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Understanding Body Shapes: Women Viewed Straight On

Understanding Body Shapes - Womens

This week we will look at understanding body shapes of women straight on, which follows on from my previous post about Understanding Body Proportions. In that post we looked at understanding body proportions in relation to the western world’s ideal. You can read that post here if you missed it.

We looked at how to use our head length as a measuring tool and were then able to plot our body’s proportions more accurately. At the end, we discovered that my body is not much like the ideal, in that I have a longer torso and a wider waist! Oh well! 😉 Did you run through the post to work out your body proportions? If so, what did you find out?

Understanding Body Shapes: Women

This week we will explore different body shapes for women, looking at them straight on. next week we will look at understanding body shapes from different angles. I will explain them in a way that makes sense to me, and hopefully to you too. You don’t need to be a trained designer or pattern cutter for this to make sense – I promise! 🙂 That said, if something doesn’t make sense after reading this, please do pop your question in the comments, and I’ll do my best to reply asap.

The Human Form As A 3D Shape

If we think about our body as being a three dimensional shape, it makes it a lot easier to think about fit and thus understanding body shapes.

‘Common’ body shapes are:

  • Pear / Spoon – upward triangle
  • Apple – downward triangle
  • Banana – rectangular
  • Hourglass (Full and neat) – opposing triangles.
  • Diamond
  • Potato

What do these really mean?

Here’s a visual to help you out, looking at a woman’s body straight on.

Understanding Body Shapes - Womens

  • Pear / Spoon: Waist is a little bit smaller than the bust. Hips are larger than the bust.
  • Apple: Upper body is wider than the hips, with little in the way of waist definition.
  • Banana / Rectangle: The waist is slightly smaller than the equal bust and hip size.
  • Hourglass: Bust and hips are the same with w well defined waist
  • Diamond: The waist is thicker than the bust and hips, with smaller shoulders and smaller
  • Potato: Hips that are narrower than the shoulder, and a waist that is larger than both the ample bust, and the hips

So, how do we break it down in order to understand the effect body shapes have on pattern making? Aha, let me show you the ways my lovely reader!

This week, we’ll look at the body shape straight on, which gives us an inkling but doesn’t tell the full story of how our body shape can affect fit. Lets take a body shape, and wrap a piece of card around that body, from bust to hip. We’ll start with an hourglass.

Hourglass Body Shape

Think of the hourglass figure as having two opposing triangles. The bottom of one triangle is parallel and in line with the hips. The straight edge of the second triangle is also parallel to the ground and is at the shoulder line. The tips of both triangles meet in the middle – at the waist. You can see from the lines the ‘hourglass shape’ forming.

Now, if we take that piece of heavy card and wrap it around our hourglass shape, so that it touches the shoulders and the hips, it would most likely be equal measurements (or thereabouts) at these key points. This gives us a cylinder shape.

If you were the person inside the card, and looked down, you will see and feel space between your waist and the edge of the card.

This is where darts – aka fabric suppression – comes in. If we use darts to take out that excess card, it would fit much closer to your body shape. This is reflected in the charcoal grey areas on the image.

Hour Glass Straight On With Initial Fabric Suppression Guide

Pear Body Shape (AKA Spoon)

Now.. Lets take a pear shape.

The pear body has hips that are larger than the bust. So, when we wrap our piece of card around our pear body, we have more of a cone shape than a cylinder shape.

Pear Straight On With Initial Fabric Suppression Guide

Again there will be space at the waist between the card and waist, and this will need to be suppressed away, but it will be less than if it was the hourglass cylinder. The dart shape would therefore be different to the hourglass darts.

Apple Body Shape

Apple Straight On With Initial Fabric Suppression Guide

An apple shape is like an upside down pear, with the point of cone shape card pointing down to the ground, and not quite as dramatically, instead of up to the sky.

Diamond Body Shape

A diamond body shape has a waist that is thicker than the bust and hips, but narrow shoulders and lower body.
Looking at my drawing, we can see that with the widest part being the waist, a cone could be made from the waist to the bust, or from the waist to the hips. It is essentially a diamond shape.

Diamond Straight On With Initial Fabric Suppression Guide

Potato Body Shape

When you add a full bust to the diamond, you have what could be called a potato shape. There is very little difference between the bust and waist or the bust and hips.

Now that we have an overview of each body shape, let’s lay the card flat and see where the darts would lie on the two dimensional pattern.

Potato Straight On With Initial Fabric Suppression Guide

Banana / Rectangle Body Shape

The banana body shape is quite rectangular, and the card when placed around the body does not need much in the way of fabric suppression.

Banana Straight On With Initial Fabric Suppression Guide

Now, these examples are of course looking at understanding the body shape from the front on. We next need to look at the body from the side. Why?

Figure Variations

That’s right. The gazillion figure variations that exist all work to build up a body shape. Looking at our body from straight on, using a mirror or a photo, isn’t the only way to assess our body shape, as it doesn’t;t give us an accurate idea of what we need to be doing for the best fit. And as understanding body shapes for women is key to being able to achieve a great fit, THAT is what we shall be focusing on next week…

Check out the other posts in this series:

  1. Understanding Body Proportions
  2. Understanding Body Shape: Straight On (This Post)
  3. Understanding Body Shape: Around The Body
  4. Realistic Patterns: For All Shapes and Sizes


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Thursday 1st of June 2023

Wow! I feel like I've struck gold with your site. Thank you for all the detailed information you've shared over the years.

I am VERY interested in the continuation of this series. It's literally how I found your site, tirelessly searching for better guidance on understanding shape and proportions.


Sunday 31st of January 2021

Hi, will you be continuing this series? I'm very much interested in learning about body shapes in terms of around the body, as I have not heard of that previously (not that it says much, as I'm very new when it comes to learning how to sew and create patterns, though your website has been a wealth of information for me, so thank you so very much!!)

Eve Tokens

Thursday 4th of February 2021

Hi S! Yes - this is on my very long list of articles to write - and now that I know there is interest, I'll bump it up! :) And I'm very happy that you've enjoyed the website so far! Makes me feel very chuffed!


Thursday 11th of May 2017

Hi there Eve I am just looking at all your very hard work it is totally Amazing you are so very clever. As I said before I have no sight in my right eye so for me too sew or even just read up on how too do sewing or pattern making will take me some time.

But would love too know how too make my own patterns for one thing they sure are really pricey and the tissue they are printed wouldnt be strong enough to blow ya nose on lol lol it should be much thicker as we pay a heck of a loy for them Grrrr lol lol. I look forward too your next e/mail Jan xxxx

Eve Tokens

Tuesday 16th of May 2017

Hi Jan! Blowing your nose on a tissue pattern! I love that! Traditional patterns are so thin aren't they? I actually use PDF patterns occasionally now. I have a few I've bought online, and am slowly printing and sticking them together. But there's nothing quite like drafting my own patterns. I find it to be so much fun! Hope all is good your end! Best, Eve x