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Understanding Silhouette

The shape of clothing on a human body, communicates messages about the wearer. Through clothing design, the shape of the human body can be revealed in a natural way, or distorted to enhance the wearer’s appearance. A key skill in dressing well is the ability to select the correct garment shapes, or silhouettes for your figure type.

Figure types are basically geometric shapes (like ovals, trapezoids, and rectangles) that, when combined, describe the basic shape of your body.  Here, we illustrate the most common female figure types and the silhouettes they present. Since the female figure is naturally curvier than the male figure, women’s clothing features more silhouette, or shaping methods than men’s clothing.

Common Figure Types
Common Figure Types

A garment’s silhouette describes its outer dimensions, contour, or shape. To fully understand silhouette, there are two basic design concepts you need to be familiar with – Fullness and Ease.


Fabric has two dimensions – length and width. To make it conform to the curves of the body, we must give it a shape, or silhouette. Any shaping used to create three-dimensional forms has to be done by methods that involve the control of the fabric’s Fullness. Fullness gives the illusion of depth, (the third dimension), in relation to the original width of the fabric.  To control the fullness, the fabric is controlled with gathers, elastic, drawstring, pleats, tucks, shirrs, smocks, or ease.


There are two kinds of Ease that are used in the manufacture of patterns – wearing ease and design ease.  All garments must contain wearing ease to allow for movement and livability. All patterns have wearing ease included in them. Patterns marked for knit or stretchable fabrics only have little or no wearing ease, since the movement of the body is allowed for in the fabric itself.

Design Ease is added fullness, beyond wearing ease, incorporated into a pattern to create a specific silhouette. Extra fullness, or style fullness, can be added to a garment, so that the additional fabric covers the body curves. Fabric panels are cut larger to introduce additional style fullness to the garment, which allows the garment to fit a wider range of sizes than many other shaping methods.  These variations are almost limitless, but basically all garments can be divided into one of the following silhouette categories based on the amount of design ease present in the pattern.  Use this chart in choosing the proper silhouette for your wardrobe selections.




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