Archive for August 2009

“The Lucky shopping manual” – advice for the pear shaped

August 27, 2009

An attractive and interesting book, but sadly the advice about what’s best for the pear shaped or small busted is the opposite of what works for me.

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Note : Butterick-McCall’s-Vogue has changed their websites. My BMV links now only get you to a page where you can search for a pattern number.
I apologise that I haven’t changed to the new individual URLs, but it would be a lot of work.

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In the section on Jackets , they suggest a classic blazer for the pear shaped. Oh dear. Have they never noticed how ridiculous someone looks when the top of their jacket is too large and floppy with nothing inside to fill it, while the hip area is bursting and straining at the buttons. Not an attractive look.

ReadyToWear jackets are not made with enough fabric in the seam allowances at the hip level. So it isn’t possible to let them out to increase the hip area by 2 or 3 sizes.

Here’s where we sewers who can make our own clothes have such strengths and advantages. Though a fitted lined jacket is definitely not a beginners’ project. It’s wondrous the way a well fitted garment makes someone look as if they have no figure flaws.

Here are some of the alternatives to blazers that I like :

Fitted above the waist and fuller below the waist, such as McCalls 5594, McCalls 5766, or McCalls 5936 :


or simply released pleats without a waist seam, such as Butterick 5393, or Vogue 8600 :


or a flared or tucked style that doesn’t fit to the waist, such as McCalls 5638, or McCalls 5762 :


(The smock-like version would need to be longer and without the strong horizontal trim line to look good on me.)

Notice most of these examples have large collars – a good way of drawing attention up to the face, and giving more visual ‘weight’ to the upper body.

And for Tops to enhance a small bust, the Lucky book suggests a stretchy top with gathering at the bust. Well, what could emphasise the smallness of my bust more than wearing a stretched fabric, making it obvious there isn’t anything there to stretch it. Definitely best not.

In her Spring/ Summer Newsletter 2009, Pati Palmer talks about ‘essence of waistline’. My personal preference for disguising my small bust is to use woven fabrics for tops, with darts to give ‘essence of bosom’.

Jeans and pants : To minimise your butt, this book suggests large centred pockets on jeans. Goodness, perhaps people with large butts emblazoned with large centred pockets never appear in New York City, or these authors might change their minds.

The best advice I’ve seen on back pockets for large backs was, I think, in Burda WOF magazine. Oddly enough, it suggested what the Lucky manual says for pants : use high welt pockets just under the yoke. (Sorry I can’t find the drawing.). Not classic jeans style, but at least it doesn’t put a large square on a large round, and so draw attention to a large blodge. Well, a large square is better than a small one 😀

For front pockets, they suggest curved pockets for pear shapes. Perhaps these work well for people with a silhouette which tapers out gradually from waist to widest part. But below my indented waist and high hips, this sort of curved pocket just points outwards, saying ‘look here’. I prefer slanted pockets.

Here are the alternatives, McCalls 5394, and McCalls 5239 :


Sorry these images aren’t perfectly size matched. But I think they show how you can use curved horizontal pockets if you want more curves, and straight slanted pockets if you want less 😀

I do agree that in-side-seam pockets are not good in a fitted garment over curvy hips. Particularly with my high hips, it’s almost impossible to make them lie flat without gaping. Sad, as this is the easiest type of pocket to make.

Dresses : There I was, thinking how lucky I was to be a teenager in the 50s (though only because of this feature of the clothes), when the dresses had tiny tops which emphasised my neatness above the waist, and voluminous skirts which disguised where my hips were. But these Lucky editors strongly tell everyone not to wear them. Perhaps that’s true if you’re a size 0 rectangle shape. But I think 50s style dresses are a good idea if you’re a 14 on top and 18 below (sewing pattern sizes) and want to look size 14 overall. Though I admit you do look better with a trim waist (achieved by most people in the 50s by wearing the obligatory corset).

Here are a couple of examples, Butterick 5350, and Butterick 5320 :


I’m sure I have a lot more to learn about the best styling for my shape, but these are what I’ve found flattering so far from personal experience.

This Lucky book includes much that is useful and food for thought. It gives good advice on looking trendy and stylish. There are some things that work immediately for me, plus inspiration for a lot of thought about how to take the essence of their styling suggestions and adapt them from ‘wouldn’t be seen dead in’ to ‘looking good’. But I don’t think the authors have ever actually looked at someone pear-shaped.

Patterns available August 09.

The Dreaded Black Blazer

August 12, 2009

This wardrobe plan scores the highest number of suggested things I would never wear. Fascinating. I first read this plan a year ago and it’s still seared into my memory.

The plan is on the Wardrobe Oxygen site

1. black tailored pant suit in seasonless fabric
2. black seasonless trousers

If anyone tells me to wear black or a tailored blazer, I run screaming to the hills. I look very ill and really ugly in black, did even when young. When I was a very successful professional I didn’t wear tailored or structured clothes or a notched lapel jacket. I don’t feel comfortable or myself when I put them on.

3. jeans
4. dressy jeans

Well, I love practical denim and try to find it in other colours, but indigo blue is not flattering on me.

5. black heeled boots
6. black leather pumps

High heels – thank goodness we don’t have to wear them anymore (though I’ve got a fabulous pair of navy boots I’ve never been able to part with). Pumps I do wear on formal occasions. But black ones would be very unflattering to my leg skin tone.

7. not so little black dress
I’ve never owned anything at all like a ‘little black dress’ – wow, how have I managed to get through life without going to a cocktail party. Let’s see, I look terrible in black, sheath dresses are unflattering on me and a hassle to fit, strappy dresses slide straight off my sloping shoulders. . .

8. silver hoop earrings
My skin has yellow tones so silver is not good on me. I’ve got a long neck so could wear long earrings, but I’m old enough now for my crepey neck to be a feature it’s best not to draw attention to.

9. black or grey merino V-neck sweater
12. slim v-neck sweater in signature colour

V-necks – ah well, I have a long neck and long head, so if I wear a v-neck I look like a giraffe. That is also true of a jewel neckline. Wider slightly curved necks are good on me. V-necks can look discordant on people with rounded or square jawlines.
I actually have got some non-V-neck merino sweaters in my signature colour.

10. trendy skirt
11. trendy jacket/ blazer

I do like ‘trendy jackets’ – something a bit unusual as I don’t feel or look good in the classic shapes, but no sort of jacket fits well into my current lifestyle.
And a trendy skirt ? well my knees have always been ugly (family heirloom) and my ankles now aren’t much better, so short skirts have never been good on me.

13. signature accessory
Hurrah – I’m a handbag freak. Beware having a closet full of them 😀

14. sparkly evening shell or top
Ah well, I’m not really a shiny sparkly sequin sort of person. Lace and embroidery are my favourite embellishments.

15. the perfect tee – or two
Oh dear, tees. I have a small bust cup, and it’s best not to wear anything tight. I prefer to keep that fact about myself a bit disguised !

16. well fitting winter wool coat
Again, classic tailored shapes are not good on me. I have some cosy stylish padded jackets.

17. great fitting bras
Yes indeed – several thousand percent of agreement with this, even though I’ve got too small a bust to wear a bra often myself.

18. panty line free underwear
Absolutely, there should be a law about this, and about bra lines too.

19. a pashmina or wrap
I used to have fun wearing a poncho, but generally find the shape of a shawl is inconvenient and uncomfortable.

20. clutch purse
Very fashionable at the moment, but what a hassle to have to remember all the time to keep hold of it.

21. daily purse
Of course, except mine is a basket and I don’t think that is what she has in mind !

22. sexy shoes that can be worn for at least five hours
See heels above. I’ve never owned a ‘sexy’ pair of shoes, not my style. But yes, every pair of shoes I own must get through a day of being walked in without harming my feet in any way.

23. sunglasses
Yes indeed, but do take great care in choosing them. Never buy without a mirror to see yourself. A pair that complements your face shape is much more important than fashion. I have a large head and look silly in the currently fashionable small lenses.

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Of course there are many people who will love this list, find it very helpful, and want everything on it. But it doesn’t match everyone’s best colours, body shape, lifestyle, or personal style. Me, I just get to wear undies with my sunglasses and purse 😀

My own wardrobe staple is a white shirt. I’ve got embarrassing numbers of them. But they get no mention on this list. I know there are people who look as bad in white as I do in black, and people who are unhappy in a shirt. How dull life would be if everyone wore a white shirt and a black suit 😀

Personal Croquis

August 6, 2009

To make good pattern choices, it’s useful to have a drawing of our own body shape.

Fashion designers often sketch their styles over a drawing of the human body which is called a croquis. You can even get pre-printed pads of them – though those are for ideal model bodies. (‘Croquis’ is a french word pronounced ‘crow-kee’.)

As Imogen Lamport points out in her Body Shape Bible, there are 3 important aspects of your body shape :
– your silhouette from the front (me – I have an indented waist, and larger hips under prominent high hips),
– your length proportions (me – I’m very short waisted, so most style advice for people with a small waist makes me look all hip),
– your special features (me – small bust, flat rear, protruding tummy).

Here’s my body image for wearing a fitted top and belt.
No insult intended to hobbits, but I don’t think this is an ideal look for a human. It is the sort of thing you may be able to check for by using a croquis.

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Making your personal croquis

Here are 4 possible approaches.

In the recommended method for making a personal croquis, you are supposed to :
– take a photo of yourself in your undies
– trace round the outline of your photo so you have a drawing of your body silhouette.
– sketch the proposed garment over this body shape diagram, to see if it suits.

There are very detailed instructions on making a croquis from photos in Gale Grigg Hazen’s book ‘Fantastic fit for every body’ (best selection of copies from AbeBooks).

Drawing neatly around the edge of a silhouette is not something I have the skills to do (I have shaky hands).
What I did was print the photo out on card. Cut out around the photo, and turn it over so I’m not distracted by the details of the photo.

Get someone else to do the drawing for you, though you still have to take the photos. Here’s a service from Najah Carroll.

No photos needed. Use a drawing which has been computer-generated from some basic body measurements : My Body Model.
The shape they draw doesn’t work for everyone. They don’t include the special features of my body (such as sloping shoulders and high hip bones) which are the reason why I need help with knowing what shapes look good on me.

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Using a personal croquis

When you use one of these aids for getting a picture of your own shape, you still have to do your own sketching of possible styles. My Body Model have a beginners’ video on that.

I’m not much good at that, so I often simply compare my shape by eye with a line diagram of a pattern I’m interested in. Less accurate, but gives a starter idea.

Here for example is me, compared with Sewing Workshop’s Deja Vu pattern. Oh dear, obviously not. Though I love the style it’s not for me.


Sadly, it would make me look like a balloon ! I may make it even so. The construction looks intriguing, and it would be a cosy cuddle-up for winter. But I won’t expect it to be flattering 😀

(This version of my body shape is the diagram for a short-waisted pear from the former Littlewood’s site information about Trinny and Susannah. Sadly the diagrams are not in their body shape book.
The big differences from my actual shape are that I’m unusually short from armhole to waist, and as I have a long head+neck my length proportions are unusual.)

And how about this Issey Miyake Vogue 1114 design, which Vogue Patterns recommend for the triangular of shape. Maybe it would look good on some of us, but I don’t think it’s worth trying for me.


While this Vogue 8509 dress pattern, with it’s vertical bodice pleats, could be something I would wear, if these days I ever did have reason to wear a dress.


Making this comparison has been a real ‘eye opener’. I thought I was allowing for my ‘bottom heavy’ shape in making pattern choices, but I’ve completely changed the patterns I go for since I started using this tool.

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Originally written August 09, updated May 2020, patterns not now available.

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Happiest clothes ?

August 4, 2009

Am also realising that I need a different approach to finding my personal style. When I read the styles on offer in a wardrobe book (classic, romantic, casual, boho, dramatic. . .) I tie myself in knots to try to get myself to fit in, but it just doesn’t feel right. Instead, if I write a list of what’s essential for me to enjoy wearing my clothes, then my style emerges quite easily :

What nakes me happy :

– comfortable and easy to move in
– natural fabrics or fleece
– simple, softer but ‘designer’ lines
– not attention grabbing.
– quality of fabric, fit, construction
– a touch of embroidery or lace
– texture rather than print
– perhaps a touch of quirkiness in accessories or jewellery.
– I look best in light warm colours
– neatly fitted shoulders and waist, and raised neckline, show off my body best.
– I love swirling, and picking up my skirts is one of the pleasures of a formal occasion

What; makes me unhappy :

– anything that hangs loose or drags, that can get caught or dragged in the dirt.
– structured clothes which don’t bend easily
– hard edges
– for some reason I look ugly in a notched lapel collar.
– I look very ugly in black, and indigo blue is not far behind.
– my knees have never been good, and my ankles usually are best not seen.

This, along with my simple ‘croquis’ of my body shape, makes a good check list when looking at patterns.

Celebrate !

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