Fashion Silhouettes: Types, History & Best Practices
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 7 min read


Imagine flipping through a fashion magazine and spotting an image of a dress that makes your heart skip a beat. What's the first thing you notice? The color? The fabric? More than likely, it's the shape of the garment that's caught your eye. That's the power of a silhouette in fashion. This blog will take you on a journey, exploring fashion silhouettes, their types and history, and how to use them effectively. You'll also find best practices and tips to choose the right silhouette. So, let's get started!

What are fashion silhouettes?

When we talk about a silhouette in fashion, we're referring to the outline or shape of a garment. It's the line that your eye follows when you first look at an outfit. It’s the basic structure that gives a garment its form, setting the mood and style.

The Role of a Silhouette

Think of a silhouette as the backbone of your outfit—it sets the stage for everything else. Here's what it does:

  • Defines the style: A shift dress with a straight silhouette gives off a different vibe than a ball gown with a voluminous silhouette.
  • Highlights or hides: Depending on the silhouette, certain body features can be emphasized or downplayed. For instance, an A-line silhouette can highlight your waist and hide wider hips.

Ever noticed how some outfits feel 'so 90s' or 'totally 80s'? That's the silhouette at work! It plays a key role in shaping fashion trends. Here’s how:

  1. Creates an era's identity: Each fashion era is defined by its signature silhouettes. Bell-bottoms in the 70s, shoulder pads in the 80s—they're all distinctive silhouettes that make those eras recognizable.
  2. Reflects societal changes: Silhouettes often mirror societal shifts. For example, the shift from floor-length dresses to shorter hemlines in the 1920s reflected women's growing independence.

Expressing Personal Style

Using silhouette in fashion is also a way for you to express your unique style. Here's why:

  • Individuality: Your choice of silhouette says a lot about your personal fashion sense. Love bodycon dresses? You're likely a fan of form-fitting silhouettes. Prefer loose, flowy garments? You're more into relaxed silhouettes.
  • Comfort and confidence: Wearing a silhouette that suits your body type and personal style can boost your comfort and confidence. After all, when you feel good, you look good!

Now that you understand what a silhouette in fashion is and its importance, let's dive into the different types of silhouettes and their history.

Types of fashion silhouettes

Just like there's a rainbow of colors in fashion, there's also a wide range of silhouettes. Each silhouette in fashion has its unique charm and mood. Let's explore some of the most common ones.

A-Line Silhouette

Named after its shape that resembles the letter 'A', this silhouette is narrow at the top and flares out towards the bottom. A-line dresses and skirts are classic examples. They're flattering on most body types and are a go-to choice for many fashion lovers.

Ball Gown Silhouette

Think Cinderella at the ball! This silhouette features a fitted bodice and a wide, full skirt. It's the stuff of fairy tales and is commonly seen in formal wear and wedding dresses.

Column or Sheath Silhouette

This silhouette is straight from top to bottom, similar to a column. It lightly skims the body, creating a sleek and elegant look. It's a popular choice for cocktail dresses and office wear.

Empire Waist Silhouette

The empire waist silhouette features a raised waistline that sits just below the bust, with a loose-fitting skirt that flows down from there. It's a flattering choice for those who wish to emphasize their bust and downplay their lower body.

Mermaid Silhouette

Like the mythical creature it's named after, this silhouette is fitted on the top and through the waist and hips, then flares out at or below the knee. It's a glamorous choice for evening wear and is often seen on red carpets.

Remember, these are just a few examples. The world of silhouette in fashion is vast and exciting, with countless shapes to explore and experiment with!

History of fashion silhouettes

Just like a time machine, the history of silhouette in fashion can transport us back to different eras. Each period had its unique shape that reflected the times and trends. Let's hop on this fashion time machine and take a sneak peek at some iconic silhouettes throughout history.

1920s: The Flapper Silhouette

During the Roaring Twenties, the Flapper style was all the rage. This silhouette was straight and loose, reflecting the newfound freedom and rebellion of women at the time. The Flapper dresses were typically short, with a dropped waist and no sleeves—perfect for doing the Charleston!

1950s: The Hourglass Silhouette

In contrast to the previous decade, the 1950s saw a return to traditional femininity. The Hourglass silhouette, characterized by a cinched waist and full skirt, became the ideal. This silhouette was popularized by Hollywood stars like Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn.

1960s: The Mod Silhouette

The Mod silhouette was a significant departure from the hourglass shape of the 1950s. It was straight and boxy, often with a high neckline and short hemline. This silhouette was a reflection of the youth culture and social changes of the 1960s.

1980s: The Power Silhouette

The 1980s was the era of power dressing. The silhouette of this period was all about big shoulders, cinched waists, and wide hips—think of the iconic power suits sported by women climbing the corporate ladder.

2000s: The Bodycon Silhouette

As we entered the new millennium, the Bodycon silhouette took the fashion world by storm. This figure-hugging shape was all about showing off one's curves, and it was often seen in both casual and formal wear.

Isn't it fascinating how the silhouette in fashion has evolved over the years? It's a testament to the ever-changing world of fashion and its reflection of societal shifts!

How to use fashion silhouettes

Now that we've taken a trip through fashion history, you may be wondering: How can I use these different silhouettes in my own style? Don't worry, we've got you covered. Let's talk about how you can incorporate different silhouettes into your everyday fashion.

Understand Your Body Type

First things first, you need to know your body type. Are you more of an hourglass, apple, pear, or rectangle? Once you have this figured out, you can choose silhouettes that flatter your specific shape. For example, if you're an hourglass, the Bodycon silhouette from the 2000s will accentuate your curves beautifully.

Consider the Occasion

Think about where you're going. A flapper silhouette might not be the best choice for a formal dinner, but it could be a hit at a themed party or a night out dancing. Similarly, a power suit silhouette could make a strong statement in a business meeting, but might feel out of place at a casual brunch.

Experiment and Have Fun

Remember, fashion should be a form of self-expression. Don't be afraid to experiment with different silhouettes. Maybe one day you feel like channeling the 1950s with an hourglass silhouette, and the next you're in the mood for a Mod look. Have fun with it!

Learning how to use silhouette in fashion can truly elevate your style game. It's all about understanding your body, considering the occasion, and most importantly, having fun and expressing yourself!

Best practices for fashion silhouettes

So, you're ready to dive into the world of fashion silhouettes. Great! But before you do, let's go over a few best practices. These are some tried and true tips to help you make the most of your silhouette in fashion journey.

Balance is Key

When planning your outfit, remember that balance is everything. If you're wearing a voluminous top, pairing it with a tighter bottom can create an interesting silhouette and vice versa. This way, you won't feel overwhelmed by your outfit, and every element will get the chance to shine.

Don't Forget Accessories

Accessories can also play a role in creating a silhouette. Think about a wide-brimmed hat, a large handbag, or even statement shoes. These can all add to the overall shape of your outfit.

Play with Layers

Layering is another useful tool when working with silhouettes. Combining different pieces can create depth and complexity in your look. For instance, wearing a fitted blazer over a flowy dress can create a unique silhouette that's both structured and free-flowing.

Whether you're a fashion newbie or a seasoned style guru, keeping these best practices in mind can help you make the most out of silhouette in fashion. It's all about balance, accessories, and layers. Happy styling!

Tips to choose the right silhouette

Now that you're armed with some best practices, let's discuss how to choose the right silhouette in fashion. This can seem overwhelming, but don't worry! Here are some practical tips to guide your choice.

Understand Your Body Type

The first step in choosing the right silhouette is understanding your body type. Are you an hourglass, pear-shaped, or maybe an apple? Once you know your body type, you can choose silhouettes that highlight your best features and downplay areas you're less confident about. For example, if you're an apple shape, you might opt for empire waist dresses that draw attention to your upper body, whereas a pear shape might lean towards A-line skirts that emphasize the waist and skim over the hips.

Consider the Occasion

The event or occasion can also influence your silhouette choice. For a business meeting, you might prefer a more structured silhouette, while a flowy, relaxed silhouette might be right for a beach vacation. Remember, the right silhouette in fashion is not only about what complements your body but also about what fits the event.

Comfort is Paramount

Lastly, but certainly not least, consider your comfort. No matter how flattering a silhouette might be, if it doesn't feel comfortable, it's not the right choice. Comfort goes beyond physical ease—it's also about feeling confident and at ease in your outfit.

Choosing the right silhouette can be a fun and rewarding part of your fashion journey. Remember these tips, and you'll be well on your way to finding silhouettes that make you look and feel fantastic.

If you've enjoyed learning about fashion silhouettes and want to further explore the world of fashion, consider checking out the workshop 'Finding Your Lane In Fashion Photography' by Gil Anselmi. This workshop will provide you with insights and tips on how to navigate the fashion photography industry, enhancing your understanding of fashion and its various aspects.