As a fashion blogger, this is the question I get asked the most: how do I dress for my body type? I could go on and on about it for hours (there are whole books dedicated to it!) but I thought it'd be helpful to come up with a short little guide to serve as a starting point if you have no clue how to dress your body. There's no way that I can address every single body shape in one post, so I broke it down into the four most commonly brought up body types: the hourglass, the pear, the inverted triangle, and the straight-up-and-down.
The body shapes:
The hourglass: this is the most socially idealized body shape, and it's what I'll be basing most of the suggestions on (because if you've watched enough What Not to Wear, you know that the goal is always to look like you have an hourglass shape, even if you don't). If you have an hourglass body, your hips and shoulders are roughly the same width, you have a fuller chest (above a C-cup), and you have a small waist and rib cage. So you literally look like this hourglass.
The pear: that pear looks delicious. With this body shape, your hips are wider than your shoulders and chest, making you look a little more bottom heavy like this pear.
The inverted triangle: this is the exact opposite of the pear shape. Your shoulders and chest are wider than your hips, making you top heavy like this triangle.
The straight-up-and-down: In this shape, your hips, waist, and shoulders/chest are all roughly equal width. This can apply to you if you're thin and have a more boyish figure, or if you have a fuller figure. The main criteria is that you're just straight up and down your torso.
How to dress your body shape:
Hourglass: this may sound like the easiest shape to dress because it's what you're aiming to look like if you have a different body shape. However, speaking as someone with an hourglass figure, it's not. At all. I'm a 32DD with a 26/27 inch waist and about 42 inch hips, so nothing that fits my waist fits the rest of my body. Boo. The biggest problem with this body shape is that if you don't emphasize and highlight your waist, you end up looking like your entire torso is the same width as your shoulders and hips, aka wide. So, if you have an hourglass figure, you can't do the oversized tee look, the smock dress look or anything with an empire waist because they will completely swallow your tiny waist and much you look much bigger than you are. What you're really looking for is something like this Anthropologie dress. Why? The a-line skirt shows that you have hips, the sweetheart neckline plays up your chest, and the waist-tie highlights your little waist. I tried it on and it's basically the cutest thing ever. Other great pieces for an hourglass silhouette are pencil skirts--which show off your hips without emphasizing them too much, waist belts--which highlight your tiny waist, wrap dresses--which hug your lovely curves, and dark wash straight-leg jeans--which balance out wider hips nicely. Things to stay away from are anything shapeless or without a waist and lots of detailing at the hips or bustline (you can have too much of a good thing).
The pear: what you're trying to do as you dress a pear shaped torso is make your hips look smaller, make your shoulders and chest look wider, and emphasize your waist. It sounds like a lot, but it's really easy to do once you get the hang of it. To minimize your hips, you either want to do something dark and simple, like a navy blue pencil skirt or a dark wash pair of straight leg jeans, which are clean and simple and don't call a lot of visual attention to your hips, or (counter-intuitively, I know) you want to do something voluminous like an a-line skirt. Why the a-line? Because it will pull away from your hips and make it look like it's the skirt that has a lot of volume, not your hips. On top, you want to draw emphasize your shoulders and bustline. A great way to do what is by wearing something with an emphasized shoulder or shoulder detailing, something with lots of sparkle or ruffles at the bustline, or something with a really interesting neckline. And last but not least, you want to have some sort of detail or cinching at the waist. I would avoid shapeless skirts, which will do nothing for your hips, skinny jeans, which will make your hips look wider, and plain, dark tops. Something like this Winter Kate skirt and this J. Crew top (both on sale) would be perfect. The dark a-line skirt pulls away from your hips and makes them look tiny in comparison with the volume of the skirt, the high-waist draws the eye to your waist, and the light top pops next to the dark skirt, emphasizing the top half of your torso, while the detailed neckline highlights your chest and helps to balance out your hips.
The inverted triangle: Here you're trying to do the exact opposite of what you're doing with the pear shape. You want to emphasize the waist, play down your wide shoulders or chest, and try to make your hips look curvier. The easiest ways to do this are to wear something simple and more streamlined on top (no shoulder pads or crazy ruffles at the bustline), add a belt or a waist detail, and then wear a brighter color or something with more detail on the bottom. On the bottom you can actually do a slightly (SLIGHTLY) lighter wash jean, because you're trying to emphasize that half of your body, an a-line skirt to add extra volume, or a pencil skirt with some fun detailing. You can also do a bootcut jean, as the extra volume at the calf will visually balance out the width of your shoulders nicely. Things to stay away from are lots of details on tops and shoulders and skinny jeans--which will make your shoulders look even wider in comparison. A great outfit for this shape would be this Erin Fetherston for Juicy Couture skirt (on sale!), because the bright color and the draping draw the eye to the hip, and the high-waist emphasizes your waistline, and then this Splendid sequined tank. The tank works because it's very simple and clean, so it doesn't draw too much attention to that half of your torso, and the black helps play down the width of your shoulders/chest as well, but the hint of sparkle keeps it all from being too boring.
The straight-up-and-down: what you're trying to do here is create curves. You want to create the illusion of wider hips and a curvy chest against a little waist. To create wider hips, you want to do a pencil skirt, which makes anyone look curvy, an a-line skirt to add volume, or dark wash straight leg jeans. You can do skinnier jeans here because they will make your hips look wider, creating the illusion of curves. Then you want to do either a high-waist, a waist detail, or a fun belt at the waist to draw the eye to your waist. The fact that it stands out will make it look smaller. Finally, you want to do some sort of fun detail at the bust or the shoulder to emphasize your chest. Great things to do there are a boatneck, which immediately draws the eye to your collarbone, ruffles or sparkles at the bustline, or shoulder details (such as ruching, padding, or cutouts). You're really doing everything here. What you want to avoid are things that are straight up and down themselves, like smock or sack dress, shapeless oversized tees, etc, because they'll only emphasize the straightness of your torso. You would look great in this Modcloth dress. Why? Because the fun stripes and bow on the bodice emphasize your bustline and shoulders, and the volume of the a-line skirt creates the illusion of hips, plus it makes your waist look smaller in comparison.
Playing with colors and neutrals:
Aside from the shapes of the clothes you wear, you can use colors, neutrals, and hues to trick the eye and play up the best parts of your shape while toning down the parts that you're less comfortable with. The first thing you can do is play with light and dark. Every girl learns that black makes you look smaller and white makes you look bigger. White, or lighter colors, also always stand out more than the darker colors they're paired with. So what you can do with that is, say, if you have a pear shaped figure, wear a pair of darker jeans with a lighter top. The dark hue makes your hips look smaller, and the light hue draws the eye up to your torso and makes stand out as much as your hips. You can do a similar thing with colors and neutrals--a neutral will always play second fiddle visually to a brighter color. So if you have an inverted triangle figure, you can do an a-line skirt in a pretty jewel-tone, like an emerald, and a top in a neutral, say black. That way, the eye is drawn to the bright hue of the skirt, and since the green has more visual impact than the black, it tricks the eye into thinking that the top and bottom halves of your torso are balanced. Ta-da!
Yeah, I'm this much of a nerd about clothes. I blame the 12 years of art classes. But I hope that helps :) Please comment if you have more specific questions!
Images from: vuvan.com, whatscookingmexico.com, guide-to-symbols.com, teach-nology.com, anthropologie.com, shopbop.com, jcrew.com, juicycouture.com, shopbop.com, modcloth.com.