What does it mean to dress for your body shape?
To preface this quick guide, we’d like to start by acknowledging that it is a somewhat tricky topic. We can speak of some general tips, but of course, generalizations will not apply to everyone!
Ultimately, dressing for your body shape is about fit and proportion – two great reasons to consult with your tailor about dressing to suit. There’s an old tailor’s dictum: “compromise on quality if you must, never proportion.”
We subscribe to this thought, taken from Alan Flusser’s book Dressing the Man. “Dressing for your body type is a subject peppered with misguided prescriptions and arcane rules.” The thing is there are some general “rules” for dressing for body shape, but it’s important to remember they’re not hard and fast.
That said, here are some general tips we can provide:
#1. Start with knowing your body shape
Of course, this is one area where we can generalize, but you may experience variation from the “standard.” A British study revealed five different male body shapes through studying some of the world’s best-known celebrities. You can see them depicted below:
- The oval is a description of someone with more weight stored in the upper half of the body.
- The triangle typically carries a little excess weight around the middle.
- The rectangle is straight up and down, with a flat chest and little tapering to the hips.
- The rhomboid is more common among male athletes. The shoulders protrude slightly in comparison to the hips.
- The inverted triangle is the least common male body shape. The upper body is very broad with noticeable tapering to the waist. This is also more typical among athletes.
How do you work out your own body shape? It may already be apparent to you, but a good way to confirm it is to take your measurements and look at your proportions. For example, if your shoulders, chest, and waist all align, then you’re probably a rectangle.
Of course, within these body shapes, you might have other characteristics that relate to proportion. For example, being tall or short, having long arms or long legs, or being of skinny, average or large build.
#2. Know some basic rules for body shape
What does it really mean to “dress for your body shape?” As Dressing Like Men puts it, “whether short or tall, portly or slim, most men aspire to look like some idealized version of themselves.”
In other words, we seek to highlight any traits we consider “good” while minimizing those we consider to be “bad.” The image of the “ideal” male model has changed with each passing decade, but if you were to take an average view across them all, the main goal has been to affect a tall, broad-shouldered, slim-waisted appearance.
Dressing for your body shape means using clothes to emphasize your best features while distracting from anything you’re not fond of.
Here are some basic rules depending on your body shape (remember, the best fit is always going to come from tailoring!):
If you are an oval, you have slimmer shoulders and chest, a wide waist and slim hips. The goal is generally to use clothing to narrow your waist and create an overall slimmer appearance.
A general rule here is to create vertical lines to balance everything out. For example, you wouldn’t pick a pattern with horizontal lines as this can give the appearance of widening your waist. Dark hues (not necessarily just black) can assist with a slimming effect.
Trousers and shirts of the same color can also have a slimming effect, whereas contrasting shirts can emphasize the size of your waist.
A triangle shape means that you have narrow shoulders, a wider chest and a waist that is wider than both. You may have heard this shape referred to as a “dad bod.”The triangle can give a “bottom-heavy” appearance, so a goal with your clothing can be to bulk up your upper body.
Jackets with shoulder padding and a narrower fit can emphasize your upper body, helping to bulk up its appearance. You should always ask a tailor to ensure the shoulders of your jacket are correctly fitted.
Single-breasted jackets and vertical patterns can help to slim out your lower body, similar to the oval shape.
A rectangle body shape means that your shoulders are in-line with your waist and hips. The goal is often to emphasize the shoulders more, creating the appearance of a more athletic build and avoiding a “flat” appearance.
Anyone with a rectangle body shape should generally avoid vertical stripes as they will make a slight frame look even slimmer. Besides that, the color spectrum is wide open as a rectangle doesn’t usually have to consider slimming colors.
Wide collar shirts and wide lapels on jackets can help to create the illusion of broader shoulders, as can jackets with shoulder pads.
A rhomboid body shape describes broad shoulders and chest with narrower waist and hips, although not disproportionately narrower. This tends to be a highly desired body shape and the main goal is simply to emphasize your shape with well-fitted clothes.
There are no hard and fast rules for rhomboids, any style or color combination may work. If you are on the shorter side, you might choose vertical patterns to emphasize length.
This is the very top-heavy body shape associated with bodybuilders and other athletes. For example, consider Arnold Schwartzenegger in his hey-day of bodybuilding as a good example of the inverted triangle.
A challenge of this body type is that clothing that fits the shoulders often sags heading southward. The inverted triangle may rely upon good tailoring to have clothes that will flatter their body shape.
You can create the illusion of balance by drawing the eye toward the middle of your chest. For example, V-neck sweaters are a good choice.
#3. Dress for the body you have now
It’s common to want to make changes to your body. For example, maybe you’d like to do work to bulk up your chest and shoulders, to lose weight or to gain more muscle tone.
It’s also common for our bodies to change over time. As you grow older, you don’t have the same metabolism you once did, or perhaps you’re not able to be as physically active. It can be difficult to realize that your body has changed and that you may need to make wardrobe changes to accommodate it.
Which brings us to an important point. No matter what your goals are for your “future body,” if you want to look good, you need to dress for the body you have right now. Clothing bought small to accommodate weight loss, or broad to account for bulking up will create an unpolished appearance on your current body.
If you’re concerned about spending the money on clothing then having to buy more, there are a couple of things you could consider:
- Buy cheaper clothing that fits properly (as we said earlier, “compromise on quality if you must, never proportion.”)
- Buy clothing in consultation with your tailor that has the ability to be altered. As long as alterations won’t be too dramatic, this is possible.
#4. Get clothing altered
This is our last, but probably one of our most important tips for dressing your body shape. Get your clothing altered to fit your body.
Whether you’re having clothing made from scratch or buying off-the-rack, tailoring to suit you is always flattering. A good tailor understands body shapes and can advise on the types of clothing you should look at. It is well worth getting fitted if you care about having a polished appearance.
This has been a very brief guide to dressing for your body shape. As we mentioned at the start, it’s worth remembering that, while there are generalized rules for different body shapes, there are always exceptions to those rules.
One question you may ask is “do I feel good in this?” There are plenty of “rule breakers” out there who pull it off in spite of their body shape because they feel good and exude confidence.
Remember, any body shape can look good with clothing that is made to flatter and fit well.