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How to Pick the Best Dress for Your Body Type (Because, Yes, It Matters)

Richard Wright

You'll work the room like nobody's business when you wear the perfect dress for your figure

In theory, dress shopping is a breeze. You walk into a store (or visit a website), pick a dress that has a gorgeous color or pattern that appeals to you, find your size and waltz out the door. If only it were the easy. The truth is, finding a dress that was practically made for you is all about embracing your body type and celebrating your favorite features.

And for a lot of us, that's not always so easy.

"There are two myths you must know when it comes to our bodies: One, there's no perfect size, and two, there's no perfect body," says Dr. Carol Parker Walsh of Vancouver, Washington, who has a PhD in human development and social psychology and is the stylist and owner behind Evolve Image Consulting. "Hopefully, this comes as no surprise, but more than not, I'm often dealing with clients who have a love, but mostly hate, relationship with their bodies. Why? Because of the never-ending challenge to find something that fits or the constant comparison with others. The key is to overcome this is to first learn to love and accept your body as-is and to learn how to dress your body appropriately for fit and balance."

With some guidance from the experts, we've put together these simple tips to help you play up your assets and embrace the physical "imperfections" that make you so unique:

Full hips and thighs

 

You'll work the room like nobody's business when you wear the perfect dress for your figure
Image: WireImage/Getty Images

For pear-shaped women with full hips and thighs, the dress should shouldn't be shorter than an inch or two above the knee. Select a dress with an A-line skirt but not something too full. A short, super fuller dress will look like a tu-tu.

You'll know you're a pear if "you often wear a different size on the bottom than you do on top," Dr. Walsh says. "Add width to your top with horizontal stripes and bright bold colors, while keeping the lower half in dark colors. You'll find a better fit if you go for two pieces as opposed to a one-piece dress."

Full waist

You'll work the room like nobody's business when you wear the perfect dress for your figure
Image: WireImage/Getty Images

If you are apple-shaped with a thick middle, you may want to elongate the appearance of your torso and draw the attention away from your waist. Select a dress with an empire or drop waist to re-define your waist line. Avoid thick belts cinched around your midsection and instead choose a chain or sash belt slung low on your hips.

"Consider emphasizing your shoulders. Creating the illusion of more width in this area will make everything below it appear more narrow. Don’t rely on padding for this (too much bulk). Instead, wear a structured jacket (ending mid-hip) to accentuate shoulders or wear dresses that cover the shoulders (cap-sleeves are great) and have enough detailing, such as a bit of puffiness or blousing, to visually balance your hip-to-shoulder ratio without adding mass," says Constance Dunn, style expert and author of Practical Glamour.

To minimize fuller arms, sleeveless and cap-sleeve dresses are best avoided. Instead, select billowy, bell sleeves that are three-quarters or even full-length to flatter your upper body.

Small bust

 

You'll work the room like nobody's business when you wear the perfect dress for your figure
Image: Getty Images Entertainment 

If you weren't endowed with ample breasts, avoid deep plunging necklines. Instead, select dresses with a scoop or bandeau neck and sequins or other adornments to add a little dimension up top. Layered necklaces are very popular right now and they can add some dimension and depth to your bust.

To draw some attention away from your bust and balance out a smaller lower body, choose a dress with an A-line skirt that falls one or two inches above your knees.

Slim

 

You'll work the room like nobody's business when you wear the perfect dress for your figure
Image: WireImage/Getty Images

Sweater or knit dresses are terrific options for thinner women. You can add layers to your dress, such as a cardigan or fitted jacket to give you some bulk. You can also add a thick belt to give your waist more definition. Bubble dresses are very trendy right now and can also give the appearance of a larger lower body.

For slim gals who are lean, lack curves and often have a more athletic build, Dr. Walsh recommends, "Add curves through ruffles, peplums and curvaceous patterns on your lower half."

The shift dress

 

You'll work the room like nobody's business when you wear the perfect dress for your figure
Image: Getty Images Entertainment

 

The shift is a dress, flattering on almost everyone, that hangs straight down from the shoulder. It skims your body nicely, but doesn't cling. For summer, you can find shifts in cool cotton, linen and light knits. When fall arrives, wool and heavier knit shifts will continue to be popular. Though the typical shift dress has a straight skirt, some fashion designers have created stylish shifts with a slightly A-line cut.

Dunn says, "Whether your legs are skinny, thicker or just right, there is always the question of proportion throughout the leg line. The most common imbalance in a woman’s legs is a disproportion between above the knee and below the knee. Here a woman’s upper leg (waist and thighs) will often look thick in comparison to their lower legs (calves). In this scenario, the best skirt and dress length rests at the top to the middle of the kneecap."

Whatever your body type, you can find a beautiful dress that will flatter your figure. Dr. Walsh says, "Learning your body type will help you select the right clothes to create a balanced, and when needed, curvy silhouette. You'll save time shopping and hours of frustrated moments trying to decide what to wear. Regardless of which category you find yourself, the key is to love you and let someone like me handle the rest!"

Remember to accentuate the positive and don't obsess with the negative. If you dress with confidence, you'll look and feel beautiful too.