Empire Waist Dresses and Tops – Do’s and Don’ts


Empire waist to suit your body shapeHow to Choose an Empire Waist to Suit Your Body Shape

An Empire Waist garment has a high cut waist seam that sits directly under the breasts (above your natural waistline).  It’s flattering on so many body shapes because it doesn’t require a defined natural waist to work.

  •  For petites it works because it raises the waistline up, so raises the eye higher on the body so you look taller.
  •  For Hs, Vs and Os it works because it defines your smallest torso part, directly under your bust (which we don’t expect to be as small as we expect the waist ratio to be), thus taking attention away from your natural waist, up toward your face.
  •  For 8s, and Hs, try a straight skirt version as an alternative to the flared.
  •  For As and Xs if it’s a dress and an A-line shape, this will flow nicely over your curves.  Look for a wider waistband to define your shapely curves and tiny waist.
  •  For I shapes, you can wear a gathered or pleated empire to create extra curve.
  •  For everyone else, unless you want people asking you ‘when is the new arrival coming?’ you may want to avoid gathering.
  •  For pregnant women it’s a sure fire winner and comfortable, because there aren’t any seams around your stomach.
whats my body shape


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  • I have discovered that as an X or possibly an 8 ( I still can't tell for sure although I think it's X ) that I look best in the empire waist if it's a little lower and wider. I have found many great jersey knit dresses in this style this year. Thanks again for sharing your wonderful blog with us!

  • Bookmarking this for future reference … I find empire waists confounding, but all of this makes perfect sense and I see how the style just needs some simple tweaks to work for most body types.

  • Bust seam has to be in right place! Also many women wear a cardigan or jacket over an empire dress, which ruins the line and cuts it visually; a flowing, graceful line is ruined by a jacket or boxy sweater. Best bet is a pashmina.

  • Imogen, I'm still not sure what shape I am. I guess I need to figure this out, as I tend to go right for the empire waist clothes and maybe I could tweak it–which ones look best on me. Thanks!

  • I like the 3rd picture most. A broad, flexible waistline, not starting too high, might feel comfy, but I just couldn´t resist wearing this dress with a wide belt. Maybe these empire waist dresses are not for me.

  • This style would be perfect on me as a petite H shape, but I am very busty and the seam never sits where it is supposed to 🙁 It is such a big blow to my self esteem because they used to look so good on me and now I just feel like nothing is ever going to flatter me or make me look less tarty.

  • Although this cut can be very flattering to some, I think most women need to proceed with caution when considering this shape. I don't know how many times I've almost asked the question "When are you due?" But having made that stupid mistake once, I just smile and hope that they'll offer up their news….LOL

  • Julianne – yes – and you can belt too – that's why I prefer the wider waist version for the more defined waist shape.

    Sal – look forward to your experiences.

    Duchesse – yes – bust seam MUST go under the bust, not across it.

    Sallymandy – email me a photo of yourself in fitted jeans and tshirt and I'll give you an idea.

    Metscan – nobody says you can't belt!

    Peppermint – it can be hard to find a version that sits below your bust when busty, but they are out there (or you could turn to the sewing machine).

    Ingrid – that's why I included the advice about the gathered versus non-gathered versions!

  • Imogen, I finally read through all the body type descriptions and I LOVE how you explain why H shapes don't have a waist!! I never understood why I don't have one – then I stood up and worked out that I have about two inches (max) between the lowest rib and my hip bone … Knowing I can never have a waist is somehow rather good – now I can dress to flatter what I do have!! Thank you – you're very generous with your advice and information!

  • It bothers me that avoiding the ruching/gathering under the bustline is so key to getting a flattering fit, but it's very hard to find an empire seamed dress or top that *doesn't* have bunching. Why?!?

    Because I am busty and have a short waist (even though I am definitely not an X or A), I feel most comfortable in a wide waistband because it structurally shapes my waist instead of making that area look even shorter and wider.

  • Tiffany Thanks so much for your comment – this too was the most important lesson I learned for myself when I did my training – it stopped me feeling bad about my body and lack of waist, and instead helped me celebrate the shape that I am, focussing on other aspects rather than always wishing I had the elusive waist.

  • Tessa – thanks so much!

    Kari – the problem with that gathering is so often it makes you look pregnant.

    I see quite a lot of tops and dresses that have the empire seam without the gathering so I know they're out there!

    A wider waistband can work on a short waist provided it's on the higher rather than lower side.

  • I know that they are out there, but it seems like most empire seamed garments have *some* ruching. I mean… I have seen even skinny women looking pregnant when wearing tops like this, so there is no hope for curvy me. I just wonder why the ruching in the wrong place is so prevalent when so few women can pull off these garments.

    Good point about the *high* seam being key with wide empire seams. It's a tricky balance – too high and it bisects the bust, too low and it over-emphasizes the hips.

  • Kari – it amazes me constantly how many unflattering garments are made and sold. So many women like the gathering under the bust as they feel it hides their stomach, but then they get asked if they're pregnant, they they're horrified and never wear the top or dress again.

  • I’m an X-shape for sure, and have been wearing empire waists for years even though in retrospect it is NOT my most flattering fit! a top with a naturally belted waist is SO much better, but somehow harder to find these days. Everything is empire or unconstructed. I can do empire if, like you said, it is a very wide waistband so that it almost SEEMS like it’s at my waist. but yes, in empire’s I’ve been asked if I were pregnant more than once!! Now I get why!! Thank you!

    • Amber – you will be happy to hear there are HEAPS of waist focussed dresses coming into the stores this season – I’m seeing them everywhere every time I go shopping at present.

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