The Corporate Fashionista’s Cheat Sheet To Defining A Waist

April 13, 2011

The Corporate Fashionsta’s Cheat Sheet To Defining A Waist

We all want our presentations to have the best visual impact, right? Physical proportion gives us that edge. The ideal is the hourglass body shape. Why? Because an hourglass creates visual balance with a defined waist directly at its center. “So what?” you ask. Science tells us that proportion creates symmetry and symmetry is fundamentally attractive to us (see philosopher Elaine Scarry, On Beauty).

Only a few of us were born with this ideal body type; most of us were not. Good news! There are quick and easy ways to give an illusion of an hourglass shape. One of the best ways to do this is to find pieces that are specifically designed to instantly define our waist. This style trick absolutely works for all body types!

Here are 10 modern blouse styles that get the job done in a jiffy:

*Note: To open image gallery, select a thumbnail image above. To exit image gallery, click directly on current image displayed.

Top left to right: Alice + Olivia Bianca Ruffle Sleeve Silk Blouse $260, available at Nordstrom; Quotation: Plenty by Tracy Reese Surplice Poplin Blouse $198, available by Bloomingdales.

The Elastic Band Waist: A blouse with an elastic band waist instantly creates a waist whether we have a clearly defined one or not. To ensure a flattering and comfortable fit, make sure the elastic band is not overstretched. Those tops with narrow elastic bands are designed to be hidden by the top of the blouse draping over it as demonstrated above and those tops with wide elastic bands are designed to be visible.

The Empire Tie Waist: This top style works best for two different body types. It clearly defines a waist for those of us with full and, otherwise, undefined waists. The cloth tie rests underneath the bust line at the most narrow region of our torso making us appear as if we have a waist even when nature hasn’t provided us with one. Those of us with long waists benefit from this top style too. The empire tie waist top redefines the location of our natural waist making our upper body appear proportional with our lower half.

Top left to right: Milly Printed Silk Blouse $315, available at Nordstrom; Edme & Esyllte Gathering Blossoms Top $118, available at Anthropologie.

The Natural Tie Waist: Another tie strap top that does all the work at defining a waist for us is one that has a built in tie waist. Pull the belt strings, tie them in a bow, half-knot, or full-knot and we’re good to go. This blouse style is designed to make us look like we have a waist directly in the center of our bodies which is perfect for creating an hourglass shape. All body types can wear this top style. (Note there are plenty of options in the marketplace for tops with a tie waist that lie below our natural waistline. This creates a completely different proportion than what we are going for here).

The Ruched Waist: A top that has ruching or gathered fabric directly at its waistline is designed to make us look like we have a narrow waist. The placement of this style detail is important. Select those tops with ruching/gathering details that are non-bulky, so that we don’t add extra visual weight to our stomach or hip region. Plus, make sure these design details actually lie above or directly at our natural waist.

Top left to right: JCrew Delaney Eyelet-Trim Shirt $88 $29.99 (select colors), available at JCrew; Jones Yew York Short Sleeve Wrap Blouse $109, available at Jones New York.

The Designed Waist: This top style works exceptionally well when we prefer not to have an elastic band, tie, or belt touching our mid-section, but we still want to have a clearly defined waist. Fabric panels in various heights are strategically applied to make it look like we have a narrow waist. JCrew’s version has eyelet-trim detail that deliberately narrows from the hip to the waist. As the eyelet fabric panels narrow, we benefit from the illusion it creates of a narrowed waistline. Keep this type of top un-tucked.

The Wrap Waist: A wrap top has multiple flattering features that help to define our waists. Its structure requires us to place/wrap one piece of fabric over another and then tie the end fabric strips. This blouse style immediately creates a v-shape on our upper body. The benefits of a v-shape include opening up our neckline, breaking up our chest and stomach region into two distinct sections giving the illusion of this region to be half its normal size, and cinching in our waist with the tie feature. These attributes are a plus to defining a waist. All body types can successfully wear a wrap top.

Top left to right: Marc by Marc Jacobs Carmen Silk Jacquard Top $248, available at Saks Fifth Avenue; Classiques Entier® Half Zip Satin Top $148 $87.90, available at Nordstrom.

The Banded Waist: A built in band of fabric that acts as a faux belt is a plus in my book. It’s stress free. The band does not have to exactly match the rest of the top to be a winner. It can be ruched and/or wide too. Any body type can wear this blouse style. This trick is to make sure the band placement is centered on our torso. For best fit, select a banded waist top that does not have lots of excess fabric falling below the band to prevent disproportion.

The Attached Belt Waist: Isn’t it nice to find the perfect top that already has the perfect complimentary belt that comes with it? We immediately receive the benefits of wearing it. Long-waisted gals need to place the belt above their natural waistline to create a balanced hourglass shape. Full-waisted gals will find success with belt placement slightly above the tummy bulge or with a wide attached belt. Both body types can remove belt loop strings when necessary.

Top left to right: BOSS Black Bashina Shirt $195, available at Nordstrom; Tommy Hilfiger Dorothy Plaid Shirt $69.50 $37.99, available at Macys.

The Seamed Waist: This blouse style includes strategically placed seams making it look like we have a narrow waist whether we naturally do or not. The vertical seaming detail usually begins midway or just below our bust line and typically ends at the very bottom of the blouse. We can tuck or un-tuck a seamed waist top with a pair of pants or skirt. Both options provide the illusion of narrow waist. Add modern accessories to keep this blouse style truly fresh.

The Patterned Waist: A patterned waist top incorporates patterned fabric that is strategically designed to help define a waist. In the above example, a checkered print with a chevron stripe twist gives us the illusion of a centered waist on an otherwise athletic, undefined and long-waisted body type. The pattern draws our eye in towards the third and fourth buttons (from the top down) on the blouse. The pattern, rather than a tie or a belt, gives the impression of wrapping around our waist which helps to clearly define it. The possibilities for this style of top are endless. It all depends upon the exciting fabrics designers create for us!

Let us know how you incorporate waist defining tops into your wardrobe.

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  • Tara

    Never underestimate fitted t-shirts! Show off your natural waist. Three quarter length sleeves help to draw attention to your waist too.

    I’d love to see an article on how to wear t-shirts well in a corporate environment. They’re so much more comfortable than shirts.

    Thanks 🙂


  • Corporate Fashionista

    Tara –

    Those are some great ideas! I agree t-shirts can be more comfortable than blouses especially when someone is not self-conscious of their waistline. My tip…select those blouses designed with comfortable fabrics…soft cottons, silks, micro, etc., so that you can reap the benefits of both features.

    And you’re right, fitted t-shirts can successfully define a waistline. They work best on those of us that already have a clearly defined waist, but for those of us with waistlines that need some extra help to be clearly defined, tops with more structure work best.

    I am writing an article right now that will address a few different ways to incorporate appropriate t-shirt style shirts for the office. Stay tuned!