Reader Request: Clothes That Fit While Sitting

How to find clothes that look good even when you're sitting down.

Reader Mirjam sent me this request via e-mail:

I was wondering if you might consider doing a blog post on clothes that look good on the well-rounded of us when sitting down? I have many gorgeous outfits that look super cute and fit comfortably when standing, but as soon as I sit down all that fat shifts and bulges and nothing looks nice any more. I am sure you must have come across that problems with clients at some point or other? I would love to read something about that!

Indulge me for a moment and read this passage from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice*:

“Miss Eliza Bennet, let me persuade you to follow my example, and take a turn about the room. — I assure you it is very refreshing after sitting so long in one attitude.”

Elizabeth was surprised, but agreed to it immediately. Miss Bingley succeeded no less in the real object of her civility; Mr. Darcy looked up. He was as much awake to the novelty of attention in that quarter as Elizabeth herself could be, and unconsciously closed his book. He was directly invited to join their party, but he declined it, observing that he could imagine but two motives for their chusing to walk up and down the room together, with either of which motives his joining them would interfere. “What could he mean? she was dying to know what could be his meaning” — and asked Elizabeth whether she could at all understand him?

“Not at all,” was her answer; “but depend upon it, he means to be severe on us, and our surest way of disappointing him will be to ask nothing about it.”

Miss Bingley, however, was incapable of disappointing Mr. Darcy in any thing, and persevered therefore in requiring an explanation of his two motives.

“I have not the smallest objection to explaining them,” said he, as soon as she allowed him to speak. “You either chuse this method of passing the evening because you are in each other’s confidence, and have secret affairs to discuss, or because you are conscious that your figures appear to the greatest advantage in walking; — if the first, I should be completely in your way; — and if the second, I can admire you much better as I sit by the fire.”

Even Mr. Darcy knows that bodies look better standing than seated. Doesn’t matter how tight and flat your abs are, how little or much you weigh, or how you’re shaped. Sit down, stuff shifts, clothes pull a bit, and you look slightly less put-together than you did just a moment ago standing up.

Additionally, a lot depends on your unique figure and how it shifts when you’re seated, so it’s a little tough to generalize. For instance, I tend to pooch out in the lower belly area and – having recently viewed some photos where I was hunched over a table – the upper back/bra strap area. Other folks may have other body areas that make them self-conscious when sitting.

So, with all that stacked against me, I have two meager bits of advice:

Go structured

A slinky knit will reveal more of a seated body than a lined blazer. Drapey rayon will show more lumps and bumps than thick ponte. I wouldn’t advise going oversized, since clothing drapes differently when you’re seated and you might just add volume. And I wouldn’t advise going super-thick, as truly chunky knits may also add bulk. But lined garments, fabrics with some stiffness to them, and structured designs will generally hold their shape a bit when you sit down, and stand slightly away from your body without making it appear bigger or different than it is.

Employ distractions

For those worried about tummy bulges, a flowing scarf will generally cover and distract. If back bumps worry you, wear your long hair down or go for a busy printed top instead of a simple solid. I once read in a Trinny and Susannah book that one of them (Susannah, I think) always places her handbag in her lap when seated to distract from any bulges. (I do that a lot, too, but mainly because I have recurring nightmares in which I’ve misplaced my bag.) If changing up your actual garments won’t do the trick, try a few styling switches or clever accessories to help out.

I’d also add that when you try on clothing for potential purchase, make sure to sit down in it and look at yourself in the mirror. Even tops and jackets. This will give you and idea of pulling and gaping that might cause you stress later on.

And that’s it. Because my main advice would be that old chestnut, “try not to worry about it.” Easier said than done, I know, but since we all look a little like melted humans when we’re scrunched into chairs and couches, at least we’re in this together.

Image courtesy Garry Knight.

*I tried to find a YouTube clip of the beloved BBC miniseries showing this scene, but failed. Bah.

Originally posted 2013-05-02 06:28:17.

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22 Responses to “Reader Request: Clothes That Fit While Sitting”

  1. kitty

    Why not borrow some tips from a community of fabulous ladies who are experts on looking good while seated? Wheelchair-using fashionistas have compiled lots of useful advice – see http://beautyability.com/2013/01/wheelchair-fashion-look-books/ for a place to start, or google “wheelchair ootd”. This is a great resource for anyone who wants to look their best while seated, whether they are wheelchair users or not!

  2. La Rêveuse

    Another thing to remember is your posture. Sitting up makes you look better, and you will actually have more energy if you use your skeleton the way it was intended, and don’t work against it by slouching. I work on this with my students all the time. (I am a clarinet teacher.) If you’re used to slouching, it will be hard at first because you have to retrain muscles, but you’ll find it pays off in many ways, both physically and aesthetically.

    • alice

      I absolutely second this – this makes a much bigger difference in my appearance than anything I can put on. When I sit up straight, I notice that my tummy (which would otherwise poof out and fold when seated) automatically flattens and everything looks better. Take a look at co-workers during the day at their desks and you’ll see that most of us suffer from poor posture when seated and the overall impression it gives is tired and sloppy. If you’re deskbound all day like I am, bad posture also leads to more aches and pains. I’m not saying I’ve conquered this by any means, it’s definitely something I have to work on too!

  3. kim

    I second the sitting in the dressing room idea. Make sure the back is long enough, that the seams aren’t stressed and the waist band lays properly. As for the back bumps/hair down advice? Even better would be to get a bra properly fitted by a professional (Victorias Secret are NOT professionals) and you can greatly reduce the back cleavage problem.

  4. Dee

    All these are great ideas. The whole subject of sitting in clothes brings two things to my mind : how do women (young women, usually) sit in those micro mini skirts and dresses?? Many barely cover their rear when they are standing, so really what happens when they sit down?! Maybe they don’t sit in those outfits? Which brings me to my second thought, I bought a cute, just above the knee length, denim skirt last summer — it has a slit in the FRONT rather than in the BACK — not a good idea. I shoiuld have sat in it in front of a mirror in the store before buying it . Its great when you are standing, but when you sit you have to be more careful than usual or everyone gets a view of your lady bits. My husband really was worried when I wore it the first time and immediately pointed that out to me when I sat down. I am trying to figure out how to wear it this summer because it fits well otherwise and I like it. I think I may have to wear ‘pettipants’ under it or just dont sit in it…LOL!

    • Marsha

      You can sew up the slit or add a triangle of similar or contrasting fabric to the slit. It the skirt is knee length and not too tight, you shouldn’t need the slit for walking ease. I almost always sew up above-the knee slits, leaving the below-knee part open if it’s a longer skirt. If you aren’t able to do it yourself, this is an easy tailoring job and probably wouldn’t cost you more than a few dollars.

    • LinB

      Our church choir sits on a platform that is elevated above the rest of the congregation. Our chairs face the congregation dead on. Many in the congregation have urged me to lecture a certain elderly woman that she needs to sit with her knees together, or wear longer skirts. I cannot bring myself to single out that dear soul — it would absolutely mortify her with embarrassment. So, each Sunday, I shout out “Keep your knees together, ladies!” and hope that her hearing aids are working that morning. My advice to the complainants is tothat they avert their eyes if it bothers them that much. It’s hard not to explode in anger at them, though, when they tell me such ugly things as “If I wanted to see the Grand Canyon, I’d go to Arizona.”

  5. ARA

    If you really are sitting all day, you may want a longer hem length for your skirts, especially narrower width skirts. For me, the most flattering and appropriate length for standing seems too short when sitting.

  6. Anneesha

    Sidenote – the BBC version is fabulous and I totally recall that scene from Pride & Prejudice! Thanks for the literary note.

  7. LinB

    Those of us with a fair amount of avoirdupois would do well to look for slacks and jeans that have a fair amount of drop to the crotch, and not snug-fitting nether garments. When you sit down, your flesh re-distributes itself, expanding outward against the compression against the seat of your chair/bench/saddle/throne. There must be enough fabric in your garment to accommodate this shape-shifting. Remember that we must not only consider employing extra WIDTH in our clothing to ease around our larger dimensions, but also extra LENGTH.

  8. alice

    I have two high-waisted pencil skirts that I only wear for conferences. When I’m standing, the waist is a perfect fit and the length hits right below the knee. When I’m sitting it’s a whole different story. If I don’t sit with perfect posture, the waist band starts digging into my body. No matter what I do, the skirt hem will also hike up several inches. So this skirt forces me into an upright position and I always keep my legs crossed at the ankle and tucked under the chair. I feel like I’m dining with the Queen or something, but the position this skirt forces me into certainly gives off an elegant, professional and alert air that is totally appropriate for work.

  9. Roberta

    I always perform the sit test before I walk out the door. Things that look great standing up can perform unexpected mission creep when you sit. I first heard this from a TV producer, because the camera is looking at you from waist high, instead of DOWN on you, so if your skirt is even just above the knee, you can see unexpected thigh. Not exactly Sharon Stone, but I like to be aware anyway. I feel that way about full, knee-length skirts. They have a tendency to flare up too much when you bend over. One more reason to love knee-length pencil skirts. Oh, and PANTS. Gotta love PANTS.

  10. D

    Wonderful advice, but I mostly am commenting to say that I love that you quoted Pride and Prejudice. That scene is so good. I think I need to go watch the version with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle now!

  11. Kay Bug

    Totally agree with all comments here; would also add that control top tights in the winter are great for wearing under dresses without an obvious waistline, but then roll down when you sit! I am constantly surrepetitiously tugging them up before I walk down the hall.

    Other than that, control garments such as tank tops with tummy panels may help. And posture! Big difference!

  12. Eliza

    An undershirt really helps to keep clothing from clinging to your torso when you sit. I go back and forth between silk and cotton camisoles. I like to layer a thinner, clingy top over a more fitted cotton camisole. The cotton camisole sort of skims over my lumps and bumps and creates a smoother base for the top layer to cling to. A silk camisole works better under stiffer shirts, since it creates a slippery layer that helps the fabric move more naturally.

    When I’m wearing a belt over a dress to define my waist, I like belts that are easily adjusted (ie d-ring buckles, etc). I often subtly hitch up and tighten the belt as I sit, since my narrowest spot when sitting is higher than when I stand.

  13. Laura

    I’ve sadly given up wearing jeans entirely because of the way my body moves shape when I sit. My waist bulges out, and any waistband will cut in painfully, no matter how beautifully it fits while standing. Jeggings were a good temporary solution when they first came out, as they generally came with a stretchy waistband, but now even the stretchiest of jeggings have structured waist with a button & fly.

    I hate the feel of ponte. I had a great fitting pair of black ponte jeggings, but the fabric feels so unsettling and cheap under my fingers, no matter how high quality.

    • Halo

      I’m in the exact same boat regarding jeans, and I really miss the wider stretchy jeggings waistbands. The same thing goes for skirts, so I have taken to dresses more than anything.

  14. Erika

    Posture (to echo everyone else).

    And the line – cats sleep fat, walk thin….

    Got no objection to looking like a cat!!!

  15. Halo

    The only advice I disagree with is about lined items. A LOT of plus-sized dresses have linings that don’t stretch, even if the main fabric has a bit of stretch. This is death to my comfort and one gorgeous dress I had was almost impossible to sit in, so I avoid those like the plague or remove the lining and wear a slip. Alterations are sometimes the way to go!