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How To Dress To Flatter Your Unique Shape!

rule of thirds

I am headed to Alt Summit San Francisco today and I couldn’t be more excited! Not only do we get to experience a great line up of speakers and presenters…we also get to go to PINTEREST HEADQUARTERS!  I can hardly stand the anticipation! :-) (I’ll take lots of pictures!) But as excited as I am about THAT, I’m also VERY excited about the great guest posts I’ve lined up while I’m gone that I really think you’re going to love!

Today’s guest post is from Alicia Richmond, a long-time friend and colleague I used to work with during my talk show producing days. I have always been impressed with her unique ability to help women look their best no matter their shape or size! Even though she’s worked with Clinton Kelly and other notables in the fashion industry, her typical client is “the woman next door”….aka YOU and ME!  Her website, Chic on a Shoestring, is full of practical advice on how to find your personal best. Take it away Alicia…

Alicia Richmond –

As a professional wardrobe stylist I have chosen to work with the everyday woman and have performed thousands of personal consultations. I have worked with women size 0 – 26 and of every shape and type. The one thing that I’ve learned during these 15 years is…. women are too critical of their own bodies.

I often ask women to name the three parts of their body that they love; most women can’t do it. They are quick to give me a lengthy list of what they don’t like, but struggle to focus on the positive. I’ve also found that they are overly concerned with the size stated on the tag in their clothing.

As I work with women, I try to help them find their personal best and to focus on the positive. When they can’t tell me what they like about their body, I tell them what I see and then teach them how to dress to flatter these body assets. I call this “Embrace Your REAL Shape.” A woman’s size may go up and down during the changes in life, but their basic shape, their bone structure and genetic make-up, remains the same.

One of my secrets to helping women find their best fit is a principle I call the “Rule of Thirds.” It is more flattering to the body when it is divided into three sections rather than two halves. This Rule of Thirds helps women to find their feminine side and embrace their curves; it’s not applicable to men.

The Rule of Thirds focuses on your shoulder line, the narrowest point of the torso and the hip line and how to find balance and definition between the three. Look at your shoulder line, and ask yourself, “Are you narrow or wide in the shoulders?” For the torso or waist line, “Where is your narrowest point between your navel and the bust line?” Most people think of the waist line as a horizontal line that intersects your navel, which is anatomically correct, but for the most flattering fit in clothes, the narrowest point of your torso can often be just under the bust line. Then, “How does your hip line compare to your shoulder line?”

This Rule of Thirds is different for most women. To illustrate this point let’s go through a fitting with two clients.

rule of thirds

Amber is very curvy with a great bust line and a balanced shoulder to hip line. Her challenges are that she carries some weight in her mid-section and her legs are short. If she’s not careful she can easily look boxy and hippy.

Notice in Amber’s more flattering look that the neckline to her top is a scoop neck, which frames the shoulders. Her top is ruched on the side seams and is cut in just under the bust, which highlights the smallest area on her torso. This prevents her from looking too boxy through her torso and creates this high or empire “waist line.” To flatter her hipline the length of top hits just below her widest point of her hips.

rule of thirds

In the photo that is less flattering her sleeves are too big and hit her arms at a less flattering spot. No definition under her bust or through the rib cage creates this boxy look. Women will often wear a baggy top to conceal any weight they carry through the mid-section.

Amber’s pants are also much too fitted for how loose and shapeless the top appears. Her body is visually cut into two halves; the top and bottom. With the more flattering outfit, there are three distinct sections and she looks curvier and more feminine.

Next is Marin, who is a completely different shape than Amber. Marin’s assets are her narrow and slim mid-section, a long torso with narrowest point about an inch above the navel and her curvy hips with toned, shapely legs. Some of the challenges for Marin are that her shoulders are more narrow than her hip line and she has short legs for her height.

To balance Marin’s shape, I look for shoulder seams that are extended with attention being drawn to her narrow torso and defined waistline. Pants and skirts should skim and not cling to the hipline, helping to minimize the hips and maintain balance with the shoulders.

rule of thirds

The dress is ideal for Marin because the shoulder line is extended with the definition being accentuated by the slim belt, the A-line skirt skims the hip line and hits at a slimming point on her leg line. Her legs appear long, the waist line is narrow and shoulder line looks balanced.

rule of thirds

In Marin’s less flattering look, the shoulder in the tunic is cut oversized and appears shapeless, there is no definition through the torso or at the narrowest point of the waist line. The belt is hip slung, which draws attention to her curvy hips and adds weight where she doesn’t carry it. The outfit makes her shoulders look small and her torso and mid-section look fuller. Her body appears to be in two halves, which creates legs that appear larger and shorter.

Both of these less flattering outfits may look good on a Pinterest board or hanging on the rack, but to truly Embrace Your REAL Shape it’s crucial to learn how to find the styles that fit and flatter YOUR body-type. When you understand these principles, you can then choose where you want to shop and the price point you feel most comfortable with. As an added benefit, you have fewer “regrets hanging in your closet” because you now know why some pieces look good on you and others do not.

My personal wardrobe consultation I have been doing for 15+ years is now available as an online service called Embrace Your REAL Shape. You can learn more at: www.chiconashoestring.com.

My passion, my joy is helping the everyday woman find her personal best, embrace her figure as it is right now and to stop the cycle of negative thinking about her body.

How does your wardrobe stack up to “The Rule Of Thirds?”

Photo disclaimer: The photos of Amber and Marin are from an actual styling session and taken with an iPhone as a quick snapshot. I’m a wardrobe stylist, not a photographer.


Jill Nystul Photo

Jill Nystul (aka Jillee)

Jill Nystul is an accomplished writer and author who founded the blog One Good Thing by Jillee in 2011. With over 30 years of experience in homemaking, she has become a trusted resource for contemporary homemakers by offering practical solutions to everyday household challenges.
I share creative homemaking and lifestyle solutions that make your life easier and more enjoyable!

About Jillee

Jill Nystul

Jill’s 30 years of homemaking experience, make her the trusted source for practical household solutions.

About Jillee

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    • Erin – Thanks for your comment. I think the name of your website is hilarious…jogging pants must die. I love it!!

  • I think both models look great in each picture. The” less flattering” shots don’t look unflattering to me at all. They are both gorgeous and they both look terrific in each outfit!

  • Personally, I really think that Amber looks better in her “Less Flattering” outfit. In the “More Flattering” outfit her top makes her look bigger in the shoulders and there is too much accent on the bust. Marin looks fine in both.

    • I agree with you that Amber looked so much better in the “less flattering” outfit than the “more flattering” outfit. I think Marin looked good in the “more flattering” outfit (but not great), but her “less flattering” outfit looked weird with the belt. I think it would look better without it.

    • Thank goodness others answered first…I think they both look lovely in both outfits…maybe I don’t have “good taste” or something…but, I really think the lady who wrote this just wants to make money out of women’s insecurities. Apologies, not wanting to offend, just my opinion.

  • I agree with Amber looking amazing on the less flattering picture. Think she looks very wide shouldered on the other one. The other girl looks great in both pictures.

    • Thanks to everyone for your comments. I appreciate Jillee inviting me to “guest post.” I enjoy her audience and feel that her readers have insightful remarks. Hopefully after this post, everyone will start thinking more about their body assets; focusing on the positive and not the negative. :)

      The best part of using the “Rule of Thirds” as a guide is that you will begin to notice the narrowest part of your torso and that it is often not at the navel. I’ve had clients tell me that since having children they don’t have a waist line any more and they absolutely glow when I point out that they do, it’s just not where they think it is.

      In the photos of the more and less flattering outfits, each outfit is stylish, coordinated and looks good on these ladies. I like them all because I’m the one who picked them out! However, part of my Embrace Your REAL Shape philosophy is for women to embrace their curves rather than draping their clothing over any areas they want to de-emphasize. This step alone often gets women looking at themselves in a more positive light and I love to see them learn how to embrace their curves and take pride in their uniqueness.

      Does a woman look at her life differently when she looks at herself more positively? Yes she does!!!

      Thanks everyone :)

  • Am I the only one who thought the “More Flattering” outfits looked more flattering and the “Less Flattering” outfits looked less flattering? Having studied color analysis, design, and proportions has helped train my eye in this area. I find it fascinating how many commenters are quick to dismiss the opinion of a trained wardrobe consultant with over 15 years experience; the very reason she’s in business is because of people who are clueless as to elements of style and proprotions. Everywhere I go online it seems people are always saying everybody looks good, beautiful, no matter what–even if there is room for improvement or the person spoken of wants to improve. There seems to be an overdrive of accepting our bodies the way they are (which we should do) that extends into being happily ignorant of the fact that there really are moreand less flattering ways to wear clothing. I did not see it as easily a few years ago when I started researching wardrobe planning, but the more I studied the easier it has become to see what truly does flatter vs. what doesn’t.

    By the way, I am neither a trained wardrobe consultant nor connected to Alicia Richmond, just an opinionated doesn’t-yet-know-it-all. :)

    • I agree….the more flattering pictures bring out the features of each woman. All of the looks are great, but the more flattering looks are eye catching and enhancing. I think that’s the point….to understand that we all are beautiful and how to enhance that beauty by wearing clothing that draws attention to where we want it. Great work Alicia, off to check out your site!

  • I also did not see a difference between the more and less pictures. I think the reason for this is that the more and less styles are so drastically different that it is like comparing apples to oranges. The less pictures are fluorescent colors and casual styles while the more pictures are business shoes with toned done colors. It was also hard to see the difference in a change from pants to skirts. I will check out the website, but would really like to have seen before and after in the same style and color brightness.

  • Alicia–I was so happy because at the beginning of the post you said you ask women for 3 of their assets. I immediately knew what I think are my 3. My hair, my skin tone and my calves. As for liabilities–they came after–my feet, my “muffin top” & my “double knees”, I feel the rest is OK. My biggest problems is shoes. Due to a congenital defect in my feet I can only wear certain types with my orthotics: special sneakers, a heel that must be 1 1/4″– absolutely no flats that do not fit the orthotics (which eliminates nearly all of them), and no open toe. What is a girl to do?
    Please advise.

    • I was happy to read your comment about knowing your three best assets for your body shape. Having a positive outlook about your body by identifying what is “good” helps you to focus on the challenging areas of your shape.

      Over the years, I have worked with several women who struggle with foot problems and are required to wear comfort brand shoes or specific shoes to target their foot issues. The good news is that several shoe manufacturers have started designing comfort/specific shoes that are more stylish with lots more variety.

      I would be happy to email you links to some shoe choices that might work for your orthotics. Please go to http://www.chiconashoestring.com to contact me.

  • I think the reason why a lot of the readers think that Amber looks better in the Less Flattering picture is because of the color of the outfit. The light, breezy colors make her look more friendly and open. They are great colors for her. However, if they ignored their initial opinion and tried to guess how much Amber weighs in each picture, they would focus more on what Alicia is trying to point out. The sleeves in the second picture make her arms look bigger and the pants emphasize that her hips and thighs are bigger, which makes her overall appearance look bigger (friendly, but bigger).
    That’s another good point. Strangers like the look of “friendly” looking people better. They don’t focus on how big or small you look as much as they do how friendly you look, how comfortable they are to approach you and get to know you.
    Thank you for your tips Alicia! I’ve followed the Rule of Thirds all my life…I just never did it knowingly. I do it because it makes me look better.

  • I agree that the more flattering outfits are more flattering. However, my issue with this post is that the ladies were not put in similar style outfits. Each of them started with casual wear, but ended up in outfits that are considerably more dressy. Both girls totally looked like they were ready to hang out with friends, go to a BBQ, shuttle the kids, or just do a little shopping in their before pics. The after pics looked like they were going to church, on a date, or to work. I certainly would not trade in my capris, and comfort shoes for high heels and a dress to do my daily errands. I know my plus sized body looks better in a pair of heels, a pencil skirt, and a fitted cardigan…but, I’m not going to wear that everyday. Show us how to take less flattering casual to more flattering casual….or how to take less flattering dressy to more flattering dressy. Please don’t start with one and finish with the other. Also, it really gets annoying to see how professional stylists almost always want women to wear heels. Have you folks seen how many ladies are cramming their feet into these shoes and getting bunions??? Please start integrating more foot friendly shoes into the everyday styles. Thank goodness I’ve embraced the barefoot (minimal shoes) movement, and my feet finally are healthy again with no more plantar fasciitis!! I just feel sorry for the ladies who try to follow the “rules” and end up in pain.

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