Women come in all sizes and shapes, but the quest to find clothes that flatter is universal to all. So we sat down with Geoffrey Henning, vice president of women’s design and fashion at JCPenney, to get his advice on finding the best styles for every body shape.
JCP: What’s the best approach to shopping for clothes that both fit and flatter?
GH: My best advice is don’t get hung up on your own preconceptions. Women come in so many different shapes, and there is not one ideal type. Be proud of your body. Fashion isn’t about trying to hide what you think of as your flaws. It’s being proud of who you are and what you have. Show your shape.
JCP: How do fabrics affect the fit or appearance of clothing?
GH: Spandex is truly your best friend. It makes clothing wear better and last longer. It actually enhances the longevity and durability of your clothes. And it’s more comfortable. Spandex will contour to your body and will also hold you in.
If you are self-conscious about your body, look for a more diaphanous fabric like chiffon. The flowy, fluid aspect of chiffon helps create an illusion.
JCP: Any recommendations for short women?
GH: Define your proportions by showing your waist. Think high-waist pencil skirts, short flippy skirts, skinny pants. Avoid voluminous pants, oversized tops and long, full skirts—they’re just going to overwhelm your petiteness. If you want to wear a long skirt, try a floor-length or mid-ankle skirt and pair it with a fitted top to create an hourglass effect.
JCP: What about tall women?
GH: Tall women can wear just about anything. Flared pants look sensational. The only word of caution is short skirts. They can exaggerate the leg and make you look out of proportion or inappropriately dressed. You don’t want to look like you’re headed to a club when you’re really on your way to the office.
JCP: We’ve talked about height. What about body shape?
GH: Some pieces work well for all body shapes. A high-waist pencil skirt elongates any body and creates a waist. Same with a peplum top, which also works well with any type of bottom—skinny pants, full pants, all kinds of skirts. Flared pants will make any woman appear taller. A long duster is universally flattering because it envelops your entire body and keeps the eye moving, deflecting it from any one area.
JCP: We used to talk about pear and apple body shapes. Are those terms still relevant?
GH: The medical community might still mention pears and apples, but the fashion world recognizes there is a multitude of shapes and sizes, including rectangular, inverted triangle, spoon and hourglass.
JCP: How would you describe a rectangular body shape, and if that’s me, what should I look for?
GH: A woman with a rectangular body shape has a less defined waist, so oversized sweater coats, long coats and dusters look great on her. Diaphanous, flowy tops with skinny pants will give her a very fluid and flattering style.
JCP: What about a woman with a spoon body shape?
GH: We used to call this a pear shape. Her hips are larger than her bust, so she tends to be smaller on top with slightly larger legs and derrière. Follow the contours of the body with fitted tops and loose bottoms. She’ll look great in dresses, full skirts and below-the-knee flippy skirts.
JCP: So is the inverted body shape what we used to call an apple shape?
GH: Yes. Her legs are slimmer, and her abdomen is slightly larger. Again, follow the body contours, so it’s basically the opposite of what a spoon-shaped woman would wear. Take an oversized tunic top and pair it with skinny bottoms. Even better, choose a tunic with some added interest, like a multi-layered top or one with a sharkbite or asymmetrical hem. To look totally on-trend, wear a short jacket over a long tunic and skinny pants.
JCP: The Marilyn Monroe hourglass shape is often idealized, but are there many women who have that shape?
GH: It’s not very common to have an hourglass shape, where the hips and bust are about the same measurement, and the waist is narrower. As with many of the other shapes, a woman with an hourglass shape should emphasize her waist. Try high-waist pencil skirts and fitted tops, such as peplum or belted tops.
JCP: Anything else we should know?
GH: Sometimes our self-perceptions just aren’t accurate. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and take a risk. Clothing isn’t supposed to be a chore. Just have fun with it.
Geoffrey Henning oversees a team of more than five dozen in-house JCPenney designers and textile artists. Fluent in French, he travels globally throughout Europe, Asia and the United States to bring the latest trends to JCPenney customers. Geoffrey is on the Parsons School of Design Board of Governors and is a frequent fashion critic for NBC Weekend Today. His fashion illustrations have appeared internationally, including in Italian VOGUE and British ELLE.