Reader Request: Balancing a Short Torso

how to dress short waisted

Reader Ilujna e-mailed me this request:

You’ve done balancing a long torso and downplaying hips but I was wondering if you could do something on short torsos? I’ve got “great” hips (ie they’re quite large), long legs, no torso and broad shoulders. I seriously look like a Sailor Moon character when I wear pants (because my navel is just that high and due to my hips I can’t wear pants lower than they’re designed) so I just don’t wear pants. Since my torso is so squat and I have those annoying internal organs jammed into a small space, there’s no definition to my waist. If it weren’t for the hips, I’d have no curves at all. I also have trouble wearing wide belts because my lack of a torso means if I wear a belt with anything that has a waistband the belt ends up squashed, unpleasantly, between the waistband and my breasts.

As always, choosing to mitigate or balance your figure is your choice. (Always consider playing up your assets as an important priority.) Ilujna has a great, playful attitude about being all legs, but is hoping to find some ways to balance out her bod. Here are a few basic tips!

First off, if you’re unsure of your torso length, you can do a few things to figure it all out. Imogen offers this handy measurement-based method for determining torso length, among other proportions. As a visual thinker and gut-truster, I actually find this graphic incredibly helpful:

Assuming you have noticeable hips, you can note where along your body line your hips fall. If they’re close enough to your bust to make your top half appear shorter than your bottom half, you’ve got a short torso. If they’re close enough to your feet to make your top half appear longer than your bottom half, you’ve got a long torso. No hips? Use your crotchpoint as a marker instead.

But another good way to figure this out is to note how clothing fits your body. If high-rise pants don’t reach your natural waist and/or regular length tops are too short, both are indicators of a long torso. If petite tops fit you best but you’re not petite and/or you take a long inseam but aren’t particularly tall, both are indicators of a short torso. (Just a few examples – there are loads.)

NOW. The order of the day is short torsos, so let’s dig into some ways to balance out those proportions.

Try low-rise pants

Ilujna has said quite specifically that she can’t do low rise pants due to her hips, but I’m throwing this one onto the fire regardless because some of you short-waisted gals probably CAN do them. Observers will believe that the waistline of your bottoms matches your actual waistline, so a low-slung pair of pants or jeans will visually elongate your torso. This trick works especially well if you can tuck in your top, as Kelly has done in the photo at the top of this post. (See her tips for tucking for the short-waisted.)

Sport skinny belts

Wide belts work best on long torsos, which have enough room to balance them out. Skinny belts, on the other hand, are great for short torsos as the narrow width of the belt gives the impression that the torso supporting it is long. If you’re belting a dress and have a figure that allows it, consider belting a bit below your natural waist to further elongate your look. (Won’t work as well for women with pronounced curves.)

Experiment with tunics

If you’re all leg and little torso, a style of top that masks your thighs a bit will create some balance. Tunics worn with leggings, clamdiggers, or skinny jeans can flatter certain short-waisted figures. Try throwing a skinny belt on, too, if you need some waist definition.

Leave most tops untucked

If you opt for tops with finished hemlines – sweaters and button-front shirts are two typical options – you can trick the observing eye into believing that your torso is much longer than it truly is. This is especially important when wearing skirts, which typically sit higher on the torso than pants. Now, this doesn’t necessarily apply if you’re sporting a pair of low-rise jeans. In fact, tucking into low-rise bottoms can create balance, as mentioned above. Use your judgment.

Consider long sleeved or sleeveless garments

This is definitely a loose guideline since very few of us are gonna do long sleeves or bare arms year-round. That said, the eye is drawn to the ends of sleeves, so short and 3/4 length sleeves will bring eyes to your torso. Long sleeves give you a longer overall look, and sleeveless garments do the same. Something to consider, not abide.

Utilize long accessories

Though not as effective as some of these other techniques, keeping necklaces and scarves nice and long will help draw the eye up and down your figure. They can also help ease the break between your top and bottom halves.

Naturally, you can feel free to play up those legs and have fun with a tiny torso: Wear high-waisted pants, towering heels, and short skirts. Also there are more types of short-torsoed women than can be covered in one post, so remember to take what applies to you, discard the rest, and assume positive intent.

Top image via Alterations Needed. Torso length image via Fiorecci.

Originally posted 2012-05-21 06:12:53.

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43 Responses to “Reader Request: Balancing a Short Torso”

  1. T.

    I think I have a short torso and I always find bottoms that go up to the waist (chinos, high rise jeans, full fifties-style skirts) look unflattering on me. Also they feel uncomfortable because I have (almost) no waist either. Anything that is “low rise” on the other hand, especially skinny jeans, is my friend.

  2. D

    Yes! I love and use all of these suggestions. I do attempt to balance out my proportions, though I do have a deep love for 3/4 sleeve tops that I can’t shake. My office just can’t figure out how to consistently keep the temperature comfortable, so those are really the easiest for me.

  3. Rachel W.

    Ooh, thank you for linking to the Inside Out Style video– I’ve never before been able to figure out if I’m actually short-torso’d, or if I’ve got the usual amount of torso with my waist beginning very high up. I now suspect it’s the latter, which has its own unique set of problems!

  4. Tina

    Yes to low-waisted pants! And, I can’t get away with belting, unless it’s actually at the belt loop line. Belting any higher makes me look very disproportionate – skinny belts, wide belts – any of them cut me off too high. But dresses also work wonders – they elongate my torso and make it look a little less squatty!

  5. Anonymous

    I also do the low rise pants and never tuck in my top when wearing pants.

    Empire waist dresses can work well. If the waist of the dress is just below the bustline, it’s going to be that way for everyone, whether one’s torso is long or short. Highlighting the empire waistline by adding a belt can give the illusion of more curves than one actually has.

    For skirts, I don’t go longer than knee length. Long legs plus a high natural waist mean that a skirt that’s long on me is *extremely* long. It tends to look silly.

    • Anonymous

      Forgot to mention… I like sleeveless mock turtlenecks. I think they elongate my torso quite nicely (especially if left untucked).

  6. Linda

    Thanks for this post. It seems that women like me who are ‘torso challenged’ are frequently left out of the fashion equation. I like a story that Theresa Tapp mentions in one of her books: in modelling, the long torsoed wear the bikinis, the short torsos wear the miniskirts!

    My challenge with pants is that I am slim of upper leg/saddlebag area so pants that fit in the waist, even lower rise, can be very baggy in that area. Generally I find that skirts are much better for me than almost any pant.

    On the sleeve front, though: I love 3/4 length because I am 5’2″ tall and my arms match that shortness.

    I also like shorter skirts but hear the frequent admonishments against them for women over 40 — or whatever age is the new one to use. I am 55 and in decent shape. It is a challenge to find skirts short enough, but not too short, if you know what I mean. Thanks again for this post.

    • Cheryl

      I’m 59, have a short torso and also love a short skirt! If you’re in good shape, and it looks good on you, why not?

      • Linda

        I do wear shorter skirts, Cheryl, or at least right above the knee. I’m not dead yet!

        As for those who think our discussion means that we equate short torso with ‘bad,’ I am what I am and accept that. The problem is with finding clothes that are comfortable and make us feel that they are working for us.

  7. Cleo

    Yay for this post! My short torso is the only figure-thing I consciously dress for, so I was looking forward to it. And thanks for the link to Kelly’s post, I really have not figured out yet how to tuck shirts in.

    I use all of your other suggestions (though I do short sleeves… I never figured out why I hated 3/4 sleeves before, lightbulb moment!). Also on my list: I often prefer V-necks and I emphasize my hips (think low-slung belts – can be sexy or casual easily, harder to do in a “cold chic” way). Love flapper fashion and drop-waist dresses. Tend to do monochrome looks with short tops versus more color contrast with longer tops. I think that’s the list…

    • Cleo

      Oh (does it sound like I’m overthinking short-torsoedness?), I think in terms of silhouettes: flapper, mod, hippie, 90s minimalist > work. Preppy, 80 jeans, jolie madame (heck, the whole 30s-50s are a wasteland for me) > doesn’t work.
      Then again, I’m so short of torso that if I wear a obi belt (which I adore on others), I look like boobs on legs, so as I said, I’m probably overthinking this.

  8. Cat

    Cropped cardis and boleros can also be handy. In my case, standard length cardis tend to hit me in the least flattering spot and chop my proportions up a bit strangely. As I’ve a defined waist, standard cardis also generally completely obscure it.

    • Cat

      That said, torso-balancing isn’t one of my figure-flattery priorities (though waist-highlighting usually is), so I’m quite happy to tuck things in and so on. But the cardi thing is a practicality regardless – mine are either cropped, boyfriend length, or drapey enough that they’ll hang flatteringly when worn unbuttoned.

  9. Megan Mae

    I guess I have a short torso since I’m technically petite and petite pants never fit because my legs are so long. I don’t really think about it, I just wear what I like. My best advice – your eye will know when something looks right. Trust your own judgement with the help of a good mirror.

  10. hellotampon

    I don’t know if I’m technically short-waisted, since my legs aren’t actually long in proportion to my torso, but my natural waistline is definitely high, so my bellybutton-to-crotch measurement is pretty long. Because of this, my hips look square. The flare out under my waist and then go straight down toward my thighs.

    I have a defined waist when I’m naked, but clothed, you can’t see it because I have big boobs that pull my clothes away from my body. Even skinny belts don’t look right on me. It’s so annoying.

    • Erika A

      I think we must have similarly shaped bodies, I felt like I was reading a description of what I see in the mirror!

      I’ve given up on belts. I just wear tight shirts instead.

  11. J.

    I find this whole subject fascinating, because what you’re calling a ‘(disproportionately) short torso’ has always been known to me as ‘having long legs,’ which is in my experience invariably considered to be a very good thing.
    I have extremely long legs proportionately, but have never (except when it comes to buying tights) found anything but joy in that fact (as for tights, I nowadays simply cut off the toe and wear them with socks – they last longer that way, too!). Long-legged ladies, please don’t feel there is anything wrong with your torsos!

    • Sal

      I believe I made it quite clear in this post that I see nothing wrong with having a short torso or, as you say, long legs. As in, “Naturally, you can feel free to play up those legs and have fun with a tiny torso: Wear high-waisted pants, towering heels, and short skirts. Also there are more types of short-torsoed women than can be covered in one post, so remember to take what applies to you, discard the rest, and assume positive intent.” And, “As always, choosing to mitigate or balance your figure is your choice.”

      Not sure where you got the “short torso = bad” message.

    • Chesh

      I always think the same thing! I grew up thinking I just have long legs, which is considered a positive, but then a few years ago fashion mags started talking about how I should be disguising my short torso. I feel like this is kind of an invented problem, like ugly armpits; I think most women who think they have one are either generously endowed in the boob area or just short in general. Either way, I don’t think anyone’s going to look at us and say “oh goodness, what a short torso” instead of “whoa, mile-long legs!” or “that woman’s rack is magnificent!”

  12. Mab

    Inevitably when I curse my short torso when shopping for pants. I’m also quite a traditional hourglass, so the low rise pants solution never quite works for me (they either fit around the hips and butt, but I’ve got oodles of room to spare in the waist band, or the waistband fits my measurement, but they’re too small in the bum). I’ve had a little bit of luck with high-waisted trousers and thankfully jeans have such a lot of variety, that eventually I’ll find something I like.

    Funnily enough with all the pants fit issues, my wardrobe mostly consists of skirts and dresses. They’re just easier to fit.

  13. sarah

    short torso here, but I’ve never tried to balance it. Maybe if you have a short torso, but are also tall, things even out?

  14. Grace

    @Sal–not bad necessarily, because I love my long legs and wear lower slung jeans and shorter skirts to advantage. But, like most things in life, there are disadvantages to being short-waisted, including not doing so well with tucked-in tops, those boxy little jackets (ugh), empire waists (I have largish breasts, and with a short waist, I can look top-heavy pretty easily). I see dressing as a puzzle (a fun one) and it’s only in the past year or two that I have begun to pay more attention to dressing in a way to accentuate the positive!

  15. Terri

    I feel like I could have written this. The jammed in internal organs thing, yup. I totally identify with that, especially wearing jeans. I stick to dresses and tunics with leggings or tights, and boots or flats. It’s just the most comfortable option for me. And one time, my husband and I compared: our legs are practically the same length. There’s a vast disparity in height between us ;D

    • sue

      my husband is 8 inches taller than i and our hipbones are at the exact same height. his legs don’t look short but my torso certainly does!

  16. Claire

    I have a slightly short torso proportionally and use nearly all these tips – here’s a couple other “shortcuts” I’ve found:
    -shirts with curved front hems work really well if you can track them down – balance things out visually but leave room for your hips so the fabric doesn’t get so bunched up (the half-tuck can come in handy as well)
    -with the long necklace/scarf accessories, if you have problems with them hanging nicely over your chest, knot them in a comfy place just over or under your boobs – I especially look for necklaces that are designed that way, they are sooo much easier to wear effortlessly!

  17. Amber

    I feel really dumb, because I am 28 years old and am just realizing that I have a “short torso.” But after I read this, some of my major clothing challenges “make sense.” Like, “Oh, that’s why all of the t-shirts I’m trying on are too long” or “Oh, that’s why I look dorky when I tuck in my shirt.”

    And when I was growing up, people used to say I had long legs, even though I was always average height for my age, and I never understood how people thought I have long legs, yet I wasn’t tall. Now it makes sense…it was an illusion!

    Dang! I feel so enlightened!

  18. sigourney

    I have a little belly so can’t wear low-rise to any advantage. Never belts. My go-to are tunics and they look super cool with long legs! Also A-line dresses. One good advice always given is wearing a good bra which visually lengthens the torso by hiking the “girls” up. I feel it works.

  19. Lotus

    I’m short-waisted (I think). However, generally I look okay in belts, although there is the issue of wide belts digging into my hips/ribs (or even my bust, if I’m sitting down). I don’t mind looking like I’m all leg, haha, but I’ve noticed that my torso does tend to look a bit stumpy at times.

  20. Christine

    Excuse me! But aren’t plus sized women also pretty? I am a plus sized woman and I am tired of being discrimated against because of my size. I am proud of being who I have become and I am happier being the way I am now. I was a skinny slip of a woman, when in my early 20s and again in my 30s. My mother remarked that I looked like I was sick, and I did. Since then I became healthier and a lot more contented. I am sure that there are lots of big women who take offence of sites that say that in order to be pretty you have to have a single digit dress size. I was a size 12 in middle and high school, and didn’t know what being smaller ment. So get with it! Put more and more large ladies on your site! We are pretty too.

  21. Christine

    I am not angry, I just want to be heard and make my point known. If you percieve that I am angry, just look around and see all the women that could be thought as as pretty and just because they are bigger then the norm, they are thought of as ugly. I am not mad just trying to make my point and be heard.

  22. threegoodrats

    I was going to request a post on this topic too, so thanks! 🙂

    It’s only recently that I’ve figured out some of things you mention above, like wearing low-rise pants. I never tuck in shirts (they always end up uneven and rumpled when I do that anyway) nor do I wear belts. Unlike some of the other commenters, I don’t have long legs. But my torso is short too – shirts are always too long on me, and unless they flare out they end up bunching around my waist because they don’t fit properly over my hips. So frustrating! And I wish I could wear belts, but they never look right. I may just need to find the right belt/clothing combo though.

  23. Linda

    Is this why I find skirts so uncomfortable to wear, because they sit higher on the natural waistline? Seriously, I follow a few fashion blogs and see so many gorgeous outfits with tops tucked in to skirts and I can NEVER pull it off because I find it so uncomfortable! I am only now realizing that I might be short-waisted and also possible have little waist definition.

  24. donna

    I have a problem…Im tall 5’10”….but im proportionally sized. When i attempt to buy fitted dresses the torso isnt long enough. Its always 2 to 3 inches too high….any suggestions. I tried tall women shop with no luck. Sometimes i get lucky and and find a dress with a drop waist and it fits where my waist reallyis. Very fustrating!

    • Sally

      Donna, depending on how you’re build it might work better to look for styles that don’t have a defined waist like shifts. That way you can belt wherever you need to. Dropwaists are another option, as you mentioned. You can also use a wide belt, place it so it covers the very top of the dress waist, and allow the rest to fall below the dress waist to bring the perceived waistline down.

  25. Emily

    I’ve just discover this gem of blog post! Thanks for the advice.

    I have a questions for you, if you have a chance to answer – I have a short bust-waist proportion/short torso (but not especially long legs); I definitely look better in low fitting jeans/trousers and loose long tops. I’m currently living in Africa, wear long skirts are fashionable (and thighs are inappropriate) but I’m not sure how to pull off wearing long, print, skirts, especially when most of my tops are loose too. Any advice on how to wear (or not!) long skirts for the short waisted would be much appreciate! (It also probably doesn’t help that I’m a bit of tomboy in an active job!)

    Many thanks.

    • Sally

      Emily, thanks for your kind words!

      My guess is that you might want to experiment with belting. You might find that belting at your natural waist helps bring in your loose tops, but could also try belting at the hip to balance your proportions. If you’re doing long printed skirts, hip-slung belts will work better with more fitted tops, but they might work with looser ones, too. Not sure if this would work for your figure/style, but you could also try knotting your tops at a bottom corner like this: Might balance some of the volume. Hope that helps!

  26. mary

    I just found your website and how great the information is. I’m 60 and have long legs. I finally figured out why nothing ever really looks good on me. I look like a box. My measurements are all just about the same. I feel that I’m short waisted. I have tried low rise jeans and the back pockets hit me just about where my legs begin. When I look at myself sideways in the mirror I do not look good. Please help!!

  27. karen Johnson

    It would be extremely nice to see pictures of how to wear different outfits. Words are okay, but pictures, at least a few would be TOTALLY awesome!
    oh yeah , for the short waisted women.