Body Proportions Explained


Not only do we have body shapes (which can also be called our Horiztonal Body Shape) we also have to take into consideration our Body Proportions (or Vertical Body Shape).

Proportions are important as they tell us where to end our clothes, such as hems on skirts, hems on tops and jackets.
They help to create a balanced and harmonious appearance and can help us look taller and slimmer, or shorter and curvier.
Leonardo Da Vinci developed a theory that the balanced human is 8 head lengths tall (though most women aren’t, but clothing ranges are developed upon this assumption) and that the body is broken down into the following equal measurements.
1. Head length (top of head to chin)
2. bottom of chin to nipple (mid bust)
3. mid bust to navel (narrowest part of the waist)
4. navel to leg break (this is where the leg bends up at the hip, where you will see majority of trouser creasing, and is just above the crotch).
5. leg break to mid thigh
6. mid thigh to mid knee
7. mid knee to mid calf
8. mid calf to foot
Very few people I see have these exact proportions.  Most of us are longer in certain proportions and shorter in others.  
What is most important if you measure your proportions is to find out if you have a longer or shorter body as compared to your legs (so top of head to leg break compared to leg break to foot).
If one proportion is longer than the other, you will need to visually balance this proportion to change the apparent length (more on that in the next post).
What I have noticed from looking at many people, is that we are proportionally SHORT where we tend to PUT ON WEIGHT first.
So, for all those A/pear shaped women, if you measured your proportions, you’d find that you are short in your thigh proportion, thus appear to have hips/bigger thighs, and it’s much harder to lose weight from this area, as you are more compacted in this area, yet you may have a long waist and flat stomach as this is where you are proportionally longer.
And for H shapes/rectangles (like me) and O (Apple) shapes, we are proportionally short through the torso, and thus put on our weight on our mid-section first, yet our legs, which may be proportionally longer (though not always) are slimmer. 
Is this starting to make sense?  Where do you think you are proportionally longer and shorter?
Pic:


Vitruvian Man
Leonardo da Vinci, c. 1487
Pen and ink with wash over metalpoint
on paper, 34.4 × 25.5 cm

Comments

  1. sallymandy says:

    You’re right, Imogen! All my thinking about proportion over the last few months has made me realize I’m a bit short waisted, and this is indeed where I put on weight first.

  2. Anonymous says:

    This is the best explanation of this subject I have read. Thanks for the primer.

  3. Wonderful analysis, supported one of our most interesting artists.

  4. Huh. You’re completely right! I’d never realized I was shortest, proportionally, where I put on weight (hips and thighs) … but I totally am!

  5. Deja Pseu says:

    You’re so right! I’m proportionally very short-waisted and long-legged, and the weight usually shows around my torso first. (If I measure between my lowest rib and the top of my hipbone, we’re talking 2″ tops.)

    This is why I’ve never looked good with tucked in shirts; regardless of where my weight is, they just cut me in half.

  6. materfamilias says:

    Absolutely true for me — I’m short-waisted and that’s the only spot any weight wants to land well, some seems to splash over to my upper arms, but you know what I mean ;-)
    While I will tuck shirts into skirts, like Pseu this is a look I’m wary of and handle with care and a few tricks. I think my favourite look, more and more, is an above-knee shift dress or a dress with a bit more fabric than a shift, perhaps draping from an empire waist, but fluid and light so there’s not too much bulk. And with separates I love a long (grandpa)cardigan in a light knit, again for a line that pulls the eye past my stubbier middle.

  7. Great post. Just glad I don’t have a penis, like the guy in the Leonardo picture.

    I know I am longer in the body than the legs because you told me I am. I know I should wear long pant lengths and more of a mid-rise to lengthen my bottom half. I gather weight in my lower midsection, to my dismay.

  8. Imogen, you break down the elements of style so concisely! I’ve never really thought about the vertical proportions. Surprisingly, though, I find myself basically equal (+/- an inch) in top half/bottom half measurements. Hm!

  9. I’m most definitely short in the body and longer in the leg, and that is certainly where I put on weight first!

    Never thought of it like this before!

    I sometimes wonder how tall I’d be if my body was in proportion to my legs!

  10. Modest Mom says:

    short waist and middle of me puts the weight on

    sigh…lol.

  11. This is interesting. I am not apparently the norm as I have a longer leg than body yet I carry most of my weight in my thighs and backside (aside from my post baby belly where I never carried wight there before my daughter). I wonder if it is an ethnic difference at all?

    • I am seem to have the same shape as you…longer legs and short waist. I also seem to gain weight in my backside and thighs. recently i to have a little belly which i never had before. oh, the joys of getting older….

  12. lady jicky says:

    Can you have short legs but a belly too? I am body long but legs stumpy with a belly! Rrrrrrr

  13. Interesting post.
    For interest, I also read the blog http://www.academichic.com/ (a team of 3), who are doing a series on body proportion and practical implications for their clothes choices.

  14. Imogen Lamport says:

    Sallymandy – I’m glad this is helping!

    Anonymous – thanks!

    Bruno – thanks for commenting.

    Sal – it makes for interesting thinking about shapes doesn’t it?

    Deja – I’m so with you – I have 1.5″ between my rib cage and hips – and no waist – no matter how slim I get! This was the most liberating learning I think I ever got – I stopped feeling bad about my weight, and started dressing for my body.

    Mater – you’ve got it in 1 – a dress (which skims over) particularly, if short waisted one that is empire (under bust) that then flares (not gathers) is particularly flattering and gives the illusion of a longer waist.

    Karen – you may still be short in that proportion where you put on weight, but may overall have a longer body as you’re more petite in stature.

    cciele – some people are balanced – they are few and far between – maybe you are one of the lucky few! You may be balanced legs to body, but have longer and shorter proportions within too.

    Tat – yes – I’d be around 5’11 I think if both ends were the same!

    Modest Mum – at least knowing this lets you understand why some things work for you and others don’t.

    Cosmo – we also have ethnic differences as far as some things – and sure some races carry weight differently as well. Hormones can also make a difference for women as well.

    Lady Jicky – maybe your mid belly proportion is short, but your chin to bust is long!

    Mel J – thanks for the link.

  15. That was fascinating!A very worthwhile excercise. I found this even more liberating than the body shape explanation. I’d always believed that I was short waisted (because my mother told me I was.Meh.) Turns out I’m actually quite evenly proportioned. All of my measurements were pretty much the same – except for areas 5 and 7, which were 2 inches shorter, and area 8 – which was half an inch longer. My legs don’t appear shorter than my body though.
    And yep – all Easter eggs and hot crossed buns eaten this weekend will go straight to my upper thighs! (which would also make me more likely to be an X, rather than an 8 – did I get that right Imogen?)
    Thank you for that post Imogen – I hope you’re having a lovely relaxing Easter break!

  16. Imogen Lamport says:

    Jamtart – yes – people are obsessed with body shapes, yet it’s the body proportion that can actually hold the key to finding the clothes that suit you best – and can be so liberating to understand why we tend to carry weight in certain areas.

    Happy easter to you and all my other lovely blog readers too!

  17. At what point on the “Leg break”? They break in a short of sloping line in from the hips down to the crotch.

  18. You make it sound so easy! Thank you! I will be back for more!
    Cynthia :^)

  19. Imogen Lamport says:

    Anne – leg break is about 1.5″above the crotch – if you wear a pair of jeans, you will see the majority of the creasing at this point. If you look at the Leonardo pic, you will see a line drawn across this point.

    Cynthia – thanks so much for coming by and commenting!

  20. Well it was no surprise to me that this exercise indicated I was long waisted – 36 inches of head/torso which leaves, um only 28 inches for my legs!

  21. Anonymous says:

    Imogen,

    I don’t know if you’ve run across this in your work. When I took my measurements, my head/torso is shorter (30 inches) in comparison to my leg area (36 inches), but area two (bottom of chin to nipple) is extremely long in comparison to all of the other areas (it is 10-1/2 inches!). This explains why I can never find empire styles that are long enough to cover my chest.

    Do you have any particular advice on how to dress in this situation? I know it’s common to be long-waisted, but I’ve never seen any advice on being long from the chin to the chest.

    Thanks for your help. I really appreciate your blog and your way of explaining things.

    Ann from Maryland

  22. Hum… can an H shape be large on top? or is that an 8 shape. I am going to stay up re-reading every post until I figure this out!!

  23. Imogen Lamport says:

    Ann from Maryland – check out the post I did on long body shorter legs – that will give you some tips on dressing your extreme long waist.

  24. Although I posted a comment on this post previously, I’ve actually been back and properly measured on a picture on my screen!

    My head is 4.2 cm, chin to bust is 4, bust to navel is 2.3 (!), navel to leg break is 4, leg break to mid thigh is 4.2, mid thigh to mid calf is 4.2, and the bottom measurement is 4.2.

    I knew I was short waisted – but I didn’t realise my proportions were so far out! (although I can only just get a finger between my ribs and hips!)

    Am I the shortest waisted person you’ve ever known lol?!

    Are you going to be doing a short waisted post too?

  25. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for addressing this, Imogen! I am short-waisted with long legs (34″ inseam). I never tuck in tops, and struggle with finding tops to wear with skirts and pants for a more polished, smart casual look. I don’t wear belts either. I’m all about moving the eye from my neck area down past the “no zone.” LOL. But everything is shown tucked in, and lots of tops are looooong now. What to do?
    Is it possible for me to wear a button down shirt, untucked, over skinny jeans with some kind of belt on top? Or do I need to choose other accessories, like a statement necklace, bracelet, etc. Could I wear a waistcoat over a graphic tee, or is that a no-no too?

    I can’t wait for your post on dressing for a short waist with long legs! I think it will help me resist the temptation to ignore what I’ve known for some time, and give in to what’s out there in stores. Thanks!

  26. Anonymous says:

    Hi Imogen,

    You say to measure from mid bust to navel or the smallest part of the waist. My navel is a few inches below the smallest part of my waist so where do I measure? Thanks for the great info.

  27. Very interesting – I'm disproportionately short in the mid-bust to navel range and both of the upper leg ranges (between leg break to knee). My navel to leg break & lower leg measurements are all very close to head length.

    I notice much more weight gain or loss in the navel to leg break area even though that area is "in proportion" according to the Da Vinci theory. I don't put on a lot of weight AT my natural waist or mid-thighs (in the middle of my shortest areas.) Maybe I'm an anomaly.

  28. Imogen Lamport says:

    Anon 1 – keep clothes fitted so they don’t create too much bulk if untucked.

    Statement necklaces are a great way of drawing attention to your face.

    Anon 2 – Narrowest point – navel’s tend to be in different spots on people.

    Kari – if you’re short in the thigh you may put on weight around your bum too – does this happen to you? You may also be an anomaly. Hormones and genetics also play a part.

  29. Imogen, I definitely do. Makes sense.

    When I gain or lose weight I notice it almost immediately in my “lower waist” (below navel), hips, and bum. My bust and natural waist stay pretty close to the same size.

  30. jessica says:

    actually i am pear shaped and all my weight goes to my butt and thighs, but i actually have very long legs and a short torso. :( i guess i’m an exception. ugh, that probably just makes me look more weird now that i think of it, big and long on bottom short and tiny on top…

  31. this was really interesting. I am really short in the upper legs, between the leg break and the knee, with most of that shortness being in the upper part, leg break through bum and uppermost thighs, which is precisely where I tend to put on and hold weight.

  32. sharonmc1326 says:

    Really enjoyed this commentary. I have spent most of the evening looking for a web page that explained body proportions in a format I could easily understand. Thankyou.
    I have now had my husband take the 8 different measurements. From head to leg bend I am 75.5cm and leg bend to feet I am 90cm. Does this then mean I am short waisted. Most of my measurements are around 22cm to 24cm but the chin to nipple (with bra on) is 18cm and the nipple to navel is 16cm. I would really love to know.

  33. Imogen Lamport says:

    Sharon – it sounds like you have a short waist – one quick and easy test is to see if you can put two handwidths underneath your bust between your waist and under bust – if you can't you're short waisted, if you can your balanced, and if you can put more than 2 hand widths you're long waisted.

    Thanks for reading and commenting!

  34. I got lucky! evenly proportioned. I always thought I was long waisted but not really so. my chin to nipple is a little long (haha saggy boobs, 2 inches actually time for a 2 inch boob lift tee hee hee)

    I'm 5 foot 10 and 2 inches taller than 8 head lengths

    What a great post!!!

  35. Definitely the best I've heard- I've come up long waisted on some tests and short waisted on others, This is the first truly thorough explanation I've seen. Thank you.

  36. Interesting: I did a quickie test of my lengths, and got…

    8.375 (extra = 3/8ths)
    8.5
    7.5
    7.5
    7.5
    7.5
    7.5
    8.5

    That makes 62.875! I'm missing that dastardly eight of an inch needed to be 63 inches – just kidding, I like my size – :P.

    My legs are 31, and leg break to crown is 31.875.

    My outer leg length is actually 33, with inseam of 29.5, so the exact middle of those two would be 31.25 – not far off the 1.5 I added to inseam for the leg-break-to-floor leg measurements.

    I have a short waist though – 1.5 hand widths, but then I'm small all over.

    Neat! I'm glad I found a place with the info broken down this way so I could measure myself and get an idea of proportional length.

    This explains why lower calf length skirts make me look reasonably leggy – the floor to mid calf length is longer than other parts of my legs, so it gives the illusion that the hidden parts – under a voluminous skirt, and with the assumption they're proportional – go on much longer than they really do!

    Thanks for this site – a really great fashionista blog for the lesser-fashionsta, but science minded, MW. :D

  37. I don’t understand why this does not apply to me.
    My proportions in inches are as follows:
    8, 10, 6, 10
    7, 7, 9, 11

    I have a long decoltage, which certainly is bony, but mid-bust to slimmest point (which for me is far above my navel) is incredibly slim even though it’s short. Then I have all my unsightly fat piled on the higher hips, lower abs and bottom (in the 10-inch area?!) (I am a figure 8). This certainly does not follow from a long-rise?! My calves are slim, but so are my thighs.

    I know body proportions may matter more than your body shape, but what you recommend for someone who is evenly proportioned with a short mid-body more often than not flies in the face of tips for those who have a short waist and a lot of fat in the areas us figure 8-s have to contend with. (E.g. I have yet to come across an empire waist dress that does not make me look pregnant.)

    Sometimes I despair. Is there any way to dress me?! :(

  38. Hrm. People always said I was well proportioned. It’s kind of odd, since I’m only 5’2″! I have mild scoliosis, though.

  39. What a helpful and informative work! Too bad I stumbled upon here that late.
    I’m in the long legs short torso team by 2″ difference. Until i read this the reason why I can’t get rid of the layer of fat that cover my tiny 24″ waist was remaining a mystery. Now I learned it is because of my long legs. Guess I never gonna have flat abs no matter how much I eat clean or exercise. :/

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