How to Dress for Your Body Type

Finding the most flattering dress for your unique body type can sometimes feel like searching for a needle in a sartorial haystack. As women, our body types vary as much as our personalities and food preferences. Finding the right clothes for you depends heavily on the shape of your body. There is something out there for every body shape, but we often become overwhelmed with the multitude of choices. When it comes to looking good, it’s not necessarily about your size or shape — it’s more about the fit and comfort of your clothes and wearing them with confidence.

Rather than focusing on the one thing you don’t like about yourself, whether that’s extra weight, broader shoulders, or a rounder mid-section, think of your body more abstractly, in terms of an overall, general shape. Doing so will give you a great starting place for shopping for clothes — sort of like learning the rules before you can break them.

Our comprehensive guide to the many different types of bodies out there will help you identify your own and learn how to dress to your full potential.

Before you start shopping for your specific body type, read on to determine which shape, or piece of produce (apple, carrot, pear) your body most closely resembles.

Apple

People with an apple-shaped figure tend to carry a little more weight around the middle and have thinner arms and legs. To best dress the apple shape, keep things simple as far as the silhouette goes, but feel free to play with other elements like fun patterns, bright colors and a variety of textures.

Consider these tips:

One of the most flattering dresses for an apple-shaped figure is a simple, column shaped dress. This shape is fitted, yet doesn’t cling to the mid-section, meaning you’ll look and feel great — no awkward crinkling when you sit down!

Empire waist dresses are fitted underneath the bust line, rather than at the natural waist, keeping things looser around the stomach — a more flattering cut. The empire waist dress is equal parts comfort and class, especially if you opt for the goddess-like maxi dress.

Shift dresses also work well with the apple shape. They don’t have too much fabric, and the boxy shape skims the body while maintaining a happy medium — not too loose, not too tight — for a classy look that’s sure to impress.

To accentuate your slim legs, dresses with a shorter hem will draw the attention down to the legs. Be cautious, though, because if you go too short, it will force the eye up toward the stomach.

If you’re looking for pants, try a slim-cut pair of jeans or trousers, which will accentuate your slim legs. Pair them with a looser top for a figure-flattering outfit you can easily dress up or down depending on the occasion.

In terms of finding the right neckline, V-neck shirts are an easy way to pull attention away from the mid-section by bringing the eye up to the neckline. Double down by mixing and matching bold statement jewelry to keep the attention on your face.

Bad news for belts — the apple-shaped figure is better off without a belt. They draw unnecessary attention to the mid-section, making it look larger than it really is. The high-waisted pant trend is also not great for the apples because the cut of the pants has a similar effect as the belts.

To make your belly look smaller, wear shirts with short or long sleeves, nothing in the middle. When sleeves end parallel to the stomach area, they draw attention — something you may want to avoid.

Pear

The pear-shaped figure is characterized by a slender torso and thicker thighs. Pear-shaped ladies should try to add balance by playing up their small waist, while minimizing the contrast between your top and bottom halves.

Pear-shaped gals should keep attention up top by choosing slim-fitting tops or elongating button-downs and cardigans, which create slim lines by virtue of having buttons.

Additionally, adding some embellishments to the neckline — like cool, beaded collars or bold statement necklaces — can divert the attention up toward the slimmer half of your body.

If you’re a pear, here are a few other tips to consider:

Think wide in terms of hems for all bottoms — trousers, skirts and dresses. Wide hems will visually even out your proportions for a sleeker look.

Try experimenting with a layered look. Mix and match different fabrics and textures on the top half of your body, which will draw attention upward to the smallest part of your frame.

If you’re concerned about balance, avoid clothing that adds additional weight to your bottom half, like trousers with lines or large pockets that draw the eye toward the hips. Additionally — and perhaps, surprisingly — larger bags can also make the bottom half look bigger, especially when they fall right on the hip line. Look for small bags, or ones with shorter straps to better flatter your shape.

Consider a long top or sweater. Drape-y sweaters or tunic-style tops that flare out toward the bottom can help downplay your larger hips and rear, while keeping you feeling covered and cozy at the same time.

The most flattering dresses for pear shapes include the fit n’ flare look. Structured dresses with an A-line skirt gives you an instant hourglass look, emphasizing your small waist in style.

As far as bottoms go, try wide leg pants or A-line skirts — both balance out your bottom half with a looser fit, creating a lengthening, slimming effect. Pair looser bottoms with a form-fitting top to play up your slim upper half.

When shopping for tops, look for blouses with wide necklines like cowl neck or boat neck tops to balance the visual hip-to-shoulder ratio.

Petite

Tired of finding the perfect dress, and then discovering it’s too long, or the armholes are in the wrong place? Being petite can limit your options while dress shopping. Make sure you buy petite-sized clothing if you’re under 5’ 4”, as the proportions will be much more flattering than trying to make standard sizes work for you.

Here are a few tips for petites:

Shop for dresses with shorter hemlines, so whether you opt for heels or flats, your legs will look a little longer.

Try a minimal approach to dressing, keeping things sleek and classic. Loud patterns and wild colors will overwhelm a smaller frame. If you’re petite, but want to avoid the boring slog of solid colors, pick one pattern at a time, or mix textured solids for a subtle, yet interesting, statement.

Keep details to a minimum, so they pack a punch without overwhelming your small frame. Think layered statement jewelry (nothing too large though), or pieces with a unique collar to draw attention to your face.

Don’t forget to consider where the hem falls. Dresses tend to look best when the fall either directly above or below the knee.

To create an illusion of length, consider a monochrome look or something with vertical lines, like a button down top or dress or prominent seams or piping. This leads the eye up and down, making you look longer.

Boyish

Also known as the “ruler” or the “banana,” the boyish body type is relatively proportional, with a small chest and narrow hips. If clothes look great on the runway or the hanger, it’s likely they’ll look great on you, too—which may shave off time time in the dressing room. While this body type seems enviably easy to dress, it still comes with its own set of challenges, particularly if you want to play up your feminine side.

You have a naturally athletic look, so if you’re looking to avoid the off-duty sports gal look, consider the following tips:

  • Look for cuts that aim to soften your figure and add volume to create some curves. Selecting super-fitted items can have the opposite effect than what you were going for, emphasizing a less-than-flattering boxy shape, particularly if darts or piping enter the equation.

The boyish shape offers plenty of opportunity to accessorize. Add volume up top with embellished shirts — think ruffles, embroidery, or unconventional necklines. Consider feminine details like a Peter Pan collar or go bold with a cool statement necklace.

For a casual way to build volume without trying to make a too-tight top work for you, embrace your inner-French gal and try horizontal stripes. Stripes direct the eye from side to side, creating the illusion of curves.

For bottoms, slim cut trousers can be a cool, androgynous look on boyish-shaped gals. Try pairing an untucked button down with a pair of slim dark pants for an easy, fashionable outfit that works equally well at the office as it does at brunch. For a more feminine touch, play with color or add a delicate necklace and some simple studs.

The most flattering dresses for boyish shapes will work to add some volume to your shape. If you’re into a super-feminine look, just lean into it. Look for pieces with ruffles or a tutu-type skirt. Belt any dress at the waist for more definition—this adds a new dimension to dresses with a somewhat boxy shape, or one that just doesn’t fit quite right.

Hourglass

While many gals out there would kill to have an hourglass figure, with its narrow waist, full chest and hips and curves in even proportion — it can be a challenge to find an outfit that fits just right. For a curvy figure with a smaller waist, the most flattering dresses will accentuate the hourglass shape, highlighting a smaller waist, while simultaneously balancing out the curves.

To make things easier, here are a few tips for finding the best clothing for your shape:

A flared skirt can be incredibly flattering for an hourglass, adding a sense of balance to the silhouette. However, we don’t recommend going all out with a full A-line skirt—as the shape tends to overwhelm your bottom half. Instead, opt for a structured piece with a flare that isn't too dramatic. A ballerina skirt or trapeze-style dress won’t be the best look for your shape. If you’ve got your heart set on the flared skirt, wear a more form-fitting top to balance out the lower part of the ensemble.

When in doubt, consider belting it. It’s an easy way to perfect a dress that doesn’t quite make the cut. Cinching your waist is the perfect way to highlight your feminine shape. Add a belt to a less-than-shapely dress, or look for one that has a belt that ties around the mid-section.

If you’re tired of the belted look, another way to flatter your hourglass shape is to look for pieces that feature details at the waist, like beads, embroidery or ruching. These details add a bit of personality to your style, while having the same balancing effect as a belt.

Throwback vintage styles could easily become your go-to look, but if you’re looking for something with a more modern feel, try giving the color-blocking trend a try. Look for pieces with contrasting colors on top and bottom, which will draw attention to your defined waist, as well as add a more linear element to your softer shape. Also consider playing with some different details. Texture and piping can add a fresh look to your usual curve-flattering staples.

Don’t lose your shape in boxy dresses, baggy cardigans or other loose, unflattering styles. Dresses and tops that fail to accentuate your curves may add a few extra pounds to your look and won’t do any favors for your naturally defined waist.

Carrot

A carrot shape is categorized by wider shoulders, so aim to strike a balance. Look for dresses that feature a hem that's full and has movement. This will add width to your slimmer bottom, while at the same time, create symmetry all around. Aim to define your waist, soften your shoulders, and create a bit of curve.

Here are a few tips for carrot-shaped ladies:

Deep V-neck tops will visually break up the space and divert attention away from your shoulders. Additionally, high-necked styles like a turtleneck or a high-cut crew neck are flattering for broader shoulders, as they have an inherently narrowing effect.

Avoid anything that adds additional interest to your shoulders, like shoulder pads or broader necklines (i.e. boat neck or cowl neck tops). Dark or neutral tones may be your best bet if you’re looking for balance.

The best dresses for carrots include strapless dresses, which will highlight your great shoulders. If you prefer a more modest look, opt for a T-shirt dress. For more formal occasions, you’ll look great in a hard-to-pull-off mermaid style dress. The flared bottom creates symmetry between top and bottom halves.

To add some volume to your bottom half, try looking for dresses or skirts with embellishments and unique details, or a thicker, more substantial fabric like brocade or neoprene. These fabrics with a bit more weight will help balance your hips with your shoulders. Think pleated skirts, vibrant colors, loud patterns or a billowy pair of trousers to build a little more substance on the bottom half of your outfit.

Plus-Sized

The common myth for plus sized women is that they should avoid bright colors, crazy patterns and fitted shapes. While you may feel confined to the all-black — or navy if you’re branching out — uniform, realize it’s merely an arbitrary rule. Any color that works with your skin tone is worth considering.

Plus-sized isn’t a specific shape, but it’s a designation for women larger than a size 12 or 14 – and this all depends on the brand. If you’re plus-sized, also consider some of the tips and tricks for body shapes like apple, pear and carrot for best results.

Here are a few tips for flattering your figure, and finding a great dress if you fall into the plus category:

Fit is everything. Look for structured fits that emphasize the best parts of your frame. Vertical details like seams, darts and piping can work together for a slimming effect.

Look for substantial fabrics. Fuller-figured gals look best in fabrics that stay put all day long and have a significant stretch. Consider neoprene or spandex for a modern, sporty vibe that won’t fail to flatter. The stretch provides a similar effect to shapewear, but since it’s built into the dress, you’ll get a bit more comfort.

One of the most flattering dresses for a plus-sized figure is the wrap dress. It’s a classic piece that never goes out of style, and works for just about every occasion from the office to happy hour. It’s comfortable and easily conceals any lumps or bumps in favor of emphasizing your natural shape.

You can’t go wrong with a fitted jacket paired with a well-tailored dress. It’s a basic piece you’ll wear time and time again that will add some structure to your look and break up the space. This look works best when pairing a jacket with a dress or top in a contrasting hue.

When considering prints, make sure they scale with your body. Small, delicate pieces of jewelry or a dress sprinkled with tiny polka dots or flowers may make you look larger by contrast, and they tend to look a bit juvenile on women of all sizes. One of the benefits of having more space to work with is that you’re free to go big with statement necklaces or try bold prints that have more presence. Watercolor prints work particularly well on plus-size ladies.

A tried and true tip—try playing with verticals. Prints and details that draw the eye up and down have a slimming effect, while horizontals have the opposite effect, drawing the eye side to side, which can make you seem wider.

Don’t be afraid to play with your flare. High-waisted skirts or jeans that flare out at the bottom are great for creating balance for a fuller figure. This look works best paired with a more fitted top.

Remember That You Can Break the Rules

These style tips are a general guide to help you find the most flattering dresses for your own unique shape. Many bodies out there are a mashup of different types, so you can easily take bits of advice from multiple sections. Don’t become too preoccupied with what looks best on your body and rule out other pieces that might be great for you. Try to shake things up and experiment with different styles.

The body shape guide should give you some direction as to what naturally works for your figure, but don’t feel confined to only shopping for your specific body type. If you’re a pear and you find something you love made for a carrot, buy it anyway. Nothing looks better than a woman who is confident and happy in her own skin.

Shop Dresses at My Sister’s Closet

If you want to update your wardrobe for the upcoming fall and winter months, need a new dress for a special occasion, or are simply in the mood to browse, My Sister’s Closet offers dresses for every shape and size.

Check out our selection of designer dresses! You may find more than one dress for your next big event!