Understanding Body Proportions
This week I thought I’d talk to you about understanding body proportions. Now, I KNOW many of you reading this may roll your eyes at me – you and I both know that you don’t fit what the fashion and sewing pattern industry label as ‘normal’ – that is the number one reason why men and women are taking up sewing. I myself don’t fit the ‘norm’ either.
Yet, I still think it is super important to have an extensive post here on understanding body proportions in order to help those sewing beginners who are flummoxed as to why the sewing pattern they chose to use didn’t work out.
To start with, I’m going to talk you through some of the different ‘types’ of body. And no, we’re not talking apples, pears and such like! 😉
I’m then going to show you how to work out your own body proportions using the head length method. This is a really useful technique for working out whether sewing pattern styles will work for your body type or not. Boom!
Body Proportion Guide
I have created a guide of sorts below – inspired by something similar in the rather old and knackered Joseph-Armstrong “Patternmaking for Fashion Design” book tucked away on my shelf.
You can see from this guide four body types depicted:
- The “ideal” figure
- The thin figure
- The Athletic figure
- The plus sized figure
Now, there is a little more to each of these figures above than meets the eye, and of course there are so many more variations on body proportions.
Body Proportion Variations
These are other body proportion variations to consider.
- Some people may have a wide back and a narrow bust
- Some ladies may be very busty yet have a narrow back
- Others may have a very flat front waist but a protruding back waist
- And yet other ladies could have a protruding tummy and a non-existent butt
Now, lets take a closer look at the depicted figures in the guide above.
The Ideal Figure
The ‘ideal figure’ is never one and the same. I have previously mentioned this in this post when talking about commercial patterns and this post where I talk about making a sloper or block from commercial patterns. Essentially though, the sizing of a sewing pattern or an item of clothing will be based on that brands’ ‘company sizing’.
Thus the ideal figure then is based on the company’s target customer. This is REALLY important to remember. A lot of my recent survey respondents talked about the disparity among pattern sizes. This is the reason!
For many fashion brands, the “ideal” is as depicted here:
- Her body is symmetrical
- There is a difference of between 10-12.5 inches between her bust, waist and hip measurements
- She stands upright with minimal curvature of her spine
- Her body overall is evenly proportioned
Yet, there are companies and brands that have targeted a different body shape and so their products won’t necessarily work for customers in other body type categories.
Lets take me as an example…
My Body Shape
Currently I am:
- 180cm tall
- 102cm / 40in bust
- 86.5cm / 34in natural waist
- 111cm / 43 ¾ in hip
I have 6 inches difference between my bust and waist, and then have 7 inches difference between my waist and hips. With the Western world’s “ideal” being 36-24-36, we can see I am far from ideal. Aw shucks! 😉
Another consideration is that although I am 180cm tall – and thus struggle with length in general – I also have a long upper body, which means buying dresses or anything with sleeves is problematic. Often the dresses are indecent!
The Thinner Figure
The thinner figure body proportions depicted in my illustration isn’t so much thin as proportioned differently from the ‘ideal’.
- Sloping shoulders suggest a rounder back and narrow chest
- The round ness of the back looks to be pushing the bust line down
- Her waist appears thinner than the ideal
- Her hip to mid thigh is much more rounded
- Her legs appear shorter too
The Athletic Figure
The body proportions of the athletic figure resemble a less hourglass-ness than the ‘ideal’.
- Shoulders appear as the ‘ideal’
- Bust is also located in the same position
- From the waist down, everything is a bit thicker
The Plus Sized Figure
The plus sized figure body proportions are most extreme in terms of distance from the ‘ideal’.
- Long sloping shoulders
- Well endowed bust
- Waist is in the same location, but much thicker than the ‘ideal’
- The crotch appears to be higher up
- The legs are curvier too
There is another element to consider on our body proportions; height!
Effect Of Less Height on Body Proportions
If we make each of the figures in my illustration ¾ of a head shorter, we can see that they have become even less proportionately ‘ideal’ when looked at side by side with the western ‘ideal’ – my ladies are definitely shorter and heavier.
Effect Of More Height on Body Proportions
There is also the effect have adding height / lengthening the figure.
In the image above you get an idea of how fashion designers work – using a stretched or lengthened croquis / template as a design guide. The ‘taller than ideal’ figure has been stretched from the waist down, with most of the length added to the legs to give her a thinner, taller appearance. She is now one whole head taller than the ‘ideal’ beside her.
How Do We Use Head Length To Measure Proportion?
You may be wondering just why I am talking about head length when talking about body proportions. Using your head length is a fantastic way to measure your body proportionately, so that you can work out whether a pattern will suit your body.
Start by measuring your head length, from the crown of your head down to your chin. Its a good idea to use a fixed ruler rather than a tape measure. Mine is 23cm / 9 inches.
My height of 180cm can be divided into 23cm to give me my height in head measurements:
180 ÷ 23 = 7.83
My body is therefore almost 8 head lengths long.
This is where the fun starts!
The Rest Of My Body Proportionately
Using a ruler, I can now work out whether the rest of my body falls in terms of the ‘ideal’ proportion.
- 1 head = from my crown to my chin (23cm / 9in)
- 2 heads = 4cm above fullest part of bust
- 3 heads = 6cm below natural waist
- 4 heads = 6cm above crotch (this is the long upper body I mentioned before)
- 5 heads = 6cm below mid thigh
- 6 heads = 8cm below knee (my mid calf is therefore at the correct 6.5 heads)
- 7 heads = 12cm above ankle
- 8 heads = The floor
I made an illustrated version, so you can better see the difference.
By using this technique we can see where key lines of our body lie in proportion to others. I know that from this that I will most likely need to lengthen any upper bodice sections on commercial patterns. I’ll also have to lengthen trousers too; the rise as well as the overall length.
The next stage would be to factor in girth changes – as in, going around the body, rather than from the top down. We’ll cover that in another post. For now, that’s probably enough information to frazzle all our brains right? 😉
Future Plans Regarding Body Proportions
I have something in the pipeline that will be rather awesome for anyone that doesn’t fit the norm… it has to do with pattern making… It has to do with amazing fit… stay tuned for more on that in the near future!
RECOMMENDED READING: If you loved this post and want to read similar posts, why not check out this post on the results from the recent survey I held? There’s also this post on drafting your own circle skirt and this post listing 9 reasons why it’s good to sew!
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