You’ve probably heard of various types of common body shapes including rectangular, pear, inverted triangle, hourglass, and apple. Our bodies have different features that we are born with, and features may change with age, diet, lifestyle, or even aesthetic medicine that is becoming more popular in recent years. While it may not be the best idea to classify our bodies into static, clear-cut categories, it still acts as a rough guide to choosing ballet leotards and dancewear that are in harmony with our bodies to achieve a balanced, proportional look.
Based on the ratio between shoulders, bust, waist, and hip, your body may fall into one or more than one body type. You may have a body that looks proportional or may find distinctive features that need more thought when choosing the styles of ballet leotard and dancewear.
Bear in mind that the tips below are aiming at an aesthetically pleasing look, which may not align with practicality such as allowing the body posture to be seen by or corrected by teachers. Depending on the atmosphere of your studio, you may have a strict dress code or no dress code at all, always follow the dress code of your studio as a respect to the teachers.
Dancers with similar width between bust and hips, straight shoulder line and hip, but have little to no defined waist and curves over the body usually have a rectangle body shape. While the upper and lower body is rather proportional, the major goal is to define the waist and visually add curves to the body.
Scoop neck, V-neck, sweetheart, or off-shoulder leotards work better for you and stay away from square or boat neck which will visually accentuate the squareness of the body. To add volume to the upper or lower body, opt for sleeves with shapes such as puffed sleeves or loose cuffed sleeves, or by using bright colours in the upper and lower body, except the waist.
Just a corpse Maiden leotard with puff sleeves, Sweetheart leotard, Maiden leotard with straps, GRÈS draped leotard with long puff sleeves in blue (left to right)
Try wearing a cropped top and folded-down sauna shorts over a ballet leotard in dark colours to define the waistline. Sauna rompers with an elastic waistband also work magic but skip out on knitted rompers or jumpsuits without a waistband which will further reinforce the unwanted ‘column’ look.
If you have wide hips, narrow shoulders, and a small bust with a defined waist, you probably have a pear body shape. Wider hips make the lower body look disproportionately heavier, therefore, to achieve a more balanced silhouette, you can try to add visual interest and volume to the upper body, including the shoulder and bust area, and emphasize the waist at the same time.
Leotards with wide necklines such as boat neck, square neck and off shoulder are your best friends while halter neck or high neck with narrow neckline are your enemies. Patterns or embellishments around the shoulder and bust area, cap sleeves, and ruffle sleeves will also have the same effect of drawing attention to the upper body.
Elevé Dancewear Rendina Mink leotard, Lilli Enchanting leotard, Molly Spiced Wine Velvet leotard and Shelley Daring leotard (left to right)
Off-shoulder tops, particularly those with ruffles or lace details also help in highlighting the upper body. Avoid wearing tight bottoms such as tight shorts/ leggings, and mini skirts that sit on the lower waist (e.g. Bullet Pointe skirts). Instead, opt for high-waisted, mid-length, A-line skirts in dark colours.
The inverted triangle body shape is characterized by wide shoulders which are usually straight and square. The waistline is more undefined and the bottom is more likely to be flat or straight. With a visual mass on the upper body of an inverted triangle, you want to downplay it while accentuating the lower body and waist to attain a more balanced look.
Leotards with deep and narrow necklines, including V-neck, scoop neck and halter neck will do the job. Steer clear from boat neck or off-shoulder leotards as they will further accentuate the straightness and squareness of the shoulders. For camisoles, go for those with wide straps rather than spaghetti straps which will undesirably widen the shoulders. Any leotard with sleeves are going to make you appear wider and heavier in the upper body, but if it is necessary, for example, to keep warm in winter, choose those with fitted shorts sleeves and contrastingly, soft, flowy cuffed long sleeves. Avoid cap sleeves, puff sleeves, fitted half, ¾ or long sleeves.
Zidans triangle leotard, strap leotard, Bloch Flock Mesh Halterneck leotard and Zidans 1 sleeve 1 strap leotard in black
For skirts and warm-ups, mini skirts which hugs the hips (e.g. Bullet Pointe skirts), skirts with patterns or lace, and sauna shorts or shorts in bright colours or patterns (especially horizontal lines) are preferable. Always go for sauna pants or sweatpants rather than tight fitted leggings.
Dancers who have shoulders and hips of similar width and a defined waist leans towards an hourglass body shape. It is naturally balanced and proportional, so maintaining balance and highlighting the waistline is the key.
Since shoulders and hips are rounded and curvy, ballet leotards with scoop neck, v-neck, square neck, sweetheart and off shoulder are the perfect choice. While boat neck, halter neck or high neck with narrow shoulder line should be avoided which will unnecessarily widen the shoulder visually. Fitted short sleeve, ¾ sleeve or long sleeve leotards look flattering on you as it goes with the natural curve. Cap sleeve leotards are also feasible, in the condition that you balance the extra volume with a bottom. Keep clear from leotards with wide and loose sleeves which make the body look off-balance.
Ainsliewear Desiree leotard, Liberty leotard with crushed velvets, Bianca leotard and Manon leotard in blush.
Simple scoop neck tops or wrap tops, A-line skirts, flare shorts, leggings, fitted knits, rompers or jumpsuits with waistband all flatter the natural body curve. Fitted shorts, sauna pants or sweatpants folded to the pelvis may widen your hips and make your legs look shorter by lowering the waistline, therefore, keep them high-waisted and don’t fold down too much.
Full bust, fullness and lack of definition around the waist, narrower hips, slender legs are characteristics of dancers with a body that is shaped like an apple. Upper body looks heavier due to the mid-section, therefore, to create a balanced silhouette, add volume around the shoulders and the lower body while keeping the waistline plain and simple.
V-neckline is the best for this body shape as it brings attention upward from the mid-section. Scoop neck, square neck and sweetheart neckline are also suitable. Opt for cap sleeves, or flare sleeves to accentuate the shoulders and stay away from fitted short sleeves. Ballet leotards with empire lines are particularly flattering as they visually pull up the waist above the natural waistline and hide a fuller tummy. Leotards with big prints also do the job with the same effect as leotards with empire lines.
Jule dancewear Cabochon leotard, Marquis leotard, Bezel leotard and Pendeloque leotard in white.
Cropped tops and fitted knitwear are not going to do your favours, alternatively, choose flowy tops that end below the hipline. Sauna pants and sweatpants, which you can fold them down to mid to low rise, are suited to this body shape by adding volume to your legs and balancing out heavier-looking mid-section, but not the folded fitted shorts. Select skirts which are in A-line shape, high-waisted and mid-length which hits right above the knees rather than shorts skirts with lower waistline.
We don’t have the perfect body, yet, there must be some features that you are more satisfied with than the others. By dressing in line with your body shape, you will achieve a more balanced, proportional look rather than out of place. However, there are too many variations in the dancers’ bodies and the most important thing is to know your own body and find out what works best for you by trying more styles of dancewear. The ‘theory’ does not always work and it is where our intuition sets in, the moment we try it on, you will know whether that piece of dancewear feels ‘right’ or not. If you are interested in learning more about your body and how to dress for your style, look into the Kibbe Body Type System and style essences and on the Concept Wardrobe, which is where I took reference to write this article as well.
For a quick overview about leotard styles for various body shapes, check this FREE cheat sheet I've created for you. Next time when you are purchasing a new leotard, take your body shape into consideration, the more you try, the more you will become aware about what works best for you, never stop exploring!