Body Proportions Explained


what are body proportions and how to determine your body proportions
Not only do we have body shapes (which can also be called our Horizontal 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.  Should you end above the knee or below?  Where to end your tops and jackets?  These questions are not so much about body shapes but body proportions.
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.
Da Vinci’s Body Proportions Explained
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 sole of 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?

Get Your Body Shape Bible Here

How to Dress With Conflicting Body Shape Advice

Body Proportions Explained – The Effect of a Large Bust

Body Proportions Explained – Long Body, Shorter Legs

Body Proportions Explained – Balanced with Short Mid-Body

More Ways to Flatter Your Body Proportions

Body Proportions Explained – Short Body, Longer Legs


Want my professional opinion on your body proportions and shape? You can get this plus your personal colour analysis with my 7 Steps to Style program.

whats my body shape


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  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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!

  • 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….

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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!

  • 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!

  • 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!

  • 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

  • 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!!

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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…

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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!!!

  • 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.

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

    8.375 (extra = 3/8ths)

    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. 😀

  • 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?! 🙁

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

  • 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. :/

  • I often feel I look like Gru in the Minion films, wide boxy shoulders, weight gained in my upper belly area but from the tummy button down I am slim, most women seem to have fat below the belly button but my weight goes under the bust up to the belly button like a tire, the rest stays slim except for the neck and shoulders which also bulk up. I hate it. When I am slim I loose the fat off the middle but look angular and very V shaped.

  • Wonder if you still answer old posts?
    When you say navel/ narrowest waist! Which is it? If narrowest point is 4 and 1/4 inches higher than navel(bellybutton)

    • It’s around the navel – but navel’s vary from person to person. It’s the narrowest point below the bottom of the rib cage (not on the rib cage), if you bend to the side and put your hand on your waist there when you straighten that will be your ‘natural waist”

      • I think I have a strange shape. My portions are 8, 8.5, 6.25, 10*, 6, 7.5, 6.5, 10.25. And my flat across widths are shoulder 14.25, underbust 11.75, natural waist 9.25, usual jeans waistline 10.25, hips 12. My weightiest area is low tummy* a long portion. My hips appear from the front to be narrowest, at their widest circumference, because all my “hip” is behind me! And have a very arched lower back. Am I right to say this combo: I’m a V except I have a very high and narrow waist. I’m an 8 except my shoulders are very wide for the rest of my frame. funny because V8 is a type of engine 😀

        • Hi H, Sadly without seeing you I can’t make judgements about your body shape or proportions properly as but you sound kind of normal – in that proportions are varied (it’s rare someone is balanced). SOme people have a sway back (curved back) and a more protruding bottom, which you only notice from the side or back, not from the front. So you may appear V shape with 8 hips – and that’s just what you work with. These guidelines are only general as people are way more varied!

  • I’m not sure what to make of this. I’m 5’7″. I am proportioned equally among most of these measurements, except that my knee to floor measurement is 2-3 inches longer than hip break to knee, and I’m 2-3 inches shorter from waist to hip break. What does it mean that I have such a visibly short distance from waist to hip break? I only wear low-waisted pants because higher waistlines always gap 2-3 inches on me. I have never tucked shirts because I rarely find pants that fit well. So am I high-waisted or short waisted? Do I need to bite the bullet, get waistlines altered, and start tucking my shirts?

  • Hi, I wanna ask about whether a Pear shape has a shorter torso and longer leg? If so, there is conflict about how to style a pear shape according to body shape guide and body proportion right? And it will happen with other boy type too. Thank you!

    • You have to balance body shape with body proportions – proportions tell you how long your garments should be, but not what shape they should be. So where to end hemlines. Body shape – so the A shape – will tell you want fit and flare styles and to highlight your waist.

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