Nine Body Shapes

Some fascinating research suggests we need 9 body shapes, not 4 or 5, to describe everyone effectively.

The research was done at North Carolina State University. Nancy Erickson briefly mentioned this source in her recent newsletter. I though I’d follow up, and found full reports on-line here.

(And hey, I’ve learned a little about new spreadsheet software. Happily the learning curve for this is only vertiginously steep the first time you do it ! And I’ve found how to jump around in a post. Lots of technical progress :D)

Three main sections in this post :
– the nine body shapes.
– difficulties with doing this sort of study.
– how many people have these shapes.

– – –

Nine Body Shapes

All the studies were made using full body scans.

The initial study found they needed nine body shapes to categorise everyone clearly. See research report pdfs one and two.

Top Hourglass (TH) :
Bust larger than hips.
Waist defined, and different from both.

Hourglass (H) :
Small difference between bust and hips.
Waist defined, and different from both bust and hips.

Bottom Hourglass (BH) :
Hips larger than bust.
Waist defined, and different from both.

Spoon (S) :
Hips larger than bust.
Waist different from high hip.
Bust tapers to waist, but waist doesn’t taper evenly to hips. High hips make a noticeable bump in the silhouette.

Inverted Triangle (IT) :
Bust larger than hips.
No clear waist.

Rectangle (R) :
Bust and hips are fairly equal.
No clear waistline.

Triangle (T) :
Hips larger than bust.
No clear waist.

Oval (O) :
Measures above (stomach), at, and below (abdomen) waist level are smaller than bust, larger than hips.
These people have a large mid-section.

Diamond (D) :
Mid-section larger than both bust and hips.

Sadly, they don’t say the actual numbers or ratios they used for deciding that bust or hips were ‘larger’, or that someone’s waist was noticeably smaller than their bust or hips. The shape decisions were made by software, so this must have been done by numbers not someone’s judgement.

– – –

Simple symbols for the shapes


(Oval shape has bust larger than midriff.)

Images from this report pdf.

– – –

Difficulties with doing this sort of study

Skip to the main results if you’re not interested in details and problems.

I’m going to mention two sets of results in this section :
– Test sample of over 500 younger people, used to check how well the software decides which shape is the best fit for each body scan. (this report pdf) (yellow in charts)

– Misses group of several thousand people with less complete measurements (this report pdf) (blue in charts).

As the purpose of that report was assessing current shape standards, and those standards don’t include stomach and abdomen measures, they were not included in the large study. So sadly the Oval and Diamond shapes weren’t identified. My guess is most Ovals were classified as Inverted Triangle, and Diamonds as Rectangle (see later post on details).

The research found three quarters of these people didn’t fit the official standard shape specification well ! – no surprise to people who try to buy RTW. . .

Table of the results I’m using is here as a pdf.

Chart of results from those two groups :


All charts show percentage of people in the group who have this body shape.
Yellow = Test sample group.
Blue = Misses group.
For example, 31 % of the test group were classified as Rectangle shape, 43 % of the Misses were.

The test group and the main group have different results. They look dramatically different, but at most the percentages differ by less than 13 %.

It’s obviously difficult to get precise counts of the numbers of people with different body shapes.

Results depend on the group of people measured, This needs to include all age ranges, as well as ethnic groups in the same proportions as in the main population. (All those Japanese pattern books with Extra Large = 38 inch hip show how different other countries can be !)

It also depends on the quality of the measurements. You’d think full body scan data would be as precise as you can get, but there are a couple of problems. The measures are affected by what the people being measured chose to wear. And by how correctly the software identifies the right point on the body to take the measurements. (Examples in this report pdf.)

And the results will obviously be affected by the specific numbers used to identify upper-equal-lower body emphasis, yes-no waist, yes-no high hip.

According to statistical theory, a larger group should give more reliable results. There were fewer measurements from the larger group, so two of the shapes were not included. Even so, I give those results more emphasis.

– – –

Main results

Despite all the difficulties, it is possible to make generalisations.

Here are the percent results for the Misses (blue) and Over 55s (red) groups from the main study pdf (6300 people). I’ve combined the 3 Hourglass shapes (I wouldn’t usually group them together, as Top Hourglass, Hourglass, and Bottom Hourglass have very different fit and flattery needs).


A lot of people are Rectangles (R), about 2 out of 5.
Many people are Spoons (S), at least 1 in 5.

Among younger people (blue), Inverted Triangles (IT) (upper body emphasis, no waist) and combined Hourglass shapes (H+TH+BH) (with waist, equal or upper or lower body emphasis) are about equally frequent (about 1 in 7).
Among the Over 55s (red), it looks as if many of those Hourglasses may have become Inverted Triangles (about 1 in 3).

Interesting. I thought people put on weight below the waist as we get older. But it looks as if many of us put on weight above the waist !
No wonder there is a such a large and vocal group wanting information about doing a Full Bust Adjustment 😀

Less than 1 in 20 are Top Hourglass, the classic film star shape.
Perhaps 1 in 45 are Triangle shape, which is usually considered the basic ‘pear’ shape.

There were no Oval and Diamond people in the Misses and Over 55s groups, because the measurements to identify them weren’t included in that study. But the results from the test sample suggest at least 1 in 8 people have a prominent midriff. It’s a pity this body feature wasn’t included in the main study, so these shapes get forgotten again, even though there are a lot of people like this !

Presumably the basic body shapes stay the same around the world. But these numbers for how many people have each shape are from the USA. The most frequent body shapes might be different in northern, southern or eastern Europe, Middle East, Africa, India, Asia, China, Japan. . .

What about more details ? The body shapes are based on relative upper-lower body proportions and waist, also high hip shelf and midriff. So it’s possible to say a bit about these. That’s the focus of my second post, which is here.

– – –

Obviously we need to include stomach, abdomen, and high hip measures in our assessment of fit and body shape, not just the basic three of bust-waist-hips. A dominant midriff isn’t mentioned in body shape standards, so RTW don’t design for it. (If you are midriff dominant, see Gale Grigg Hazen “Fantastic Fit for Every Body” to cheer you on :D)

And of course many other body features affect fit and flattery. The researchers acknowledge that, but including them would have made the whole scheme too complex to be workable.

Can you recognise yourself as any of these 9 shapes ? or are you a person who needs to consider more detail in finding what flatters your own body ? (see later)

Do these more detailed shape descriptions help any of your fit or styling decisions ?
I’m definitely a ‘Spoon’. It is helpful not to be mixed up with Bottom Hourglass and Triangle. I realise how much my high hips affect which styles are good on me. I’ll describe myself as a Spoon not a Pear in future. A Pear sounds more attractive, but a Spoon is a good description of the shape 😀

Do these shapes clarify anything for you 😀

= = =

P.S. Some other sources on shape and style

lin3arossa comments she prefers Imogen Lamport’s shapes at Inside-Out Style.

Hmm – how do they match up ? Possibly :

Imogen . . . . . . . . . . . . . . North Carolina

8 High hip hourglass . . . Spoon
A Pear . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Triangle
H Rectangle . . . . . . . . . . Rectangle
I Boyish
0 Apple . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Diamond
V Inverted Triangle . . . . Inverted Triangle
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Oval
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Top Hourglass
X Low hip hourglass . . . . Hourglass
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Bottom Hourglass

I’m a Spoon and find it difficult to think of myself as a High Hip Hourglass, as I have a small bust.

Imogen is especially good on suggesting styles which flatter each shape, see her Body Shapes section.

Which system you like may depend on which tells you most about the special features of your own shape. Trinny & Susannah Body Shape Bible has twelve shapes. In their system I’m a Bell. Helped me know how important being short-waisted is in styling. Also that there are no celebrities this shape, so it really is difficult to look good 😀

The beautiful book ‘The Triumph of Individual Style‘ uses 6 basic body shapes. Plus whole chapters on type of line, length proportions, other shape elements, scale, colour, and texture. Some of these topics are also in Nancy Nix-Rice’s newsletter.

P.P.S. Don’t worry about squeezing yourself into a specific body shape ‘label’. Every body shape system has to be a simplification of all the possibilities.
Relatively large/ medium/ small size of shoulders/ bust/ waist/ high hips/ abdomen/ hips/ thighs,
square/ average/ sloping shoulders,
flat/ average/ large butt,
short/ average/ long waisted,
short/ average/ long bodied,
tall/ average/ petite height,
thin/ average/ plus body size.
I think that makes over 15000 possible combinations ! Body shape systems focus on the shapes that happen most often. Which leaves many of us not knowing where we fit in, and having to identify our own specific combination of features.
Big-small, long-short are vague terms. The important question is : are you sufficiently different from average that what’s suggested for average people isn’t the most flattering for you ? For example, most suggestions for pear-shaped people don’t work well for me because I’m also short waisted with sloping shoulders.
Trial and error needed.

– – –

Links available February 2012

= = =

Explore posts in the same categories: body shape

35 Comments on “Nine Body Shapes”

  1. lin3arossa Says:

    Those shape names are complicated to me. I like the alphabet letters of inside out style better, and I think the substance is the same:

    • sewingplums Says:

      Thanks for the good point. I find it very interesting to know the numbers of people involved. I had so much to say on this I’ve added a P.S. to my post.

  2. Ruthie Says:

    Interesting. I’m still not sure what shape I am in that. I’m clearly bottom heavy, with somewhat defined waist but my fullness is in my bottom and thighs.

    • sewingplums Says:

      Sounds to me, Ruthie, like you’re a Bottom Hourglass.

    • Mrs Anderson Says:

      I am the same but I have good, square shoulders, like a triangle but defo a bottom hourglass base! I think my waist is quite high, is that long waisted or short? :-/

      • sewingplums Says:

        The ‘ideal’ body proportions are supposed to have the same lengths from :
        – chin to bust point,
        – bust point to waist,
        – waist to leg break (the angle where your leg bends up at the hip).
        Even an inch difference can make a fitted style quite uncomfortable.

        Celebrate your advantages !

      • Mrs Anderson Says:

        Ok, tis done! I get 11 inches to bust point (long neck? Not sure I got this one right, but anyway…) 7 inches between bust point and waist and 8 from waist down to leg break. My waist is 27/28 inches and my hips are 41/42 inches. I think my bust is 36 at the widest point? Oh, and I’m 5 foot 7, which is nice because that seems to be standard pattern height! Can you suggest a book (I know you’ve written loads of posts about this, but they are so dense, I’d end up ordering about five!) where I can learn how to dress for my shape, and another perhaps where I can learn what pattern alterations I should be making?
        Thanks! 🙂

      • sewingplums Says:

        A good sequence on style, from simple to complex, could be :
        Nancy Nix-Rice. Looking Good
        Judith Rasband. Wardrobe Strategies for Women
        Mathis & Connor. The Triumph of Individual Style.
        The illustrations are very dated, but the content is still good.

        A similar sequence on fit might be :
        Sarah Veblen. Photo Guide to Perfect Fitting (not pants)
        Liechty et al. Fitting and Pattern Alteration.

        I can’t guarantee you will like these. Most of these books are ‘dense’, so may not be what you like. I don’t know of any one book that is ideal for everyone, as we all have different body shape details, different personal clothing styles, different learning styles.
        Most of us find it takes considerable experimenting to find what works for us best.
        It isn’t easy and needs much expertise, so a personal stylist or custom dressmaker charges quite a lot for this service !

        Just asking the questions is important. From then on, each little step can be an improvement.
        Enjoy the process 😀

      • Mrs Anderson Says:

        I like dense books! 🙂 I’ll start with Nancy and work my way down to the ones on fit. Sewing wise, I’m a way off making anything too complicated anyway. 🙂
        Thanks for your help, and I’m sure I’ll be back with more questions. 😀
        Rowan x

  3. sara Says:

    When you said 9 bodyshapes, I thought I’ll surely fit in to one of them… my bust measurement is 91 cm, hips 95 cm, waist 71 cm, which according to these categories would make me a bottom hourglass, right? However, I have wide, square shoulders that make me look larger in the top than the bottom. I tend to think of myself as a cross between a V and an X, and I dress accordingly : I always want some kind of definition at the waist or high hip, and I try to wear styles that don’t emphasize my shoulders. Unlike you, I love raglan sleeves 🙂 .

    • sewingplums Says:

      You’ve raised some important points Sara.

      How much bigger is ‘bigger’ ? . . .
      Your bust-hip difference is only 4 cm. 5 cm is the bust-hip difference in a Big 4 size. So I would say you are ‘equal’ or average top and bottom !

      Most people identify themselves as Pear shaped when they need at least one pattern size larger for their lower body. Which means hips at least 10 cm/ 4 inches larger than bust.

      Your wide shoulders :
      Yes, there are many many other body shape factors which affect what looks good on us. The main reason why many of us don’t find any simplified body shape system very satisfactory.

      • bela saudade Says:

        I feel like Sara- maybe a cross between a V and an X? I’d have a hard time classifying myself in the above system. I’m very proportionate on the top and bottom. I don’t have a prominent midriff, but my waist is not super small (I actually charge that up to the shape of my rib-cage. People tend to focus on fat distribution and not bone structure sometimes). However, I do have a waist. I’m not straight up and down. No matter how thin I am or flat my stomach is, my waist doesn’t get below 27.5 inches and my hips and bust are pretty steady at 36.5 inches. I have square shoulders and raglan sleeves look great on me. Even though my bust is not big, it is still very full (does that make sense?) and I often have to purchase a medium top to feel most comfortable even though everything else about my upper half fits a small very well. I don’t often have to adjust for my bust, but then again most of my tops are knits or wrap styles that give my bust some ease, but taper in at the waist to provide more definition.

        Too many variables!

        This was such a scholarly post, btw. Love it!

      • sewingplums Says:

        Yes Bela, sorting out our own body shape features isn’t easy, but the better fit and flattery make it all worthwhile !

  4. maria Says:

    Yes, I can recognize myself as a top hourglass shape. My shoulders are a bit wider than my hips and my waist is defined. Now finding clothes that make me look good is another matter 🙂

    Thanks for the information…


    • sewingplums Says:

      Glad to hear it does help someone, Maria 😀
      Though I agree that finding the best clothes can involve a lot of experimenting. Have you got a personal croquis to compare with pattern diagrams ?

      • maria Says:

        Yes I do. My biggest hurdle are my shoulders. They are wide and my bust a 36″C cup. My waist is small. The croquis works but only if I truly stay focused on my silhouette and do not venture into parts unknown 🙂

  5. Lynn Mally Says:

    As a fellow spoon, I salute you! What a lot of work to put this all together. It is comforting to know that there are many of us out there.

  6. Vildy Says:

    Imogen’s blog was the first time I encountered the figure 8/high hip shape, at least where it made some practical sense. Explains why I can’t have skirts with fullness starting right at waist.

    I feel like I have a somewhat wider shoulder line than lower hip. My hips go more or less straight down from the high hip. I look fairly narrowish from the front or back. My waist is customarily about 9 inches smaller than bust and hips but sure doesn’t look it to me.

    I look thick from a side view, both very busty and thick through the lower abdomen area. I don’t have the traditional high pot belly but, depending on what I eat – dairy, for instance – can get very pooched out in the intestinal area. Since this is coincident with where my bottom sticks out in the other direction: thickness, at least some days.

    • sewingplums Says:

      Yes Vildy I have a deep torso too. Don’t know if it’s characteristic of this shape. Has the compensation that we can have quite large measurements and still look slim 😀 Liechty Fitting and Pattern Alteration is the only fit book I’ve seen which deals with it.

  7. Melanie Shelton Says:

    Thanks so much! I am SO obviously an 8. Hourglass, with boobs, plus high-hip. I’ve never read so accurate a description of my body.

    I prefer the style advice from The Body Shape Bible, which I bought on your recommendation. I have to say though that a problem for me with a LOT of body shape books is that there’s too much emphasis on sexy. I am very chesty, and it seems sometimes that my choices are vixen or potato sack. Add to that my religious views on modesty and my desire to feel confident and attractive to my husband, but not “available,” and I feel I walk a bit of a tightrope.

    Another issue with Trinny and Suzannah is that I have to learn the British terms for clothing. Wikipedia helped 🙂

    • sewingplums Says:

      Good points Melanie. I’m not a good source for guidance on large cup sizes !
      Have you had a good look through Imogen Lamport’s shape advice. She is large chested and I think she’s had posts on de-emphasising the effect. And see what she’s wearing in her videos – her front is not the first thing you notice.

      • Melanie Shelton Says:

        Thanks for the recommendation. I love the advice on chunky pendants to minimize a full bust. I’ve always been drawn to them, and now I know why.

  8. bela saudade Says:

    The Imogen Lamport site has some good info. I appreciate she used real photos of forum users. Sometimes it is hard to identify with a drawing. After reading more, I can pretty safely say I’m a “V” but a “V” WITH a waist rather than straight up and down. Her suggestions for Vs with a waistline are fairly accurate in terms of garment cuts I find flattering. You still have to individualize based on personal taste. I’m not a fan of the princess bodice in general- it always looks very maternity to me unless the waist is corseted. However, if it is lower cut and corseted at the waist it can look a bit buxom and salacious for the work week!

  9. gail Says:

    And finally my body shape is acknowledged! I’ve always referred to myself as a bottom heavy hourglass, but every book out there would have called me a pear shape. With a 40 I cup bra, I think pear shape is not the best descriptor for me, but my narrower shoulder/wider lower hip would put me with the other pears.

    I’ve been carefully working through all the exercises at The Science of Personal Dress here and have been learning so much about the best garments to flatter my own figure. If you haven’t already seen it, I recommend a look.
    One thing that has also helped in the learning process is to travel to a big town, try things on, and take photos. My judgement on several styles has changed after viewing the photos later at home. I am using your advice to dress for the life I live now – 52 year old, plus size professional consultant, and not a 25 year old svelte young mom on the go.
    Thanks for this article!

    • sewingplums Says:

      Thanks Gail for the very interesting site with a wealth of ideas. Sadly it doesn’t work well for me. Before my hair went grey, it was half blue toned, half yellow toned. And my body shape is larger below the waist than above, but not at all angular. Though the site is well worth reading through and thinking about. I’m still the sort of person that no simple scheme describes well !

      Best Wishes for your wardrobe changes.

  10. Robyn Says:

    Wow, lots to absorb here! Thanks for another thoughtful post.

  11. Annie Says:

    I’m still not sure what shape I am, I am pretty much top-hourglass, but I think my shoulders are too wide. I wear a 32F (UK) bra, and I measure just over 39 inches on the bust, 26inch waist, and nearly 37inch hips. When I tried measuring hips and shoulders straight across I got the same measurements, so maybe I just feel like I have big shoulders. Can top-hourglasses have wider shoulders?

    and evident from this link – – men would appear to prefer the top-hourglass over hourglass. Nearly all style advice I see for top hourglasses is to make the boobs like a little smaller and the hips look a little wider. I’ve also in a way had this confirmed as my friends (ones who are attracted to girls) say I look much better in things that show my figure as it is, rather than showing my waist, but trying to make my boobs like more in proportion with my hips and vice versa.
    I guess that must sound like bad news for anyone small on top and bigger on the hips though.
    I am now thinking, wait a minute, why do we all want to be hourglass. Everyone knows guys like big boobs (well most guys) so why is the advice for anyone who is top heavy is to try to make it appear smaller and balance it with the hips. I’m now thinking that maybe the advice should be more, show your boobs and small hips, and for anyone with a waist, obviously also show that off.

    I should probably point out at this point that you can show off boobs just by having a good bra and a top that fits over them properly, no need for cleavage if that isn’t something you like showing.

    I find that that the article I posted above, makes me feel more confident. There was no mention of how shoulders should be a certain size, and I have all the other physical attributes except white teeth – mine are a whitish cream. Plus I am a university student studying mathematics. My hairs naturally light brown, although currently died dark blonde. I feel, although I could be slimmer, I seem to fit the package of “perfect woman”. If you go by the hourglass, I have too small hips. I usually spend most my time hating my body, when actually considering this, I’m probably pretty good.

    Really I think, yes you want to wear flattering clothes, but I think we should be more persuaded to show off our good bits rather than try to look more hourglass. I think there must be men out there who think each type of figure is the perfect figure, some men do like big hips/bum and don’t care much for boobs. How do you know they guy you like doesn’t find your natural shape the most attractive of all?
    After all it is just “most” men find such and such the most attractive. Most men just means over 50% of men, so up to ~49% of men might find another (could be your) shape most attractive!

    • sewingplums Says:

      Good points Annie. Sounds like you have the classic movie star figure – good shoulders and boobs, slim hips !

      I agree we all need to find our own best way of showing our shape in a way that suits our style. Moving away from trying to look like the currently approved average can be a struggle.

      I’m the opposite to you – large hips, small top. Standard advice is to make my top look as big as my hips. Eh ??? I want advice on how to make my hips look as small as my top 😀

      Don’t worry about finding the right body shape ‘label’. Every body shape system has to be a simplification of all the possibilities. Relatively large/ medium/ small size of shoulders/ bust/ waist/ high hips/ abdomen/ hips/ thighs, square/ average/ sloping shoulders, flat/ average/ large butt, short/ average/ long waisted, short/ average/ long bodied, tall/ average/ petite height, thin/ average/ plus body size – I think that makes over 15000 possible combinations ! Body shape systems focus on the shapes that happen most often, which leaves many of us not knowing where we fit in.

      Sounds as if you’re well on the way to understanding your body shape and how you want to show it. Well done.

    • Mrs Anderson Says:

      My husband is a bum man! He says yes, he looks at boobs, but only because so much more emphasis is generally put on them by today’s fashions and society. He certainly likes me best in things that emphasise my larger posterior! 🙂 this is good because I can dress in things that he will find appealing without baring too much flesh!

  12. Nick Says:

    I don’t get the difference between a top heavy hourglass and an inverted triangle,

    I have a defined waist big boobs and shoulders my hips are 8 and a half inches bigger. I have a 25 inches waist so that’s low ratiowise.

    Physically by definition I could be both hourglasses have defined waists bigger tops than bottoms and hips bigger than their waists yet smaller than the chest that’s exactly how I am. Yet I fit inverted triangle because I have broader shoulders than my small hips

    • sewingplums Says:

      Hello Nick, I don’t think it’s always helpful to try to force ourselves to fit into the definitions, as none of them can include every possible combination of body shape elements. The important thing is to know where your tendencies are (which you obviously do), and use that to pick out what a particular style advisor says is good for that shape. Those suggestions won’t always work well for you, as they don’t allow for all possibilities (personal example, nearly all advice tells pear-shaped people to wear horizontal stripes above the waist, but I’m also short-waisted so that’s disastrous for me !). Look for pointers to things to try, rather than a complete and accurate definition of what is best for you.
      What is most flattering on you won’t be just affected by your body shape, but also your personal style.

      I know some of us, including me, would like a simple set of rules that would remove all the problems.
      But it doesn’t work like that as we’re each a bit different. So there’s exploration to be done.

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