Saturday, January 2, 2010

Which Fashion Era Suits Your Figure?

I'm a classic vintage hourglass, which means I look great in 1940s-50s clothes, but I can't get away with 60s A-line trapeze dresses, or shapeless flapper numbers, as fabulous as they are. An athletic acquaintance, on the other hand, looks great in 60s fashion but her lack of a defined waistline practically prohibits anything of the New Look era.

Through the decades, the fashionable figure has changed. A lot. From the bustle-toting Victorian, through the flat-chested 1920s flapper, to the wasp-waisted lovelies of the New Look and the buxom pin-ups of the 50s, the re-emergence of the waif in the sixties, and so on. Practically every variation of body type has been idealised at some point in history - it's just a case of dressing to your era.

Body type: Hourglass

The Hourglass is supposedly the most coveted female shape, but it's not always plain sailing. Generously endowed in the bust, with large hips, but a comparatively small waist, it's easy to look frumpy or matronly if you're not careful. Jayne Mansfield, pictured, works her curves.
  • Absolute number one rule: Define the waist! Celebrate your waistline with belts, and the nipped-in styles of the 1940s-50s.
  • V-necklines and sweetheart necklines are super-flattering to a larger bust, and the shelf bustline is a godsend as it allows a fitted waist but plenty of extra fabric in the bust. Victorian high necks and 50s-60s slash necks result in a large expanse of chest, so should be worn with caution, but you don't necessarily need to avoid them altogether - a V-neck jacket or cardigan can break up the expanse and help to elongate the torso.
  • Wrap dresses work well as they follow all your curves - look for the Swirl wrap dress (1940s-60s) or Diane von Furstenburg (1970s onwards).
  • 1950s wiggle skirts or full skirts are equally flattering as they nip in on the waist (just make sure the wiggle skirt is narrow enough on the waist and large enough on the hips, or it will ride up, totally hiding your waist. Original vintage is cut much better than new for the Hourglass figure).
  • Keep cosy with a belted trench, a full-skirted New Look coat, or 1950s short boxy jackets (which stop above the waistline, so still show off the curves).
  • Avoid: 1920s flapper dresses. I know they're fabulous, but they're specifically designed to de-emphasise the waist and hang flat in the front. It won't work.
  • Avoid: 1960s A-line shift dresses. A large bust ruins the line of ultra mod shift dresses. It's just not worth it.

The Pear

Pears have a slim upper body, carrying any excess weight further down on the tummy, bum and hips.
  • Empire waistlines of Regency fashions and 1970s maxi dresses look fabulous as they hug where you're slim and skim the "problem areas" (pictured: Emma Watson in a vintage Ossie Clark maxi dress). In the same way, strapless 50s gowns highlight shapely arms and shoulders and disguise big bottoms.
  • Unlike the busty Hourglass, you can get away with a lot more 1960s mod fashions, as those trapezoid A-lines work perfectly on your figure.
  • Go Victoriana and play up your shape with bustle skirts and high-necked blouses, or take it to the 1970s version, in a maxi skirt and turtleneck, because you can.
  • 1940s and 1980s shoulder pads help to balance out your hips. Chunky jewellery - like 1960s big plastic beads - also brings attention upwards.
  • Avoid: pleated skirts, and hip-hugger jeans as you're prone to muffin-tops - try 1950s styles instead.

Rectangle / Cylinder

You're slender everywhere, you lucky thing, but sometimes lament your lack of womanly curves. The biggest bonus is it's dead easy to find vintage clothes in your size!
  • 1920s styles were made for your figure, so indulge in beaded, fringed, floaty and silky flapper dresses like Louise Brooks, pictured.
  • Ditto Twiggy mod chic - work those mini shift dresses in bold monochromatic and flower power prints.
  • Other eras aren't out of reach either - create the illusion of curves with darts, and the ruching and draped detailing of the 1930s-1940s. Belts help to create a waistline.
  • Use swishy shawls, stoles and circle skirts to add flow and movement to your ensemble.
  • Enjoy backless styles - you can get away with them!


  1. Sorry, I know this is an old post, but I just wanted to thank you for showing that all body types are beautiful!! I always struggled with having an hourglass figure until I discovered 50s fashion, and now I'm so grateful! These are such brilliant tips, and I'm sure will inspire confidence in any woman!!
    From Carys of La Ville Inconnue

  2. I think I'm a smaller hourglass, which is fun but can be annoyign at times. Nice post. :)

  3. I think there are fashions within each era that can fit different body types too. I am apple or even a Y where most of my weight is carried in my upper body. I do not look good in the full skirts of the 50s but I do look good in pencil skirts and less full skirt styles of many different eras. Don't forget not everyone in the 50's had an hour glass figure you just have to experiment and find what works for your own shape.

  4. Such a great post, so often people disregard shape when shopping for vintage items and indeed modern-day fashions. I've just fwd'd the blog on to friends and sent my boyfriend the blitz blog - he'll love it. x

  5. Hey I'm a 17 year old with a huge upper bust problem (32FF) and a 24" waist it used to hang me up but not anymore I'm loving 40's and 50's styles and my bf who is a modern day Ted really appreciates my new look too so thanks :D x


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