Help dress a short-waisted gal
May 8, 2011 7:34 PM   Subscribe

Hello! Please help me look good in clothes. I'm a 31-year-old red-headed woman, young-looking for my age. I want to look put-together each day, and enjoy myself in pictures instead of exclaiming how frumpy I look.

I finally understand my body type, but I still don't know what to buy. I'm open to general suggestions, as well as links to specific pieces. I'll give as much information as I can without resorting to photos.

My specs

-115-120 pounds (differs day-to-day)
-Thin wrists, shoulders and arms
-Curvy hips. My weight settles on my hips and abdomen. My bum and thighs are proportionate, and not particularly thin or heavy. My bum sits a bit low on my body.
-Extremely short-waisted. I'm all bust and hips, and my waist isn't small enough to truly give me definition.

I tend to look boxy or much heavier in clothes than I am because my upper-body is very thin and my legs are thin, but my hips and abdomen, while not *un*thin by any means, are the biggest part of my body. Because my bust is large for my upper body and my waist so short, most shirts ride up on me or settle in an unflattering way.

Clothes just look strange on me. Even belted clothing, the traditional panacea for short-waisted women, usually only makes me look bulky as I don't have much of a waist to belt.

Clothing that does look decent on me

-empire waist dress with a fitted/ruched/tight bust (hides my hips, emphasizes my legs and bust)
-extra-long form-fitting sweaters or t-shirts over skinny jeans (shows my shape)
-shorts and loose tank-tops (pulls focus to my legs)

Clothing that always looks terrible

-button-up shirts
-pencil skirts (hugs my hips/abdomen in a way that doesn't flatter)
-baggy t-shirts and regular-fitting jeans (much to my dismay is this is my casual uniform)

When I'm in great shape (which is sometimes), I can wear form-fitting dresses, but when I'm not (which is usually) very tight, form-fitting clothing emphasizes my abdomen, which bloats at a moment's notice.

Style inspirations

-Ivanka Trump (she's much taller than me, but has a similar body type)
-Refrain from gagging here, but Kate Middleton (love her classic, elegant, yet modern look, very similar to Ivanka)
-ModCloth (I'd buy everything in that store if I could)
-Anthropologie (though Anthropologie veers a little too flowy flower-child for my tastes at times)
-I like classic elegance, with a bit of flair to stand out in a crowd


-Looking for casual everyday, but stylish clothes. I don't need many traditional work clothes as I generally don't work in an office (though sometimes meet co-workers/clients for meetings)
-Going out to my favorite wine bar clothes
-Fancy fundraiser wear (I attend fundraisers about once a month for my job)

Thanks for any help you can provide! I'm excited to not dread my closet.
posted by Laura Macbeth to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (28 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: This feels like a totally hilarious side-comment to add, but it factors into your suggestions, I'm sure. Bra-size is 36-D.
posted by Laura Macbeth at 7:39 PM on May 8, 2011

I'm certainly no expert at this but I had similar issues some years ago. I was pleasantly surprised to find that a clingy tunic over smooth pants (or a knit dress) looked really good with a very wide belt worn loose and at a rakish angle. And by loose, I mean just tight enough to keep it from falling down over the hips. It drew attention down from the bust and made me look more evenly shaped from top to bottom.
posted by DrGail at 7:45 PM on May 8, 2011

If your bra size is 36 D, then aren't your measurements are actually 40-27-36? I cannot help you myself (I am a fat, amorphous blob), but perhaps this will help clarify things for those more knowledgeable in the clothing department.
posted by 200burritos at 7:46 PM on May 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Have you been fitted (by someone who knows what they're doing) for a bra? It makes a world of difference. If I'm wearing a 34G I look curvy, if it's laundry day and I'm wearing one of my old 38DD bras, I look frumpy and saggy and sad.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 7:53 PM on May 8, 2011 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: I just used this to re-measure myself as I'm a novice with bra measurement. My calculations actually come to a 34D, though the bra I like best is a 36D.
posted by Laura Macbeth at 7:54 PM on May 8, 2011

I have a similar body shape and have found that it's almost impossible to find pants that fit correctly. I have some very low hip-hugging jeans that work most of the time, but a little bit of bloat or weight gain gives me a muffin top. :(

So most of the time I wear skirts. To accommodate my hips, I wear A-line or fuller skirts. I have your same problem with pencil skirts.

I wear knit tops to accentuate my bust and avoid all the gaping open problems with button-up tops.

I've had problems finding suit jackets that fit, but cardigan sweaters work great.
posted by Jacqueline at 7:56 PM on May 8, 2011

Something to try, that works on me: with button-up shirts, buy them so they're too small to fit over your bust but fit well at the waist. Wear them over a tank top, and button them from the bottom up to the underside of your bust.
posted by you're a kitty! at 8:00 PM on May 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

A-line skirts, boot cut jeans/pants, tank tops with cardigans, tank tops with button up shirts.
posted by mleigh at 8:04 PM on May 8, 2011

Any way we could see a few neck-down photos? It's helpful to get a good idea.
posted by two lights above the sea at 8:14 PM on May 8, 2011

Best answer: I'm like a heavier version of you, even down to the hair and the love for ModCloth! Hello!

What I've found works for me:

A-line dresses and skirts. Accentuate the bust, flow over the hips, will fit you on a thin day or on a non-thin day.

Wrap dresses. And wrap-style tops as well, that you can adjust the fit on day-to-day, will also be amazing for you. They also give you the illusion of a more nipped-in waist.

Pants... what you want to go for is a wide-leg trouser, that fits the widest part of you, and flows away. If you can, go shopping for them on a day when you're at the top of your normal weight (about to start period, etc), so you can see if they're actually going to accommodate an upswing. Don't worry about the length, just get the fit... and then go get them hemmed by a real tailor. It usually doesn't cost much.

Button-down shirts... you can wear them (if you like), but you may have to find one that fits perfectly in the bust, and then have the rest of the shirt taken in. It's like having a custom-fitted shirt, almost. That is, if it's worth the bother to you.

Good luck!
posted by mornie_alantie at 8:22 PM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Not a specific garment suggestion, so much as a theory of garment purchasing. I rarely, if ever, go out specifically to shop for clothes. Instead, I incorporate clothes shopping into my daily life and activities. I pop into the resale shop in my neighborhood once every other week. I glance through racks at vintage stores on a regular basis, while I run other errands in the neighborhood. Other stores on a semi regular basis, as well. I've always got my eye out for the types of things I know I will enjoy wearing and look good in. 90% of the time I don't find a thing. You've got to look at wardrobe building as a constant process rather than a magic bullet of "buy this stuff all at once and look good forever."
posted by mollymayhem at 8:24 PM on May 8, 2011 [4 favorites]

I have a similar figure, but I have a more defined waist (I think). I like sheaths and wrap dresses. I am not so fond of skirts and tops. I also like tent dresses. Since I am thin-ish they look nice and I don't look like I am trying to hide something.
posted by wandering_not_lost at 8:38 PM on May 8, 2011

Best answer: I'm a few inches taller than you and I'm neither an hourglass nor short-waisted (I'm pretty much a rectangle). But I have a lot of your same issues in what flatters me and what doesn't. I have a full bust and narrow upper body/shoulders. I don't look good with a belted waist, I don't look good in anything that clings to my stomach, and I don't look good in pants with a loose/full cut through the leg. I'd love to wear fitted button-down shirts but I usually can't find them off-the-rack that fit both my stomach and my chest properly.

Things I avoid:
*boxy tops; cropped or short-length tops
*high necks
*dresses with drop waists or visible waistlines right on the waist
*fuller, shorter skirts

Things I find flattering (that you could try):
*wide and open necklines (v-necks, deep scoops, low wraps with a cami underneath)
*wide-set straps
*layers (a cami or tank to smooth everything in, then a looser shirt over top)
*long-length loose tops with a lower neckline that are banded or otherwise tight on the bottom - draws attention upward to the neck/chest, skims the stomach, comes back in so to define/emphasize nice legs
*dark slim boot-cut jeans
*skinny jeans
*structured jackets that have some build at the shoulder and a bit of nip at the waist
*tight-sleeved but body-loose open sweaters skimming over everything to make a long line
*drawing attention UP to my face/neck/chest with big earrings, big necklaces, and long narrow scarves looped at the neck, hanging straight down the middle of my body, etc.
*tight sleeves emphasizing the narrowness of my arms (works like skinny jeans do for legs)

Things I am careful with, but use when I find it done right for my body:
*empire cut. Tight to the bust, and loose but not billowing from the underbust down. Gathered just makes me look pregnant.
*a defined high waist. My underbust is the narrowest part of me so a wide waist/sash on a dress at this point can look very good, but often these cuts skimp in the bust area and don't provide enough support/coverage for a full bust.
*wrap dresses. They can look very good on me but they have to not have a defined line at the "waist" that I don't have and the bust has to be supported/covered nicely.
*dress pants. They can't be too wide, but they can't be tapered either. Straight or a slight boot-cut is good, but it's hard to find pants that fit my waist/butt/thighs and still make my legs look slim.
*high waists. It can girdle me in if done right but often I just look odd in them.
*capris. They have to hit at just the right part of my calf or they make my middle/hips look too wide.

You may also want to try along with an open neck, some kind of sleeve or shoulder treatment to balance out your upper half, like a puffier, gathered, or loose short sleeve.
posted by flex at 8:38 PM on May 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

Princess-seamed knit tops or dresses are your friend. Or, at least they're my friend, and I too have a short waist and a large bust. Your instincts toward fitted dresses are the right ones.

I'm also with you on the belt thing. When I wear one, I feel (and look) like a pillow tied in the middle.
posted by virago at 8:40 PM on May 8, 2011

I'm also short-waisted with big boobs and hips, and I have the same problems you do. Personally, I've discovered that I always need tops with some sort of v-neck - scoop necks or high neck shirts just make me look like a blob.
posted by TallulahBankhead at 8:41 PM on May 8, 2011

Also a more general suggestion, and maybe this isn't at all the type of advice you're looking for, but...

When I first started trying to look put-together every day instead of frumpy, the thing that I found made the biggest difference was dressing myself at night instead of in the morning. I just do not have the time, patience, or clear judgment first thing in the morning to really give my outfit full consideration and decide whether or not it works. It's so helpful to have all the time I want to try different ways of wearing it, try different shoes or different accessories, look at it from different angles. It felt inefficient because even once I settled on something I still had to take it off and put it back on again in the morning, but I think it helped me understand how best to use what was already in my wardrobe or what things just really needed to be ditched. I still make sure I pick out my outfit at night if I need to look especially good on any particular day.

Also, do you wear makeup? It can make a big difference!
posted by ootandaboot at 8:45 PM on May 8, 2011

Best answer: Being very similar in shape, size and coloring, I offer the following:

Be fitted correctly for the right bra. i cannot emphasize how much this makes a difference when you see yourself in the mirror, clothed or otherwise. I had good luck at Intimacy (here in southern California). Don't let the European sizes intimidate you. They're just numbers, and if it FITS, it's GOLD (in the Euro sizes I am a 36F. The initial shock was completely negated by how comfortable a bra that actually fit was - now I'm spoiled and wouldn't THINK of one more VS bra ever ever ever).

Let color guide be your friend. Redheads tend to want to stay in the purple-blue-green area of the color world. Color for redheads (both in cosmetics and clothes) can be tricky, and if done wrong is harsh or too pale and washed out. Stylist's cues from Christina Hendricks on Mad Men are dead-on. A wardrobe tailored for a curvy figure and lovely fresh make-up make her a knockout. If you have a chance to try on any shade of coral (a featured color this season) try it and see what you think. A lot can be done using color to "maximize your assets." Don't knock it 'til you've tried using color to achieve the desired effect.

Also, don't be afraid to go retro. Pin-up fashion might be a little cliche, but the shapes are correct and built to show off a fuller figure.

Best of luck to you and let us know what you discover! :)
posted by Cookbooks and Chaos at 8:48 PM on May 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

Also! Fitted, fitted, fitted! No stretched out t-shirts that turn into tents!
posted by Cookbooks and Chaos at 8:50 PM on May 8, 2011

+1 for all of flex's tips. Structured jackets are especially amazing for short-waisted girls like us, look for ones that taper in at the waist then flair out over the hips. Generally speaking, more structured cuts and fabrics are better then loose or flimsy. I too look terrible with belted outfits unless they are very low slung around the hips. Anything that visually lengthens your torso is good, anything that shortens it or chops it up is generally not going to look flattering.
posted by platinum at 8:50 PM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also: I am considering a cut and sewn (seamed-cup) bra. The cups don't stretch, so the bra (reportedly) provides better support, keeping the girls high enough to emphasize your waistline and put things into proportion.
posted by virago at 9:19 PM on May 8, 2011

I just want to suggest The Lucky Shopping Manual. It has tips for every body type, and tells you how many of each piece you should have for a complete wardrobe. I highly recommend it.
posted by SarahElizaP at 9:35 PM on May 8, 2011

Another nod to the wonder of a good fitting bra. Also as far as the cut and sewn bra - I noticed the last time I tried on a million that it seemed that European bras like Freya and Chantelle had bras that were less super stretchy and a bit more supportive. I know it sounds like they might be less comfy but in the right size they'd comfy and more supportive that the kind that are super crazy stretchy.
posted by oneear at 9:57 PM on May 8, 2011

Best answer: Oh, yes, when I am saying "loose" above I'm definitely not meaning "blouson" or "flouncy" (although I have a couple long sort-of bubble cut tank-style tops that work well on me) - I mean "loose" like just skimming over the middle rather than clinging to it. You don't want to drown your body in bagginess at all. Knits are sometimes cut skimpy and clinging and it's not flattering if you're trying to de-emphasize your midsection, but you can find certain cuts that do this right - cling or drape close to the bust to emphasize it and then fall gracefully away underneath the bust down to the hips.

Some of my go-tos are Sweet Pea by Stacy Frati tops (Anthropologie, but easy to find on eBay) because they are made with double layers of stretchy mesh and often have an allover busy print that distracts from the middle (just find a style that doesn't cling there); a couple of Ann Taylor/Loft faux-wrap tops with ample bust coverage and a nicely-defined underbust; and a long plunging-to-the-waist surplice sleeveless banded-bottom tank (I wear a cami under it). Basically tops that have distracting interest somehow, whether that's a (large or busy) print, draping at the bust or over the midline or hips, layering, shirring on the sides, wrapping, and so on, are good to look at. Also I almost never can tuck something in. I need the long line of the top down to my hips unless I'm hiding it under something that is making that line like a jacket or sweater.
posted by flex at 11:46 PM on May 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

You seem more advanced on this topic than I am, but I like to out-source things that I am not good at. There are people out there that can help you do this:
- personal shoppers, who you can hire yourself for multiple-site shopping or make appointments with (for free) through mid-level and up department stores. They shop with you a couple times to find flattering things and learn your personal taste, then start picking things out and contacting you when something comes along you would like.
- style consultants, who can do an afternoon with you on flattering cuts, forms, fabrics, patterns, and colors, sending you home with recommendations and swatches for your future purchases. If you are in Houston I can recommend you one. This is a $200ish one-time investment
posted by whatzit at 2:55 AM on May 9, 2011

Some bra shopping advice, with the caveat that you'll need help.

Measure where you want them, if that's different from where they are. It makes a ton of difference in how clothes fit.
posted by bilabial at 5:00 AM on May 9, 2011

Response by poster: Excellent advice so far. Thank you so much! A proper bra-fitting is definitely on my list -- I think it really will solve a lot of my boxy/frumpy issues.
posted by Laura Macbeth at 6:49 AM on May 9, 2011

Nthing the bra thing. I have roughly your body type from what I can tell of your description (5'2 and 36-26-36 and total blink-and-you'll-miss-it waist) and for nearly a decade I thought my bra size was 36. I too always looked frumpy and boxy and it buffed. Thanks to a bunch of Mefi posts about proper fitting last year I finally tried reliable brands and rethought how bras should feel and fit and discovered I'm between 30DDD and 32DD. It is just bananas how much better I look in clothes now. It gave me a defined waist and my boobs are shaped different in form fitting tops and I have cleavage for the first time ever, without cheesy padded push up bra fakeness. I highly recommend.
posted by ifjuly at 10:21 AM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

posted by ifjuly at 10:21 AM on May 9, 2011

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