Dressing Well is Part Magic: a tutorial with terrible stick-figure drawings

A good magician knows how to draw your attention to the things he wants you to see, and distract you from what he doesn’t.  Dressing for your body type is the same.  All it takes is awareness, practice, and a little flair.

(Remember my Venn diagram?  This is where we start working on the blue circle.)

If you ask me, “body shape” is too simplistic a gauge.  Everyone is different.  It’s really about proportionsBy “proportions” I mean how your body compares to an average body your size.  Don’t ever compare your body to one smaller or bigger.  Your body is unique.

You already know your proportions, whether you realize it or not.

Clothing is manufactured to fit average sizes, although each brand has their own particular fit (which is why you’ll find that one brand fits better than another, or why you’ll take one size at one store, but always have to go up a size somewhere else). If you have a problem with waistbands usually being too big when something fits in the hip, this means that your waist is smaller than the average for a woman your size. That is an asset you can use to your advantage. If you have the opposite problem, it means your waist is larger than average for your size, so you’ll either need to camouflage it or create the illusion of a waist with your clothes.

When you try on clothes, are the sleeves usually too short or too long? What about trouser legs? Does the waist on dresses sit at, below, or above your actual waist?   Are things too tight across the bust, or through the shoulders?  Too tight in the thigh?  Too big in the bum?  If your shirts always come untucked, then you’re long-waisted.  If your shirt-tails are always too long, then you’re short-waisted.  Think about these things, and go back to your body inventory to add anything you’ve missed.

Once you realize where your body is better than average, and where it is worse (I use this term reluctantly, as you might not see having a larger-than-average bum as a bad thing at all!), you can use visual trickery to fool people into seeing you as taller/ thinner/ better proportioned than you really are.  You might choose to emphasize your extra-long legs or ample booty, or you might choose to deemphasize these things.


Here’s how this “magic” works:



Take the humble stick figure. We’re all familiar with it. Your brain recognizes this as a familiar shape.



Now here’s the amazing thing about the human brain: even if we cover up most of the figure, your brain fills in the missing bits and can still identify this as a stick figure. You still picture a skinny stick figure concealed behind a blue square.



…but what if what’s REALLY behind the square looks like THIS?

This is the genius of dressing well.  If the eye can only see long, slim body parts, the brain automatically fills in what it can’t see, assuming the rest matches, even when it knows it’s not true.  It’s magic.  If you can master this, you’ll think of your body in a totally different way.*

* Don’t make the mistake of thinking that this means you can throw on a muu-muu and look skinny.  This trick can work the other way, as well – if you wear clothing that is too bulky or loose, the eye may see the body inside as LARGER than it really is.  And NOBODY wants that.




This is my body.  Don’t laugh! I have a long neck, sloping shoulders, slim forearms and calves, a small waist, but large upper arms and thighs.  I’m a pretty typical pear-shape.  If you don’t believe me, look at the first photo of me in this post.


This is what my body looks like in one of my trademark dresses. Voila!  Notice that, even though you KNOW that there are chicken drumsticks under that skirt and inflatable floaties on the arms under that dress, your brain can’t help seeing this figure as all-over thin.  This really is the exact figure from above covered with a blue dress – I did not re-draw a smaller stick figure.



I can also camouflage myself in separates – trying to always have an emphasis on the waist.  Yes, I have an extensive belt collection.




…and THIS is what I look like in a sleeveless mini-dress with no waistline, the single worst article of clothing I could possibly wear.  This style is my arch-nemesis.  I’d rather walk around naked.






So… what if your body is the opposite of mine?
Slim arms and legs, no hips, no waistline?

(this is my mother’s shape, usually called “apple”)




THIS is what you’d look like in my signature styles. Nice, if you like looking as wide as a barn.



But THIS is how you’d look in that sleeveless mini-dress. Perfection!

(my mother was queen of the mini-dress in the 1960s)



Another good look is skinny jeans or straight-leg trousers with a light or bright top under an open hip-length jacket.  The narrow strip of color in the top makes the torso appear narrower.





Or slim trousers with a top that has a matching color at the top and a darker color at the waist. Repeating the color at the shoulders means the eye sees this as a long stretch of yellow with color strips in the middle – it’s quite lengthening.  Also notice how it’s improved with matching-color shoes.**

**These high necklines and stripe across the bust won’t work if you also have larger breasts.  You’ll need a neckline more like the examples just below.





Now, what if you’re really curvy, with an ample bosom?




That high-necked mini-dress is NOT your friend.  Unless you like looking like Lumpy Space Princess from Adventure Time.  Never, ever, wear anything high- and round-necked.






Your best bet is V, wide, or square necklines. With separates you can choose whether to put the brighter color on top or on bottom. Emphasizing the waist can give a feature to further distract from the bust.




But often the best option for a curvy girl is a siren-red dress:  fitted through the waist, with a flattering neckline.





Let’s say you have a swimmer’s build: broad shoulders, no waist, slim hips and limbs (sometimes called “goblet” or “top-heavy”). How will you look in the outfits I’ve shown so far?



Sleeveless high-necked mini-dress?
Likely to make you look like a man in drag.



My signature wide-neck top and A-line skirt?
Not bad, depending mostly on the neckline and how much it emphasizes those shoulders.



Red halter-neck dress?
Will probably make you look like a body-builder.





Slim trousers with a boxy jacket?
Only if you like looking like Frankenstein.

(Not to say you can’t wear jackets, just choose ones without shoulder pads which create a waistline.  Stay away from boxy top-heavy ones)




Better to stick with tops that de-emphasize the shoulder: baseball-type, raglan, or inset sleeves.  Of course these are awful on sloped shoulders like mine!



An A-line skirt can help visually balance the shoulders. Tops which put darker colors across the shoulders and lighter colors at the waist are also good.



Now, obviously this is just a quick tutorial to get you started.  I’m sure I’ll be doing more posts like this in the future.  Unless, of course, you all hate my stick figures and beg me to stop.

In the meantime, if you’re still really struggling with figuring it out for yourself, contact me and I’ll do my best to help.

But for those who want concrete measurements and instructions, try this.



on “Dressing Well is Part Magic: a tutorial with terrible stick-figure drawings
8 Comments on “Dressing Well is Part Magic: a tutorial with terrible stick-figure drawings
  1. Pingback: » Body Size Measurements - Dana Forlano

  2. Excellent examples, and I like your use of stick figures; it somehow puts each of us on a level playing field and conveys your message in an inoffensive way. I’m laughing my arse off at your “self portrait,” as it is spot on with a bit of drama for effect! ;-) Excellent post, Dana! I’ll read part two then tweet both as well as link to my blog.

  3. I think your stick figures are so unique, honestly I understood the body shapes and the influence of a bad choice better in this way(with the help of the stick figure)!So keep on going with your way, I like it!

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