Reader Request: How to Dress an Hourglass Figure


Struggling to dress your hourglass figure?

Reader Gretchen sent me this request:

My trouble is finding outfits that work without making my hips/butt look huge. My waist is 28″ and my hips are 38″. I

f I wear flow-y tops or pants, I look like I have gained about 10-20 pounds because everything falls in line with my hips; however, if I wear more fitted clothing, my hips and butt stick out. Flow-y with belts around my waist perhaps?

This doesn’t seem like a common problem for women anymore as it seems the true hourglass figure is getting lost somehow. So it’s been tough to find information.

Before we dig in, a few things to keep in mind: Few people fit neatly into a single figure shape category. Most of us are a mix of several. Hourglass figures come in a huge variety of shapes and sizes, so even if some of the body shapes used to illustrate concepts here don’t meet your own expectations, they may be helpful to others.

Even if some of these tips pertain to figure-flattery goals you don’t share, they may be the goals of others. And, as always, none of my figure flattery advice posts should be considered gospel, including this one, and I fully expect you to read them with a grain of salt. Style “rules” are merely guidelines, no matter who is dispensing them. I trust you to use your judgment. And I trust you to take what applies to you, discard the rest, and assume positive intent. Good? Good. Let’s dig in.

Tops with flow and drape

Unless you are purposely doing something to visually alter your silhouette, you generally want to show the true shape of your figure. If you mask the places where your body curves – ankles, knees, wrists, waist – you aren’t showcasing your shape. With an hourglass figure, the primary curve in question is the waist, and tops or dresses that stand away from the waist will add visual volume to the figure. Think stiff blazers or thick sweaters that may fit in the bust or hips, but don’t really hug the waist.


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Fluid fabrics like jersey knits, poly blends, rayon, and silk will skim your curves and are lightweight enough to conform to the curve of your waist. They are also more flexible and will stretch over your bust without gapping or pulling. This is not to say that stiff or thick fabrics are out of the question, but they will work better with your natural shape if they conform to your curves. And that may mean tailoring.

Shirttail tops

shirttail hem for hourglass

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Hourglass figures often include pronounced hips, and that can mean that longer length, untucked tops cling to your bum. Shirttail and curved-hem tops are a great work-around if you want length without bunching. This style of top works best worn with pants when untucked, although it can certainly be tucked into a skirt. (And honestly, this style is great for all figures!)


belts for hourglass figures

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As Gretchen mentioned, belting can be incredibly helpful for hourglass figures. Belts are great for drawing the eye to your waist if you want to highlight it, but can also help bring in the volume of tops, tunics, and blouses as needed. Belt at the smallest part of your waist, even if that falls above your skirt or pant waistband.

If you’re belting a loose or voluminous top, try to stick to a fitted bottom: A pencil skirt, leggings (with a tunic), straight legs, or skinnies will create balance. Also bear in mind that belting a top that’s three sizes too big will just great poofing. Belting should be a minor adjustment, not an attempted overhaul.

Wrap dresses

wrap dresses for hourglass figures

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I feel like wrap dresses are prescribed for just about every fit challenge, but they really are an amazing option for hourglass gals. Faux wraps are fine, but true wraps are even better because they allow you to customize the placement and cinch-level of your waistline. Knits will conform to your bust and hip curves the best, but wovens like poplin can work, too. Experiment with wrap tops when you can find them.

Pencil, full, and A-line skirts

skirt shapes for hourglass figure

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Mini, midi, and maxi skirts may be tough on a curvy figure, especially if you want a balanced and streamlined silhouette. (Which you won’t always. Wear those minis and maxis to your heart’s content when you want to.) But pencil, A-line, and some flared skirts will all work harmoniously with many hourglass variants so long as they’re around knee length.

Pencil skirts will show off the curves of your lower half, and look marvelous with a fluid, tucked-in top. A-line skirts add volume in the bottom half which balances your bust, and are great with fitted untucked sweaters and tucked blouses. Full skirts work best if they have a yoke or pleats that begin a few inches below the waistband. This prevents them from sticking straight out from the top of your hips and keeps the volume in check. Try full skirts with fitted jackets or sweaters. (And, as always, when you tuck you’ll generally want to belt.)

High- and mid-rise pant styles with top-entry pockets

pants for hourglass figures

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Hourglass figures look great in everything from trousers to skinnies. Bootcut jeans are often highlighted since the slight flare at the ankle balances curves, but they’re not the only option. Wide legs that skim the hips can work with fitted tops, straight legs are a fabulous option especially with heels, and skinnies work fantastically with tunics.

The main features that hourglass gals should seek in pants are a mid-or high rise and top-entry pockets. If you’ve got hips and a nipped waist, low-rise styles are likely to create muffin-top. And be uncomfortable. Higher rises will fit better, though they may need to be taken in at the waistband. Side pockets on pants will wing out since they are designed for women with no hips. Stick to top-entry pockets or no pockets for a smoother line.

Low necklines


If you are an hourglass with a large bust, you probably know this one already. In fact, if you are anyone with a large bust, you’ve probably been told that lower necklines are ideal for your shape. V-necks, scoops, and drapes all visually lengthen the neck which balances the bust. Since some hourglass figures have lots of curves, both elongating the neck and downplaying the bust can help create overall visual harmony.

Find a fabulous tailor

I didn’t mention jackets of any kind because, in my experience, blazers and jackets are incredibly difficult to fit off the rack for everyone. Hourglass variations may have more trouble than most, especially if the waist is considerably smaller than the bust and/or hips. Buy garments that fit your largest spot – shoulders, bust, hips – and have them taken in.

Now. Gretchen asked for outfit ideas, which is a little tough since I don’t know her personal style or dressing preferences. But here are some general formulas that will work for many hourglass figures:

  • Flowy blouse, belted, over slim pants
  • Fitted low neckline sweater or top, untucked, over trouser-cut jeans or pants
  • Fluid top tucked into pencil skirt, belted
  • Fitted (potentially tailored) jacket, low-necked tank, yoked full skirt
  • Contoured tee shirt with low neckline, straight-leg jeans, heels
  • Flowy tunic, belted, over leggings or skinnies
  • Peplum top, pencil skirt (peplum will need to hit at the natural waist)
  • Shirttail top or blouse, straight legs, heels

Whew! That was a long one. Hope there were some helpful tidbits in there, and would love to hear what works for you hourglass-shaped ladies.

What are your favorite garment shapes? Outfit formulas? Do tell!

Top image credits nordstrom, ann taylor, michael kore // cc

Originally posted 2015-03-10 06:45:56.

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21 Responses to “Reader Request: How to Dress an Hourglass Figure”

  1. Monica H

    Sally, I am in awe of your ability to find pictures that brilliantly illustrate what you are describing. I can’t tell you how helpful that is! Finding good photos of women with similar body types in outfits that show the contrasting concepts you are discussing really helps me understand it in a way I haven’t been able to otherwise. I imagine that this takes considerable effort on your part, but it is very worth it. This is one of the reasons I adore your book. It’s especially valuable to me to show the ‘unflattering’ looks, because it makes it easier for me to see when something looks ‘off’ in my outfits where the problem might lie. When every image I see looks good, I’m often at a loss for how to get from ‘bad’ to ‘yes, that’s what I wanted!’ Keep up the excellent work!

    • Sally McGraw

      Monica, thank you so much! I’m a visual learner myself, so I do try to find examples that will make the concepts clear. Delighted to hear you find them helpful!

  2. Sea

    Shyness generally keeps me from commenting, but I was so glad to see this post I couldn’t help myself. My measurements are similar to Gretchen’s. I’m also 5’3″ (if I stand tall), which makes finding clothes somewhat challenging. I agree with much of what you say, Sally – thank you! Two points of disagreement (which may have to do with my height): peplums and curved hem shirts seem to exacerbate the high contrast between my waist and hips in ways I don’t find comfortable.

    I’m still working on it, but here are a few things I’ve found reliably true:

    *Thick stretch fabrics allow for the curves without squeezing me uncomfortably.
    *Eileen Fisher jeans have just the right amount of rise. (I have a very small clothing budget and my two pairs were second hand finds. If I had to, though, I’d buy them new because I like them that much.)
    *Color blocking makes me feel confident.
    *As you say, pencil skirts and wrap dresses are terrific.
    *My widest spot (thighs + booty) is just below my hip bones. Tops with hems that hit right around my hip bones and skim my waist (flowy or stretchy) are the most complementary.
    *Because my top is as approximately as big as my bottom, I do not prefer tops with any embellishments. This is hard, because often I *like* them, but they just don’t look great.
    *Along those lines: tucking rarely makes me feel comfortable or confident. Even for work, I try to choose tops that need not be tucked.
    *Straight-leg pants are most comfortable and complementary, especially, as you say, with the assistance of a tailor, who can take in the waist on a pair that fits in the hips/butt/thighs.

    Thanks so much for this post! (I can’t believe I am actually posting a comment. :))

    • Sally McGraw

      I’m so glad you spoke up, Sea! These are stellar tips, and a great point about petite hourglasses. Some of my tips will definitely work better on taller frames. Thanks again for your input and suggestions!

    • Ginger

      I agree – peplums and curved hems aren’t generally helpful. Peplums aren’t snug, but they add volume where it isn’t necessary and as a result distort proportions. And the rest of your tips are great! Except I’m a tucking girl, as long as the waist is at my real waist and isn’t loose. 😉 It’s probably differences in our individual proportions, though. And I tend more toward a pear, since my shoulders don’t balance my hips.

  3. Sara

    I am an hourglass too, also about 28 inch waist and 38-39 inch hips. Pants that fit my butt and thighs and do not gap at the waist (at any price point) has always been an issue for me – so much that I mostly wear skirts. When I have had pants tailored to fit the waist, they never fall right. Just last month I discovered Anne Taylor has a “curvy fit” in pants that works great for me. For jeans, Lucky jeans has the Sofia cut that also work great (these are similar to what Lucky once called the “peanut” cut).

  4. Sadie von Scrumptious

    This is all fantastic advice. A few more notes from another hourglass:
    – There is a difference between full bust fit issues and full hip fit issues.
    – Imogen at Inside Out Style defines two hourglass types: the X-type and the more rounded, short-waisted 8-type. This is really helpful.
    – Yes, tailoring! I will often get out my sewing machine and nip a top or knit dress in at the waist for more waist definition without a belt.
    – Because certain silhouettes are so flattering to hourglass shapes, it’s easy for me to fall into a style rut. My friends and my partner identify v-neck knit dresses and wrap knit tops as “what Sadie wears”.

  5. Amy

    Wonderful post and I agree with most of it. The rest is probably personal style – but I am also a true hourglass (36D, 29 waist and 38 hip) and only 5’4″ so this hit the spot! A few of my tricks gained over the years:

    1. I love lower rise pants because they show off the waist – but yes the muffin – so I do what you recommend – buy for my butt and thighs, and then have the waist taken in so it fits snug enough to not fall down but no muffin. Figuring this out changed my whole wardrobe. I’ll spend $15 altering $5 thrift pants (casual or dress).

    2. For work slacks I like straight or full leg pants with longer legs (hemmed for heels) but then you need to have a nice fitted waist top of some sort to balance.

    3. I completely agree with tops that hug the curves and have several tops that are similar to the one in the first picture – but for some reason I have never liked low necklines. Soft boat neck or across the collar bones tops I think look better (as long as the fabric then dips in at the waist) and generally very simple. Solid fabrics or simple patterns (no peplums ever…) but that may be a height thing too.

    4. For years and years I never wore dresses (for work) because the hour glass was just never going to fit – even with tailoring. However – I find many Calvin Klein brand dresses (usually $40-$60 at Ross, Marshall, Burlington Coat, etc. and almost always there) are generally GREAT for my figure. I now wear them at least 60% of the time. Also a game changer for my work wardrobe.

    5. I have started to relax this “rule” recently but I generally stay away from tunics – even if I’ve got super slim pants, etc. because as you say – at 5’4″ – if I hide the waist, a tunic falls straight from my boobs to my somewhat generous thighs with no break. not the most flattering.

    Thanks Sally!!

    • Erika

      The Calvin Klein dresses are AMAZING. I’m a 5’4″ hourglass (43 hips 34″ waist with 36G bust) and I can wear the 12s and 14s off the rack with no tailoring. I have a causal office but my entire interview and client meeting wardrobe is composed of Calvin Klein dresses. They’re high quality and many can be washed in the machine on gentle.

  6. KryptoBunny

    This is a swell article!

    I have two tips for Gretchen — first, you might want to look into some plus/fatshion bloggers, because a lot of those ladies are very hourglassy. Everything they do and wear won’t work for you, of course, but a lot of the shapes, proportions and ideas will probably be helpful. They are masters of proportion!

    The other thing is, as an hourglass myself, I don’t always want to wear low-cut tops — they’re flattering and all, but sometimes they feel uncomfortable. My favorite look for modesty is a boatneck shirt with a long necklace on top. That way I’m covered, but the flattering v-shape is still there.

  7. SierraDelta

    I’m not sure if this belongs here — but here goes. I’d love a moderately priced, natural fiber shrug to wear with sleeveless dresses. I think a cropped sweater probably works, too, but I haven’t been able to find anything but multi-hundred-dollar options, which don’t fit in my budget. Any thoughts?

      • SierraDelta

        Thank you, Sally! Has anyone told you lately that you’re a genius?!

        My contribution to the hourglass discussion — a properly fitted bra works miracles with perception. I went to La Bratique in Edina, and the talented ladies there fitted me with a size I hadn’t known existed (32F). Suddenly there was a mile of visual distance between the girls and my waist, so the upper and lower parts of the hourglass assumed a natural symmetry that had been missing.

        The new bras cost roughly what our first mortgage payments in the early ’70s had, but my clothes fit better, and I look more polished in even the simplest outfits.

        • Sally McGraw

          You’re too sweet, gal! And SO GLAD you had a good experience at La Bratique. Those ladies really know their lingerie.

  8. Sonja

    This is a great post, Sally! A couple of comments from an hourglass with a slight tendency toward a pear:
    – Indeed higher necklines don’t do anything for me, whereas anything lower (even plunging) makes me look absolutely great. I have found that for modesty I can add a cami with a straight horizontal neckline underneath a deep v-neck, for example, and that it doesn’t affect the positive effect of the v-neck. Ah, and personally I also adore turtlenecks. (Curious, I know, but they really look great.)
    – I prefer vivid colours to patterns, as patterns seem to add visual volume which I don’t necessarily want, but maybe that’s just my personal taste.
    – For me, full skirts are not an option, especially the pleated or gathered ones, as they add visual volume to my hips. I adore both A-line and pencil skirts, but the pencil skirts have to be made of a rigid woven fabric. If they stretch, they make me look weird, because they make my butt stick out. I have had my two pencil skirts taken in the waist by a tailor.
    – I’m not much for fluid fabrics. Generally I prefer rigid, woven fabrics, as they keep everything in place, but in this case, the garments have to fit perfectly. (Tailor again!)
    – Like “Sea”, I also find that peplums emphasize the hips unnecessarily.
    Regarding Gretchens dilemma of “the butt sticks out”, which I can perfectly relate to:
    Personally I love to avoid this by wearing very wide bottoms (palazzo pants, bell bottom or bootleg jeans, A-line skirts or maxi skirts) and a very fitted top. If the bottom fits well, nothing will stick out, and the contrast will make your torso very feminine and delicate. Although I have to admit that it not will make your bottom half smaller. I suppose it helps if you stick to dark neutrals on the bottom and a (lighter) contrasting colour of your choice on the top.
    Well, I think that’s all … 🙂

  9. Thursday

    I’m definitely not an hourglass but a very pronounced pear (hips 14″ wider than my waist…try finding trousers to fit that!), but perhaps some of my lessons in dressing my bottom half and balancing the narrowness of my top half might be useful. I’m also different to Gretchen in that I have come to love emphasising my curvy bottom half – which means having pencil skirts/dresses tailor made or making adjustments to off-the-rack items. I definitely recommend:
    Peplums – tops, dresses, blazers. The only blazers I will wear have at least a gently flared peplum that sits at the natural waist. If the peplum is not too full it can be very flattering to full hips, even while adding a little extra volume, and be easier to fit for a curvy figure. Ponte knits are very good for this.
    Half circle and three-quarter circle skirts – whether in soft, flowy fabrics or more structured knits, the fitted waist without gathers, plus gentle volume at the knees can be very flattering. Personally I’d never wear a yoked waist skirt as I feel they add even more emphasis at the hips, but a fitted style with a flared hemline (fishtail, trumpet, etc) looks balanced to me.

  10. oohlookasquirrel

    I’ve got your waist/hips combo, but smaller on top, so a total pear shape. I gave up pants and don’t miss them. I do dresses when they’re belted. I do skirts almost all of the time, usually a-line or circle but occasionally a pencil, when I find one that fits right. Sweaters on top in the winter, when they’re just fitted enough to show my waist but not clingy and uncomfortable.

    Lately, I’ve been really into button shirts with the tied waist that I learned from Sally. It’s totally adjustable, shows off a tiny waist, and it can turn an oversized top that is either flowy or boxy into a perfectly personalized garment. Once I gave up on pants and started making sure that nothing I wear hides my waist, dressing my body got a whole lot easier. No more tunics for me! Tops that stop right around the waist are sometimes difficult to find, but with some artful tying and tucking, they can be done.

    The thing is, you’ve got to embrace the fact that you’re never going to have a tiny butt, and why would you want one? The shape we have is super hot. There are a ton of people out there who prefer a tiny waist with curves over a woman who is skinny all over. Skinny is great too, if that’s your look, but embrace what genetics gave you and work it! Trying to disguise a curvy ass is a waste of time, in my opinion. Make the rest of your body look great, and surround yourself with people who aren’t trying to change you (and clothes that make you feel good).

  11. Kelly

    I wish I could have read something like this when I was about 13 so I wouldn’t have spent so much time and money on clothes that didn’t fit me! This is awesome, so helpful for us hourglass ladies because I think our bodies are a little challenging to work with! 🙂

  12. Judy

    Celebrating the hour glass full figure instead of simply disguising it is a triumph. I will certainly find your help useful as I accept the challenges. Thanks. Judy