There's an interesting thread on PR about how to best flatter a pear shape. I spend a fair amount of time on my blog talking about how to fit (and implicitly flatter) a small bust, but my pear shape influences my style as much as my small bust so I'll give it a little attention here.
First, what does "pear" mean? Every pear is different and we all have our unique insecurities. I think the most basic definition is that your hips/thighs are wider than your shoulders, with a more or less defined waist somewhere in between.
I would add to that definition "smaller bust than hip measurement." Some argue there's such a thing as a "bosomy pear," which is different than an hourglass, because when viewed from behind the hips are the widest part of the body. I'm not really sure I buy that, and at any rate I am no help in dressing a bosomy pear body, LOL.
My particular pear shape has the following additional elements: very small bust, high waist, protruding tummy, wide thighs (meaning my widest part is actually a little below the hip), long torso, short legs, and very short overall (5' 1.5").
The PR thread links to You Look Fab's 2006 and 2007 posts about flattering styles for pears, which are quite detailed and useful. I completely agree on her advice for top/jacket length (never ending at your widest part) and plain flat front pants. She makes an excellent point about emphasizing the waist, and not going too shapeless because when you wear something too sacky everything looks as wide as the widest part of you. I take issue with the fact that we're all supposed to wear the highest heels possible at all times. Some of us have lives that require a little more mobility than just sitting on a barstool drinking a cocktail! Her advice is pretty much standard for pear shape dressing advice.
The big place I depart from the usual advice is skirt shape. I have always accepted the conventional wisdom that an A line is better for a pear shape, but I am questioning that lately. I feel like the flare of an A line actually widens me across the hips and saddlebags and almost negates having a smaller waist.
I am still not entirely comfortable wearing more fitted skirts and I feel like I look unproportional and larger than I am in them. But objectively, I think straight and pencil lines are flattering to me (as long as the bodice isn't too fitted to emphasize how small I am on top). It's a matter of getting past the discomfort of all the good advice out there that advises you to hide, disguise, cloak, and misdirect your shape. I have a curvy bum and thighs. That is fact. Whether that's good or bad is all a matter of taste.
A good example for a pencil line is this dress, BWOF 11-2007-106. When I first made it and wore it I felt like I was all hips and saddlebag (and belly, but that's sort of another topic), but looking at the pic I can see that it's a very feminine silhouette and although I am clearly wider at the bottom than the top, it doesn't look off balance. I think that's because it has the perfect confluence of elements that allow a pear to wear a pencil line:
-Less fitted top
-Ruffle detail at neck and sleeves draws eyes upward
-Puffy sleeves balance larger lower half
-Empire line shows off narrow ribcage and waist
-Narrowed bottom hem gives visual effect of "curvaceous" not "wide"
The trend toward high waists is good for the pear. I have a high waist, which I don't think is necessarily a defining characteristic for a pear but I would be surprised if there are many pears who have a low waistline. My narrowest part is my ribcage and I start flaring out from there. A high waisted skirt, like the Burdastyle Kasia, takes advantage of that narrow ribcage and emphasises a high, narrow waist. Key elements here:
-High waist captures narrow ribcage/higher natural waist
-Long waistline mitigates flare of hip/thigh by visually stretching the body, so the hip/thigh flare doesn't seem as abrupt
-Side buttons divide hip area into three "blocks," with each block narrower than a traditional center closure two block look or side/back closure unitary front. Contrast color side panels (as in this project Carolyn is contemplating) would give the same effect.
-Ruching at side and back yoke panels makes wider hips look like design detail rather than body contour
Another way that a pear can wear a straight or pencil line is with a peplum blouse, like this Vogue 8196. I am a huge fan of the peplum for a pear shape. In this instance the outfit works because:
-Midriff band emphasizes waist, making peplum flare look like a design choice rather than a necessity to accommodate hip
-Relatively high waist, as with high waisted skirt, stretches the distance between waist and hips, making the hip/thigh flare look more gradual and proportional
-Peplum flare is wider than hip, so hip looks relatively small in comparison
-Blouse is long enough to obscure high hip, but does not cut off body at widest spot
If you're not ready for a straight or pencil line, a trumpet shape is very flattering for a pear. The flare at the bottom works like the flare of a bootcut jean: where the hem is approximately as wide as your widest part, it balances the heaviness of hips/thighs. It creates a "mini hourglass," which gives an overall impression of the entire outfit and body as balanced and hourglass. I think it is more classically feminine and sophisticated than a straight A line with the same balancing effect.
Simplicity 5914 is a perfect example (though remember that I had to dramatically shorten the distance between hip and hem flare to get it to suit my proportions).
-Hugs curves of bum and upper thigh for ultra-feminine look
-Flares out at lower thigh to de-emphasize saddlebags
-Reaches full flare at knee, so that skirt has hourglass proportions, meaning approximately equal widths in approximately equal proportions.
If the flare is much lower, as in the first iteration I made of this skirt, you lose the sense of balance--there is a short stretch of width at the hip/thigh, then a narrowing, and then a much longer stretch that gradually flares out to below the knee. That just creates another pear shape!
-In a length that can be viewed in a quick glance for instant hourglass perception(rather than having to sweep the eyes down to the calf or floor to get the full visual effect).
The tulip skirt (this one is BWOF 9-2007-116) is another style that pears are told we should never ever wear. I completely disagree! As with a peplum, the tulip skirt exaggerates the hips. That sounds bad but again, as with the peplum, the skirt is clearly larger than the hips underneath, which makes them look smaller. The tulip skirt looks like a style choice, rather than a necessary accommodation.
In this outfit we see:
-Fitted top to emphasize smaller shoulders and waist.
-Sweater buttoned just under bust to increase the illusion of curve there and build up the bust.
-Tulip skirt that hits right at natural waist showcases waist and disguises true size of hips.
-Shorter hem on skirt avoids heaviness and shows a few inches above knee, where the pear's legs start to narrow.
Admittedly, it is trickier to wear a straight dress than a straight skirt. I am definitely still working on this. After I was unhappy with BWOF 04-2008-128, IreneQ suggested on the pattern review that I make such styles to skim rather than fit.
I have shied away from t-shirt style dresses because of my pear shape, but I really loved 09-2009-119 so much that I had to try. I haven't reviewed this yet but I'll give a sneak peek of what I'll say:
-I added a CB seam so there would be shaping over the booty
-I made sure it had shape at the waist BUT I didn't bring it all the way in--this is much more ease than I'd usually have at the waist, 3-4 inches--so there wouldn't be such a huge difference between waist and hips
-Plenty of ease at hip as well, to continue the easy fit style
-I underlined with a fairly thick knit that smoothes over lumps and bumps
-As with the first example, the wider sleeves help balance out the hips/thighs, while the drop shoulder and wider neck add a little perceived width to my frame
Contrast the above with a traditional A line skirt, supposedly the best for a pear shape. Now, I love this skirt. I love the color and I love the tulle trim on the bottom, and it happens to be a lovely Italian silk.
But I never wear it because I think it makes me look needlessly wide. Rather than emphasizing my waist (also partly the fault of the less fitted top in that photo) and my feminine curves, it just sort of makes me look like there's nothing interesting under there and that I get wider and wider as you go down.
I still wear plenty of full skirts! I love dresses with a fitted bodice or midriff and a wider skirt. They are easy to wear and I don't at all think about how my belly, booty, hips, or thighs look because they're safely tucked away under lots of fabric. But even for those, I almost always go either for a gathered dirndl-style skirt as with McCall 5382 here, or a circle skirt as in BWOF 05-2008-127. The gathered skirt doesn't get too much wider at the hem, the way an A line has a flare that echoes the flare of the hip/thigh. The circle skirt widens quickly and dramatically, so it doesn't really reveal the size of the hips underneath; plus, the bias helps it flow well.
In addition, when making a dress with a full skirt I almost always have a fitted waist that is right at or (even better) above natural waist, as with Butterick 5209 or New Look 6394. This takes advantage of the narrow ribcage/waist and makes the full skirt appear to be a style decision rather than a necessity.
If it as an A line, I want it be gradual and tame. Compare Simplicity 4074 versus New Look 6429. The New Look is at a bit of a disadvantage here because it's too long, but if you can set aside the length you can see that the A line flare is too much, and it widens rather than complements my hips and thighs. Whereas the gradual and slight A line of the Simplicity creates a longer, leaner line.
I am in no way trying to create an Unbreakable Rule here. Style depends so much more on your personal body than on a generic way of describing your shape. Which is why I think it's a shame that pear shaped women are invariably admonished to wear an A line. Everyone needs to experiment and find out what makes her look and feel her best. And by "best" I don't mean most decorative, most traditional, or most feminine--I mean most confident. If you're too uncomfortable in a straight skirt to wear one, the world is not going to come to an end!