A New Dimension: Designing For Different Body Shapes

The world would be pretty boring if we all looked the same, but most designers and manufacturers continue to design and produce clothing based only on a slim-line version of the hourglass figure.

As fashion designers and students continue sketching their illustrations of idealized female models with statuesque, slender, and glamorized proportions, they continue to ignore the reality of women whose body sizes have changed significantly from over half a century ago. On top of that, fashion schools lean on teaching how to illustrate one body type.

This is the start of a detailed, three-week series around several common body types: the Rectangle, the Pear, the Inverted Triangle, the Hourglass and the Apple. Today, we’ll start with a summary.


Universal Appeal

While body shapes vary significantly, there is one principle that benefits all: a defined waist. Fit-and-flare dresses look good on everyone, because they define the smallest part of the waist and graze over stomachs, hips, and thighs in a flattering way. Take this basic style and change the neckline, shoulder sleeves, length, and amount of flounce on the skirt in ways that balance your clients’ body shapes and you will have a sure win.

Define Your Goals and Your Client’s Goals

Who is your client? What problems are you trying to help your clients to solve? Why? While the hourglass body type is considered ideal, your client might disagree and desire a different silhouette. Get technical. Know your client’s measurements and her proportions. Does something need to be visually lengthened, shortened, shown off, or concealed?


Get To Know Your Average Customer

  • • What are the three figure assets that our average customer wants to show off?
  • • What are three most common figure challenges that our average customer wants to minimize or conceal?
  • • What is the most common desired silhouette of our average customer?
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Method and Approach

Research and understand your client. Why do some things work and not others? Why does this appeal to my client, but not that? This ties in with identifying your client and getting to know her on personal level. Know their story.

Ask your clients whom they identify with in terms of style. By trying to understand who your client aspires to be, you can immediately get a clear understanding what she values aesthetically. This will help you easily identify patterns and styles that appeal to her and work for particular body shapes.

Design and sketch with the client’s body shape in mind. In order to pull your designs in the right direction you must ensure your illustrations or croquis represent the particular body shape of your niche. It’s your visual aid in regards to proportion, shape, and line. There are several sources to get you started including free resources, purchasable illustrator files, a body positive book of figure templates, and even advanced body measurement technology to get you started and stir your imagination.

Improve the fit by refining the measurements continuously. Measure everyone, compare sizes to measurements, try samples on your friends, members of your team, and of course, your client. Identify why something works for some and not others.

Stick with what works, and reinvent within the boundaries. Once you know what works, use it, but take the opportunity to experiment as well. For example, a wide, shallow neckline widens the shoulder, so you can use this if you want to create new designs that have the illusion of widening the narrow shoulder.

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Designing for different body shapes requires more time, research, and deep interaction with customers. Instead of seasonal fashion trends, the key is to think about wearability for your customers. Shape classifications make women aware of their shapes, but they don’t necessarily help one recognize her beauty. “Problem areas” that need to be “minimized” lend to the idea of natural features being flaws. Instead, focus on the individual beauty that comes in the form of movement, balance, and personality in each woman to spark your ideas. For more inspiration, see how our use of strategically placed design elements at Jia Collection flatter different body shapes on our blog.

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