Play up Your Petite Hourglass Figure

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An Hourglass Figure Is Ideal

Salma Hayek plays to her strengths in this flattering, gathered but simple evening gown. Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images

Lucky you! If you have an hourglass-shaped figure, you're among the few who have this ideal feminine shape. Why is it ideal? Although other shapes, such as the tiny rectangle, have been considered the best in other eras, the hourglass figure is enjoying a moment.

Hourglass figures can be any size; it's the shape that determines the hourglass figure type. Women who have hourglass figures always have a defined waistline with an equally balanced top and bottom.

Petite women with hourglass figures have a dressing challenge because they are short. So if this describes you, you'll want to combine flattering styles for your figure type with styles that make you ​look longer and leaner.​

Petite Salma Hayek flatters her hourglass figure in this long dark blue evening gown by wearing:

  • a solid dark color;
  • a V-neckline;
  • her dress to the floor to create a longer vertical line;
  • Three-quarter sleeves to show off slim forearms and wrist;
  • a dress that flows gracefully over her curves;
  • a style that shows off her tiny waist.
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Maintain Your Figure's Natural Balance

Salma Hayek's statement necklace draws attention to her curves while the simple black dress lets her shape shine. Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

Your main dressing challenge is to maintain the look of the ideal shape that you already have. Avoid styles like shifts or trapeze dresses that hide your shape.

Also, avoid styles that tend to over-emphasize either bust or hips. For example, if you wear a gathered skirt, your hips will look bigger and make you look bottom-heavy. The style and cut of your clothes should follow your natural curves for the most flattering look. So even if a garment is on trend, think twice about buying it if it hides your lovely shape. Looking good on you trumps trends.

Your other big challenge is to find clothing that fits you well. Because most manufacturers cut their clothing for women who have triangle or rectangle shapes, you will often find that a dress that fits well in the bodice does not fit well in the hip area. Consider:

  • wearing separates to attain a better fit;
  • finding a dressmaker who can custom fit your clothes;
  • becoming ​an expert at fitting if you sew;
  • finding a tailor who can alter ready-to-wear garments to your satisfaction.

In the example pictured above, we'd like Hayek's beautiful outfit a bit better if she had selected shoes without ankle straps and had her dress hemmed shorter to just graze the bottom of her knees, both of which would make her look taller.

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Tops to Fit and Flatter

This print blouse is fitted for a flattering shape. Digital Vision/Getty Images

When choosing a top that will look good on your hourglass figure, avoid elements that would overemphasize your bust or wide shoulders to the point that you would look top-heavy. So avoid features like large ruffles, puffy sleeves, and thick shoulder pads. Instead look for elongating necklines, such as V- or U-shaped, or sweetheart necklines. Avoid cowl and jewel necklines.

Look for fitted styles that show off your shape and avoid shapeless cuts. The length of your top is also key. Avoid tops that are too long and end at the widest part of your hips. Choose sleeveless tops or tops with sleeves depending on your personal preferences, climate and whether or not your arms are toned. If your top has straps, they shouldn't be too small in proportion to your size. Spaghetti straps usually are not flattering for women who have hourglass figures because they look tiny contrasted with wide shoulders and an ample bust.

Best styles to wear are those with:

  • surplice construction;
  • V-necklines;
  • wrap styling;
  • princess seaming;
  • close-fitted or semi-fitted styling.

In the example pictured, the print blouse is fitted for a flattering shape, has a V-neckline, which helps short women look taller, and a print design that doesn't overemphasize a full bust.

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The Right Jackets

This fitted, V-necked jacket makes the most of your curves. Image Courtesy of Petite Sophisticate

The key to a flattering jacket is a great fit. For short women who have hourglass figures, close-fitted and semi-fitted styles work best because they follow the natural curves of the body. It's especially important that the jacket is fitted at the waistline, so avoid straight-cut styles because they hide your shape rather than showing it. Look for:

  • single-breasted styles;
  • princess seaming;​
  • reasonable, rather than exaggerated, shaping at the shoulders;
  • styles that form a V-neckline rather than a rounded or high neckline;
  • no pockets or hidden pockets;
  • styles that don't hit at or below the hip.

In the pictured example, the blue jacket is a fitted style, which follows the body's curvy shape nicely. It's also single-breasted, which avoids extra bulk where you don't need any if you have an hourglass figure. There are no pockets either; they also add bulk. The neckline shape is a flattering and elongating V, and there isn't excessive padding in the shoulders.

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Skirts That Sizzle

This silk georgette skirt just covers the knee and skims over the hips for a flattering look. Image Courtesy of Petite Sophisticate

Try A-line or straight skirts that are well fitted -- neither too tight nor too loose. Skirts with princess seaming enhance a vertical line.

Length is important. When the hem falls across a thick part of the leg, either thigh or calf, it makes you look wider and shorter. Avoid mini-skirts unless you have slender legs. Knee-length is generally the most flattering for short women -- just above, at the knee or just below.

Most short and curvy women should avoid bias-cut skirts because they cling and show everything. If you are slender and want to really show off your figure, a bias-cut skirt or dress will certainly do it.

If you wear boots with a skirt, the boots should meet the skirt and leave no gap. This gives you an unbroken vertical line and helps you look taller.

In the example pictured, the printed silk georgette skirt flows gently over the hips without overemphasizing them. Godet insets at the hem add a bit of flare, and the print motifs are not too big for a petite woman.

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Best Picks in Pants

Dark-colored pants with straight legs make a good look. Image Courtesy of Petite Sophisticate

Dark-colored pants with straight legs work best for most petites, but they could present a challenge for short women who have hourglass figures. Sometimes it's difficult to find pants that fit well at both the waist and hips, and it can be difficult to find pants with straight legs that are roomy enough in the hips. If you're 5 feet tall or under, you may also need to find pants with a shorter inseam than regular petite pants have.

Your best bet: Try on lots of pants and jeans styles until you find the brands that fit you best. If you can't find a brand that fits in both the waist and hips, choose pants that fit in the hips and have the waist altered. When you have alterations done, it's always easier to make something smaller than enlarge it because there usually isn't enough of a seam allowance to let out clothing.

When selecting pants or jeans, avoid:

  • print designs;
  • plaid;
  • low-rise waistlines;
  • belting your pants or jeans at the hip;
  • pleated styles;
  • cargo pants.

In the photo, classic fit straight-leg pants create a vertical line, which helps petites look taller. A dark color like black, brown, charcoal or navy is the most slenderizing.

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Dress for Success

This wrap dress emphasizes all the right curves. Image Courtesy of Shopbop

It can be difficult to find dresses that fit your figure properly because most clothing designers and manufacturers size for triangle-shaped figures rather than the hourglass. If you are buying a dress that will need to be altered for a good fit, make sure that it's big enough in both the bust and hip areas.

Best styles for a short hourglass shape? Look for styles that follow your curvy lines without too much emphasis either on top or bottom. Your defined waistline is a great asset, so make sure dresses you choose show it off to best effect. Wrap dresses or fitted sheaths usually work well as long as they fit well.

If you can find a good dressmaker or tailor, it would be worth the extra investment. When you have clothing custom made for you, you will get a great fit and be able to choose the best fabric you can afford. If custom clothing is too pricey, and you're having difficulty finding dresses to fit your shapely figure, go to Plan B: separates. Different sizes for tops and bottoms equal great fits.

If you're wearing a long dress, steer clear of peasant styles that fall at the ankle. Opt for a more elegant look in a monochromatic column dress of soft, drapey fabric that falls to the floor to add height.

In the photo, the wrap dress emphasizes a defined waistline, follows the body's natural curves and has a flattering V-neckline.