Help a Hard-To-Fit Woman Dress Herself.
April 10, 2011 3:19 PM   Subscribe

I am 5'9", an hourglass shape with a long torso-- what should I wear?

My legs are average length but my torso is long-- the torso is what makes me tall, not my legs. I am an hourglass, built similar to Christina Hendricks but not quite as toned and quite less boobs. :) My pants size is 16-18; can fit an L or XL but usually buy XXL for the roominess. (Yes, I could stand to lose some weight, and I'm working on it, but I come from a long line of sturdy Scottish women and I will never see single-digit sizes.) My waist is the most narrow part of me and I want to accentuate it, but I can't seem to make belts work on me. They're uncomfortable and seem to just make my butt and hips look bigger, and I don't need help with that!

I like to keep my upper arms covered (but it gets in the 100s in Summer where I live, so sometimes it's less arm coverage or die of heatstroke). With my long torso, most shirts are too short. Button-front shirts tend to gap at the bust. I like skirts and dresses as long as they cover my knees, but I'm not sure what skirts I can wear that don't cling at the butt and hips.

My budget is that of Target and Old Navy, though I will splurge on quality pieces that are versatile and will last.

I can dress casual for work, so I need recs for basic everyday outfits.
posted by miltoncat to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (17 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite perfect fit t-shirts in the tall sizes. I wear a 'small tall', and I buy the scoop necks and v-necks because I wear a 32G, so the crew necks look ridiculous. They hit me at the hip. I'm hippy, but less 'hippy' than you are, it sounds. I don't mind where they land, because they don't gap up the back when I bend over.

My torso and legs are about equal--the boobs take up the real estate and require the longer length, so I get the same fit as a friend with a smaller bustline and a longer torso. (The height gain is in my neck and head. People are too polite to call me 'giraffe' to my face.)
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 3:27 PM on April 10, 2011

Dresses - wrap or empire line. Should flow over your bum and hips but nip you in at the waist or an assumed waist in the case of the empire line.

Also, you probably want something that's going to make your shoulders look reasonably wide to balance you out somewhat, so you need to try on different neck lines and sleeves to see what works best. Without knowing the boob or arm dimensions it's difficult to be more precise.
posted by koahiatamadl at 3:28 PM on April 10, 2011

Oh--these shirts layer nicely over skirts. I suggest either just above or just below the knee (but just barely below)--then people can't tell quite how long/short your femurs are, so your legs tend to look longer by default. Knee-length doesn't conceal that.

No ankle-straps on your shoes--they cut your legs off at the ankle.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 3:34 PM on April 10, 2011

As for skirts--the keyword is 'A-line.'
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 3:36 PM on April 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Sorry, forgot to say that whatever you do do not wear anything even vaguely resembling cropped trousers as they make all but the longest limbs look shorter - long trousers, long enough to be the right length for whatever heel you are wearing, will make your legs look much longer.
posted by koahiatamadl at 3:37 PM on April 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Look at Michele Obama wears. That lady has style and a figure that sounds like yours.
posted by fifilaru at 3:41 PM on April 10, 2011

Thin belts make a long rise (area between waist and crotch) look longer. I don't know if you have a long rise or not, but your complaint about this makes me suspect it is so. You will have much better luck with wide belts. Measure the length of your head from top of head to chin. If your rise length is longer than that, you have a long rise. It will be your rise area that is taking more than its fair share of your length proportions away from your leg length. Therefore, high-waisted trousers are going to make your legs look shorter, not longer. If you wear them, make sure you wear a longer top over them.

Just checking - are you sure you're an hourglass and not just a pear with big boobs? It's shoulder width that counts, not boob size. I'll take your word for it that you are an hourglass. If big boobs are an issue you will need shirts that are fitted to the waist and then get looser in the chestal area. V-necks will break up the large size of your bust, and to avoid showing cleavage you can just layer another top underneath.

The key to making a space look shorter is to draw a horizontal line across it. So what you want to do is draw a horizontal line across the middle of your rise area. You can do this with two tops layered, one longer than the other, preferably the darker one below. A top that ends at your natural waist won't look good on its own. A top that ends at the seat line can look good, but you need to wear it with heels.

Another thing that will gloss over your leg length is skimming over the butt area so nobody can tell how close your butt is to the ground. Again, a long-line (ending at the seat line) jacket, or knee-length jacket with heels, can do this.

By the nature of skirts, they chop your leg length visually. A short skirt will chop your thigh length, so your instinct to wear knee-length skirts is a good one, because everybody's legs bend at the knee... The very best skirt length is just below the knee. In this length, a circle or A-line skirt is the best kind to wear with flats, and a pencil or straight skirt is the worst. However both of the latter styles can work with heels. Indeed all other skirt lengths need to be worn with heels. If a skirt ends mid-calf, make sure it isn't bias cut too because it will hug around the butt.

As others have said, cropped trousers no no no. Mid-waisted trousers are good, and it's also good if they are wide. Make sure the hem breaks near the floor, so you will need trousers to wear with flats and trousers to wear with heels and never the twain may meet.

Skinny jeans can be worn, but they are for advanced students only, so stay off 'em for now. The reason skinny jeans are usually bad is that they squeeze around the butt area, making it obvious how close your butt is to the ground; and then they chop off at the ankle, announcing MY LEGS END HERE, EVERYONE. SHORT, AREN'T THEY? Also, no leggings for you until you get your Advanced Legging Badge.

Knee boots good, ankle boots usually bad (they can be worn, but it's an advanced problem). If you need to have a strap to keep your shoes on, make sure it's an instep strap and not an ankle strap. Make sure the vamp is low rather than high. Also, if wearing coloured tights, match the colour of your tights to your shoes so you get an unbroken line. So every time you get a new pair of shoes that will be worn in cooler weather, you need to get at least three pairs of matching opaque tights. The very best look is matching your shoes and hose to your skirt or trousers.

Dresses look best with a high waist; you can wear those with flats usually. I've also found that this is often the case with a drop-waisted dress, but you can't always count on it. Fishtail dresses that follow the hips and then flare out at the knee... no. Any bias-cut dresses, you may need to wear with heels.
posted by tel3path at 4:08 PM on April 10, 2011 [6 favorites]

miltoncraft, I could have written this post. You just described my body exactly.

I also don't wear anything with a belt because it draws attention to how long my torso is, plus it somehow makes me look boxy. Clothes that are cut to skim close to my back and waist show off my curves better than a belt, in my experience.

Empire waists make me look heavier than I am, and they don't really show off the figure in my experience. But then, I like to accentuate my big booty, so YMMV. Wrap dresses are awesome and I own a few of them, since the cut doesn't matter -- the fabric wraps around my weird torso just right. V-necks also seem to bring attention to the hourglass shape.

Knits work best for the same reason as the wrap dresses. Fabric with some give and drape is best for a body shape with unusual measurements.

I have a problem with gapping buttons as well, and I'm afraid I can't help -- if the shirt fits perfectly in every way except for the gapping, I buy it and just duct tape the gaps shut (um, on the inside on the shirt). You might have more class than me, though. :)

As for work, I have three skirts that I rotate (like you, I had a hard time finding skirts that are the right length, so when I found one, I bought it in all available colors). I have a bunch of knit tops as well. It's a pretty boring uniform, so I try to dress it up with unusual jewelry, textured tights, or cute shoes. That way I'm comfortable without feeling too frumpy. But that's just me; I settled for my uniform because I just get tired of hunting for clothes and I give up. Good luck.
posted by Toothless Willy at 4:42 PM on April 10, 2011

If you're an hourglass I would avoid drop-waists. The same goes for empire. Both are unflattering on hourglass and will make you look fat and dowdy. You need to keep it fitted at the waist. Those flowy shirts that are "in" will make you look pregnant. I am about the same height (5'10") and have an hourglass shape with a long torso. Jersey is probably your best fabric. That, and clothes with structure. Jersey is good because it fits over big boobs and accentuates curves but also skims instead of clings.

I like tel3path and others have said: choose v-neck and scoop-neck. Layer longer t-shirts under jersey tops and t-shirts. Like this:

You can buy "tall" t-shirts from JCrew and the like. I've had good luck with longer t-shirts from Old Navy as well. You can wear cardigans and jackets over them for work and t-shirts or sweaters for the weekend.

Pants and shorts should be made of sturdy fabric. I wouldn't wear flow-y linen or jersey on the bottom half. Some polyester blends can also be too thin. If you're into shorts, JCrew has 9" rise Chino shorts that are flattering.

Your body type was made for jersey wrap dresses a la Diane Von Fursternberg. They are knocked off all of the time.

Wear your pants and jeans so they almost touch the ground, cover the shoe and wear high heels.

Trinny Woodall of Trinny and Susannah What Not to Wear doesn't have an hourglass shape but she does have a long torso and she camouflages her proportionately short legs very well. She does this buy layering tops as noted above, wearing dresses over pants, and wearing high heels.
posted by Fairchild at 4:58 PM on April 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

disproportionately shorter legs
posted by Fairchild at 5:02 PM on April 10, 2011

I have a long torso and hourglass figure too, though smaller overall than you.

First of all, make sure you've got a bra that's doing its job appropriately. That may sound like a small detail, but with extra space between your neck and your bust, droopiness can really be accentuated. Also, a bit of extra perkiness will help shirts fit better, and makes it more likely that darts will hit you in the right place.

When it comes to dresses, higher waists are your friend. You may feel they aren't showing off your small waist but they'll be hitting you closer to your real waist than they would on many women, they'll create lots of definition around your breasts, and elongate your legs. Just make sure the front is very gathering underneath the breasts. Old Navy has a ton of high-waisted cute sundresses right now, both short and long, which will both be good for you. If you're worried about your arms, wear a lightweight cardigan, or layer a very thin t-shirt underneath.

Belts are going to be bad, unless they're sitting at your natural waist (this is the skinniest part of your torso, usually belly-button height or even higher). They can be worn to give definition to a dress, or over a tunic, but are absolutely a no-no with pants, as pants sit much lower these days. Lower belts add bulk, as you observed, and just emphasize the length of your torso.

People are going to advise a-line skirts that hit just below the knee, but from personal experience this is VERY WRONG. A-lines tend to ride either high or low on "hippy" women...neither of which will help your torso situation. A-lines are best for women whose thighs are the problem area, or who need to create curves out of a more square torso. A fuller skirt can sit at your natural waist and be more forgiving over your hips and butt. Stretchy knits and light cottons can both be good choices for some fullness. If you can rock it, a pencil skirt with a high, wide waistband may be your best friend. It's sleek to elongate, puts emphasis on your waist, and you don't need to worry that it'll creep into your boobs. Look for a heavier fabric, not a stretchy knit, to hide any bulges. The only way I can wear an a-line is as a miniskirt. So far as length goes, I find that mini to just brushing the knees, or alternatively, maxi are the most flattering. I know you said you prefer knees covered, but try a just brushing the knees and with a bit more fullness, and see if you don't feel feminine and lovely. Also, try a shorter skirt in winter with heavy dark tights and heels the same color as the tights - I guarantee you'll love what it does for you. Whatever you do, avoid anything in the midcalf, or tea-length range. None of these will look good on you, because the part of the leg that shows will be quite cut off.

Which gets to the subject of shoes. Heels are your friend - even a low heel. If you don't feel steady in heels, try something wider, or try a wedge, or try a platform. But do try to give yourself at least a bit of length. With pants, I try to match or be darker with my shoes - that means a lot of black. With skirts, neutrals will be your best bet, to blend in a bit with skintone. My favorites are grey and taupe. In summer, I like delicate, strappy sandals that show lots of skin. And if you're the sort who's comfortable in a 3 inch heel, you can pretty much ignore every single suggestion above about skirt or pant length, cause the heel will save you.

Finally, cropped pants aren't quite the gigantic no that everyone says. In my experience, they're doable provided they're very well cut, follow the shape of your leg, and hit exactly where your calf is just starting to flare out. Cut just right, they'll create a single, sleek line from thigh to foot. Another way to pull them off is to go for a very neutral color like a warm-toned khaki. Either way, wear with a sandal with no heel strap, to avoid any other interruptions.
posted by psycheslamp at 5:04 PM on April 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

Books for you (check your library shelves):

The Pocket Stylist, Kendall Farr (my favorite by far, it's full of great tips and guidelines)

Style On A Shoestring, Andy Paige

Wear This, Toss That!, Amy Goodman (new and haven't seen it, but looks promising)

Even if you're shopping Old Navy and Target, take time once in awhile to browse nicer department stores and try things on. It's good to know what else is out there, and you may be encouraged by their displays to try styles/combinations you wouldn't otherwise.
posted by hms71 at 5:54 PM on April 10, 2011

It sounds like we have somewhat similar builds - I have broad shoulders, so things that I do to balance my upper and lower halves, like avoid cap sleeves, and stick with boot-cut or wide-leg pants and a-line skirts may not apply. Personally, I find that most empire waists hit me right below the bust line, which is the widest part of my mid-torso, and ultimately very unflattering. Wrap dresses are a bit hit-or-miss due to the fact that the wrap/belt bit is pretty like to miss hitting me at my waist. Also, I flatly refuse to wear "shaper" garments, so I find a lot of knit dresses (and stretch fabrics) too clingy for my taste. (But in terms of foundation garments, I enthusiastically second getting a bra fitting - and not at Victoria's Secret - and doing so at least once a year.)

I don't wear a lot of dresses straight off the rack (and I don't really have the budget for a lot of tailoring), but what I've found works: princess seams, dresses constructed with three clear sections (which can be all the same fabric, but the dress is built such that there is a clear top, middle, and bottom), and woven fabric rather than knits. I try to avoid belts, or if a dress (or top) is self-belted, look for one where the belt starts on the side seam and can be tied in the back, rather than the front. I find this nips in the waist without drawing a line across my torso that emphasizes the size of what lies above and below it. (Of course, there I'm more concerned with not accentuating the breadth of my body rather than minimizing its length, so YMMV.) I would be wildly enthusiastic about the recent wave of shirtdresses if it wasn't for the fact that so many of them have chest pockets, which I do not enjoy.

Unfortunately, aside from workout clothes, the only thing I've ever bought at Target in the US that worked reasonably well on my body was a button-down shirt that had a lot of gathers in the bust area, which worked quite well to accommodate my chest. Other things I look for in button-down shirts and jackets - princess seams, vertical darts in the front and/or back as well as bust darts, general shaping - if I pull a shirt off the rack and it looks like a box on the hanger, it's not going to flatter me. Small gaps in otherwise flattering button-down shirts can be fairly easily fixed with snaps between the problem buttons if you're handy with sewing at all. If you're not, iron-on velcro should work on all but the lightest-weight fabrics. I tend to wear a lot more knit shirts than button-down ones, which often means dressing them up with jewelry or other accessories to make them suitable for work.

I hate skirts that cling in the butt and hips, so what I tend to look for is a-line or circle silouhette, a thick waistband (an inch tends to be the smallest I go, though this can vary depending on the garment), and woven fabric rather than knit (again, some knits do work). For length, I go for right above to right below the knee, or ankle-length, as a general rule.

Rock your height - wear heels. I've found that ankle straps are not necessarily out, it's a delicate dance of heel height, strap width, position (under the ankle bone rather than above it, generally) and overall shoe proportions that gets frustrating but is worth it to me because I feel much more stable in sandals when something is connecting my ankle to the shoe. I'm finally working the confidence in my own taste to go for big, bold accessories. I mostly go for bigger bags, and I check to see where they hit on my body when I'm carrying them - those little armpit bags that some women can get away with look ridiculous on me, but I can wear a big cross-body bag without being swallowed by it. I feel ridiculous "trying on" bags, but it does make a difference. I like hats, and necklaces, and earrings - anything that pulls attention up to my face.

It sounds like you may need specialty tall sizes more than I do, but brands I've had reasonable luck with straight off the rack include: Calvin Klein, Talbot's, Brooks Brothers, Ann Klein, Liz Claiborne, Tahari, Alfani, Josephine Chaus, Eddie Bauer, Jones New York, Nomadic Traders, and Two Dog Night. J.Jill is a bit hit-or-miss because so many of their clothes are unstructured, but I've found some pieces I've loved there. I do not have the budget to regularly pay full price for these brands, so I end up at outlets, thrift stores, and discount stores like Filene's Basement or TJ Maxx.

Oh, and for your summer sleeve issue - again, I would suggest a shaped shirt rather than an unstructured one, but a long-sleeve linen shirt over a tank top might work nicely to balance coverage with comfort.
posted by EvaDestruction at 6:35 PM on April 10, 2011

Thanks everyone. To answer some questions... I already have pretty wide shoulders. I have a wide rib cage. My current (and probably not correct) bra size is a 40B.

I definitely can't wear empire waists; they make me look pregnant. Wider pants (like palazzo) are out for me; they make my legs look like wide stumps all the way down.
posted by miltoncat at 9:35 PM on April 10, 2011

You Look Fab has a long list of different body types and how to dress them-- including long torso, busty, and hips. I have found it really helpful to check over all the "types" I fit into and then cross-check to see which tips seem to occur most often for my various features.
posted by lockstitch at 10:44 PM on April 10, 2011

Since an empire waist just hangs down, try a high waist that is fitted below the bust.
posted by tel3path at 2:17 AM on April 11, 2011

I have a similar shape to you, by the sounds of things. I have a real pain in the arse getting jeans to fit, or tees that don't ride up to my belly after a few washes.

I find jersey works for me - I have a crochet/lace knit wrap cardigan I wear over a lace trim vest from Uniqlo, which is an outfit I really like. I also have had good luck with tops from Gap - if I'd known the cowl-neck tee I bought in the Christmas sales would get so much wear this winter I'd have bought five. I have issues getting clothes that fit my bust and don't fall off everywhere else, so knit fabrics are good.
posted by mippy at 7:47 AM on April 11, 2011

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