Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Finding One's Waist!

The location of my waist didn’t really matter when I was sixteen (and had the figure of a ten year old boy).  Or even twenty (with the same figure).  And if you’d asked me where my waist was I likely would have placed my hands just above my hips.  After all, we were in the midst of the era of low-rise pants (are we still?  I don’t pay enough attention to know these days) and I had a closet full of jeans that barely (or didn’t) cover my hip bones.  It wouldn’t have been so bad if the pants had been accompanied with longer than normal shirts, but at the start of the 2000s you didn’t see much of that and so there was often a midriff gap that was not easy to pull off if you were above a size 0. 

Which brings me to a brief digression:  I was watching the news a few nights ago and one of the reporters actually said that in fashion size 6 models are now considered “plus size models.”  I’m not kidding.  Just when you think that insanity has reached rock bottom, they plunge on by.

But back to my point: I had no idea where my waist was.  Pre-babies this wasn’t such a big deal.  Post babies it was something that I needed to figure out and figure out quickly if I was going to find anything that was vaguely flattering.  The problem was that I didn’t even know that there was a problem.  My waist had always been way down past my belly button, where my pants settled, and wasn’t that just where a waist was?

As I fumbled through post-partum dressing I began to figure things out: little by little, month by month and year by year.  Low rise anything, even with a long, tunic that covered everything, was going to make me look like I either had a beer belly or was still pregnant.  An empire waisted dress would mean that people were coming up to my husband at work, a month after I gave birth to Mae, and asking him in a whisper if we were expecting again already.

It was two of the skirts that I bought on clearance for something like $4 at Penny’s that pointed me in the right direction.  They came up to the point that I would later realize was actually my waist, some inches higher than I’d previously realized, and then flowed out easily.  They accented my actual waist, the narrowest point on my torso, and as a result were more flattering.  It didn’t matter if the muscles in my stomach, after two nine plus pound babies, were not what they once had been, because they were camouflaged by my skirt, rather than problematically drawing attention to a waist that was either too high or too low and therefore disproportional. 

The various trends of the moment, usually don’t fit to flatter this little secret.  But I have found one secret that helps some dresses that would otherwise not make the cut.  A wide black belt that I recently found at Target after my other belt finally kicked the bucket and was no longer useable.  It felt expensive buying it with a gift card I’d gotten for Christmas, and I found myself saying $16 for a belt?!?!?! but I new I needed to replace the one I had, and this one was stretchy and pretty and I had a feeling it would work.  It looks a bit like this. 

It's been a great addition to my closet and has revived a few outfits I didn't like wearing with my old, narrow belt.  Because it’s stretchy it slides perfectly to actual “waist” level and stays in place.  It gives some of my stretchy-knit is-she-or-isn’t-she-pregnant (like now when I’ not) dresses enough definition to wear without getting comments about where I’m going to put #3 when I take the girls on walks in the red wagon (it’s happened since we’ve been here). 

And that is what I wish I’d known a bit earlier when I was searching for a flattering fit.  The fashion world doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to make clothes that are absolutely wearable for women who’ve gone through puberty, so these tricks are good to know! 

Do you have any fashion secrets you’d like to share?  If you do I’m all ears!


  1. Personally, I like to shop the sale and clearance racks of the "regular stores as much as any girl!

    However...One thing I have found helpful in dressing in flattering ways, believe it or not, is "thrifting". If you can find a good thrift store, you can find high quality items inexpensively, and you aren't as subject to the trends of fashion because everything wasn't made last month. It makes it much easier to focus on what you like and what fits you well.

    For an example: I prefer to wear long Jean skirts, but OF COURSE they don't make and sell them new anywhere because they aren't "in fashion". Never mind that practically no one looks good (or modest) in a denim mini... 98% of my long jean skirts are from second hand shops and all looked new when I bought them.

    Buying from thrift shops doesn't mean you will end up with ugly bold patterned sweaters with shoulder pads from the 1980's. Honestly, most people I know wouldn't be able to tell my thrifted clothes from my "new" clothes anyway.

  2. I think everyone needs to just try trial and error to see what looks good on them, and it varies by body type.

    This is a great post!

    I think only women who are very thin and really don't have any curves can wear empire waist shirts w/o looking pregnant.

    I think generally for your typical woman's body type, shirts that are fitted (especially at the waist) and are mid-hip length are the most flattering, along with skirts/pants, etc. that come up to the waist. I agree low-rise is terrible on just gives "muffin-top."

    I think usefulness of the wide belt depends a lot on body type. They look really good on you, or someone with a typical hourglass shape, however I don't think they are as flattering on people who are more pear-shaped or apple-shaped.

    I know there are good sites out there that tell you how to dress, based on body type.

    I also agree with the previous comment about shopping thrift stores. You can find some really nice things there!

  3. Not having been blessed with a boyish figure nor with any discernible fashion sense, I simply LOVE the combination of two books that have helped me figure out how to best dress my short, over-weight, there-are-no-flat-planes shape. I also have a thing about being modest but would rather not be frumpy unless I choose to be frumpy-- and these two books helped me do that too.

    IT'S SO YOU, by Mary Sheen Warren is a wonderful help for learning about style and finding out what style is you. She also does a good bit on color too. Not so much on cut of clothing. It really helped me to eliminate things I didn't wear but couldn't figure out why, and to replace those items with colors that allowed each piece to work with other pieces-- she also talks a good bit about wardrobe and how to determine what you NEED. As I said, this has been a great help to me.

    THE SCIENCE OF SEXY by Bradley Bayou is titled to sell books but is far more common sense and helpful to those of us who want to look good but not trampy!! He starts off by showing the difference between "normal" women and the typical model for whom clothing is made-- it is a shocker to see the difference in the picture he uses (sillouettes). He then goes into measurements and the styles that flatter different shapes and even different weights. I figured out from this book why certain cuts worked and why certain things made me grind my teeth. I ALSO found some real inspiration that if I ever stop being pregnant long enough to ditch some weight I can enjoy my clothing even more!!

    Anyway, after years of reading books on dressing oneself in an attempt to compensate for my lack of fashion sense THESE are the two books out of many many books, that actually gave me tools for having a wardrobe I like and will wear.

  4. You guys have some great points (and this post was kind of over general now that I think about it!)! Betty Beguiles has a great post on figuring out body type too, that I just remembered and found:

    I love thrift stores! The one I've gone to in Naples was surprisingly expensive, but I did find some steals!

  5. Knowing why a fashion came into existence in the first place is really helpful. In the Jane Austen era, empire waists, they were trying to look youthful. The girls that wore the empire waists were often the ones of marriageable status. You see the older women wearing different fashions because empire would not have been very flattering on them. The empire waist is suitable on very small busted girls who want to look less skinny. In the Victorian age the wasp waist accented the bust and hips making them appear larger compared to the small waist. This would give the appearance of fertility, having large birthing hips and breasts to feed a child. In the 20s, the flapper era, girls would bind their chest flat and wear dresses that were boxy so as to have no curves. This was in an effort to appear more boyish and desire to party rather than have a family. In the late 80s early 90s you see the shoulder pads come into existence along with the power suit. This was to show that women were no longer tied to the home and were ready for power (the shoulder pads would give them the more masculine triangle shape).

    With a desire to be waif thin and no curves, as today, you see styles that accent those shapes. If you don't fit that shape it is not fashionable. I would suggest doing some historical dress research and finding styles that you like and trying to figure out why those dresses appeal to you. You might really like the fashions from the 40s and 50s where the womanly figure was praised and held high but is not too far from our current styles we wear today. I'm not a fan of the poodle skirt but they do have some very nice cocktail dresses at that time that I would love to wear. Don't forget to research the under garments as that is often what makes a dress look great. It seems to me that you are trying to dress for an hourglass figure (having kids gives you hips and breasts). Look for styles that accent the hourglass shape.

    Some of my favorite places for examples are the old catalogues from the department stores. I have a few that I picked up at Barns and Noble as they are reprinted fashion books. I have this one:

    Look at the seam lines on clothes (men and women). If you look at a dress from Jane Austen's time you'll see the back has seam lines you'll never see at any other time period. It's sort of a diamond shape they create. In the 40s and 50s they use the princess seam lines a lot. This is very flattering on all looks. It is my favorite style.

    When you are around people, young and old, look at how their clothing is constructed. Do they have curved seam lines? Are their clothes tailored? Do they look shapeless? What are they trying to show with what they are wearing (I'm sexy, I'm available, I want to party, I'm hiding, I'm lonely, I don't care what you think, etc)? Clothes talk and you learn a lot by what they say. When you see someone dressed in a way that you find pretty or attractive, is it the colors or shape or cut of the clothes?

    Fashion is fun. Imagine people in clothes that would flatter their bodies. Dress them in your mind in shapes that are attractive. It's good work for your mind and makes you aware of how you appear to others with what you wear.

    As a side note: commercial dress patterns can put the waist in odd places. For mens patterns you'll find the waist line much lower than there true waist. This is because fashion dictates that the waist is much lower. If you look at historical patterns, movies, photos you'll find the waist much higher up. Watch Swiss Family Robinson from the 60s and you'll see the height of the pants look very high but the clothes look great on them. Just be aware of discrepancies you may run up against when trying to fashion your own clothes from modern patterns.

  6. Ohhh!! Look at this!

  7. If you like longer full skirts, check out Coldwater Creek and Chicos on ebay! Some are a bit pricey, but good deals can be found! Don't see them much in the stores anymore, but they still show up on ebay. And although those brands frequently are purchased by us older gals, many of the skirts are quite youthful, and would look fine on young women, too.


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