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How to wear the figure-flattering empire-waist style

dress with floral watercolor print and a surplice front and empire waist and full skirt with blue purse and sandals

There are certain clothing styles that look great on anyone, and the empire waist is definitely one.

No, not all empire waists are created equal (some may make the body seem shapeless) but with just a few guidelines, you can easily find the right empire style for your shape.

What is an empire waist?

The term empire waist refers to a style of dress or top that cinches at the narrow point under the bust line (right where your bra band lays). The style emphasizes one of the narrowest points on any woman’s body, and is great for shorter women because the raised waistline can create the appearance of added height. It’s also a highly recommended style for women with wider lower bodies since it draws the eye to the narrow upper body and can make the bust appear more curvy.

Here are a few tips for wearing the empire waist style:

Avoid gathered material or billowy fabrics

The first guideline to keep in mind when looking for flattering empire waist blouses and dresses is to avoid billowing fabrics and gathering. Any gathering or pleating under the waistline can add the appearance of extra pounds in the tummy area, and billowing fabrics will completely hide your shape. Instead, look for a more body-hugging design.

For fans of “Mad Men,” consider the character Joan, a curvy secretary played by Christina Hendricks. She wears empire waists often, but always in dresses that hug her figure. Costume designers emphasize her narrow ribcage without hiding her natural waist or hips under extra fabric. Though you don’t need to wear garments that are completely fitted throughout, find clothes with fabrics that will skim your figure rather than float away from it, such as jersey or cotton.

Spot on A Line Dress

Try an A-line or sheath dress

If you’re wearing an empire-waist dress, the best cuts to look for are A-line or a sheath. Either cut will highlight your narrowest point and still highlight your curves rather than hide them completely. Also, maxi dresses look great with empire waists, but be sure to find one that skims your lower body. It’s best to avoid baby-doll dress styles – they’re cut to hang away from the body completely, making a woman look shapeless, no matter her body type.

Guineve 2 pc dress

Avoid voluminous bottoms

When wearing an empire-waist top, avoid bottoms that will add volume, such as wide-leg trousers or A-line skirts. While the style of skirt looks flattering as part of an empire-waist dress, as separates the two styles don’t pair well. Instead, go for slim styles like skinny- or straight-leg pants, which will offset the more voluminous upper-body and create balanced proportions.

Choose deep necklines

Deep scoop, sweetheart and V-necklines are very flattering when paired with an empire-waist top or dress. These styles will add length to your natural neckline, making your body appear longer and slimmer. For busty women, empire waists can look amazing, but they also may put your breasts front and center. While you can still look great in a V-neck blouse, add a lacy camisole or other undergarment for a more conservative look if you want.

Bunch of Blossoms Dress

Comments (11)

Joely Smith

Love these tips! So many I can use myself. I love deeper necklines personally, V necks and sweetheart are my favorites.

Candy O.

I love deep necklines but not too much of an empire waist. Being so short it makes me look like i’m expecting. 🙁


That the waist type is for everyone but I don’t think so, I did learn not to add volume bottoms with these type of shirts

Linda Bradshaw

I love being able to read about this because I have no sense of style. I always wear the same thing even though I have a lot of clothes because I have no idea how to match them up.

Mauriann Woods

Is it appropriate for 68 y/o women to wear empire style sun dresses?

Monroe and Main

Hi Mauriann-thanks for the comment and question. Empire waist dresses work for any age. Wear whatever makes you feel the most comfortable and confident. If you’re still not sure, ask a friend or family member what they think and ask for their candid opinion. Thanks again for the comment. Hope to hear from you again!


Love, love, love empire waist dresses. It would be wonderful if this style would become popular again!


Just look around. I see them a lot. Think of it as a “shortwaisted” dress. The waist of the dress is above your waistline. Not always immediately below the bust.


I did bought one, and yeah i look like im expecting!im short and sort of stout with the real empire that cinch directly below my bust i do look like one

Judy Isaacs

I have learned a lot from your blog & I want to learn more. I am 73 tears old & in a wheel ch
air but I love clothes . I haven’t walked in over two years.I broke my Femur . I am also a big-boned woman. Thanks for your tips.


I love shopping here but never noticed these helpful hints and suggestions. This helps us with the “ Lock-Down-Pounds I created during the first phase of Covid -19. Didn’t get Covid thank God, but did get anxiety and eating disorder. :). I really appreciate them soooo much. This helps as we all work our bodies back to a healthy norm. Thank you M&M!

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Published on Jan 01 2019

Last Updated on Mar 25 2021

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