Understanding Body Shape – The Waist


As I’ve discussed before when deciding upon your body shape, the waist is one of the three key defining points (along with shoulders and hips being the other two defining points – not bust!).

If you are looking at your body shape and deciding whether or not you have a defined waist, measurements can give you an idea, but they are not necessarily accurate, which is why so many body shape calculators just don’t work as a diameter doesn’t necessarily tell you where the width of the shape is, and body shape is about silhouette.

Defining Your Body Shape the Waist


How to Know if You Have a Defined Waist

Once you’ve determined if you have a balanced body (shoulders and hips of equal width – H, X, O, I, 8 shapes) or unbalanced body shape (shoulders or hips are wider A, V or 8), you will then want to determine how much of a waist you have.

Take a piece of ribbon or string (or a tape measure if you must though you don’t need numbers).  Wrap it around your body just under your bust on your rib cage.  Then move the ribbon down to your natural waist  (if you’re not sure where it is bend to the side, then put your fingers in to the spot that creases as you bend).  Notice if you need to tighten or loosen the ribbon as compared to your under bust diameter.

If your natural waist is narrower than your under bust, then you are most likely one of the waisted shapes – 8, X, A.

If your natural waist is wider than your under bust, then you are most likely a straight body shape – H, I, O or V

If your natural waist is the same you can be either a straighter shape or a waisted shape depending on the difference between hips, waist and shoulders which are the three defining points for determining body shape.

If you have wider shoulders than hips – then you may or may not have a defined waist, and will dress your waist more as an X if it’s defined or as an H if it’s undefined.

Here is an example of the same dress on two different shapes – a straighter body shape and a more waisted shape.

Take my body shape calculator quiz to help you determine your shape.

Straight vs Defined waist

whats my body shape


I'm not sure if it's for you but how would you feel if you learned all about the colours and styles of clothing that suit your individual personality, shape and style? Just imagine what it would be like when you can open your wardrobe and pull together fabulous outfits that make you look and feel amazing every day? If you'd like to stop wasting money on the wrong clothes and accessories plus join an amazing bunch of very special women also on their style journey - then my 7 Steps to Style program is right for you. Find out more here.

More from Imogen Lamport

How to Enhance Your Calves

If you have a great set of pins and gorgeous calves, you...
Read More


  • Well! Thank you SO much. I have been studying “How to Dress” books and blogs for more than 30 years. You have finally answered the $64,000 question. Easy when you think about it. I was always misdirected by my front-on image (waisted) and my side-on view (very “O” indeed). Turns out my under bust and waist are the same. I shall embrace my apple. Ta very much.

  • So, it doesn’t have to do with the hip area Imogen? Only the area directly below your bust to the waist area. Cause my hip area is a lot bigger than my shoulders and also than my waist area but if I compare my waist to the area under the bust it is straight. I am overweight, so I have a big bust and also a big belly and I was always wondering whether I am an O or an A shape. I have always thought A because my hip area is wider than my shoulders and O because I have a big belly.

    Can you clarify this problem? Thanks in advance,


    • Really depends what you look like – but you may be a combination of both A and O shapes – so have a look at the guidelines for each and see which you feel suits you best, you may take a bit from both!

  • That is a nice explanation, but it is not true for me. My waist is smaller than my under bust, but I am H body type, slightly towards V.

  • I have very broad shoulders and narrow hips, so a V shape, but I also have a defined waist, so do I dress like a V? I know that as far as dresses go, I look best with an accentuated waist (especially because of my large bust) but I am trying to figure out how to have a balanced-looking figure in jeans.

  • This was enlightening – I have always thought of myself as first an A and then (as I lost weight) an X, but the smallest measurement on my body is my underbust. Given that, the H body shape seems a better fit. And when I read the guidelines, I discovered that I already basically follow them. Perhaps as I lose more weight I will end up with a waist smaller than my underbust, but for now I understand why so many of the designs I thought should look good on me haven’t. Thank you!

  • Imogen your 2 pictures seem to be related to tapering or lack of in the rib cage. In my case, my rib cage isn’t very tapered (in fact my ribs sort of stick out somewhat) but my waist is still a smaller measurement (by around 2 inches at the moment) because it dips in under the ribs. Do you have any advice for this figure variation?

    Incidentally are you the Imogen thanked by Nick Earls in his introduction to 48 Shades of Brown (I just read it – I’ve been looking out for his books, and have read several, ever since you mentioned working as his publicist at Penguin)?

    • Anne yes I was that publicist at Penguin who worked with Nick Earls on a number of his novels – and yes that is me in 48 Shades of Brown and my dog Binker appeared as Elvis the whippet in Perfect Skin!

      You may have an 8 shape if you have a dip – body shape information is always just some vague guidelines in many ways.

  • Hi
    Love the website! Have been cruising for hours. I am definitely short waisted with long legs. From bust to waist I’m only 3 inches and I’m 5’8!! My bust is 35.5, waist 26-28, hip 37.5. I have a lean lower half meaning flat butt but wide hips. My top half is pudgey from being scrunched up which can make it look like I’m fatter or imbalanced up top, although both top and bottom measure the same. Sometimes I feel like H cause my waist is such a tiny area and then the hip and ribcage take over and go out quickly making it look in some outfits pretty straight. But I do have a waist so I would be X. I feel like a lot of the advice for X doesnt apply (or outright contradicts!) since Im short waisted and have to kinda ignore the waist. I tend to keep it simple and long up top, no necklaces, and fitted and try for volume, bright colors, lots of shorts, fancy pockets, chunky shoes on bottom. Its just frustrating to look wide in something and want to define the waist, but then have a whole new problem! haha thanks for creating this website, super cool and helpful 🙂 Maybe an article for short waisted Xs and 8s? 😉 or does the H advice work???

    • You sound more 8 than X or a combination of 8 and H (which is not that uncommon) read up all the tips for both H and 8 (and the body shape bibles you can find here) for tips – often you need to take the tips that work for you and leave the rest – we are all unique and these guidelines are all general.

  • Thank you so much for always posting so much helpful information Imogen. From this article I learned that I do have a waisted figure, but the thing is that I’m short-waisted. So does that mean I should dress through the middle like an H instead of an X? Overall I believe that I am an inverted triangle, but having the widest point of my hips low also causes me wonder about X too. My shoulders are 38.75″, bust 34.5″, waist 26″ and hips are 36″. What do you think?

  • This was such a neat trick. I’ve always thought I was an hourglass, but I do feel a frustration with how much thicker my rib age looks relative to my waist. The ribbon test confirmed that I am substantially smaller as I slide the ribbon down from under bust to waist. However, I wonder what waisted shapes can do to make this ratio look more flattering. I find that my proportions can create a tightly corseted look, with my rib cage looking almost like a bulge of fat over my waist. I suppose this is because most women have a straight shape with the smallest point just below the bust, so the eye tends to view that as a norm. In contrast, my narrowing under the rib age and near the belly button can make my rib age area and full bust look barrel like even though my ribs are looking t narrower than my hips.

    • You will probably find bloused (looser) tops that then are belted at your waist will make your rib cage look less broad as we assume it’s the blousing that creates the volume.

  • thank you imogen, for this very enlightening post! my under bust measures 32 and my waist 31. only 1 inch difference. ( does this mean I have a waist, or not??) my ribs kind of bulge out from the front view, and there is a quick indentation where my waist is, but there is only 1 1/2 inch between the bottom of my ribs and my hip bone, which makes me shortwaisted. my hips are only 4 inches bigger than my waist. although my bust is 32G. for the first time in my life, I now understand my “problem” midsection issues. now know why I’ve always found belts and waisted dresses very uncomfortable. fit and flair dresses, princess seams, shaping seams in this area, or bypassing the area altogether, work well. wrap dresses are a no-no, as I tend to be appleish, especially from the side. i’m learning! thank u!

  • and I just realized that the fit and flare dress that works for me is an Empire cut…more evidence I’m an H. glad to finally know

  • I think that I am an 8 as there is a 3inch difference between my waist and bust, however I am short waisted (only one hand span between under bust and waist.) And quite short at 5″4. I also have a very narrow back as in it really curves in at the bottom meaning that tops billow at the back. I find it hard to find clothes to suit me especially in the summer. Shorts make my hips look huge, empire line dresses sadly also make my hips look big as do drop waists. Skirts often make me look short or my hips look big. I tend to wear bodycon dresses and a good bra to show off my waist however I find it impossible to find more casual summer clothing.

  • Thanks Imogen. In will rely heavily on your reply. I am definitely long waisted. Have broad square shoulders, flat hips WITH A BIG BUM! (makes if difficult to get pant/skirt size) my thighs are just OK not thin or fat. Ribcage 32″ waist 29″ but does not look defined from front view more from the side. I’m 5’5.5″ bra size 32DD. Please, please, PLEASE. what shape am I?

    • Muriel without seeing you it’s very hard to me to make an assessment, but if you feel that you don’t have a waist then most likely H shape.

  • Hello! What if the difference between just under the bust and the natural waist is just 2″?

    Thank you for all you do!


    • Depends – is the difference because of a very large bust or is it because your bra is not giving you enough support? Or are you just very very short waisted?

  • I think Leigh in the comment above means the difference in circumference, not height…?

    Similar question here: 3 inches’ difference (30″ under-bust; 27″ waist) – is that enough to count as a “defined” waist?
    I have never thought of myself as “hourglass” (as I am rather under-endowed in the bust department – thanks for explaining that is not a factor!), but my bottom is also far too prominent to make me a “boyish” I (or a “Barbie-like” 8), and I feel I am too tall/thin to be an H (172 / 57). My waist, however, is definitely on the short-ish side…

    . . .
    Anyway, thanks for helping me learn so much! I discovered your blog only recently, but my mind is blown! 🙂

    • You may be some sort of hourglass – 3″ difference (circumference) definitely is enough to qualify as different particularly if you have curvier hips/bottom. There are slim X shapes as well as more curvy ones.

  • I think my body is very similar to that of Beatrice Borromeo, a celebrity here in Italy. What shape do you think she has?

  • Dear Imogen,

    I have been looking for years for a resource that would make reference to shoulders as a basic/main feature. I am over 45 and I guess my shape has changed a bit, but I have always had broad shoulders and hips similar in size, with a defined waist and looked like a hourglass although my bust has never been big. It is so common sense what you are saying – that bones do not change while the fat/muscle tissue + water content does. And bones are the frame of the shape.
    My real issue has been the fact that I have a rather short torso and now, when the time has put a stamp on my weight, that gives me trouble on how to dress not to make my upper body appear too big. It has never been a problem because the legs were slimmer, too. I have to acknowledge the natural changes in my body, but I also need to re-define my wardrobe, as some of the dress and trouser shapes I have always known as being fit for me do not work anymore.
    I will keep reading through your articles, as I am sure I will find valuable tips in here.

    Thank you again and wish you and this blog a long and successful life!

  • Dear Imogen
    I have a very narrow ribcage and underbrust and my waist is only a few inches smaller, so my waist seems pretty straight-ish, but i have very large hips, thighs, saddlebags and butt in comparison. Also my shoulders are about 34 inches and my hips at their widest part are 37. What does this mean? I don’t seem to fit any of the straight waisted types.

  • Dear Imogen, I hate my body. I have an undefined waist, I have breasts and kinda have booty. I really am confused by it. I dunno what kind of shape it is.

    • You are a combination of both body shape and body variations – booty and breasts are body variations – whilst body shape is the silhouette from the front.

  • My under-bust is 30″, and my waist is 28″, but from the front the sillouhette from bust to waist is sort of ( ) shaped rather than V shaped. I have a pretty curved arch in my back from the side, which I think contributes to the 2″ difference. This would seem to indicate to me that although my under-bust circumference is greater than my waist, I still have an undefined waist from the front due to my ribcage shape. Is this common? What kind of shape would this be?

    • Measurements dont’ ever tell the whole story – that’s why I don’t really use them in determining body shape. If you think your body is straight up and down, then go for H shape. try out the recommendations for different shapes and see which work best on you (photos can help here). If you’d like my professional opinion on your shape then please do join my 7 STeps to Style program https://insideoutstyleblog.com/7-steps-to-style-system

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *