Choosing Flattering Necklines
Last December, we wrote about how different face shapes choose earrings, which many folks found helpful. Many readers asked for further information on how to use the face types to choose other garment elements effectively. While it is true that there are a few other areas where the face shape and feature shapes are the primary concern (sunglasses and hairstyle come to mind) as soon as we move downward we must also integrate information from the body, which introduces almost limitless variability. Here, I will attempt to provide a basic guide to sorting out what works for you as an individual.
In order to broach this topic, we must first name the factors that come into play. We know that physical features such as the length of one's legs and the width of one's hips most certainly factor into determining one's Image Archetype, but probably those things are not so important in selecting a neckline. So what is? Mainly, design qualities of the face, jawline, and upper torso, and a bit of the overall scale and most prominent shapes of the person. Specifically:
1. The size of the face - small, medium, large (both relative to the body and objectively). As a general rule, larger faces need a bigger opening and smaller faces need a smaller opening.
2. The width of the face - wide, narrow, or balanced. As a general rule, wider faces require a wider, more open neckline, and narrower faces require a narrower, more closed neckline.
3. The structure of the face - I find it helpful to think in terms of how exaggerated peaks and valleys are in the facial bone structure, which can vary from very high peaks and low valleys to soft rolling bunny hills. As a general rule, more structured faces with higher peaks and valleys will tolerate more rigidity in necklines and higher necklines, while less structured faces look better next to softer necklines with more space between the jawline and the top of the neckline.
4. The shape of the jawline - pointed, square, tapered, round, etc. Repeating this shape is usually flattering, conflicting shapes can be less so.
5. The overall face shape and the shapes present in the face - Ovals, circles, triangles, rectangles, squares, etc. These often provide more variety of options that work equally well as the above, or provide more detail about the very best shapes.
6. The length of the neck - long, medium, short (both proportionately and objectively). Longer necks allow for higher rising necklines without crowding the face, shorter necks need more room to be built into the neckline.
7. The width of the shoulders - broad, medium, narrow. Broader shoulders require more openness and width in a neckline, while narrower shoulders may be overwhelmed by overly wide or open necks.
8. The width of the ribcage - broad, medium, narrow. Similar to shoulders, the width of the ribcage can effect the scale and substance of the upper torso, which in turn will require necklines to be adjusted proportionately.
9. The fullness and set of the bust - full, medium, or small and set wide, narrow, low, or high. Full bustlines typically require more openness to necklines, while smaller ones may be more flattered by a smaller opening. A lower set to a bustline may necessitate a lower neckline, while a higher set bust may render very low necks impractical.
10. The overall scale and most prominent shapes in the person - large, medium, small, etc. These can add additional modification to the shapes that are wearable for an individual and the most flattering scale of the neckline.
If you're like many people, you may be getting some conflicting information from these factors. I think the best way for me to explain how to make sense of that information is by talking through a few examples.
Let's look at YinD Sofia Vergara.
Sofia has a medium-large face (though proportionate to her body), and it is relatively wide, just a little less wide than it is long. So thus far, she seems to need a medium-large and wide neckline. However, Sofia's face has a fair amount of structure, with some projection of the cheekbones, jawline, and nose that create medium-high peaks and valleys and may allow for some variant of a higher or stiffer neckline. She also has a basically pointed jawline which tapers in significantly from the cheekbone, which may allow her to tolerate more narrowness depending on what we discover as we go. Her face has mostly triangles and some circles. So just from her face alone we can see that there will probably be both angular and rounded shapes that flatter her.
Sofia's neck is fairly medium in length, so it's unlikely that we are going to get extra room for extension upwards there. Her shoulders are medium-broad, somewhat wide objectively but relatively proportionate to her, so again, probably still looking for more openness and width. Her rib cage seems somewhat similarly proportioned to her shoulders, so not much change there. Her bustline is full, and in my opinion set relatively high (look at the distance between her collarbones and her cleavage). So overall another vote towards lower and more open necklines. In general she is large scale (though I wouldn't say extra-large) and mostly a mix of bold angles and bold round shapes, so anything too small scale won't suit her, including certain neckline effects.
The vast majority of Sofia's feature seems to be asking for a neckline which is both deep and wide and doesn't crowd her face, or make her look broad or bulky through the upper torso. She seems to be able to wear both angles and rounded shapes well, providing the angles are wide. A sort of wide V may be her most ideal shape because it provides the right amount of openness and repeats her jawline. She does, however have some structure to her face, which may allow for some mitigated upwards movement in a neckline, such as a collared blouse worn open or a turtleneck with an open keyhole. Very closed in necklines like jewel neck or narrow ones like a split neck will not be as effective.
While these guidelines fit relatively neatly with generic guidelines for YinD, the ultimate determination is made individually. Some YinDs may wear necklines that will not work on her well, while others will wear those that do work on her poorly. Rather like lipsticks within a season, our level of sensitivity around faces is very high.
Next let's look at YangG Samira Wiley.
Her face is small, both objectively and somewhat proportionately. It's somewhat narrow proportionate to how long it is and objectively. Probably when she tries glasses they are often too wide to fit. Samira's face has a more flat and soft topography, though the angle and projection of her jawline add some structure. Like Sofia her jawline is pointed, but it is much narrower and sharper. Her face is mostly linear shapes and triangles but with a bit of roundedness to the tip of her nose and her mouth. Based on her face alone, I would expect her to best suit smaller openings, though perhaps not moving too much upwards in mostly angular, but also some round shapes.
Moving on to her upper torso, we find that Samira's neck is somewhat long proportionately. Her shoulders are somewhat broad proportionately though medium-narrow objectively (she is especially narrow though the torso and hip in bone structure). Her ribcage doesn't seem wide but I can't see that it's especially narrow proportionately. She isn't particularly busty, and the set of her bust seems relatively average. At 5'3" and being relatively narrow in bone structure, her overall scale is small (though not extra small). Her body lines are mostly linear.
Factoring in both face and body, Samira overwhelmingly suits smaller neckline openings with more narrowness, using either rounded or angular shapes, such as jewel neck or short V-necks. Her long neck and structured jawline permit a small amount of upward movement, perhaps as a small collar or abbreviated funnel neck. She should avoid wide open necklines and overly soft necklines like open cowls and also overly deep necklines such as a plunging V shape which will overwhelm the size of her face.
Like Sofia, these guidelines are largely consistent with generic YangG guidelines with some individual variation to be expected.
Finally, we'll look at YinN Ming-Na Wen.
Ming-Na's face is medium-large and somewhat proportionately large. It is definitely longer than it is wide but not narrow. Her facial topography is relatively flat towards the center, but becomes somewhat more sculpted at the edges through the cheekbones and jawline. Her jawline is a wide softened square. Her overall face shape is a softened rectangle and the shapes in her face are a mixture of softened angles and round shapes, and the features are somewhat widely set. Based on face alone I would expect her to suit necklines with a moderate amount of openness and some width in rounded shapes and softened angles.
Ming-Na has a neck of average length, and shoulders that are somewhat proportionately broad. She has a broad rib cage and a bustline which is medium-small and set somewhat wide and low. Ming-Na is medium scale and her body lines are mainly soft angles with some curves. Her body lines slightly enhance her ability to balance more depth and openness. In general she suits best moderate to slightly large neckline openings with some width and depth in rounded and softly angular shapes. She does not as a general rule suit very narrow openings or necklines that rise upwards.
Compared to some YinNs, Ming-Na can handle slightly more structure and more moderate opening size due to having moderately less softness to her face and fullness in the bustline than some in this type, but most choices would be similar to others of her type.
Hopefully this sheds some light on how choosing necklines relates both to your image archetype and to you as an individual. As Christine would say, use these tools to help you follow your own blueprint.