How to Choose a Cocktail Dress for Your Body Shape

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Woman wearing black hat and black fit n flare cocktail dress

A good cocktail dress (or two!) is a must-have for formal to semi-formal events. You can buy one or easily make a cute, girly cocktail dress. If you go the buying route, you have tons of options. If you have sewing skills, you can do what women for generations have done — rely on needles and threads to sew their favorite clothes. The DIY road can be much cheaper option, and your cocktail dress will fit you perfectly.

The challenge is that no cocktail dress (or template!) is one-size-fits-all, and we all have different body types. Before you even start to shop or sew, it helps to know your body shape and the design elements that look best on you.

How to Choose the Right Cocktail Dress

Whether you are making or buying a cocktail dress, it is important that it fit you properly so that you can go out looking and feeling your best. You feel your best when your clothes balance your proportions and accentuates your body’s best features.

Said more simply, you want a dress that hides what you want hidden and shows off what you want to show off. It isn’t as hard as it sounds either!

Determining Your Body Shape

First, measure yourself at your shoulders, bust, waist, and hips. You’ll use these numbers to figure out your body type. Here’s how it breaks down:

  • If your shoulders and bust are wider than your hips — by about 5% or more — you have an inverted triangle shape.
  • If your shoulders, bust and hips are within 5% of one another, you have a rectangle shape.
  • If your waist is smaller than your shoulders, bust and hips by about 25%, you have an hourglass shape.
  • If your shoulders, bust and waist are all smaller than your hips, you have a pear shape.
  • If your shoulders are wider than your hips, you have a large bust and your waist is not well-defined, you may have an apple shape.

Inverted Triangle Shape

If you have an inverted triangle-shaped body, you are working with a larger bust, broad shoulders, and a narrow waist, hips, and slender legs. To balance these proportions out, you can add volume near your waist or streamline your shoulders.

  • You can add volume to the waist with detailing such as pleats or a flowing skirt.
  • To make your shoulders appear narrower, choose a sweetheart neckline, spaghetti straps or cap sleeves.

Rectangular Body Shape

Your rectangular-shaped body is the more athletic, slender type. Despite the boxy-sounding name, this shape lends to thin legs, narrow hips, narrow shoulders, and a small bust — in other words, you don’t have a lot of curves.

Flattering styles for you are the dresses that add the illusion of curves. Try an empire waistline, which makes your top half and bottom half look shapelier.

The Hourglass Shape

The hourglass shape is the most balanced body for a woman. You have average-to-larger bust and hips, paired with a small waist.

With this body type, you don’t really have a feature to hide as much as you just want to flaunt what you’ve got. Bodycon and bandage dresses are your best friends. Consider a belt too, which will further accentuate your tiny waist.

You can also go for the classic pinup-style dresses that cinch at the waist and flare out at the bottom near the skirt. Look for clearly defined waistlines and hemlines that end above the knee.

The Pear Shape

A pear-shaped body — aka the triangle body — carries weight in the lower half. You can balance that out by drawing attention to your slender shoulders and collarbones.

To do this, design aspects such as halter tops or sleeveless or strapless dresses are ideal. You can also use a plunging neckline and a statement necklace.

A second strategy is to accentuate your waist with a cinched dress or belt.

Apple Shape

Apple shapes are most flattered by pieces that elongate the torso, add definition to the waist and draw attention to your legs. Achieve that balance with wrap-style dresses and knee-length, A-line skirts. You’ll also love structured tops, like a cropped blazer.

For more information on dressing for your body shape, see Dressing for your Body Type — Top 3 Tips. 

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