Friday, April 3, 2009

Dressing a Pear Shape: End the A-Line Tyranny!

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.

Pear ShapeFirst, 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.

Front 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"

Pocket 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

I think I'm in Love... 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.

5-16-07 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).

1-16-09 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:

Front-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.

More versus less A Line

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!


Darija said...

what a great post for pears! I totally agree about the A-line skirts- I won't go near 'em. I stick to pencil, straight, and the ones with a flare at the very bottom- not sure what it's called.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a pear at all, but it was a great read. The A line skirts do look good on you (and I dislike them myself) and with a fitted top I can see being great.

Also being busty I don't deal with it, but ruffles along the collar/button placket/front make small busts looks larger (and clownish if you have them).

And what do you mean sitting in ridiculously high heels? LOL I have CAMPED in them because I refused to be parted from my 4" heels. I have chased a group of boy scouts across Dallas in them. My feet hurt if I don't wear them enough! (Okay, they're not for everyone, and I really don't recommend camping in them. I don't suggest camping at all.) In all seriousness, I was taught to wear heels that were as high as you could comfortably do everything else, which is why 2" ones are so popular.

goodworks1 said...

lol. grin.

Thanks for the very thorough discussion of dressing your pear shape. Showing all those pictures to illustrate your points moves this post up another level to fabulous. It's fun reading through your process of determining your preferences and comparing it with my own 40+ year journey through living with this shape.

But I was chuckling because as I skimmed over your photos before reading the text I noted to myself how slim and svelte you looked in the A-line skirts, especially that New Look dress at the end. I think I can chalk up the difference between your evaluation and mine to an age thing and to what look or shape we expect to see when we look in the mirror or at a photo. (I first sewed A-line skirts and dresses in the mid to late 1960s.)

I think you look great in any of the skirts that hover around your knees because your knees and lower legs are slim and shapely. I personally avoid anything shorter than my lower calves because my legs are more like tree trunks and unfortunately the ankles get thicker as the day wears on.


Nancy K said...

I think that you have a great handle on what looks good on you. I am a large busted pear, a bit different, but with narrow shoulders, I am definitely wider on the bottom. I too think that the high waisted skirts are flattering, especially with a softer blouse. Anything that widens the shoulders is usually good, as you've listed. To sew clothes we love to wear, we really have to sew what looks good on us, and not everything that looks good in the magazines or catalogs.
Great post.

loopylulu said...

Do you watch Mad Men? There is a woman Joan on the show who is a very busty pear. They have her wearing a pencil skirt in almost every episode. I read an interview by the woman who plays the character and she basically came to the same conclusion as you, that her shape does look good in fitted skirts over the looser, A-line style.

Beth Conky said...

I think you have a cute figure and you look fine in all the styles you've tried. Take it from someone who's whole family is very large chested (my daughter who wears a D cup thinks she has a flat chest- her poor sisters wear F's). It aint' all it's cracked up to be.

Big Sis said...

I'm not a pear-shape either, although there are definite aspects I can relate to (small bust, high waist), and you kept me intrigued all the way through. You do a great job with your shapes/styles, and gave me my own ideas. Now, for action...

Uta said...

Thanks for the many interesting ideas; as another pear I'm sure to return to this post.
I agree with you that it's important to try something different to see if it works. Even if I had found my perfect pattern in the perfect color I'd be bored to tears if I didn't try something else from time to time. I also agree very much that it isn't/ shouldn't be about "hiding" one's body parts, but rather flattery and proportion. BTW, love that dirndl dress!

Anonymous said...

OMG! What a great post; it was so thoughtful and well supported. Now who's going to do the analysis for the shapeless, post-baby, never get to exercize body?

Shannon said...

We basically have the same body (except I'm a smidgen taller) and I agree with all that you posted. I do find though that I shy away from straight or pegged skirts simply because I hate emphasizing my saddlebags. I am more amenable to straight skirts in the summer when I tend to exercise more and my upper legs become more toned. I think my favourite skirt shape is a full skirt - you can hide anything under them!

spottedroo said...

Huh, my first thought was that the A-lines look more girlish, while the straight/tulip skirts are more womanly. I just started sewing / reading sewing blogs a few months ago, and I really love seeing how people who've been sewing a long time have figured out what shapes and colors complement them best. I feel like I've become more comfortable with my body since starting to sew, but maybe its just that my pants fit better. Great post! said...

Very nice!

Some days I would really like to have hips. I have one hip that is sort of a normal narrow hip and another that is COMPLETELY FLAT.

Now that is hard to keep from being obvious.

I think you look great - totally confident, approachable, and lively.

Katherine said...

Thank you so much! I have a similar shape, and since I got into sewing I've been trying to work out the styles that would most flatter. You seem to have crystallized everything into one handy post! Thanks, and keep it up!

Daisy said...

Excellent piece! I am in complete agreement with you. My experience has been that additional seams, such as the princess seam trumpet skirt, breaks up space in a pleasing manner.

Dawn said...

I, like you, am pear-shaped and am always trying to figure out what is most flattering for my shape. I really like your comparison photos. Thanks for this!

KayY said...

I am a pear also but taller and with a very standard B cup on top. But there's a good 6" of difference between bust and waist. I think the pencil skirt works on pears who are prepared to show off their womanly curves, as you are, but only if they are pegged at the hem. A truly straight skirt is as wide as possible - not a good look. Personally, I think you are being way too hard on yourself re the pink A-line. It looks adorable on you and absolutely does not make you look wide! By contrast it really emphasizes your shapely calves, especially when worn with a top that has a wide neckline.

Lori said...

What a great, informative post. You have such a good understanding of what looks good on you.

kiltsnquilts said...

Great post. I also would tend to disagree with you about the A-line, as a pear shape myself I feel they make me look wider, but the photo of you in the hot pink skirt is very flattering, your lower legs look very slim and so does your top half (although maybe a slightly more fitted top at the waist) - it looks as if the width is in the skirt rather than you. I also think the New Look dress looks more flattering, but that may be because of the longer boots?! JMHO.
Thanks for the objective view, maybe taking photos of myself in an outfit and viewing it on screen as if it is someone else, might .help

Paola said...

Hi, I've been lurking around your blog for a while now and this post has lured me out of my cave!
I lived life thinking I was a pear, until I read "The Body Shape Bible" by Trinny and Susannah (mentioned in the first comment) and discovered I am in fact a cello. They even say something in the book about cellos like "you may think you are a pear, but in reality you are nothing like her". That is, I have the saddlebags and broad hips of a pear (boy,do I), but I also have broad shoulders, short waist and a bust which takes me out of pear territory. This has changed my perspective quite a bit!
Pear or no, I enjoyed this post, and agree that you look fab in practically everything. Love your blog. It has inspired me to try sewing again, after a 15 year hiatus. Cheers...

Sigrid said...

I enjoyed to read this post. Not sure about my own figure (hourglass or pear) it is good to read this with all the pictures. Inspiring me to have a good look at my wardrobe and see what works or not with a better eye for it. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I'm a small pear shape with a bosom or Trinny and Susanna say "cello", but I positively despise trumpet shape skirts. There is something about the proportion on me that makes me look (and feel)dumpy - only heightened by the fact it is my only skirt option for work uniform.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this great post! As you say, it is all about personal style, but you've got some valuable points there. I think tapering a straight skirt to a narrow hem looks great on you, as does the (above-knee length)trumpet skirt. Above knee suits you so well! The dirndl skirt dress is too cute, and I know what you mean with the A-line. I find that using soft, flowy fabric is much better (and gives rather a trumpet shape)for those Alines than a bit stiffer fabric. It makes me (also a pear) look bigger. Have you tried a tiered skirt? You got to try out which height the second tier starts, just above the saddle bags I found works best.
I find that photoshopping a picture is a good way to try out styles. Eg. I found that I would have liked your Empire dress better with a lower waist... But then, it's just personal preferences. I really enjoy your sewing, you create such wonderful things. Keep us posted!

Anonymous said...

This is an excellent post. Your shape is a lot like mine and i appreciate the lengths to which you went to find flattering skirts. I do however want to disagree about the a-line pink skirt. It looks fabulous on you, as do the others.

Btw. Had to laugh at reading in another post how you came of age during the low waist tyranny. I came of age in the 80s, having been born in the 60s. I still shudder at the memory of harem pants and huge shoulder pads.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I found this via a link from PatternReview and kbenco's blog. A very enjoyable post. I am the type of pear that T&S call a "skittle" or bowling pin -- one size on top, and another on the bottom! I have very square shoulders, an average bust, a long and skinny waist, and a big behind (not too much saddlebag though). My legs and arms are both short. I have worn pencil skirts for years and I agree, I think they are absolutely great when paired with a printed or ruffly blouse. I very much enjoyed your observations on T-shirt dresses, which I've completely shied away from, the tip about a CB seam is one I will use.

I find that straight skirts with panels are also are very flattering; and also with my short arms and high waist a 3/4 sleeve is much better as the sleeve ends a) above my wrist and b) at the narrowest point of my body. Knee-length coats and long jackets are also good for me, as are swing jackets that end just below the bottom -- the impression is that the whole of me is as narrow as my shoulders and legs.

Thanks for a great post.

nommh said...

Greetings from a rectangle. At this moment I'm wearing a Vogue Pattern Skirt. Hips size 6, waist about size 12.

So we all have fitting problems, but I think you solve yours phantastically.

Thanks for your blog and this great post.

kohlcass said...

This is fantastic advice... I am a pear with a high waist and although I love buying from the internet, I am always hesitant about buying dresses (especiallyhigh waisted dresses) as I am unsure they would suit it me. This is great post!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this post. I've been trying to figure out what kind of skirt to buy for my long tiny waist, short leg, pear-shaped body! I've always thought that a higher waist pencil skirt SHOULD suit me as anytime I buy a regular waist skirt it rides up to my natural waist and I have to keep pulling it down. And I have also read that I should wear A-line skirts, but I have always thought that they make me look bigger and that it is out of necessity. I think you look amazing in the pencil skirt, so I have to go out and find one now. Unfortunately, I don't sew! :o( Thanks again.

kaylee said...

LOVE this post! makes so much sense - i am a pear too and unfortunately have been one with a very inappropriate dress sense all this while. Am trying re-style myself and your post is so encouraging. Will definitely be reading the rest of the blog :)

One thing though - I keep reading that for pears/short legs, we are supposed to 1)go for heels and 2) avoid shoes with ankle straps. I notice most of your shoes have ankle straps! they do seem to cut you down shorter.. Why don't you try a comparison - am sure the shoes will add an impact to your dresses/skirts!

Anonymous said...

I don't know how I got to this link; I googled "straight skirts for pear shaped women" and ended up here. I want to thank you for your opinion!! I struggle mightily with dressing my body in flattering styles despite my size. Although I'm trying to lose weight, I'm trying to dress me as the woman I am now but with SO many opinions, it's hard to know the way to go. What's even more amazing is you SEW! I have that same pattern (Simplicity 5914) but I was unsure if I could use it, though I thought it was very pretty! I'm cutting it out today, tyvm! Thanks again for putting your thoughts out there - 9 months later, you're still a help!

Heather said...

I just came across It has some great before and after photos. They seem to agree with you. I also do and love this post. I come back and read it every now and then just to prove I'm not crazy. NO A-lines for me thank you very much.

Deborah Bancroft said...

Hiya -- I know this post was a long time ago, but I'm hoping you'll see my question -- I love this article, and especially the trumpet skirt re-fit, I'm making about fifty of those immediately! But I wanted to know whether you made the gorgeous magenta top you're wearing with the rough tweed trumpet skirt and, if so, what pattern is it? I am VERY short waisted, so I never ever tuck and I'm always looking for tops with non-tenty extended hems or peplums.

ANYway -- thanks very much!

The Slapdash Sewist said...


The blouse is Simplicity 4047. It is now out of print but the pattern seems fairly plentiful in the resale market so you should be able to find it. I need to make it again now that I know how to do a broad back adjustment--I split the seams in the back just moving my arms. :(

Unknown said...

I just want to thank you for this post! We could nearly be body doubles, so this has helped me Immensely as I plan my pattern purchases to sew my new wardrobe! Thank You!!! I know this post is older than my comment, but I am just so grateful :)

Tai said...

Thank you!! I never had a mentor for how to dress stylishly and this post has greatly increased my knowledge on how to appropriately dress for my shape! I also can't believe how much your outfits lengthen your petite size! Well done :D

Verena Valeria said...

Hi! I really like your post. You make styles work for you that are not supposed to work on a pear shaped body. I actually found it very helpful as well seeing myself on pictures to judge if an outfit is great on me or not. A mirror just does not do the same job.
I am taking pictures of my outfits every day (and blogging about what works and what does not so well). If you would like to take a look, here is my blog:
Maybe there is something useful for you as well.
Best, Verena Valeria
PS:I did not find a peplum that I like on me until now, but once my no shopping challenge is over, I will look for one.

ColorfulVoid said...

Hello ! Thanks for this article full of useful advices ! You're completely right to reject the A-line, I personally hate it on myself and when I was searching for advices on how to dress for maximizing the silhouette, I couldn't find another style... A-lines everywhere what the heck ?

My silhouette is, I admit, a little difficult to dress and it's now that I'm learning to sew that I'm beginning to understand why I find so little flattering garments.
I have
- an oval face with a long chin (so I find that V-shaped collars are not flattering for me),
- narrow shoulders (store-bought clothes are always too large there),
- small bust combined with very large bosom (think HH cups!),
- short waist,
- protruding tummy
- large hips and thighs making me a pear-shaped "8",
- curved back, making my profile looks like an "s" shape
- large bum,
- short frame (4"12) and legs.
Now you understand why sewing for myself is the best solution XD XD (even if it's fiddly to adjust patterns when you're a beginner)
The skirts from your article that I could easily see on myself are the tulip and peplum ones...