Pants styles and body shapes

The Eileen Fisher summer ‘system’ skirt and pant styles wouldn’t work well for me. ‘No’ to my body shape in short skirts, leggings, and fashion jeans ! I think styles like these only suit people who’re shapely enough below the waist to draw attention to themselves in that area. Which I’m not.

So here’s what I’ve been thinking about styles and shapes – nowhere near a complete analysis !

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Very brief points about fit

I confess to being more interested nowadays in comfort and freedom of movement than high fashion for my own clothes. And that means clothes with loose fit, more ease. There’s interesting information about the amount of ease in different pant styles, in Palmer and Alto ‘Pants for Real People’, page 12.

Palmer and Alto also say crotch shape changes from a tightly curved shape for fitted leggings or jeans to loosely curved for easeful trousers.

Relate the pants style you choose to the closeness of fit you like.

The Pants for Real People book contains a huge amount of information about pants fit. I’m not a fan of tissue fitting, not just because it’s so difficult to do on yourself. But the same ideas apply to fitting a muslin.

I made a few comments on pants fit in a post on pant pattern wedges.

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The same pant style for different body shapes

Pants patterns are such an individual matter. I do get agitated reading pant pattern reviews by people who rave about the good fit they’ve got straight out of the pattern envelope, without saying anything about what body shape they are.

It would be ideal if we had some patterns which have already done the pattern alterations needed for our own body shape. It takes time and effort if you want pants to fit. But it does help if you start with a pattern that’s somewhat like you!

There’s a difference between Vogue and Burda pant patterns. Vogue usually have a vertical centre back seam, while Burda usually have a centre back seam on the bias. You may find the angled seam works better for you if you’re more curved outwards at the back.

Some designers say they provide body-shape-specific patterns. I don’t know how successful they have been, but here anyway are some of the ones that make that claim.

Most of these patterns are the same basic style but altered for different body shapes.

(2017 : these Simplicity patterns are oop, but they still make good illustrations. There is now a new range of Simplicity Amazing Fit patterns.)

Simplicity 2475 is a straight skirt pattern for slim, average and curvy shapes.


Simplicity 2562 has wide legged pants for slim, average, and curvy shapes.


Simplicity 2700 is for boot legged pants for slim, average, and curvy shapes.


Simplicity 2342 is a pattern for slim pants for slim, average and curvy shapes.

Dana Marie’s Terrific Trousers are for apple or pear body shapes (largest measurement high or low on body). With a choice of straight wide, bootleg, and tapered leg shapes.


(The near-horizontal line of these pockets would not be flattering on my high hips. I look better in vertical slanted pockets like the Simplicity ones shown earlier.)

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Different pant styles for different body shapes

Darlene Miller takes a different approach. She says different styles of pants are most flattering for different body shapes. She has four separate pants patterns, for triangle, square, circle, and oval body shapes.

On her site, she recommends :

“Pants for the Triangle body shape fit best with
– angled pockets and darts, shaped waistbands, fitted yokes,
– tapered or flared legs.
Use fabrics with body such as linen, linen blends or gabardine.

Pants for the Square body shape fit best with
– tucks, inseam or patch pockets,
– slim or full cut straight legs any length.
Use casual fabrics such as corduroy, denim or silk noil.

Pant for the Circle body shape fit best with
– soft gathers at the waistline, hidden side seam pockets,
– tapered legs.
Use lighter weight softer fabrics such as crepe, Tencel or microfibers.

Pants for the Oval body shape fit best with
– simple, body slimming lines, darts, hidden side seam pockets,
– slightly tapered legs.
Use good quality classic fabrics such as gabardine, chinos and microfibers.”

”dmpants” from Darlene Miller’s site

As I understand it, Darlene Miller doesn’t have direct equivalents to hourglass and inverted triangle body shapes. Perhaps you’re supposed to use the pattern that goes with your lower body shape, rather than your body shape as a whole.

The only one of these shape-specific patterns I’ve tried is Darlene Miller’s Triangle pants. The crotch curve fits my pear shape (no big back curves) with little alteration, so I use them as my reference when looking at other pant patterns. (It’s amazing how comfortable it is to wear a crotch curve that fits properly.) And Darlene Miller’s fitting instructions focus on the points I have most difficulty with (high hips and crotch extensions). I’m pleased with this pattern. But I haven’t seen any of her other patterns, so I don’t know if the fitting advice is general or shape specific. I can’t guarantee they will be good for other people ! And I think you need some experience to use her instructions.

If you’d like more ideas on what would be best for the special features of your own lower body, look at the “The Body Shape Bible’. Trinny & Susannah suggest best pant styles for each of their 12 body shapes.

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The details of what flatters, my example

Personally, I only wear a very limited range of pant styles. There are a lot of specific details of my lower body which affect what looks good on me.

– I have an indented waist, so elastic waists and pants with no side seams are not the best shapes for me. I need a shaped side seam.
– there’s a short gap between my rib cage and hip bones, so there is not much room for a waistband or elastic. Faced waist styles are better.
– low waist styles are not good. I’m short waisted, which many people recommend low waist pants for. But I also have very high hips, so the line of a low waist comes across a rather wide part of me.
– my hips spread 4 inches when I sit down, so I need at least that much hip ease. I’m not comfortable in close fitting styles.
– jeans, which are tight on the thighs to enhance the shapeliness of the butt, are not good on me. I have saddlebags, and have never had the sort of butt to celebrate.
– I have a deep torso front to back. So most RTW pants, let alone fashion jeans, are too tight for me front to back. I need long crotch extensions.
– I’m not sure I would have worn leggings even when I tried to be in fashion (though I’m sorry to say I did wear miniskirts sometimes in the 70s, as in those days they were essential, however awful they looked – perhaps I should be more sympathetic to all the people who wear black these days but shouldn’t). I think the area of leggings that can be seen needs to be a part of the body that is a good shape. And I wouldn’t say that about any part of me below the waist these days. But if you have got good legs, let people know, whatever your age !
– my knees are lumpy, so I avoid shorts.
– I used to have pretty ankles, but no more. So low low calf is the shortest I wear. This applies to skirts too. Skirts don’t fit well into my practical lifestyle anyway, but that’s another reason why I don’t wear them often.
– pockets : inseam pockets tend to gape on my curved hip silhouette. The curved shape of jeans pockets signals ‘look here’ to somewhere I’m trying to distract the onlooker from. . . Vertically angled pockets are best at slimming my curvy high hip lumps. (see pear shape post).
– wide legged pants look laughable on me. The proportions are all wrong, they drag me down visually. I also don’t wear cuffed pants.
– straight legged pants (22 inch/ 55 cm hem) give me ‘elephant legs’.
– slim pants (12 inch/ 30 cm hem) have the ‘carrot’ effect (what words we choose :D) Though slim pants do look good under a thigh length top.

So – hurrah for faced waist tapered leg pants (max.17 inch/ 42 cm hem).
(hems for pattern size 18)

It’s not surprising that all my pants are very similar in style. I use pants as a background ‘uniform’, rather than part of my wardrobe that I have a lot of variety in.

When there are so many factors which can affect what looks good, no wonder many of us have difficulty with pants. Though if your body is closer to the average usually designed for, you’re more likely to be able to wear a wider range of styles with success.

I remember trying on a pair of full legged pants in a public changing room. I looked ridiculous. Then an inverted triangle shaped woman tried on the same pants and looked marvellous. So Good Luck with finding the shapes that are right for you 😀

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Patterns and links available June 2010, revised July 2017

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4 Comments on “Pants styles and body shapes”

  1. Karin Says:

    Whew! That’s a lot of information! I am also pear shaped, but probably also with my own unique set of fitting issues. I tend to go for Burda pants, they seem to fit a rounder bottom better. Thanks for all the links 🙂

    • sewingplums Says:

      Thanks Karin – yes, I expect we could all make our own long lists of body shape and fit challenges that affect what looks good on us. About our upper bodies as well as lower. . .

      I’m glad to know Burda pants work well for you. I’m flatter at the rear and prefer a Vogue type curve.

  2. ejvc Says:

    Lisanne, I like your “literature review” of patterns for body types in this article. I also particularly liked how you approached your own trouser fitting.

    Allow me to dissect to categories: 1) waist treatment; 2) leg width/shape; 3) leg length; 4) pockets

    Mine is:
    WAIST – very indented waist, elastic waists are out. Patterns with zips, darts, and drawstrings are possible. Also, very long waist, many inches between ribs and hips. Yokes look excellent on me, and I would in general choose a waistband of 2 inches or so. Because of this, contoured waistbands are a must. A faced style would not emphasise my best bits (waist) so I would tend to avoid.
    – quite short legs, comparatively. Since I don’t like to wear heels much, a higher waist gives some length and I prefer it it a low waist. But when low waists were in fashion, I just wore something to emphasise my real waist 🙂

    – although I’m a pear, I don’t have saddlebags really, just a big rear. Jeans are great for me and I wear them all the time. I definitely look slimmer from the front than from the side or back.
    – straight legs: OK. tapered legs: Oh dear. I don’t care what Darlene Miller says, I’m not wearing them. Wide legs – no, I don’t think so — straight legs look wide enough to me.

    – Because of short legs and wide calves, cropped trousers are bad. Cropped wide-leg trousers are perhaps the worst thing in the world. No, low-waisted, cropped, wide-legged trousers would be the worst. I have nice ankles, but I wouldn’t wear a shortish trouser because of the short legs being shorter. Probably a knee-length bermuda would be my choice, worn with a neutral sandal. I can wear a below-the-calf if the waist is high enough but it’s not a look I’d really go for. I am wearing leggings to the ankle bone with knee-length things and that seems fine. Nothing much above the knee.

    Because I am slim at the waist and high hip, I tend to be able to wear all sorts of pockets. Cargo pockets at the thigh would be bad, for sure, but otherwise no problem. Actually, no, inseam pockets are not very good, they pull when I move my legs — in general, therefore, I prefer an angled or jeans- style pocket, or no pocket.

    It is one of my dearest wishes that the pattern companies would start to come out with patterns with different pieces for different sized hips, and so I was excited to see the Simplicity Amazing Fit pattern line. However, there is only an inch difference between slim and curvy, so it is not particularly useful. I mean – that’s an 1/8″ seam difference between average and curvy. Surely there’s hardly even a need to alter a pattern to do a difference like that?

    • sewingplums Says:

      Many thanks for your contribution Elizabeth. It’s excellent to get detailed comments from someone who’s a different shape with different needs.

      And it’s helpful to hear to hear about the Simplicity patterns.

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