Dressing "well" is all about shape and proportion--in the same way that a painting or a photograph is all about perspective and composition. In our culture, the "ideal" body shape is a tall hourglass. In other cultures, the ideal shape may be different. Angie, at You Look Fab has an interesting post about the cultural relativism of these ideals.
Nearly all fashion advice is about how to take the shape you have and "trick" the observer's eye into thinking you have the culturally approved hourglass shape. At this point in my life, I'm fine with it. Perhaps, as I get older, I'll change my mind. Maybe I won't even care. But, for right now, it's kind of fun. But it's nothing to stress over. Ever.
So, in order to play at dress up, it helps to know, for a start, what the shape of your body is, generally, and then its proportions, more specifically.
Angie, at You Look Fab, discusses and defines the conventional shapes: Pear, Apple, Hourglass, Inverted Triangle, and Rectangle.
At Inside Out Style, Imogen finds even more categories: the 8 shape, A, H, I, O, V, and X.
In order to determine you shape, you need to look at your bones first, fat distribution, second.
For The Inverted Triangle, or the V, the strongest line (or, rather, the widest) is at the shoulders.
The A Shape, and the 8 shape are variations of the more general Pear. The widest line is at the hips (8) or thighs (A).
The I and the H shapes seem to be variations of the Rectangle shape with one characterized and boyish (I) and the other simply lacking a defined waist (H). The hips and the shoulders are about an equal distance apart.
Hourglass shapes and X's are distinguished from Rectangles by the presence of a defined waist.
The "O" seems like it could be any of the above except for a significant degree of fat around the middle. This is also known as the Apple shape. As the style Divas says, sometimes a good bra can go a long way to disguise this particular body shape!
This used to be my shape until I lost some weight (and got some really good bras!). Now, I'm not sure what shape I am. So, I decided to figure it out.
Here I am, dressed to emphasise my silhouette:
What is my widest point?
(I printed out the above photo and got out my rular!)
My first instinct is to declare myself an A shape (or a pear). I mean, look at those thighs! I don't have broad shoulders.
But, here is a pear shape, found via google:
And I just don't see that much of a difference between my shoulders and hips. As well, I don't have a waist. Pears generally do. (It is what distinguishes them from "apples.")
So, I'm not much of a pear. I've been thinking about it and I'm wondering if I'm really not more of an "H" than anything. What puts me off from liking this description is all the talk about havng a "boyish" figure--because that I most definitely do not have! Otherwise H seems to be the best for the moment. I imagine that as I continue to lose weight a waist should emerge, making me an X or an hourglass, albeit a short waisted one. I'm excited about that!
Advice from Imogen Lamport for the "H" body shape: Body Shapes Explained, the H Shape
Tips for the Rectangle from You Look Fab: How to Dress the Racy Rectangle Type
Have you ever noticed if you are a different size from the side than the front? I am. I am much bigger from the side view than from the front. According to Imogen, this makes me round (and not elliptical).
So, there we have the general shape figured out. There's more to it than shape, though. There's my proportions, too. Learning what these are and how to balance them will be interesting, too, I think.