Figuring Out My Figure Type

Readers,

I’ll cut to the chase: I have an “X” figure type with sloping shoulders.

Photo taken by Cynthia in her studio Oct. 20.

The suspense is over. Let the fitting begin!

To update:

My longtime reader(s) will remember that one of the first topics I tackled in this blog, in 2013, was identifying my figure type, which I wrote about here and here.

For those posts I followed instructions in The Perfect Fit (Singer Sewing Reference Library) to trace my life-size silhouette onto paper and to compare my proportions to “an average figure that is used as a sizing standard for patterns.”

The exercise was interesting, to be sure, but my conclusions weren’t definitive.  It would have been great, having had this “X-ray” taken of my figure, to have a “radiologist” interpret the image or send me back to the drawing board to make an outline with more precisely placed markers.

I didn’t know exactly what the “ends of shoulders” were that I was supposed to mark. Where was the base of my neck?  My waist location was a cinch, but where should I mark the hip–where the bones are, or where I’m the widest?

Although a yardstick laid from the shoulder to hip was very nearly vertical, indicating a “balanced” figure, I didn’t feel balanced. (“Ballast” was more like it.) I’m always wanting to add visual weight to my shoulder line. The books may have labeled me an hourglass, but I thought I’d better heed the advice for pears. Right?

“Kinda” knowing my figure type was hardly better than not knowing at all. After all, avoiding the worst designs for my figure type is only a start.  I want to know–without so much costly trial and error–what’s worth sewing or shopping for to create beautiful outfits–even whole seasonal collections.

Having my figure evaluated by an expert was one of the main reasons I joined Imogen Lamport’s program 7 Steps to Style.  A couple of weeks ago I donned a leotard and leggings, and Cynthia took a nice, clear photograph in her well-lighted studio. I posted the photo to the 7 Steps to Style Facebook group, where a couple of dozen fellow members very kindly offered their opinions.

And you know what? It is not necessarily easy to size up somebody else’s figure! Some thought “X” (the hourglass shape); some thought an “8” (which has a hip shape resembling Barbie’s, so I’m told); some had reason to believe I was an “A” (which is a nicer way of saying a pear). It was even suggested that I was an “I,” which was interesting because I definitely have a waist.

Responding to lot of observations, I volunteered that whatever figure I had, I had the mindset of an “A” because I always wanted to add a strong horizontal shoulder line. That’s one reason why I like fashions of the 1940s.

I had posted my photo midday Friday my time but at the beginning of the weekend, Australia time, so it was a couple of days before I got Imogen’s response of an “X” figure.  The line from shoulder to hip is vertical (not slanted out like an “A” or in like a “V” figure) and I clearly have a waist. “X” it is–with the further qualification of sloped shoulders.

I know, it makes sense, and maybe I should have had this all figured on my own long ago. But it was awfully helpful to have the opinion of an expert who’s worked with thousands of women to distinguish my salient characteristics.

But this is not just the end of an old story; it’s the beginning of a new, richer story.  Possibly the best feature of this program I’m participating in is the ongoing feedback from Imogen and hundreds of fellow 7 Steps to Style members. I have this new, solid piece of information I can test and refine over the months and through the seasons, with the possibility of critical but supportive input beyond what I’ve ever had before.

Things are looking up!

Photo by Cynthia DeGrand

Cooking Up My Style Recipe

Readers,

Have you ever tried to define your fashion personality and wardrobe style in just a handful of words? Me neither.

At least not till a couple of afternoons ago, when I undertook what I’ve found so far to be the single most important–and head-scratching–exercise in image consultant Imogen Lamport’s 7 Steps to Style program.

Imogen Lamport at her desk - Creator of Inside Out Style

Melbourne, Australia-based image consultant Imogen Lamport.

After months of reading dozens of Imogen’s immensely enlightening (and free!) posts on her blog, Inside Out Style, about figure types, coloring, proportions, color- and value-contrast, and wardrobe-building, I finally took the plunge and bought her program so I could be advised individually and admitted to the Facebook group of sister “7 Steppers,” who encourage each other and offer helpful feedback.

I had gone about as far as I could puzzling out my coloring, figure type, proportions, and so forth on my own but was still perplexed. My closet still has too many wardrobe orphans, and I still sew too many duds.

Uh…Do we have a fitting problem here? (Jack nicknamed this 2013 sewing project “Anoraksia Nervosa.”)

It was time to tap into the knowledge of a pro who had analyzed the figures and determined the coloring of thousands of clients for as close to an objective assessment as I could ever hope to get.

But the subjective assessment was all on my shoulders. In Step 1 of the program, “Personality,” Imogen writes,

During my image consultant training, I had an epiphany. It wasn’t just the shape of clothes that’s important to finding the right styles for each person, but also your personality traits need to be reflected in the clothing, as this is how you will feel the most comfortable and stylish.

“[D]iscovering your personality style,” she continues, “is the jumping off point in my 7 Steps to Style. Without discovering all about who you are and what you love, you’ll never really feel as stylish and attractive as possible.”

This jacket from a 1930s pattern was a technical hit but a fashion miss. That’s a lot of effort to put in for so little return.

And so what occupied me a couple of afternoons ago was, first, taking the Personality Style Quiz, to help determine my preferences for seven styles of dressing: Classic, Relaxed, Dramatic, Creative, Rebellious, Feminine and Elegant Chic.

I appreciated not being confined to one category but choosing qualities I liked from as many categories as I liked and leaving the rest, as if I were filling my plate from a vast fashion “buffet.” I took big helpings from Classic and Elegant Chic, a sizeable portion of Creative, and appetizer-sized servings of the rest. Translated into a wardrobe item my “fashion plate” (ha!) might mean a well-fitted (Elegant Chic) trench coat (Classic) in a nontraditional color like chartreuse (Creative).

The next section, which I also tackled with relish, was answering “What do you love? What speaks to you? Write down the elements that make you excited.”

Let’s see…I love autumn colors, and apple pie, and berets…but not the scratchy wool-blend I used for this capacious coat!

Imogen listed:

  • Colors
  • Textures
  • Fabrics
  • Patterns
  • Design details
  • Jewelry
  • Shoes
  • Handbags

To which I added the category

  • Hats

What sewer doesn’t have opinions on these subjects?  The spaces were hardly big enough to list all the colors I crave (Mustards! Olives! Chocolate and caramel browns!),

Wearing some of my favorite colors.

patterns I love (houndstooths, plaids, stripes of every stripe), or design details I adore (buttons and buttonholes, contrast facings and linings). In my self-generated category Hats, typical of an Elegant Chic I listed berets (and typical of a Creative, I own them in many colors).

One of my many berets.

For 7 Steps to Style participants who dress differently for their workplaces than in their personal lives, there’s a section for defining the wardrobe and style requirements for each area. I pressed on to the last section: Create Your Unique Style Recipe.

“By now,” Imogen writes,

you should be starting to get a clearer picture of the styles of clothes you love, the elements of design that excite you, and your personal style. So it’s time to create your Style Recipe–these are the words that help you make decisions about clothes and outfits, whether or not you should keep them in your wardrobe, or buy them at all.

What you’re going to be doing is creating a list of words that resonate with you as a person and how you want to be perceived. A list expressing your authentic and best self that will be used when you shop for something new, or just when you’re putting together your outfit for the day.

This was the most challenging exercise for me as for almost all 7 Steps to Style participants.  How do you condense your tastes and aspirations into a few words? Just start. Experiment with your words, and modify as needed.  As with a recipe, season to taste.

For me, the stumbling block was addressing the question of how I want to be perceived. If you want to see me cock a skeptical eyebrow in record time, tell me to use words like “bold,” “mysterious,” “edgy,” or “powerful” in my style recipe. I guess the problem I have with this is, for better or worse, I can’t control how others perceive me.

However, I definitely see how not understanding the powerful vocabulary of dressing means not being able to create strong, consistent messages through clothes and outfits.

Forget what the color orange is saying about me–what my face is saying is, “Hurry up and take the picture!”

And for a sewing blogger, such a misunderstanding would be pretty ironic.

I decided not to let myself get bogged down in the being-perceived piece of this question and pressed on. I remained curious to see how I could use carefully selected words to make finer distinctions and chart a more interesting, personal–and enjoyable–wardrobe path.

I asked myself, What am I aiming for in my wardrobe? and my answer came back about what I want in my clothes. And that’s when I winnowed several dozen words down to five and came up with my Style Recipe, Version 1.0.

The words are:

  • Crafted
  • Useful
  • Vintage
  • Enduring
  • Surprising

Here’s why:

  • Crafted.  I realized that it really matters to me to make a significant part of my wardrobe. I enjoy nice clothes–who doesn’t?–but when I slide my arm through the sleeve of a coat I’ve sewn, my enjoyment is multiplied.

    I enjoy wearing the “belted topper” I made from an early ’50s pattern.

    It is further magnified when I recall choosing the fabric, conversing with the dealer who sold me the vintage buttons, or solving the puzzles of designing and constructing the garment. Once in a long while a purchased garment approaches that level of satisfaction, but really, nothing compares with the feeling I get wearing something I’ve made.

    This Pendleton jacket from the 1950s that I discovered in a vintage clothing store is beautifully made and a joy to wear.

    (But if I really dislike the process of making some wardrobe items, I’m fine with buying ready-to-wear.)

  • Useful.  Utility should be the bottom line for wardrobe items, right? Yet, how many times have I settled for a wardrobe item that wasn’t useful enough? A scratchy sweater, a shoulder bag that slips, shoes I can’t walk distances in? On the other hand, there are ingeniously designed items that carry usefulness to a new level.

    This early ’50s easy-to-sew weskit with big pockets is stylish, easy to wear, easy to pack, and so useful for holding swatches!

    And there’s another kind of useful–say, a yellow raincoat that keeps me dry but also makes me easy to spot when Jack and I travel.

    Henry VIII may be bigger, but in my yellow raincoat I’m no shrinking violet!

    “Useful” is in my style recipe to remind me to design multiple kinds of utility into garments I sew. And when I shop I’ll ask “Is this useful?” and “How is this useful?”

  • Vintage.  There’s no getting around it: I have a special liking for the styles, silhouettes, and details of many patterns from the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s.  The only time I’m consistently excited about contemporary patterns is when I browse the Marfy pattern company site.
    Sewing pattern Jackets / Shrugs 3223

    When I think of the Elegant Chic style, Marfy patterns come to mind.

    Those patterns come without instructions, which feels scary, but the styles are so enticing I’ll eventually attempt to sew one. Of course, I don’t want my closet to be a costume museum, and it doesn’t have to be. Vintage designs can be adapted, sewn in today’s colors and fabrics and worn in fresh combinations.

  • Enduring. I want to like my wardrobe so much that I would use everything till it fell apart. If not everything in my wardrobe is of enduring design, I will still aim for a much higher percentage. If I want to get rid of an item while it still has much wear left, I’ll want to know what’s unsatisfactory with the object or what’s different in my life now and what would suit my tastes or activities better.

    The weskit? Love. The colors–meh. I can do better.

  • Surprising. I think without Surprising in my style recipe my wardrobe could end up feeling like a bowl of oatmeal: nourishing but not very exciting.

    Flannel pajamas: as exciting as oatmeal. Perhaps pair them with a robe in a fun print?

    Surprising could take so many forms:

    • a classic garment in a nontraditional color (like a chartreuse trench coat)
    • a detail that’s a different size than what’s usually seen (like a large collar or pockets)

      I love the generous-sized collar on this 1959 jacket pattern.

    • a contrast facing for a collar or pocket flap that perhaps only the wearer knows about
    • a clever combination of patterns or colors that “shouldn’t” work–but does

I think of Surprising as the ingredient in my style recipe, like a squeeze of lemon juice, that brightens up the rest of the dish. Surprising is freshness, humor, delight. Whether I’m planning a garment to sew or an outfit to wear, I’ll ask myself where I might incorporate an element of surprise.

Okay, so not every surprise is a good surprise…(from my field trip to The Alley Vintage and Costume, Columbus, Ohio)

Well, that’s the recipe I cooked up on a quiet afternoon earlier this week. After I’ve had my colors analyzed and my figure type identified I’ll evaluate my wardrobe, fabrics, and patterns in earnest. That’s when I’ll really start putting this style recipe to the test.

(Studio photos and the “surprising hat” photo are by Cynthia DeGrand)

What Works, What Doesn’t: Five Versions of the McCall “Mannish Jacket” from 1941

Readers,

Remember this jacket pattern? Of course you do.

IMG_6681 (345x460)

From 1941, McCall pattern 4065, the “Misses’ Mannish Jacket”

In 2015 I used it for a project following Kenneth King’s “Old School” instructions on his Smart Tailoring DVD.

From 2003 to 2015 I made up this jacket five times.

Don’t ask me why, but I always loved the jaunty pattern illustration.

The actual jackets? I didn’t love them, exactly, although I was proud of the quality of work I did on parts of them.  Only recently (like five minutes ago) did I make this crucial distinction.dark_tweed_jacket_1712-247x460

dark_tweed_jacket_1715-219x460

If I had seen well-lighted, full-length photos of this first version of the jacket on me I could have perfected the fit.

I made the dark tweed one first, starting it in a Palmer-Pletsch sewing camp in Portland, Oregon in 2003 and finishing it at home with guidance from my sewing teacher, Edith.dark_tweed_jacket_1721-460x363dark_tweed_jacket_1722-460x403

In 2006, in a stunt of sewing bravado, I sewed burgundy plaid, green heather, and red plaid versions. purple_plaid_jacket_1732-244x460

purple_plaid_jacket_1735-235x460

heather_jacket_1767-262x460

The only jacket I’ve ever interfaced with fusible canvas. I know Kenneth King isn’t a fan of fusible canvas, but it turned out to work well in this garment.

heather_jacket_1770-219x460

red_plaid_jacket_1792-242x460

red_plaid_jacket_1801-246x460

I need a little posture-correcting here!

Defiantly shaking my fist at the sewing gods, and with Edith’s encouragement and coaching, I cut the pieces for all three jackets (two requiring meticulous matching) over that Labor Day weekend.  Relaxing, right?

purple_plaid_jacket_1745-460x319

I have always liked this plaid for its colors and scale.

I just didn’t want to be intimidated by tailoring anymore, so I cut and sewed the three jackets, with different pockets, over the course of several months.

purple_plaid_jacket_1741-460x307

It’s fun to cut some plaid pieces on the bias. I cut out a hole the shape of the finished flap from stiff paper, and moved the “preview window” around on the yardage. Then I cut the flap pieces.

purple_plaid_jacket_1743-460x307

purple_plaid_jacket_1749-460x307

It’s nice when you can find the right buttons in the right sizes. These are a souvenir of a visit to Edinburgh.

purple_plaid_jacket_1751-460x307

Bound buttonholes are not my forte.

 

I had a few tutorials with Edith and also used Jackets for Real People by Patti Palmer and Marta Alto extensively.heather_jacket_1780-460x331

heather_jacket_1777-444x460

The bound buttonhole is coming apart. But–I love the subtle coloring of this fabric! I picked it up as a remnant for about $3.00 at the Minnesota Textile Center’s fabulous annual fabric garage sale.

heather_jacket_1773-460x375

I’m happy with the shoulders and notched collar job I did. This wool was a breeze to work with.

heather_jacket_1785-460x327

Holes in the lining created from carrying tote bags of books to and from the libraries I used to work at. Of all the jackets, I’ve worn this one the most.

I did learn a lot, and achieved a lot, and am still impressed by the ambition of the goal as well as the results.red_plaid_jacket_1808-460x357

red_plaid_jacket_1814-460x325

red_plaid_jacket_1812-460x352

I settled for this style of button but think there are better choices out there. Something subtle and matte.

red_plaid_jacket_1805-460x339

Shoulders are okay, but I keep wanting to subtract a little roominess from the upper bodice.

But if the point of sewing clothes is to wear the clothes, then I didn’t succeed as much as I assumed I would.  I didn’t follow through with planning outfits around these jackets, let alone making the jackets the pivotal pieces they deserved to be.

Even though my now four “Misses’ Mannish Jackets” were underemployed in my wardrobe, yet again I turned to this pattern when I wanted to try Kenneth King’s brand new Smart Tailoring DVD last year.blue_tweed_jacket_1818-252x460

I wanted to try all of Kenneth’s techniques–for a notched collar, felt undercollar, mitered sleeves, and a vent–and the Mannish Jacket met all those specs. blue_tweed_jacket_1856-460x384

blue_tweed_jacket_1852-460x362

This is Kenneth King’s “hidden pocket”: a nice addition to the lining.

blue_tweed_jacket_1847-460x389

The patch pockets on this 1941 jacket are slightly asymmetrical, which I like.

I did consider many other patterns I’d been dying to try for years–but the prospect of going through the whole muslin, fitting, and pattern-altering rigamarole before getting to the tailoring was just too much. I wanted to finish my jacket before attending Kenneth’s weekend workshop in Cleveland a few months later. (And I did.)

blue_tweed_jacket_1858-460x337

This fabric, which I bought at a Textile Center of Minnesota sale, may well date to the 1950s. It likely came from somebody’s stash. The button dates to the 1940s, according to the owner of Taylors Buttons in London.

So that’s how Mannish Jacket 5 came to be: I sewed it as a learning exercise. And the fabric?  I chose that only because I was willing to sacrifice it, if the jacket was a dud. So, looking back, I see just how much learning technique took precedence over making myself something I wanted to wear.

In fact, just now I’m realizing that each of these Mannish Jackets may have been taken on a little too self-consciously as An Exercise in Sewing Self-Improvement.

I suspect this because, when I see these jackets hanging in my closet I hear myself saying:

  • “I put a lot of work into that.”
  • “I did a good job [matching the plaid/sewing the pockets/choosing the buttons].”
  • “I learned a lot.”
  • “I wish I hadn’t padded the shoulders so much.”
  • “Are they too long for me?”
  • “My bound buttonholes are too flimsy!”
  • “I do love the fabric.”
  • “If I just sew the right coordinates, I’ll wear them.”

In other words, I still see them as projects more than as garments.

I don’t notice myself saying:

  • “I love these jackets!”
  • “When can I wear them again?”
  • “What can I sew now to make new outfits?”

Don’t get me wrong: the Mannish Jacket series wasn’t a waste of time. I did learn a lot–and not just how to sew a notched collar without flinching.  But there will be no Mannish Jacket number 6.

What I had only vaguely felt–a sense that, however hard I had worked on these garments, they still fell short, without my knowing precisely why–became clear to me when I saw the stark reality in properly lighted photos.

These jackets were wearing me more than I was wearing them.  The shoulders? Wider than I’d realized before, and not in a flattering way.

blue_tweed_jacket_1846-460x342

I am very dissatisfied with the prominent sleeve caps; they interrupt a clean, straight shoulder line. It doesn’t help that the shoulders are too extended for me. This is the same pattern I used for the preceding four jackets, yet this one turned out so different.

blue_tweed_jacket_1832-237x460

This is too big! So exasperating. Also, I wonder whether I made the best interfacing choices. They are so hard to get right.

The length?  Disproportionate on me. The back? Too roomy.  This is the 1941 version of–yes, a boyfriend jacket! Of course!

I could alter the pattern pieces for future jackets, narrowing the back and shoulder and taking three or four inches from the 26 1/2″ finished length.  I could make a better-fitting Mannish Jacket. However, I think I’d be removing much of what makes the 1941 design distinctive. I also think my appetite for this style has been satisfied.

Instead, I’ll reassign Jacket 5 from bench-sitting as a garment to active duty as a tailoring resource.  And jackets 1 through 4 can serve occasionally as light coats flung over sweaters or flannel shirts and jeans to wear on crisp, dry, fall days.

There are critical points on the way to getting things sewn, where, if I do make the extra effort to identify the lessons, I can reap the full benefit.

As I look back at what my Mannish Jackets could teach me, some lessons are:

  • Photos of myself in muslins and garments give me much better data to work with than squinting in a mirror or getting feedback from well-intentioned helpers.
  • If the point of sewing most garments is to wear them in outfits, I should pay a lot more attention to the outfit level of planning.
  • Planning outfits is a skill in itself. If I plan outfits before I sew the garments, I’m more likely to enjoy really successful outcomes.  If I sew the garment and then only hope I can incorporate it into an outfit, then I’m more likely to be disappointed.
  • It’s okay to sew something as a rehearsal for the next iteration–as long as I’m aware that what I’m producing is just a practice piece. If it does become part of my wardrobe, that’s a bonus.

Lessons learned.  Now to incorporate them into new practices and put myself on an even more rewarding path.

(Thanks to Cynthia DeGrand for all photos.)

 

Beau Ideal

Readers,

Jack.

Jack.

The only thing that’s short about my husband, Jack’s, figure analysis is this post.

After standing him against a big piece of paper taped to the wall and tracing his outline as accurately as possible, I can now reliably report:

Jack is tall.

Surprising, I know. But, there you are.

I’d  had my suspicions, of course. But I wanted to be sure, so I collected the data and analyzed it.

A few months ago, using “Analyzing Your Figure” in the Singer Sewing Reference Library’s book The Perfect Fit, I’d learned a few things about myself that you can read about here.

Marta Alto and Pati Palmer describe making a "body graph" in their book.

Marta Alto and Pati Palmer describe making a “body graph” in their book.

It was only later that I discovered “Make a Body Graph” in Marta Alto and Pati Palmer’s book Fit for Real People, and right away I wanted to do one. Marta and Pati’s methods come from having taught and fitted thousands of people and having answered recurring sewing questions for decades.

So it was Fit for Real People that I turned to when I drew Jack’s outline on the paper.  Basically, this exercise, like the ones I did for myself, tells you about proportions. It doesn’t address back curvature or posture.

You trace around the person’s body, then fold the paper into eighths to form creases, and then open out the paper again. The creases help you see where the “ideally” proportioned figure’s  shoulders, waist, hips and knees would be located. They provide a basis of comparison for a real person’s body locations. So you can see if he or she is long-waisted, or short-legged, and so forth. This can help not only with fitting but with finding the most flattering proportions in clothes to emphasize or deemphasize figure characteristics.

The outline, creased into eight segments for comparing "ideal" proportions with your own.

The outline, creased into eight segments for comparing “ideal” proportions with your own.

I said “he,” but so far in my figure analysis research–which has been a lot though not exhaustive–I have not seen references to any “he”s.  It seems to me–the ancient Greeks would agree–that men have proportions, too. I proceeded on the fairly safe assumption that men’s head lengths are ideally one-eighth of their body lengths as well as other assumptions about the positioning of the waist and so forth.

So Jack stood as still as he could while I painstakingly traced a wavering pencil line around him. Drawing accurate lines around somebody was more difficult than I’d imagined. But we’re looking more at length than width in this exercise.

I tied a length of elastic around Jack’s middle and he put it at his waist. With Jack, the definition of “waist” is rather vague. “What is a waist?” he asked. “I think of a waist as where I wear my pants,” he concluded.  (How did ancient Greek men, without the aid of pants, determine their waists, I wonder.)

At long last, I finished the outline. I had marked top and bottom of head, shoulders, underarm, waist, hip joints, crotch, and knees. I wouldn’t swear to the accuracy of the waist and hip joint markings.

I assumed that "ideal" proportions for women apply to men, too.

I assumed that “ideal” proportions for women apply to men, too.

This is where I wish Marta and Pati had magically appeared to help. Because if you’ve mismarked the waist or hip joint locations, you’ll draw the wrong conclusions about proportions.

Imagine a figure divided into eight vertical segments. In an “ideal” figure the waist is on crease at the bottom of the third segment. Jack’s waist, as he defines it, is three inches below that crease, which is a lot. But is that right?

And Jack’s hip joint: did we properly locate where it hinges? In an “ideal” figure  it’s at the bottom of the fourth segment. But we located Jack’s hip joints 2 1/2 inches up from the fourth segment on one side and 3 1/2 inches on the other side. Hmm.

And on it went. I was doubtful about half the markings I made, and so unwilling to draw conclusions.

I did learn that the major pattern companies’ male fitting model is 5’10”. Jack is 6’2″. And I’ve had to lengthen his shirt patterns in the body and sleeves by about 3 inches.

In short, though, all I can confidently conclude is,

Jack is tall.

It Figures: Figure Analysis, part 2

Me with my good buddy, my figure outline

Me with my good buddy, my figure outline

Readers,

In my previous post I described how my helper (sister and photographer Cynthia), and I created an outline of my figure so I could stand back and view it with some objectivity.  We followed instructions in the book  The Perfect Fit in the Singer Sewing Reference Library.

I hoped this exercise could show where my outline proportions match pattern company standards and ancient Greek ideals, and where they varied.  I thought that knowing this could help me determine the best proportions and garment styles for me.

Well…I’ll start with the firm-ish conclusions.

Note that in these illustrations:

  • The black horizontal lines are drawn through the reference points of the base of my neck, shoulders, underarms, waist, fullest part of the hip, and knees.
    • The red broken lines are where I creased the paper. They represent  the “ideal” proportions the Greeks and today’s pattern companies divide the body into.
     long-waisted

    Long-waisted. Equal shoulder and hip width.

    I’m a little long-waisted.  See how the broken red line is above the black underarm line?  That’s extra space that shows I’m longer-waisted than the standard.

  • See the parallel red lines drawn through the shoulder points to hip points?  The outline shows my shoulders and hips are equal width.  I was surprised.  If I loosen up my exercise and eating regimen the least little bit, a pear-shaped figure is my reward. I’d anticipated lines slanting wider toward the floor.
  • I’m short-legged.  (Not surprising.)  In The Perfect Fit the black line marking the fullest part of the hip is much lower than the red broken line.  In the standard figure the black line would be up there with the red line.

    Short legs.

    Short legs.

I may be short (barely 5’2″) but I’m not a true petite.  True petites, say Pati Palmer and Marta Alto in their book Fit for Real People, are proportionately shorter all over, not just in the legs like I am.  And as I said earlier, I’m long-waisted.  (As a short person, the thought that I’m long in anything comes as a surprise.)

I have average shoulders, not sloping or square.  The distance between my base of neck line and shoulder line is 2″, which is the standard in commercial patterns.

Average shoulders

Average shoulders

 

But, readers, enough about me.

The truth is, I wouldn’t draw firm conclusions based only on this outline.

Cynthia and I wondered where exactly to mark most body points.  The top of head and waist were easy.  But where exactly to mark the base of the neck, the “ends of shoulders” (I chose those bony bumps), the underarms, hips and even knees?

I also don’t get why the fullest part of the hip would be marked but not the hip sockets.  Where people carry their fullness relative to the hip sockets can vary greatly.

So marking reference points differently would yield different results and conclusions. How reliable would they be? Not very.

"What info does this foldline give me?"

“What info does this foldline give me?”

So, am I recommending skipping the outline exercise and quitting this whole figure analysis thing? Nope.

In his book The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick) Seth Godin writes, “…the opposite of quitting is rededication.  The opposite of quitting is an invigorated new strategy designed to break the problem apart.

So here are three more approaches.

If you enjoy calculating ratios, see “The Golden Rule of Proportions: Use an age-old ratio to look your best” in Threads magazine Feb./Mar. 2009 by Sandra Ericson.  She writes, “A wonder of nature is that the height of the average person’s head, from top to chin, divides into the height of their body seven and a half to eight times.”

Ericson directs you to have a helper trace your outline on a sheet of paper.  Then you calculate using your head length to draw the “ideal grid” onto the outline, and observe the variances.  She shows examples of outlines of real women overlaid with their ideal grids, with clothing choices showing their best silhouettes.

I admit I found this article daunting at first glance, and my casual summary doesn’t do it justice.  It deserves a separate post.  I’ll try all of Sandra Ericson’s instructions and report back in the next few months.

Pati Palmer and Marta Alto describe making a “body graph,” which looks like a much-improved version of the outline I did, in their book Fit for Real People.  They give detailed instructions with lots of informative photos and drawings.  They also supply a drawing of so-called “perfect” proportions, a worksheet to collect all your data, and Marta’s filled-out worksheet showing her figure variances.  I’ll also try the Body Graph myself and will write about this.

Finally, Brenda Kinsel’s chapter entitled “Stand Up and Be Measured, ” in her book In the Dressing Room with Brenda: A Fun and Practical Guide to Buying Smart and Looking Great, uses the very minimum of math and no outlines.  You pair up with a partner and determine proportions using a cloth measuring tape and a pair of dowels.  This sounds like a social, fun, and informative way to train your eye and appreciate your assets.  Kinsel is so positive but grounded in practicality, too.  I must give her exercises a whirl, too and report back.

I’m curious to know what fund of knowledge I may amass from spending a few hours trying out all these figure analysis methods.  Whatever I learn, I’ll pass on to you, readers.  These are all tools that, together, I hope, will lead to more confident pattern and ready-to-wear selection.

So, readers, have you tried any figure analysis methods from sewing or fashion books?  Did they help?