How to dress for your body shape: Tips and tricks and myths debunked

With the help of fashion experts, we dispel the myths around dressing for your body shape.

How to dress for your body shape

by Hannah Carroll |
Updated on

When we began our quest for guidance on dressing according to body shape, we initially anticipated a long list of rules and restrictions, reminiscent of Trinny and Susannah's advice on the popular 2000s show What Not to Wear. However, we were pleasantly surprised to discover that fashion has evolved, adopting a more inclusive and liberating approach to dressing. The focus has shifted to creating outfits that resonate with personal style and confidence rather than adhering strictly to conventional norms. The beauty of this shift is that it allows room for individuality and versatility, meaning you can still enjoy wearing your favourite dress when you update your look.

We had the opportunity to speak with Shelly Vella, the esteemed former fashion director for Cosmopolitan and Mail's You magazine, as well as representatives from one of our favourite brands, Seasalt Cornwall, in order to delve deep into the secrets of the fashion industry. Naturally, we're eager to share all that we've learned.

How to dress for your body shape?

First and foremost, we discovered that the traditional classifications of body shapes are quite outdated. There's no need to scrutinise your fruit bowl anxiously, pondering whether you resemble an apple or a pear. Shelly explained that these labels aren't particularly useful when it comes to finding the perfect outfit.

The dimensions of individuals will vary significantly, regardless of whether they fit into a specific body shape category like hourglass or triangle. Factors such as height and size play a huge part into how clothes fit your body. Clothing will fit differently on each person who wears it, so it's best to simply try clothes on to see how they suit you. And, if you're smaller in stature, you might find it beneficial to choose dresses specifically designed for petite women.

Shelly advises, "I always encourage people to go shopping with a friend, try on different sizes, and get rid of the size tag." She explained that size tags can be misleading because clothing sizes can vary significantly from one brand to another. It's crucial to understand that there's no universal standard for sizing; it's entirely up to the discretion of each brand. We've all experienced the frustration of trying on clothes in a fitting room and finding that nothing fits the way we expect. However, it's important not to fixate on sizes - nobody is checking the size tags, but an ill-fitting pair of jeans is much more noticeable than simply sizing up.

Trying on clothes is an excellent method for discovering new garments that make you feel fabulous. We love trying on clothes that instinctively speak to us – we are just like little magpies drawn to anything shiny or metallic. Clothing should enable you to express your individuality and style. While drawing inspiration from celebrities like Claudia Winkleman can be beneficial, it's important to consider what message you want to convey to the world with your outfit.

Stella Vella styling for JD Williams
©JD Williams

Start with good foundations

Shelly recommends wearing your best-fitted bra and a good pair of shapewear knickers before going out shopping for clothes. She emphasises, "You have to start with good foundations, whether you're building a house or putting together an outfit. It's really important, and most people in this country don't have the right bra size." Shelly raves about the shapewear range by JD Williams, stating that she can't get enough of it.

While it may not always be at the forefront of our minds when shopping, having the right-sized bra and some control pants can provide an instant lift and smooth out any lumps, making it easier to try on that dress you love. Don't allow perceived insecurities to prevent you from trying on something you're drawn to.

Tailor to perfectly fit your body

Shelly offers another valuable piece of advice, especially for women who enjoy shopping for the finest clothes available on the high street. "The most important thing for most women to have in their little black book is a tailor," she says. "If you like a dress and you're petite and it's too long, then you can take it up."

Brands like Seasalt Cornwall are dedicated to crafting clothing that caters to a diverse range of women, offering a wide selection of styles, cuts, and sizes. The meticulously curated colours and craftsmanship make Seasalt Cornwall one of our favourite brands. Amidst the concerning rise of fast fashion, this UK-based company is dedicated to creating well-made, eco-conscious clothing that can be enjoyed by women for years to come.

Seasalt Diverse Model
©Seasalt Cornwall

Tap into your individual style

During our conversation with Laura Watson, the Chief Creative Officer at Seasalt Cornwall, she explained that the company prioritises creating clothing that truly fits and flatters women while using responsibly sourced materials. She emphasised that the customer is at the forefront of all their designs at every stage, and they often test and trial designs on real people before they hit the shelves.

"I think it's more about the individual, how you feel and what you want to express, what mood you're in and that there really is no right or wrong way to dress, "she says. "It's about you and your preference and what you feel good in. We feel that traditional rules are a little bit outdated now and maybe trap women."

The brand's inclusive sizing, ranging from a size 6 to 28, enables more women to access their pieces. With options for petite, tall, and regular fits, it couldn’t be easier to find something that makes you feel fabulous. Not to mention, the brand doesn’t aim for carbon copies of Seasalt customers; they want their customers to find pieces that suit their individual styles.

The brand takes inspiration from Cornwall’s wild landscape, artistic culture, and maritime heritage and says that a lot of the expertise goes into constructing the garments so that they fit and flatter as many customers as possible whilst making them feel great. But of course, if this isn't your style, don't be afraid to look around online to find one that matches your individual wardrobe or desired look.

“We're just trying to achieve and deliver the best levels of quality, style and fit regardless of shape or size and wanting it to last as long as possible so customers can choose to invest with us and have and have the confidence in knowing that that item is going to last for a long time,” Laura explained.

Individual style of mature ladies
©Getty Images/ jacoblund

Use your existing wardrobe

While we may all be guilty of feeling like we need something new for that all-important occasion, both Seasalt Cornwall and Shelly have emphasised that the best way to dress for your body shape is to find some staples in your wardrobe and build outfits from pieces that you already have and feel great in (and don’t forget the Bridget Jones style knickers).

Adding a statement jacket, pairing a top with different jeans or adding some accessories can help breathe some life into some of the clothes you have crumpled in the back of your wardrobe.

Key tips and tricks from the experts

To summarise how to dress for your body shape, we've gathered the top tips from Seasalt and Shelly. Here are the key points:

• Make sure you are wearing a good-fitting bra and shapewear when trying on an outfit.

• Take a friend with you so that you can get some honest advice.

• Don’t worry about labels or sizes that you think you should be wearing.

• Fashion has no rules. Wear clothes that make you feel good.

• Showing your waist is always a flattering thing to do.

• Buy new pieces to complement what you already have.

• Experiment with different styles to find what works best for you.

• Be brave – try on some things that are different from your usual style.

Whether you're a fan of online shopping or enjoy the experience of rummaging through clothing piles in-store, you still have the opportunity to try on clothes and return them within a certain period if you don’t love them. With traditional fashion rules and labels tossed aside, there's never been a better time to reinvent your style or grow your beloved individual look.

Our last and very favourite piece of advice comes from Shelly, who says: “Enjoy fashion. It's about making yourself feel confident, fabulous and comfortable.”


How should you dress according to age?

Remember, there are absolutely no rules dictating how you should dress, regardless of how many trips around the sun you have had. Don't allow age to hinder you from wearing a garment that catches your eye. The key is to remain true and authentic to your personal style. Choose something that boosts your confidence and makes you feel good because when you feel confident, it radiates outwardly.

How to feel confident in your clothes?

Feeling confident in your clothes is arguably the biggest challenge. It can be especially hard if you are someone who prefers to blend into the background. Finding clothes that you feel align with your authentic style will help you to feel more confident and comfortable. And if you do want to try something new, you don’t have to make drastic changes in your wardrobe. You can start by adding a little bit of colour or adding a pattern to a trusted outfit and then building up the confidence to try new styles.

Meet the experts

Shelly Vella is a seasoned fashion and style director with over 30 years of knowledge and experience in the world of fashion and magazines.

Laura Watson is the Chief Creative Officer at Seasalt Cornwall, who has been with the business for 14 years and began her journey with Seasalt Cornwall as a designer.

Hannah Carroll is a Senior Home, Parenting and Lifestyle Product Writer for Yours, specialising in product testing and reviews. As a mother of three, Hannah loves finding clothes that make her feel fabulous and products that are great for large families.

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