11 ideal body shapes through the ages

By Marilynn McLachlan

Photos / Getty Images, NZ Herald Archive
Photos / Getty Images, NZ Herald Archive

Body shapes, like fashion and hair styles, go in and out of favour. The last century has seen the ideal female shape move from curvaceous to stick thin and back again.

Today we look back at the popular body shape in each decade since 1900.

1900-1910 - The S shape


'Gibson Girls'. Photo / Wikimedia Commons

The quintessential Gibson Girl embodied the ideal of a tall, slender woman who stood out for her 'S' shape, achieved by wearing the Edwardian corset. The corset pushed the torso forward and pushed the hips out the back, giving a voluptuous look with large breasts and hips.

The look, which was said to encourage good health and physical activity, was the invention of illustrator Charles Dana Gibson, but it was actress and model Camilla Clifford who defined the style.

1910-1920 - Long and lean

In the early years of the 1910s, the ideal body type was lean with a long waist and thinner hips. For those without this natural body type, the use of a new longer line corset helped achieve it.

After the outbreak of WWI, women were asked to stop buying corsets because they used precious metal. As a result, women began wearing girdles to suck in and elongate the waist and thin the hips. Because they sat below the breast, women began wearing brassieres.

1920s - Androgynous


Coco Chanel, left, and the androgynous look of 1920s flappers. Photos / NZ Herald Archive, Thinkstock

The flapper girl had a very different look than the curvaceous women of the previous decades. This look was androgynous and inspired by Coco Chanel. The popular look was skinny (although not waif) and angular, with some women binding their breasts to make them appear smaller and the bob was the popular hairdo. Women no longer scrunched themselves into tight corsets, but wore less restrictive underwear. However, if a woman was bigger than ideal, she would still use corsets to achieve this thin look. Height was also important, with women wearing higher heels than they had previously.

1930s - The triangle

Hit hard by the Great Depression, women became more subdued and conservative with their fashion. Down went the hemlines and the waistline returned. During this decade there was particular focus on the shoulders, creating a triangle body shape.

1940s - Alluring hourglass

It was all about curves in the 1940s. With WWII, women again moved into traditionally male roles, but softer materials such as silk and nylon saw the ideal body shape sexualised - big breasts, slim waists and swelling hips. Hair was glamorous and make up was in the pin up style.

1950s - Glamorous hourglass


Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn. Photos / NZ Herald Archive

The 1950s took the 1940s ideal and glamorised it. Breasts were full, hips were wide and waists were small. In the post-war boom, beauty products and fashion options opened up and there was an expectation of flawless skin and perfect hair. Women such as Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn personified the opulent ideal.

1960s - Androgynous waif


Twiggy. Photos / NZ Herald Archive

The model Lesley Lawson, better known as Twiggy, brought the "pixie" look. It involved cropped, thin hair and an extremely thin body. Heavy eye makeup brought the boy-look of the 1920s back into fashion again. It was a look that was almost pre-pubescent, with women wearing short dresses and skirts and flat shoes without emphasis on the waist.

1970s - Naturally fresh

The sexual revolution saw the rise of a more "natural" look in the 1970s. Curves were back in fashion. Long, tousled "bed hair" gave women a touch of the "wild" about them. Role models included Charlie's Angels' Farrah Fawcett and Gia Carangi.

1980s - Toned, tall and slim


Elle Macpherson, Christie Brinkley and Naomi Campbell. Photos / Getty Images

The thin (but not skinny) look remained throughout the 1980s, but with big hair, big breasts and a toned body (but not muscly). Height also became important. This was the decade where it wasn't enough to diet to be a certain body shape, women needed to exercise to achieve the ideal body shape. It was the decade of the rise of the supermodel, with the likes of Cindy Crawford, Elle Macpherson, Christie Brinkley and Naomi Campbell becoming household names.

1990s - Extreme bodies

The 1990s saw the rise of extremes. On the one side, model Kate Moss was the face of high fashion with her "heroin chic" look - a return to the androgynous waif of the 1960s. On the other was Pamela Anderson's look - the perfectly sculpted, slim body with disproportionally large breasts that sat so high they required implants.

2000s - Clean and lean


Gwyneth Paltrow, Cameron Diaz and Miranda Kerr. Photo / Getty Images

The ideal 2000s woman has a thin, lean and toned body - but now mental and physical health are just as important. Juicing, yoga, meditation, healthy eating and conscious living promote the ideal and it has been popularised by Gwyneth Paltrow, Cameron Diaz and Miranda Kerr.

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