The Most Flattering Dresses For Your Body Type

Learn to tell your trapezes from your sheaths, and discover the best styles for your shape.
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Janet Sahm Easter
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Learn to tell your trapezes from your sheaths, and discover the best styles for your shape.

Fashion commentary on blogs and in magazines is full of jargon. When it comes to describing clothes, much of it can seem like mumbo jumbo. What's the difference between a shift and a sheath dress, a-line and trapeze, shirt-waist, drop-waist, and empire?

We're here to decode some of the terminology surrounding dress silhouettes, plus what works best for your body.

A-LINE & TRAPEZE //

body shape, body types, different body types

Art Credit: Marta Spendowska

A-line is the holy grail for every body shape. A-line skirts or dresses are fitted at your natural waist and gradually widen towards the hem to create a triangular shape that fans out slightly. This flattering shape pulls double duty: it draws the eyes to the waist for pear(larger on bottom) and heart shapes(larger on top), which de-emphasizes the hips and it also adds the appearance of curves for those with boyish or boxy body-types.

A trapeze dress has a triangular shape as well, but instead of starting at your waist, the silhouette begins at your shoulders and flairs out over your form. It has an easy, breezy, almost tent-like look and feel. This silhouette is best for long, lean, and somewhat boxy body shapes as you won't drown in all the fabric and shapelessness, but rather the dress will hang and flow beautifully.

SHEATH & SHIFT  //

Spendowska-shift-sheat-2

This is the trickiest distinction, as both are simple, uncomplicated dresses that fall straight down from your shoulders. I only recently learned that the difference between the two is that a shift dress is less fitted than a sheath dress. Who knew?

A sheath dress is form-fitting and shaped by darts. (Darts are a V-shaped tuck used to help shape the fabric of a garment to the contours of the body, most commonly seen over the bust area.) Sheath dresses look best on those with hourglass shapes or heart shapes as the slightly more form-fitting silhouette highlights your proportions.

A shift dress simply falls straight down from your shoulders, meaning it's a bit more flow-y over your hips and waist. Shift dresses look best on those with a column or straight, boxy shape, who can more easily pull off a looser fit without looking like they're drowning.

DROP WAIST & SHIRT WAIST //

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For a drop waist dress, think 1920s, Gatsby-era dress. The silhouette has a low, horizontal waistline that usually falls near the level of the upper hips. The result is a lengthening of the torso—which makes this dress style one of the hardest to pull off. But, for those with a boxy or boyish shape, this was made for you! The column-like top will fall straight over your form, and the low waistline won't tug or pull at your hips.

A shirt waist dress is a tailored dress styled like a shirt with yoke and buttons to the waist. (A yoke is a shaped piece in a garment, usually fitted across the upper chest and/or back, from which the rest of the garment may hang). A shirt waist tends to have an A-line bottom with a collar and button-down top and belt to cinch the waist. Because it has an A-line silhouette, shirt wait suits all body types. It highlights your form and tends to give structure where needed. A structured top provides balance for those with an heart shape, and the A-line nature of the skirt helps balance the bottom of those with pear shapes.

EMPIRE & WRAP//

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An empire dress has a high waistline located just under the bust line, and the rest of the dress flows out. Empire waist dresses look best on those with pear shapes, as it marks the smallest point of your figure and distracts from everything else. For those with boxy, straight shapes, an empire silhouette adds more curves.

A wrap dress is another universal winner for every woman. It has a front closure formed by wrapping one side across the other, and knotting the attached ties that wrap around the back at the waist or fastening buttons. This forms a V-shaped neckline and hugs a woman's curves. Perfect for hourglass, heart, pear, and boxy shapes!