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Empire Waist: How to wear the figure-flattering empire waistline style

Certain clothing styles look great on any body shape, especially those with plus-size figures, and the empire waist is undoubtedly one of them. No, not all empire waists are created equal; some may make the body seem shapeless. However, with just a few guidelines, you can easily find the right empire style for your shape, accentuating your curves and embracing this flattering design’s versatility.

What is an empire waist?

Empire waist refers to a style of dress or top that cinches or gathers at the narrow point under the bust line (right where your bra band lays). The high-waist 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 curvier. Plus size and petite body types alike can benefit from this versatile style.

plus size model wearing a burgundy velvet dress with empire waist.

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

Choose the right dress length

Choosing the right length for your empire waist dress is pivotal in achieving the desired aesthetic and appropriateness for various occasions. Knee-length empire waist dresses are versatile, seamlessly transitioning from casual to more formal settings. This length is ideal for creating a balanced look that accentuates the narrow point under the bust while providing flexibility for easy movement. For casual outings or daytime activities, knee-length dresses paired with sandals or flats exude a chic and effortless vibe. Elevating the sophistication, knee-length empire waist dresses in solid colors or subtle patterns are suitable for office wear when combined with a blazer or cardigan. When aiming for a more formal or evening look, consider the timeless elegance of a knee-length empire waist dress, choosing luxurious fabrics and refined details for added sophistication.

On the other hand, maxi dresses with an empire waist bring a touch of drama and elongation to the silhouette. The empire waistline creates a high point, and the flowing fabric of a maxi dress adds an ethereal and glamorous touch.

Empire waist maxi dresses are not confined to formal settings; opt for lightweight and breathable fabrics for a summery, bohemian look. Your dress length should align with the occasion and the desired level of formality, allowing you to tailor your empire waist outfit for a perfect and stylish appearance.

Plus size model wearing sage colored dress.

Fabric matters

The choice of fabric plays a pivotal role in enhancing the overall grace and appeal of the empire waist style. Opting for flowing and lightweight fabrics is key to achieving the desired fluidity and elegance. Fabrics like chiffon and silk, known for their luxurious textures, lend a sense of sophistication to empire waist dresses. These materials create a beautiful and graceful drape, allowing the dress to move with fluidity and creating an ethereal effect.

Chiffon, in particular, adds an airy quality that complements the elevated waistline perfectly. On the other hand, jersey fabric offers a comfortable and practical option. With its subtle stretch, jersey provides ease of movement and ensures a flattering fit. The soft and supple nature of these fabrics not only contributes to the visual appeal of the empire waist style but also enhances the overall comfort, making it a delightful choice for various occasions.

plus size model wearing a sharkbite top and ripped jeans

Emphasize your bust

Drawing attention to the bust area is a key element in maximizing the flattering effects of the empire waist style. When selecting tops or dresses, focus on intricate details such as ruching, pleating, or embellishments strategically placed around the bust. These embellishments add visual interest and create a sense of dimension, emphasizing the natural curves and contours of the bust. Additionally, neckline choices play a crucial role in highlighting this area.

Opting for V-necklines or sweetheart necklines can enhance and draw the eyes to the bust, creating a graceful and alluring silhouette. The gentle plunge of a V-neck or the romantic curvature of a sweetheart neckline complements the elevated waistline, ensuring that the bust becomes a focal point of the overall ensemble.

plus size model wearing a blue and black printed shirt with a black cap.

Consider the Sleeve Style

When contemplating the empire waist style, the choice of sleeve style becomes a pivotal factor in defining the overall aesthetic of your outfit. Cap sleeves or flowing sleeves, delicately framing the shoulders, can infuse a romantic and whimsical touch to the ensemble. These sleeve options contribute to the overall grace of the empire waist and add a subtle sophistication to the look.

Alternatively, sleeveless options provide an excellent choice, particularly in warmer weather. Opting for sleeveless empire waist dresses or tops lets you showcase your arms, giving the outfit a light and airy feel. Whether you prefer the romantic allure of cap sleeves, the flowing elegance of longer sleeves, or the breezy charm of sleeveless designs, selecting the right sleeve style is a personal choice that can greatly influence the mood and vibe of your attire.

Tailoring the sleeves to complement the overall aesthetic you’re aiming for ensures a harmonious and well-balanced look.

Avoid gathered material or billowy fabrics

The first guideline to remember when looking for flattering empire waist dresses or blouses 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 completely fitted throughout, find clothes with fabrics that will skim your figure rather than float away from it, such as jersey or cotton.

By the same token, 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.

plus, sized model wearing a zebra printed long sleeve 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.

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 undergarments for a more conservative look if you want.

plus size model wearing a navy velvet dress with silver metallic pumps

The empire waist style emerges as a versatile and figure-flattering choice for individuals of various body types. This comprehensive guide has unraveled the secrets to confidently wearing this style, offering key tips on selecting the right dress length, choosing fabrics like chiffon or jersey, and emphasizing the bust through thoughtful details. The influence of sleeve styles, from cap sleeves to sleeveless options, adds a final touch of elegance. Tailoring the empire waist to individual preferences empowers each wearer to embrace this timeless trend with personal flair, ensuring a sophisticated and confident appearance for any occasion.

Comments (12)

these are great ideas though the models really dont need to be concerned about slimming colours. Try more realistic demonstrations

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!

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 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

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.

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

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!

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.

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

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

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

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