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All Shapes and Sizes

Let's take a look at the different types of body shapes. There are, of course, many of these. The ones below are worth discussing and some of the most common types that we get questions about.

Tall and thin

This is a high-class problem. The greatest challenge for tall women is finding apparel in appropriate lengths. When it comes to pants, it pays to buy the best you can afford. Often the more expensive a pant, the longer it will be. One lesser-known problem area is the wrist; many sleeves are just too short. Do not assume that no one will notice, because someone will. Being tall is great as long as you don't look like a giantess who has outgrown her clothes. Furthermore, stay away from things that are too long and voluminous. Remember Bea Arthur in Maude? Fabulous for a forty-seven-year-old female sitcom character from Tuckahoe, New York, but not for you!


This shape tends to mean "hippier." First, think dark colors. That's easy. Skirts can be a friend to your figure, but think flat-front, slightly tapered, and to the knee (exactly where on the knee should be determined by the overall proportions of the skirt to your leg). Pants should be straight-leg and flat front, of course. Tops should emphasize your shoulders and de-emphasize your hips and rear end, so look for a length that falls to the hip, but not at the widest part of your hip — quel catastrophe! Avoid anything "extra" that will call attention to this area: no pleats, no ruffles or gathers, no pockets, nothing horizontal, and no large-scale prints. Also, avoid anything heavily textured or novelty in a fabric.


I interpret this to mean: let's add a larger bust to the hourglass. The challenge is to reduce the impact of the bust. This is best achieved by trying to visually lengthen the adjacent body parts: the torso and neck. Wear basic, unadorned tops with an open neck or a long, narrow collar and lapel, and, preferably, in dark colors. Wear light-color pants and skirts. Avoid tops that are blouson or voluminous in any way. And please avoid large patterns on top. Remember, you're adorned enough, so keep that top basic! Reducing the impact of the bust does not mean squashing yourself shapeless. Nor does it mean hiding under a perpetual mock turtleneck.

Large middle section

Okay, this is more of a challenge, but there are a number of mitigating options. The objective is to downplay your mid-body by drawing attention to your face and/or your lower legs. Longer tops like cardigans and tunics are good options, as are longer jackets. Jacket and tops that also have a slight cinch at the waist (yes, it's true!) will enhance the slimming effect, especially from a full-frontal or back view. Regarding dresses, this is a case of the always-forgiving empire waist to the rescue. Skirts and pants should be flat front: no pleats, please! Avoid anything double-breasted or belted or with a waistband. And banish anything even remotely cropped — top, pant, jacket — from your wardrobe!


Some of the most stunning women we know are petite. This figure is perhaps the most challenging to visually lengthen, but it can, indeed, be achieved. High-waisted pants, skirts, and dresses are your friends, as is a monochromatic palette. Look for aspects of clothing construction that give you verticality: center-front seams and princess seams. Avoid tops or jackets that cut you off at the waist, anything pleated, and anything that speaks to a flourish — bows, ruffles, etc. You should also avoid anything cropped.

Books mentioned in this post

Tim Gunn and Kate Moloney is the author of A Guide to Quality, Taste and Style

2 Responses to "All Shapes and Sizes"

    Maggie the Cat May 8th, 2007 at 3:09 pm

    Make it work! Good to see you on Powell's site, Tim!

    What I'd like to know: does _anyone_ look good in pleats? I've never seen a pleat-front pant that was flattering. Sure, in the haute couture pages of "Vogue," maybe, but they just don't translate to the real world.

    Jason May 9th, 2007 at 1:23 pm

    I wear pleats all the time! They hide my gut very well.

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