empathize with wanting to de-emphasize the midsection. But don’t give up entirely on belts. I’ve found that certain combos, like a wide belt over a wrap sweater or a skinny belt over a drapey dress or (in general) a belt peeking out underneath an open sweater, actually do wonders to “fake a waist.” The key for me is to intentionally add volume or bulk above and below my waist (I have a slim build but my midsection is by no means slim!) so that I can “cinch” at the middle.

      • Aziraphale

        Yep, I sort of have this issue too. On paper, my measurements sound hourglassy — 33.5″-27″-34″ — but translated to real life, what that means is narrow hips and not much waist. And because my bust is, while not exactly bountiful, at least fairly full (32D), I can look topheavy if I’m not careful.

        Have either of you tried a low-slung, narrow belt? That’s usually my best option, because it essentially draws a line across my hips, making them appear wider. This only works if I’m also wearing a top with some shape to it — i.e. the top itself has to curve inward at the waist.

        What can also work is wearing a woven, button-front shirt over a slim skirt, and putting a skinny belt right at my natural waist. This causes the shirt to flare out over my hips, a bit like a fake peplum top, which adds visual width to my hips and makes my waist appear smaller.

        • http://stylinstacy.com Stacy

          I have tried low slung belts and they seem to work. I blouse the top a bit over it and it disguises the waist. That does work pretty well.

          KL – A belt under a cardigan sounds do-able, too. I think that will work when I want to add a belt, but don’t want to bring too much attention to the waist. Thanks for the idea!

  • Janita

    I am size 18W, fairly tall with broad shoulders…and B cup boobs. Thankfully, my large ribcage usually compensates for the lack of boobs fit-wise. I just need to stay away from curvy cut tops. I like V necks and long lines and I think I have learned to dress my shape pretty well. Some things that flatter many people of my size such as wrap tops or thin plain sweaters, look bad on me. On the other hand, many tops that would look immodest on most women of my size, look perfectly decent on me since “spilling the boobs out”-look is physically impossible for me. And I don’t have to wear bra every waking hour for support.
    Last summer I visited an exhibition of Renaissance art and noticed that in the paintings most nude women had body proportions very much like mine: a rather large, plump frame with smallish boobs. It was quite liberating to see, and made me realize that today’s standard of a normal proportions of a woman’s body is just a cultural ideal. Once, bodies like mine were considered beautiful and not odd in any way.

  • LinB

    Long torso, deep rise. This makes shopping for one-piece bathing suits impossible. Ditto shopping for most jeans, pants, trousers, dresses with a defined waist — none of them hits me at my natural waist. Most blouses are too short to tuck into a pants or skirt waistband. Also, middle-age “bingo wings” mean that even sleeves of XL tops are too narrow for my biceps. Rather than go about naked all the time (extremely tempting for me, but probably psyche-scarring for those who’d have to look at me) I sew much of my own clothing. I know about how much to add to each pattern piece to achieve a decent, comfortable fit. For boughten blouses, I often buy men’s shirts and shorten the sleeves.

  • http://musclemilkisnotaeuphemism.blogspot.com malevolent andrea

    Small waist, small hips, big thighs. I don’t even think this is particularly unusual, at least in women who seriously work out, but clothing manufacturers certainly don’t recognize it. You know what fits and flatters best? Yoga pants. Thereby forcing me to be one of those people who regrettably wear athletic wear during non-athletic endeavors. Mea culpa!

    • LK

      I hear ya. I have to buy my pants a size too big to fit over my thighs. My waist is like a 2 but I need a 4-5 in pants to fit the thighs and bum. Yoga pants are my friend.

  • KL

    I have fuller thighs and rear, but very little waist definition–luckily I also have narrow hipbones, so the new stretchy denims have been a best friend. Recently I’ve been running into a height-proportion problem: I’m long-torsoed with proportionally shorter arms and legs, which makes it difficult to shop for tops because petite sizes are too short in the body and regular sizes are too long in the sleeve. I’ve mostly been buying regular and dealing with the extra half-inch sleeve length, but since I’m also on the slim side (small bust and bones), I sometimes need the non-existent size XXS regular at BR or Gap.

  • Sarah

    I have to second the suggestion of sewing and altering. I am petite – 5’0″ – with very large boobs and muscular thighs and arms (courtesy my weightlifting habit). I LIKE my arms and thighs, but my shoulders aren’t especially broad and it’s VERY difficult to find clothing that fits the way it’s supposed to and covers all my parts in the way they’re meant to be covered.

    So, I wear a LOT of stretch fabrics (I think almost *everything* in my closet is a knit) and I alter things. I take in waists, I hem pants, I take in shoulder seams, etc. Sometimes I make things from scratch. These skills have come in VERY handy now that I have a daughter who is apparently much taller and thinner than clothing manufacturers think children ought to be. I frequently have to unpick, re-elasticize and then resew her leggings and tights otherwise they either fall down or hit her somewhere distinctly north of the ankles. It’s not just adult women that suffer from this :-)

    • http://www.flinthillskittykitty.com Kitty

      I’m so happy to hear you have learned enough sewing to help your daughter, too! I am doing the same for my granddaughters. Even at two and three years old, they were having major fit problems because evidently ALL babies and toddlers are round shaped? I rework many elastic waists. And make leggins and swimsuits for long torso, long legged girls. My latest and greatest trick is to buy darling miniskirts from the adult rack at the thrift store and work to fit the waist to my 7 yr old granddaughter. She loves skirts but she needs a 13″-14″ finished length to not look indecent. Luckily, the skirts are in abundance at the thrifts…because, really what adult can wear them? I think it’s very important that we give our daughters and granddaughters the message that their bodies are absolutely perfect and that they are worth the trouble of finding flattering, well-fitting things to choose from!

    • Rebeca

      Sarah, good to know I am not alone on both counts – being 5′ and muscular and having a very tall and thin daughter! Both are challenges. I have found dresses to be a good answer for my daughter. If I can get the shoulders to fit, she can wear some as tunics! Pants just look terrible and are too difficult to alter! Thank you for the idea of re-elasticizing her leggings!

  • Th

    I have a high-hip so while I’m definitely an hour-glassy looking woman, curvy fit jeans end up having the waist come in well before my pelvis ends. I end up wearing the regular/no curve jeans in a high rise and wearing one hell of a belt. Or just forgoing all that and wear dresses.

    I’m also in that middle kind of range between plus and “regular” sizes, so I end up getting frustrated and giving up a lot of the time. Often stores don’t overlap much, so a 14 ends up being too baggy but proportionally okay, or a 12 is a little tight and proportioned poorly because of a different brand at a different store.

    Then I have unusually long feet, and broad shoulders. When I was a size 10 I had to wear size 14 blazers because of my shoulders. I can’t really afford custom built clothing if its a style that’s fitted at all, and I don’t really have a trusted tailor available.

  • Jenny

    My waist and hips are about the same diameter, so pants are hard to fit. Usually the waist is really big and I cinch it with a belt. My first grader seems to have inherited my shape. She isn’t ready to handle a belt and her jeans are forever showing the top of her butt.

  • Kathy

    Pants are my demon fit – I have a non-existent behind, a large tummy and short legs! IF I find a pair of jeans or pants that are a comfortable fit, I buy several pairs. I have become an expert in taking up pants and am currently working on creating a pants pattern that suits me perfectly so I can make my own – I figure that will be my best bet :)

  • http://www.meganmaedaily.com/ Megan Mae

    I have a tiny (short) waist, broad shoulders (17 inches across) and thicker upper arms than the average XS. So sometimes I size all the way up to a medium to get the fit right. I don’t like a lot of sleeved tops because they’re either too tight across the shoulders or in the upper arms. It’s also hard getting gifted clothes that are too tight in those places and telling your friends/family “it doesn’t fit” and having them answer “BUT YOU’RE SO TINY”

    Standardized clothing means people “my size” have 14 inch across shoulders and tiny upper arms. Mostly I buy sleeveless tops with stretchy tee shirts and layer during the colder months. Knits are a godsend most of the time, but they have to have enough stretch to feel comfortable.

  • http://shesaddictedtoclothes.tumblr.com Ana

    Oh man, I kind of blow most manufacturer preconceptions about fit right out of the water. Slightly broad shoulders (they’re like an inch and a half wider than my hips), narrow hips, small bottom, not-large-but-not-very-defined waist. So stuff that’s cut for apples just will not fit me, and a pear I most definitely am not. Oh, and long legs with skinny thighs and muscular calves, plus I also have a long waist. I’m verging on busty, if you go by my bra size, but in proportion to my shoulders/torso, I look about medium-sized. Thank heaven for knits. Did I mention I’m also six feet tall? Yeah, pants are not much fun, and I’m usually confined to either “boy” cuts that don’t even try to fake it, or skinny jeans, which have been a godsend, especially with a bit of stretch, so I can size down.

    For most lines, I’m a unicorn! I don’t exist! Yet somehow, I still manage to get dressed and have far too many clothes. :)

    • Anonymous

      I have a very similar build. I am 5′ 11” with broad shoulders and long limbs. I have a thicker waist and muscular legs. I find that boot cut jeans with a ‘relaxed’ waist works best for my body.

  • Kenzie

    I’m relatively slender but I have very large muscular calves. Literally never found a pair of skinny jeans/pants that fit me well. They actually get stuck. I’ve almost resorted to jeggings. Occasionally I can find a comfortable-fit straight leg but never skinny. it’s very frustrating. I’m not self conscious or anything, I have no problem showing them off but I would like for skinny jeans to not cut off my circulation please and thank you.

    • LK

      I thought I was the only one who got stuck in her skinny jeans!

    • Luslustigtig

      I hear you on the calves! Recently I went shopping for skinny jeans and had a devil of a time. I had to go up three sizes above my usual size just to fit my calves into the pants, but pants that could accomodate my calves were awkwardly baggy on my butt and thighs.

      Eventually I found a lovely gray pair that fit well enough, and for a while, I enjoyed wearing them very much … until I noticed that after having them on for too long, the veins in my calves *ached*.

      Bah. I’ll be returning them this weekend. If I want to show off my legs, I’ll just go with the classic tights+skirt combo.

    • f.

      Try skinny and straight-leg jeans cut for men! I have the same issue with my cyclist’s thighs and calves.

  • http://www.etsy.com/shop/TheVaVaVoomShoppe Mel@TheVa-Va-Voom Shoppe

    My partner, who is transgender (male-to-female) has a difficult time finding clothes.

    She’s 6’4″ so of course she looks for pants with a long inseam (I pick out most of her clothes because she hates clothes shopping!), but she has trouble finding things that fit. She’s got long arms so most tops fit her as 3/4 sleeves (which she hates), but even though she must buy plus-sized clothing, it seems most plus-sized clothing is designed for women who are shorter and wider than she is.
    She has a proportionate bust (40C I think), but she carries her extra weight in her middle, with relatively slim hips and thighs. I find shopping for her much fun, but I know she gets frustrated sometimes. If I had the money, I’d open a clothing store for transgender men and women! :)
    (Don’t get me started on shoes!)

  • anon

    Someone else above described a muscular calf problem on a relatively slender body, making skinny jeans a problem. Mine takes it even further. I am not looking for skinny jeans, as I don’t think they’re flatting on my somewhat plus-size figure. My problem is the size of pant legs on anything other than wiiiiiide trousers, which I’m not a big fan of. All jeans — even boot cut and flared — are a problem for me. I am full through the torso and also my rear and hips and thighs, but they DO make jeans that fit me in those places. The problem is that my legs are pretty thick all the way down — just above the knee, the knee, and the calves — and I find that no matter what cut, they are unflatteringly snug on me in these areas. This is really, really frustrating. I think the designation of straight, skinny, and boot cut extends largely to the bottom of the jeans (down near the footwear is where they are either tapered or straight or flared), but all are cut relatively the same above! So I can find jeans that fit my waist and my hips and my thighs, but regardless of which cut I buy, they are too tight around my knees and my calves. When will they cut jeans that are cut for women with big legs!?

  • Annie

    I have a large bust and a very long torso, and it’s amazing how perfectly the fixes for one of these issues always perfectly exaggerates the other.

  • Michelle

    I have a really big stomach. From the time I was 14 even though I was thinner and worked out, I had a belly and I hated it. Now my whole stomach is big and I have big shoulders too and no butt. “plus size” fashion advice is based on emphasizing the waist and hiding the hips and thighs. Sorry Sally but that includes you too and the options you show in your shopping posts and etc. it’s really pretty depressing and tops designed for apple shapes tend to make me look pregnant.

    • http://www.alreadypretty.com Sal

      Michelle, here’s an older post of mine on dressing figures with prominent midsections: http://www.alreadypretty.com/2008/12/reader-request-happy-apples.html See also the links at bottom to the YLF resources and forum. Also have a guest post coming up from a woman with this body shape who shares her own dressing and style ideas.

      • http://meadowwalk.blogspot.com/ Michelle

        I read that when you wrote it. The thing is, emphasizing my legs is ok and I do try and do it — but it doesn’t help in photos or any other time people are going to look at me from the thighs/waist up, which is a majority or the time.

        The other thing is… I am sure your mom is lovely and beautiful, as its mine but… both your examples were women in their 60s. I am not in my 60s. I don’t want to look like anyone’s mom. That’s just not my style. It’s not what I want it to be.

        So while I appreciate that you tried to address the issue… it really wasn’t that helpful for me.

        • http://www.alreadypretty.com Sal

          Hopefully the upcoming guest post will be more helpful, as it is written by a woman in her late 20s. Though I believe the principles outlined in my post can be customized for any age group and personal style. And don’t forget the YLF resources!

  • http://ofearth.etsy.com Kathy

    Although I was slender most of my adult life I have put on a lot of weight over the past 5 years (since menopause). Most of it has settled in my bust and midsection. I was glad to see (in the link that you point out to Michelle) that you do not recommend trying to create an artificial waistline. I have repeatedly tried without luck to create a waist using a belt! Recently a friend pointed out that I look pregnant. Wow! What do I do with that information!?! I did recently purchase some flowy, wide leg pants, some long jackets, andksome rectangular scarves so maybe I am on the right track?!? I make my own jewelry and feel good in statement necklaces. I will try to play more with longer pieces.

  • Amy

    I am also one with very broad shoulders, and a comparatively small bust. I have what is frequently called a “boyish” figure, meaning not a very defined waist. Jackets, button-up shirts, etc are a nightmare for me. Tailored tops are inevitably too small in the waist, much too large in the chest, and so tight across the shoulders that I cannot move my arms. Fitted skirts or slacks are just as bad, because anything that fits the waist has billowing fabric over the hip area. I live in cardigans and the few jersey blazers I’ve found, as knits are the only thing with enough stretch. I am pretty small, and most people think shopping must be a breeze for me, but it goes to show no one has it easy.

  • http://samlovesmakeup.wordpress.com Samantha

    I have a very “straight” figure; though I am curvy and wear a size 12-14 in most garments, I hardly have an definition between my bust, waist, and hips (though I do have ample bust…36DD, and I’m only 16.) It’s hard to find jeans because of the problem you mentioned, Sally: the gaping at the waist. And I don’t even have a particularly small waist! I also have trouble finding shirts that flatter and fit well. I have very broad shoulders and a large bust, which would seem relatively easy to outfit but is surprisingly difficult to find flattering necklines and blouse types. Always on the hunt for the perfect blouse and perfect pair of jeans! :)

  • Jame (@jameane)

    This is a fun post.

  • Jame

    Oops, I didn’t get to finish my comment!

    Well here are my “problems”
    1. busty, but I am actually a pear.
    2. “thick” thighs
    3. skinny wrists and ankles (so skinny jeans tend to be baggy in the lower leg, when they fit the rest)
    4. short torso
    5. high waist
    6. I have a tummy, mostly consolodated below the belly button. (So if pants don’t come up high enough, I’ll get muffin top. But what may fit in the waist may not fit well over my tummy all the time.

  • Jessica

    The fashion industry hates me. I have 32HH breasts, a small waist, thin arms and legs, and curvy hips. Sure, I look fine naked, but if I want to actually put clothing on my body I’m out of luck. Nothing in a normal store comes remotely close to fitting my chest. Plus size shirts and dresses that are large enough in the bust are baggy in the stomach and all of the sleeves and arm holes are way too large and allow the sides of my bra to show. I’ve tried wearing belts and wrap dresses like all of the fashion advice people recommend, but I end up looking frumpy or I show an obscene amount of cleavage. I have to go up 3 or 4 sizes and have extensive alterations done if I don’t want to go to work looking like Dolly Parton. I wish someone would open a tasteful clothing store in the US with actual physical locations for curvy women like they have in England!