What is Silhouette in Fashion | Types of Silhouettes

Silhouette in Fashion Design: Definition, Types and History

Janvi Ganatra
Department of Textiles (Fashion Technology)
DKTEs Textile and Engineering Institute, Ichalkaranji, India
Intern at Textile Learner
Email: ganatrajanvi@outlook.com


What is Silhouette in Fashion?
Silhouettes are the outline of a person, object, or scene which is represented as a solid shape mostly in black color. The interior of the silhouette is featureless and mostly presented on white or light background.

Basically, Silhouette in Fashion Design means that outline of clothing or garment and refers to the line of dress.

silhouette in fashion
Fig: Silhouette in fashion (Photo: Shutterstock)

Silhouette is considered as the first impression of the garment when it comes to catwalks, fashion walks, etc. It is used to look at overall shape before jumping into the details of fabric, texture, etc. It helps in making decisions which part of the body needs to be emphasized and which part should be hidden.

History of Silhouettes
Nowadays women use fashion agencies as a tool to decide what to wear and experiment themselves with the best ideas and use fashion to make them how they want to be seen. But in the past women wore the clothes the way society wanted them to see. Hence, ideas and presentations have changed over the period of time. Like up to medieval period people wore the clothes just to cover their bodies but today the clothes are worn according to culture, occasion, desire, status and identity. Clothing has seen the art of science and beauty but up to the end of the medieval period a new occupation called tailoring emerged and also fashion started coming into existence. And hence this gave birth to the term Silhouettes.

history of silhouettes
Fig: History of silhouettes

Silhouettes were firstly seen during French Revolution when gowns were being draped in heavy silks. And after that there was a trend of high-waisted silhouette also called the “Empire line” brought by Greco Roman Artwork and spreaded by Josephine Bonaparte, wife of the French emperor. This trend lasted for a few years and after that this silhouette was transformed into various other structures like bell-shaped skirts, leg-o-mutton sleeves, hoop-skirted style, etc. Hence, in this way various silhouettes emerged and the same were again formed into proper structures.

Types of Silhouettes
As discussed earlier, Silhouettes help in creating a flattering illusion and help in emphasizing the particular part of the body. Various types of silhouettes are created to flatter different body types as well as dress codes for various occasions. Hence, understanding various types of silhouettes will truly help you to create the best version of yourself.

In addition to catering to different body types and the dress code of various places through clothing, you can also use accessories to match and become the focal point of your outfit. For places such as large-scale corporate exchanges meetings, companies can fully customize their own pins with company logos and information. Distribute these to all employees so that they can present their company’s message and culture to others within a specific venue.

customized pins

So, following are some of the various types of silhouettes –

1. Sheath silhouettes
Silhouette which hugs the body from top to bottom. This silhouette looks best on the women with no to few curves and is generally recommended by slimmer women with well-defined waist.

Sheath Silhouettes
Fig: Sheath Silhouettes

2. A-line silhouette
The silhouette resembles the capital A which is fitted at top and flares at the skirt. This garment flatters mostly every body type. Garment of this type is narrow at the top and gradually widens towards the hem smoothing out the lines. It best fits every body type.

A-line Silhouette
Fig: A-line Silhouette

3. Hour-glass silhouette
Hourglass Silhouette means fitted at the waist. These silhouettes can be designed using belts, darts, waistbands. This type of silhouette best fits the people with narrow waistlines and is used to emphasize the curves of the body.

Hour-Glass Silhouette
Fig: Hour-Glass Silhouette

This silhouette would best suit the pear shaped body rather than the apple shaped body provided it has a narrow waistline.

Empire silhouette
The silhouette with raised waistline. It is fitted top garment and flares under the chest. It is best suited with people not having defined waist. It should be avoided by hourglass and can be worn by both pear and apple figures.

Empire Silhouette
Fig: Empire Silhouette

Bell or Ball gown silhouette
The Ball Gown or Bell Shaped dress is generally fitted till waist and gradually widens towards hemline forming a shape like bell-shaped skirt. See these ball gowns by Sherri Hill, for example. This style is flattering on almost any body type, but is especially flattering for petite women, or those with small waists. On a pear-shaped woman, the full skirt can do much to camouflage large hips.

Bell or Ball Gown Silhouette
Fig: Bell or Ball Gown Silhouette

Trumpet silhouette
Silhouette also called Mermaid silhouette. This silhouette hugs the body up to knee level and then forms the shape like bell shaped skirt. It is used to accentuate the curve and best suits most shapes, but incredibly petite women should be cautious about proportion because this style emphasizes leg and torso length.

Trumpet Silhouette
Fig: Trumpet Silhouette

Asymmetrical silhouette
The silhouette is cut in diagonal direction and generally has a diagonal hemline. Asymmetrical dress is made for every body type.

Asymmetrical Silhouette
Fig: Asymmetrical Silhouette

Silhouettes act as identification to cutting and structure of overall garment. It describes garment besides color, texture or fabric. Only specific type of garment look best on specific type of people and hence silhouettes help in identify the same. But at the same time during construction of garment role of darts and gathers play a vital role.


  1. Sorger, R., Udale, J. (2006). The Fundamentals of Fashion Design. Switzerland: AVA Publishing.
  2. THE HISTORY OF SILHOUETTES. (2017, September 14). Alabama Chanin | Journal. https://journal.alabamachanin.com/2016/06/the-history-of-silhouettes/
  3. Wikipedia contributors. (2021, June 30). Silhouette. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silhouette#History
  4. Alm, S. (2017). Designing Clothes with the Flat Pattern Method: Customize Fitting Shells to Create Garments in Any Style. United States: Quarry Books.
  5. Dhange, V. (2012). Elements and principles of fashion design: For beginners (Vol. 1). LAP LAMBERT Academic Publishing.

Image sources

  1. Asymmetrical silhouette. (n.d.). [Photo]. cloudfront.net
  2. Trumpet Silhouette. (n.d.). [Photo]. media1.popsugar-assets.com
  3. Different silhouettes. (n.d.). [Photograph]. shutterstock.com
  4. Hourglass Silhouette. (n.d.). [Photo]. sociomix.com
  5. A-line silhouette. (n.d.). [Photo]. shopify.com
  6. Sheath Silhouetts. (n.d.). [Photo]. sewguide.com
  7. Sheath Silhouette. (n.d.). [Photo]. shutterstock.com
  8. Silhouettes. (n.d.). [Photo]. shutterstock.com

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