Body Types and Lines

Body Type

Continuing on from body shapes, it’s important to note that those silhouettes run on a broad continuum of straightness to curvature, which is partly a result of the tissues covering the skeleton and partly the appearance of the joints that hold the framework together. This is why some straight shapes are very sharp and others are kind of soft, why some soft shapes seem very supple and others seem kind of strong. And some bodies will seem kind of bony, yet with some curve.

There are basically three kinds of bodies when we are talking about the “upholstery” of the skeleton, and they all have some effect on the body shape as well as the weight and complexity of styling details. The body types are often referred to as:

  1. Skeletal – often include areas of noticeable concavity with boniness and little obvious muscle, even at normal weight.
  2. Muscular – Tends toward muscularity even when not in shape.
  3. Molded – Consists of soft curvature.

Any combination is possible, and the body type remains fairly static, though extreme weight gain or loss can have some effect. Usually it’s not enough to change someone’s style typing in a system, but sometimes it is. These types can be any height or width, though typically they do show up more in certain ranges. In general, the greater the hollowness created by boniness, the greater the ability to fill that space with visual weight. The greater the convexity or solidity, the less need to visually weight those spaces.

Lines & Angles

There is a continuum of sharpness to softness in the angles of the human body and face. Here are some possibilities that could predominate in an individual:

  1. Sharp
  2. Blunt (or “beveled”)
  3. Soft
  4. Sharp and soft (mixed)
  5. Sharp and blunt (mixed)
  6. Soft and blunt (mixed)
  7. Soft, blunt, and sharp (mixed)

Sound complicated? It can be, especially on paper. You may ask, “Soft compared to what?” Or, “How sharp is ‘sharp’?” Again, as with body shapes, it is something akin to the question, “When does a hill become a mountain?” I’m going to assume that you have some idea where you fit since I’m here to mainly help you converge what you know into a personal style formula.

Okay, I’ll cheat a little for you. If you have a lot of what are often described as “Romantic” features, you probably have some roundness or curvature going on. “Natural” usually nets you some bluntness or muscularity. “Dramatic” brings in sharpness. (I talk a little more about some of this in my page on Style Typing.) But that’s a huge generality. None of these designations come close to pulling it off for most people.

(I’m biting my tongue not to get into David Kibbe’s territory. On the one hand he has enlightened us that shape and angle work together; on the other hand, his concepts have turned into popularized and misunderstood style identities. So why drag you into that? For a better explanation than Kibbe himself has ever given, I direct you to Aly Art or Merriam Style on YouTube who have done an amazing public service dissecting the whole system.)

My purpose in mentioning lines and angles has more to do with an overall aesthetic approach to style and less to do with assigning an identity. (I have seen women envisioned in completely different ways by different consultants–sometimes all objectively good. There has usually been some point of intersection between the viewpoints.)

Specifically, if you are straight bodied, you will look better in clothing that has a straight silhouette, and if you are rounded, curvy, or somewhere in the middle, you will want clothing that enhances you with a similar silhouette and has edges that are appropriately firmer or softer, as the case warrants. You will also want details that reflect your sharp, soft, or blunt angles.

Vertical Lines and the Body

“Vertical lines” mean different things in different conversations. It can refer to the head-to-body ratio, and when it does, it’s commonly assumed that the perfect body is 8 heads tall. (Most of us do not look like Greek statues, though, so I think the perfect– still imaginary — real-life body may be closer to 7 1/2.) However, the head length is useful in determining the proportion of details in our clothing. Where we place lines of clothing will depend on how the body is balanced in proportion to the head length.

Albrecht Dürer / Public domain

For instance, the head is measured from top to bottom of chin, and that forms the basis of the other vertical measurements. Chin to breast tip is generally one head length, breast tip to natural waist is another head length, waist to leg break is one more head. Then from leg break to knee bend is 2 heads, and from knee bend to floor is another 2 heads. The halfway mark on the body is at the leg break (that’s if you remember to count the head itself). If you are short in one area, you will typically be longer in another. This can be an important clue as to where you want to place clothing lines.

Then again, when we speak of visual length, we might not be talking about actual head lengths at all. We may be looking at the overall aspect of width to length in the entire body. In general, the straighter the body, the more apparent the visual length because the eye travels up and down without being diverted sideways. If the eye is running sideways back and forth across curves, the visual length can seem much less even though the person may actually be tall. That’s why you cannot tell if someone is short or tall just from a photograph.