Dressing for your figure

You've got an extra bit of cash in your pocket and have been looking forward to splashing out on the High Street. You know the latest look and you are determined to squeeze into it - no matter what the cost. But it's not your wallet that takes the biggest battering - it's your self-esteem. That harsh reality check in the changing room can ruin your day. Do you now think the only way to a brighter future is a stringent diet and a gruelling gym routine?

The thing is, it's not all doom and gloom. Just because you don't look like Kate Moss in those three quarter skinny jeans does not make you a fashion disaster. Pull yourself up off the changing room floor and stroke your battered ego with a better understanding of your body shape. Follow this simple guide to getting to grips with your figure and how to dress it - well.

Body beautiful

Start by standing naked in front of a long mirror. Take a long hard look at where you go in and out. Most people fall into one of 5 body types:

  • Athletic - tall, broad shouldered, narrow hips, long legs.

  • Hourglass (classic Marilyn Monroe) - small waist, well-balanced boobs and hips.

  • Pear-Shaped - narrow shoulders, smallish bust and broad hips.

  • Straight Up and Down - not much of a waist.

  • Apple-shaped - you carry your weight in the middle of the body.

Athletic

An athletic build doesn't really need much help in the clothes shopping department. This body type is a classic clothes horse - you can wear just about anything and it will look good.

Hourglass

Hourglass is a great look too, but needs a little more attention to detail. Is your waist in proportion to your hips? If your waist is small, and your hips are very curvy, don't be tempted to over accentuate the waist - it will make your hips appear larger. Instead, cover up slightly with a cropped jacket or top that doesn't cling too much to your curves.

Bigger hips need slim skirts and well-cut trousers. If you are a size 16 or over, go for a wider trouser (24cm width at the base of the leg) - it will look more flattering. And make sure they are well-tailored and don't sag over the bottom.

If your bust is big, avoid high necklines - they will simply emphasise your 'top half'. Opt instead for scoop necks or V-necklines. Avoid jackets with pockets over the bust and fussy lapels too.

Pear-shaped

Are your shoulders narrow or wide? Ideally, shoulders should be the same or slightly wider than your hips. If they're narrower, your hips may look too big and you'll need to wear small shoulder pads to balance your proportions. Well-cut straight legged trousers or A-line skirts, worn with a longish loose fitting top, will balance the bottom half. Alternatively, wear dresses with an empire line (very fashionable right now), which will flow over the hip area. Emphasise your bust with low necklines and add long flowing scarves to draw the eye away from the hips.

Straight body

This body shape has no waist so avoid clothes that draw attention to the waistline. High waisted skirts, trousers and belts are out. Instead, wear skirts and trousers with a dropped waist. Draw the eye away from the waist area - either to your bust - with scooped necklines, or to your legs, if they are good. A wrap dress is a good look for you, as is the fashionable empire line.

Apple-shaped

People with this shape often have a 'shortish' neck. Elongate your neck by wearing V-necklines, or even showing a little cleavage - but keep it simple. Avoid anything figure hugging. Keep to flowing lines - wide legged trousers or flared skirts will draw attention away from the waist. Wear them with longish loose shirts or jackets.

Added extras - arms and legs

Once you've worked out your basic body type, there are a couple of other golden rules to getting it right. Take a long hard look at your upper arms. If they are flabby, keep them covered but opt for a three-quarter or half length sleeve. By showing your forearms, you will detract from the upper arms.

Legs are the other minefield. As far as skirt length goes, ignore fashion and follow the golden rule - a skirt should end just above the slimmest part of your leg. And bad news for the over 40s - avoid the mini skirt at all times!

New era, new look

Finally, it's very easy to fall into a rut with your personal style. Try to consciously refresh your look every few years. Stylists refer to this as the 'Decade Dump'. As you hit another '0' birthday, alter your hair, make up and clothes a little. A small trick to escape the time warp and make you appear eternally youthful - well that's the idea anyway!

Whatever you do - enjoy your body. Have fun with your clothes and take heart from the fact that no matter what shape you are, there's a perfect outfit out there just waiting for you.

Dressing for your figure