Nine Body Shapes : research details

How many people have a waist ? How many people have upper body emphasis, lower body emphasis ? How many have a high hip shelf ? a dominant midriff ?

There was a flurry of interest in my previous post. Obviously many of you have difficulty finding yourself in a simple set of body shapes. This is because there are so many body shape features which can affect fit and flattery. Including them all is impossible in any simple system. I’m planning another post which lists them all – a bit daunting but it does show this isn’t easy. The same people who find simple fitting systems don’t work. . . aargh. . . it’s the people with the difficult shape combinations who need the most help !

Meanwhile here’s something rather more boring – more on the numbers of people with different shapes, that come out of the North Carolina research.

I love looking for patterns in numbers, but many people won’t find this at all interesting, so skip to the summary results.

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Source of these results

The research was done at North Carolina State University. Reports are on-line here.

The numbers I use are in a table of results here.

All charts show percentage in each group.
Test group was over 500 people. Misses and Over 55s together included 6300 people. The study of Misses and Over 55s didn’t include the midriff measurements needed to identify Diamond and Oval shapes.

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Waist or no waist ?


Yellow = test group.
Blue = Misses.
Red = Over 55s.

Although the different studies found somewhat different results, it’s obvious at least half of us have no clear waist.

And about three-quarters of the Over 55s (red) have no waist. No surprise there 😦

Of course the world doesn’t divide neatly into 2 groups of people, one group with tiny waists, the other group straight up and down. But if you choose a limiting number, you can say people with a bigger difference than this between waist and bust or hips look as if they have a waist. And people with a smaller waist difference than this don’t look as if they have a clear waist.

In more detail :

Body shapes with no waist


Most of the people with no waist are :
Rectangle (straight up and down) : up to 2 out of 5 people.
Inverted Triangle (upper body dominant) : perhaps 1 in 7 of Misses (blue), 1 in 3 of Over 55s (red).
Looks as if the Over 55s who loose their waist may become Inverted Triangles.

About 1 in 45 are Triangle (lower body dominant).

Dominant midriff

Oval and Diamond shape people have midriff larger than, rather than similar to, other body measures. So it’s sad Oval and Diamond shapes were only identified in the test group (yellow).

Diamond and Oval shape people made up about 1 in 8 of the test group.

These results suggest the people identified as Oval in the test group (yellow) may have been classified as Inverted Triangle when midriff measures weren’t included (blue and red). Few Diamonds, but I guess they were classified as Rectangle in the big study.

Body shapes with a waist


If you have a waist you’re defined as one of the Hourglass shapes, or a Spoon if you have both waist and noticeable high hips.

In the larger study (blue and red) : clearly the Spoon (with high hips) is the most frequent body shape with a noticeable waist. Perhaps 1 in 5 of people.

A lot of people in the test group (yellow) were classified as Hourglass or Bottom Hourglass, and these shapes have nearly disappeared in the bigger study (blue and red). Instead there are more people classified as Spoon. The big difference between Spoon and Bottom Hourglass is that Spoon people have a high hip shelf. Makes me wonder if the two studies used different criteria for identifying a high hip shelf.

The overall results showed fewer people Over 55 have a defined waist. These detailed results suggest this loss of waist happens for all shapes, not just for a particular shape of person. . .

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Upper or lower body emphasis


About half the population are roughly equal in size above and below the waist. And roughly a quarter are larger above the waist, roughly a quarter larger below the waist.

Sadly the reports don’t say anywhere what is meant by larger and smaller here. We ‘pears’ usually have hips that are at least 1 pattern size bigger than our bust – 4 inches/ 10 cm. And standard upper body sizing is for a B cup. D cup needs about 2-1/4 inches / 6 cm added, DD about 5-1/4 inches/ 13cm larger.

In more detail :

Body shapes with upper body emphasis


Fewer than 1 in 20 are Top Hourglass (with waist).

Most people with upper body emphasis were Oval (with midriff) in the small test group (yellow), and Inverted Triangle (no waist) in the bigger study (blue and red). Previously I suggested Ovals might have been classified as Inverted Triangle in the larger study.

About 1 in 7 of the Misses (blue) are Inverted Triangles.

Notice there’s about twice the number of Over 55s (red) who are Inverted Triangle shape. Nearly 1 in 3 of the Over 55s. Many people put on weight in the upper body as they get older.

Body shapes equal above and below waist


Clearly most of these people who are about equal in size above and below the waist are Rectangle shape (no waist), about 2 out of 5 people.

Hourglass have a waist, less than 1 in 10 people.

Very few people are Diamond shape (with midriff). (Most of the people with prominent midriff were Oval shape – with bust larger than midriff.)

Body shapes with lower body emphasis


The Spoon shape (waist and high hips) is the most frequent shape with lower body emphasis in the larger study – about 1 in 5 people. I commented before on the way Bottom Hourglass people (waist but not high hips) in the test group (yellow) have possibly been classified as Spoons in the larger study (blue and red).

The frequency of people who are Spoon shaped suggests it’s important to know about high hip measures when fitting the lower body.

In the larger study (blue and red), there were few people who had either no waist (Triangle) or a defined waist tapering smoothly out to hips (Bottom Hourglass).

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Main results

Despite some large differences between the research groups, there are ball-park figures which are clear.

At least half have no obvious waist. And fewer older people have a clear waist.

Most people with no obvious waist are Rectangle or Inverted Triangle / Oval (upper body dominant) in shape.

Many don’t simply have no waist, but have a larger waist area. The test group results suggest about 1 in 8 have midriff larger than hips.

About half of people are about the same size above and below the waist. Most of these people also have no clear waist (Rectangle shape).

About a quarter are larger above the waist. Most of these people are either Inverted Triangle (without waist) or Oval (with dominant midriff) in shape. A big group of people get larger above the waist when they get older.

About a quarter are larger below the waist. And the predominant shape here may be the Spoon (with noticeable waist and high hip shelf).

These results are from the USA. The numbers of people who are each shape may be different in different areas of the world.

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You may not recognise yourself in this body shapes scheme. But simplified body shapes are better than nothing. I added a note about some of them to my previous post. I don’t fit perfectly into any of the definitions, but I have learned something useful about myself from each.

I hope some of all this helps you with understanding your own fit and styling needs, or at least inspires you in thinking about them 😀

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Links available February 2012

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10 Comments on “Nine Body Shapes : research details”

  1. ejvc Says:

    Well this is very interesting! Thank you for posting.

  2. Mary Says:

    I am loving this research summary you have been posting. I will need to sit down and study it as you have done in order to internalize it for my own use. Wouldn’t it be nice if pattern companies made use of this?

    • sewingplums Says:

      Yes Mary. The original research was done to show current shape standards don’t work well, but I don’t know if any use has been made of it in manufacturing.

      There is a pattern company Fit Me Patterns that produces personalised patterns which used to be based on a body scan and now on detailed measurements. The trouble is, that like pattern making software, the results depend on how good the measures are, also on how well their software allows for your particular body shape elements. They use 6 body shapes.

  3. gail Says:

    I love your scientific brain at work, dealing with these numbers. My mother sister and I all wear the same size. I sew for all of us. We are so varying in shape even though the measurements are close – shoulders (broad, sloping, straight but narrow), back waist length, breadth of chest, waist (slight, none, tiny), hip (high, low, rounded, sloping). And RTW would have us all in the same size – grrrr!
    I think this is why Americans have defaulted to knits – they are more forgiving and “fit” a wider range of people in the same “size”.
    Keep up the good work! I fully anticipate that after spending this year working through all your good advice I will leave the house looking like a godess!

  4. Lynn Mally Says:

    I am an aging spoon (love that!) who still has a waist. However, I notice that the placement of my waist is changing. It is moving up as my lower hip shelf gets larger. That’s yet another factor to consider with fit.

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