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The Wardrobe Architect Week 4: Proportions and Silhouettes


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The Wardrobe Architect is a popular series that ran in early 2014. It’s currently being expanded (with help and feedback from you) into a comprehensive toolkit. You can read all the posts here. If you want to give feedback and get first access when the toolkit is finished, enter your email:

Last week, we discussed the shapes of garments that you are drawn to, and those you like to avoid. This will be the stepping stone to this week’s exercises on creating silhouettes for yourself.

What is a silhouette?

What do I mean when I say “silhouette”?

Just like the shape of each garment emphasizes certain areas of the body through ease and length, putting those garments together into different proportions also creates emphasis.

Once you’ve figured out several silhouettes you like to wear, you can use these as templates for future outfits, and even for planning your capsule wardrobes. I promise, having a list of known silhouettes you love makes wardrobe (and sewing project) planning so much simpler.

Here’s an example of a silhouette I like and wear often:

Knit dress (fitted bodice, full skirt) + tights + flat shoes


Let’s ignore any details for now (like jewelry, hats, etc). Right now, we’re just focused on the overall lines and proportions. Even though this is totally bare bones, you can see that it ticks my buttons: Classic, simple, cozy, sultry, lush.

(Lush is a bit of a stretch, but for me that usually comes from texture, color, and accessories, which we’ll be discussing later.)

I might vary this silhouette by adding to it like this:

Knit dress (fitted bodice, full skirt) + semi-fitted pullover sweater + tights + flat shoes


Or I change out the shoes:

Knit dress (fitted bodice, full skirt) + semi-fitted pullover sweater + tights + mid-calf boots


Right there, I’ve got three of my most common silhouettes, at least in the Fall and Winter. Admittedly, they look a little plain since I didn’t include accessories or color really. But this is a foundation and it’s good to be able to just look at the shapes.

You can see that what we’re starting to do now is build up some uniforms that we can vary over and over.

Creating Balance

So how do you figure out the right silhouettes for you?

Start with the shapes you rated last week and pick out the ones you rated highly. You can feel free to add to this list if there are other types of shapes you love and wear often.

Now start brainstorming how you would combine these favorite shapes with other items to create balanced silhouettes.

What is balance?

What do I mean when I say “balanced”?

Think of it this way: A silhouette either covers or emphasizes different parts of your body. It does this either through ease (how tight/loose or full/tailored it is) or thorough length (how much it covers up).

I think each of us has a comfort zone with how much of our bodies we want to show and which parts we like to emphasize. Our silhouettes should reflect these preferences.

For example, I have a short waist and long legs, so I like shapes that show off my legs, like cigarette pants, shortish skirts, or pencil skirts.

I balance these fitted or short areas with other elements that are a bit looser or make me feel more covered up. For example, I might wear a loose and casual button down oxford shirt with skinny pants. Or I wear a loose sweater with a mini and tights.

I’m not saying that you have to cover up one part to reveal another. What I am saying is that you should find the point of balance that makes you feel comfortable. Some women like very fitted clothing, but want to be covered. Other women like to show skin, but keep things loose and flowing. There is no right answer, and there is no bar of modesty you must meet. Your body, your life, your personality, your decisions.

By the way, preferring to cover up a body part does not mean you are necessarily ashamed of it. I have a large bust and don’t like showing cleavage. It isn’t because I dislike my chest. I just don’t want that to be the first thing people see. It has much more to do with my identity and how I wish to be seen in the world than anything else.

Of course, there are parts of my body that I struggle with, as I mentioned earlier this week. And that is something that deserves to be worked on too.


  • Build your formulas. Look over your shapes and ratings from last week. Start combining them and list out 5-10 silhouettes that you believe would make good outfit formulas for you. I plan to use Polyvore for this exercise. I’ve created a collection called Silhouettes, and I’ll add several sets to it.

    If you live in a place with dramatic seasonal changes, you might want to make a warm weather list and a cold weather list. Sometimes it’s hard to think of silhouettes that will work for both, depending on your climate.

    For inspiration, the blog into-mind has a fantastic proportions catalog to get you started. Her blog is all around awesome!

  • Bonus: Create variations. If you want, you can create a few variations for each silhouette, like I did above. This can be helpful in spurring creativity and getting you to start imagining real outfits you could create from just a few items.
  • Add to your inspiration. If you have an inspiration folder or Pinterest board, it might be helpful to start adding some of these silhouettes to your inspiration. After I’ve created my silhouettes in Polyvore, I’ll pin them to my Pinterest board. We’ll return to these silhouette formulas later when we start planning capsule wardrobes.


What are some of the silhouettes you already find yourself wearing a lot? Are there new ones you want to incorporate after doing this exercise?

Sarai Mitnick   —   Founder

Sarai started Colette back in 2009. She believes the primary role of a business should be to help people. She loves good books, sewing with wool, her charming cats, working in her garden, and eating salsa.

Comments 59

Kate McIvor

Oh boy! This is a great question! I have struggled with this forever. I can’t wait to get started!

Jet Set Sewing

I love these exercises to help me think of new looks. I’m definitely in a black pegged jeans, black T, black sweater rut for day. I started sewing again in my 50s because my closet was swimming in bland Eileen Fisher. Now at least I have some home-sewn Chanel jackets, Schiaparelli wraps, and Vionnet scarves to throw over them when I go out. But for day, hmmm, maybe an upscale sweatshirt from the Chanel remnants? Now you got me thinkin’!

gabriel ratchet

i like eileen fisher. i also have a serious collection of scarves and southwestern jewelry. ef is the backdrop that shows it off. and my reaction to your comment is making me think harder about what it is that i like about it. thank you. :)


great task! can i ask – are we looking at the overall shape (like the outline)? So say a circle skirted dress would be the same as a silm fitting top and circle skirt? or would that be 2?


It’s really up to you. Personally, I think I’d make those 2 variations on one silhouette. They’re essentially the same shape, but when it comes time to build outfits and plan what you want to sew, it’s helpful to have it broken down into different types of garments, if that makes sense.


I’ve really enjoyed the Wardrobe Architect so far. I already had a pinterest board for my style but I’ve started a new one since I began following your posts. The board now feels so much more “me” and I’m completely in love with everything on it.

I’m off to go think about these silhouettes. Your examples made this easy as you’ve already done half my work for me, it’s exactly what I go for!


I like these exercises A LOT and made a polyvore collection of what I’ve come up with so far:

gabriel ratchet

read this this morning from the nytimes…. what was really fascinating to me was the series of looks horyn pulled from the 80’s and 90’s that are quite exactly, still, my silhouette… except for that long sack of a skirt…


Again, this is so helpful. I love this series.

Can I ask for some help from your lovely readers? I love, love, love a-line skirts and own a few, but actually never wear them, because I don’t know what to pair with them. You see, I hate to tuck or belt tops, because I don’t like to draw attention to my midsection. Any ideas for silhouettes incorporating a-line skirts without a tucked or belted top? I would appreciate any help!

Johanna@projects by me

I wear a tight top/t-shirt and a semi-fitted cardigan buttoned only over the bust with A-line/flared skirts. Maybe that would suit you too…


Johanna, thanks. That might work for me, too. I find it difficult to find the right balance between loose and structured. And often tops you buy are just too long for skirts. I might have to shorten a few tops to wear especially with a-line skirt.

I’ll have to experiment with that once it’s warm enough to wear my skirts.


This is a great question, and I’m totally struggling. I know precisely one silhouette that flatters me: fitted top with a flared, knee-length skirt, and even then I have to be very precise about the sleeves. I am a broad-shouldered, broad-hipped hourglass with a thick middle (from the front? curves ahoy! from the side? hello belly!). The problem is 1) finding other silhouettes that look good on me (particularly that work with layers, because I get cold, but every layer just makes me feel like I am adding weight to my torso) and 2) finding clothes that flatter me without making me feel inappropriately curvy for work!

There must be other things I can wear…


Funny, I have the same sort of figure that you describe and I am most comfortable and feel most flattered in sheath type dresses with some gentle waist definition, enough to emphasize my waist without being tight over my belly. Think a Laurel with increased back darts, or a princess seamed dress. I’m currently struggling with how to translate that silhouette into summery dresses.
Mind you, I have proportionally short calves and a long torso so I try to dress to lengthen my legs and shorten my torso, with high-waisted straight skirts or trousers, tucked in shirts and short cardigans.


Ah! If anything, I’m slightly short waisted. I haven’t had any success with trying on sheath dresses in stores, ever (there is always a problem with hips, bust, or both), which has put me off trying to sew one. Perhaps I should reconsider!

Princess seams are the best, though. :)

Johanna@projects by me

I prefer A-line, both in dresses and skirts, since I have wide hips and to real waist definition. I find myself most comfortable in the A-line silhouette. Most often I combine the dress/skirt with a fitted/semi-fitted round-neck cardigan. In the winter I wear fleece tights and boots, in spring and autumn, cotton leggings and sneakers/flats. In the summer it’s just a dress and sandals/flats (Yay! Can’t wait til summer!!!).


Ahhh Vyvyan I can’t help because I have PRECISELY the same shape, but I’m so eager to share answers with you! By the way are we apples (belly on the side) or hourglass (waist definition from the front)? I should add that I’m tall (1m79) and big breasted.

What works on me appart from the A-line Skirt + fitted top, is a long cardigan that goes pass the hips, the bootcut jeans+ fitted top+long cardigan, Or Bootcut jeans+tank top+ kind of large sweater with V-neckline that let show the large straps of the tank top.

I read that women who don’t like their mid-section should wear empire tops and dresses, I love them, it hides well my belly and I feel very comfotable BUT, it also emphasizes the breasts, i feel more “round” and”broad” and I certainly do not need that, so are there different types of empire waist garments?

As to the knit dress with flared skirt, I love it, but again I read that gathers and tucks at the waist are no good for prominent mid-section..but I love them so much! I can’t resolve on sewing patterns with these designs because I’m not sure it’ll fit.

There are so many “rules” to apply depending on our shape (and how come I’m none of the shapes available ?!) , according to feminine Press. I’m really puzzled.

Thank you so much Sarai for all this stuff to ponder on….


I am also very tall, short waisted, hippy, large bust but in my case narrow shoulders :) I need good waist definition or I just look shapeless.
I love partial circle skirts, anything from A line to full circle! But I wear it with a fitted tee that comes at least to my leg break. The skirts are anywhere from mid thigh to maxi length.
I can relate to boot cut jeans, they bring me beautiful balance and curves. I also use yoga pants as a bottom layer as well as leggings because the yoga pants have a similar shape to the boot cut jeans and for me work well with a tunic length top or A line skirt and fitted tee.
When making dresses or jackets I will often change out a gathered skirt for a half or 3/4 circle Skirt as this produces a much sleeker silhouette over my hips.


I’m really loving this whole series! So helpful to narrow down my style and think before I sew :) I’m a big fan of Into-Mind as well, just finished my wardrobe detox the other day on the ten step wardrobe revamp. I made up a few sets of my silhouettes on Polyvore and started a board on Pinterest, Thanks for the inspiration Sarai!


I’ve come to the same realisation about covering up, lately. For me, I like my legs to be covered to the thigh, I like to have sleeves, and I don’t want too much cleavage showing (some is inevitable because I have a large bust and don’t like high necklines, but I have a very well calibrated sense of how much is too much for my personal taste). It’s not, as you say, about shame. I’m fine in a singlet or sleeveless dress if it’s very hot, I’m fine in swimwear. I always wear french knickers under skirts and I’m not fussed if the skirt hitches up a bit higher and my leg is showing. I was ashamed of my arms for a long time but now I don’t worry about it (that one took some work!).

It’s just that I don’t feel put together otherwise. I think I LOOK fine, but I don’t FEEL fine.

This post gave me another epiphany, too. I don’t like cardigans. I never wear them open because I don’t like the silhouette on me, so I always wear them closed, so then what is the point? I have been feeling like I should like sleeveless dresses + cardigans but no. I do not like either of those things. I am glad I realised before I made sleeveless dresses! The only downside is that now I have to master set in sleeves…

I love the look of cardigans, except on me! Also FEEL fine in my choices but by the look of photos of myself, I don’t look so fine. I’ve taken to using a camera and shooting pics of myself in outfits. Then I seem to have better idea of what I really look like. It also helps me if I snap a picture in black and white or sepia. This gives me an idea of the ‘silhouette’ .

laura k

This has been so much fun. I’ve posted six Silhouettes to my silhouettes collection on Polyvore:
I’d love to see more of other peoples pinterest boards and polyvore collections, too. Is there a hashtag or something? I’ve been using #wardrobearchitect.


Yep, that’s the correct hashtag!


I really need a new wardrobe but shopping for clothes freaks me out. I’ll be going back to read your other guides.


This series has made me examine what I wear and why I wear it. I am building a handmade, capsule wardrobe that is carefully curated. These posts as so helpful! Thank you.


So, I meant to say “These posts are so helpful!” :)


this was a fun one! i have blogged about it here:

thanks for the post sarai – really helpful!


Thanks, I’ve discovered Polyvore! Tons of fun & really helping consolidate my ideas from not only this but the previous couple of posts too.


I normally wear A-line skirts, boot cut pants (I am a pear shape).. but I think I want to try pencil skirts! Something I never thought I would say! lol Thanks so much for this project. Your button is on my sidebar- and I love following along!


I re-discovered Polyvore thanks to this post… Is there any way to find “polyvore friendly” pictures of Colette Patterns? I feel that place lacks a little DIY fashion!
I also noticed there are some groups you can choose to join, could we build a wardrobe architect one? Not sure how that works, though, I’ll have to look more closely.

Thank you again for the great posts!

Stacey Stitch

Also: I’d just like to say I’m loving how different everyone’s silhouettes are! :D


This week’s exercise has not been fun for me. I’ve looked at a few of people’s polyvore silhouettes, and I’ve tried to put a couple together for me, but they don’t look like me because I’m not built like a model. The proportions are all wrong. I’ve got no relationship with them, and they don’t connect to how I see myself. And I was finding that really stressful and frustrating and it was just reminding me all over again why I HATE shopping for clothes.

Since I don’t want this process to be all about hate, I’m allowing myself to not do this particular exercise and find my own workaround, both now and in the future, if we end up working on those silhouettes again.


I was afraid it would be the same thing for me, so instead of using Polyvore or other websites, I drew my “silhouettes” on copies of my “personal croquis” (from the Colette Sewing Handbook, but you can find tutorials on the Internet on how to make one). It helped in 2 ways: A) I could actually see what the silhouettes looked like on “me” and B) I only used an ink pen and a pencil to “color” them so I was sure not to be influenced by colors and prints, and to just focus on the silhouette.


Jade, I did just the same thing! I don’t really like Polyvore, the whole brand thing puts me off. I just drew mine as I would normally draw clothing, really enjoyed it :) I did use colours however, need to use colours!

Posted on my blog and Pinterest boards, see links below.


These look great! You’ve inspired me to share my own silhouettes on Pinterest:


Just had a look, yours are great! :)


I kinda envy those of you who can draw your silhouettes. That means you can relate much more personally than I can to your visual for this exercise. I think that’s where I was struggling so much.


I’m having the same trouble. I have no idea how to do this! I feel like there’s a step missing for someone with my brain. (Also I can’t draw…)


Add me to the list of people who found this exercise a huge headache. Polyvore just wasn’t doing it for me — I’m not able to focus on just shapes while overlooking other aspects I’m not crazy about, nor am I willing to go through hundreds of pages of search results (a handful at a time!) in order to find examples I actually like. Where the last 3 exercises were fun, this one felt like homework.

So I, too, decided I needed to find another way. I looked at other people’s comments, blog posts, and Pinterest/Polyvore boards (thanks to all willing to share these!) and figured out that everyone’s comments about their shapes really had to do with two things: how often they wear those shapes, and how much they like to wear those shapes.

There is no reason to ever wear things you don’t like. So I looked back at my numbers for exercise 3, pulled out everything I rated 5 or higher, and thought: How often do I wear each of these things, and how do I feel about that? And in THIS way I figured out (again, looking only at things I at least kind of like) what shapes I wear so often I’m bored with them, what shapes I wear often because I’m comfortable in them and love them, and what shapes I never wear. From here, the goal became clear: streamline and improve the items I own in shapes I like and wear a lot, and find awesome things in the shapes I like but rarely or never wear and add them in. So now I have an “improve” list and an “acquire” list to guide my future shopping.

… Does it show that my first career was in medical research? ;) Window shopping on the internet just gave me a headache, but breaking things down into data points suddenly made it all clear to me! XD


Thanks, Steelheart, for this idea. I’ve come to this series late but like many others, I don’t ‘see’ myself when I look at models wearing clothing (4’10, short waist, apple/hourglass, full bust). So I will do as you suggest — look at clothes that I already feel good in to determine their characteristics.


I like A-line dresses and skirts, and have also come to really like tight pants with a loose, but not long, top. I like structured material for the pants–not really leggings. I really liked the proportions catalogue a lot and am drawn to skirts/short/pants and untucked or loose tops.
Often I find it difficult to select silhouettes of clothes models are wearing–in catalogue or even on sewing patterns. They look very flattering on the model, but on me–no. Sometimes I get tricked–wanting the item to look like that on me, hoping it will, and being disappointed with the result.
Thanks for this series!


I’ve learned that I need to have one fitted thing–if the pants are looser, I like the top to be more fitted, and vice versa. I tried to come up with at least one variation for each outfit that I made on Polyvore, either to make it multi-seasonal or to just change it up, and put the results on my Pinterest board:

This was a fun exercise, and I think I’ll probably end up playing with it more!


Is there a Collette pattern that is similar to the dress you posted in this post? I really like the dress and think that in a knit fabric I would actually get quite a bit of wear out of it. I’m starting to come to terms with the fact that I mostly sew in wovens but prefer wearing knits, so I have to change that.


Here’s mine for the week — lots of loose sweaters/ tight pants for winter, and almost exclusively flat when it comes to footwear :)

Jessi Long

Here are my silhouettes on pinterest. I added them onto my inspiration board. I really focused on spring since those pieces work for 3/4 of the year in Oregon. Being a SAHM really influences the silhouettes too, the outerwear is less structured, fewer skirts and flatter shoes.

The Knitting Archaeologist

This has been sooo illuminating. I have a closet full of cheap stuff I’ve purchased because it was in stores, that I either never wear (cheap sundresses), or I wear only on special occasions (cocktail dresses). I only like 2 pairs of pants I own. That makes winter tough. I end up wearing yoga pants when I’m not at work because I don’t like the rest of what I have, and then I feel unsexy and schlumpy.

Thanks to this series, I am excited to get back to fashionable me! I made some silhouettes that I used to wear more often, and I am pumped to start sewing and buying pieces to create this new wardrobe!


This was a useful exercise. Interesting to see what themes developed as I built out my silhouettes. Sharing mine on Polyvore as well:


Definitly not happy with polyvore!!!
Maybe I should draw my silhouettes too. But for now this has to do it….

Elizabeth Koz.

I wish you would put the wardrobe architect in flip book form-It’ssuch a great way to really focus your sewing-Thanks!


I might refine the whole series in the future (once it’s done) and do something with it. It would be good to incorporate the feedback I’ve gotten in the comments: what works, what doesn’t, etc.

Judy Farrell

If you can believe this, I am a 78-year old very skinny woman who is learning to sew and I love it. I also favor the sillouette fitted bodice, jewel neckline, long sleeves, flared skirrt, well below the knee. Can you suggest a pattern website with contemporary styled patterns suitable for older women?

Rita has all the major pattern companies as well as independent ones. There are a lot of vintage style patterns these days. has patterns that people have made and commented on. I’m 63 and have been sewing since jr high … Good for you for learning to sew, I love it also!! Threads magazine is a great sewing magazine which is also online. Have fun!!

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