Reader Request: Flattering a Large Ribcage

Tips for dressing to flatter a large ribcage

Reader L e-mailed me this question:

I know this might be a question that applies to a lot of people, but in case it’s useful info, my specific body is like this: I’m about 5’7″, and I weigh somewhere between 145 and 150 lbs at any given minute. I have a very short waist (less than 2.5″ between my last rib and my hipbones), very small breasts (a-b cup, I rarely wear underwire bras) and a large ribcage–about 37 inches around. It’s not that I’m barrel-chested, which I know is an actual medical diagnosis, just that I’m really wide side-to-side. I’ve always struggled with those apple/pear/rectangle body classifications. I have the wide top half and super long legs that would make me an apple, except that I’ve never particularly had a tummy and my waist does come in a couple inches between my ribs and my hips (but it’s short enough to not particularly produce an hourglass shape). And while I have curvy hips and a big butt that mean I’m not really rectangular at all, my torso’s much shorter and wider than those shapes called pear.

I clarified with her that her figure-flattery goals were to create more balance and make her ribcage look narrower/smaller and her waist longer. She also mentioned that, due to her extreme short-waistedness, she experiences some stomach rolls no matter what she wears and would like to downplay them. Here’s what I told L:

Seek blazers with curved side seams

Not all blazers are cut this way, but the ones that are may work magic on your frame. They’ll be structured enough to downplay some of the rolls, and give the impression of a nipped-in waistline. The blazer at the top of this post is a good example. See those seams along the sides that curve? Those are what you’re looking for. You’ll find them toward the back on the sides of this style, too. My understanding is that true princess seams are ideal but rare in blazers, so just look for anything that has visible, curved side seaming. This particular blazer is a bit short, but if you find versions that are longer in the body they will help visually elongate your torso. Blazers that won’t work as well? Boxy, cropped, bulky styles like swing jackets. Also you probably want to avoid “boyfriend” style blazers as they are long, but cut straight up and down with little or no waist definition. (UPDATE: Reader Stephani has pointed out that these seams are called waist darts. I am mostly familiar with bust darts which are smaller/shorter, but looks like these qualify as darts, too!)

Try tunics, dusters, and leggings

The long-over-lean formula might be helpful in elongating your waist and minimizing the ribcage size. A longer style of top – like a tunic – will visually elongate your torso. Most tunics are fairly lightweight and a bit clingy, though, so adding a boyfriend cardigan or duster will give you more structure. It will also draw the eye up and down making you look taller. This layering formula also gives you the chance to try belting. And yes, I know that may be the last thing you want as a short-waisted gal with some midsection rolling. But here’s why I’m suggesting it: Belting underneath a top layer (like a cardigan or duster) gives the impression of a smaller, nipped waist even if you have the belt fastened very loosely. Try belting lower than your natural waist over the tunic – perhaps even verging on hip-slung – then do a cardi or duster on top. See how it feels.

Look for insets

So this suggestion is going to be the hardest to implement, but might help to keep in your back pocket. Insets in a different color or print can help create the illusion of a smaller waist/ribcage area. What you want is contrast – so color blocking in a lighter tone or a bit of pattern that goes in a different direction. Anthropologie often has some dress options with inset details in the bodice. They won’t be foolproof, but the right one will narrow your ribcage visually.

Image courtesy Banana Republic.

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Originally posted 2013-06-18 06:39:20.

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22 Responses to “Reader Request: Flattering a Large Ribcage”

  1. Cynthia

    I am blessed with wide square shoulders and a fairly epic (34″) ribcage, along with the short waist but a booty capacious enough to give me the coveted .75 waist to hip ratio. If I try to wear traditional styles (especially all this Mad Men waist-belted stuff that the blogosphere loves) it just makes me frustrated. What works:

    — long over long to create vertical lines
    — accentuate the hip rather than the waist
    — blazers/cardigans with a “low stance” (that means the buttons start low if I understand the jargon correctly)
    — flowy but not voluminous loose clothes
    — wide leg pants!
    — no empire waists
    — only very thin waist belts that are purely decorative OR if you want to have a belt to hold something up, make it a very heavy belt that rides your hip bones
    — long diagonal lines, asymmetry
    — loose over loose over loose, unstructured clothes that get structure by layering

    • Megan

      I have almost the exact same measurements! No one has ever understood when I say my problem is a big ribcage. On the other hand, I think because it’s a ribcage, no one else really notices. So it’s more that you just have to not emphasize it, versus actually de-emphasizing it. I find the right shift dress (or almost any well-fitting dress with a tailored waist) to be very, very flattering. For tops, I often look for ones with side runching, so there are some other ripples in the fabric besides the lower part of my ribcage (which sticks out). And I wear padded bras to help balance proportions.

      However, I don’t worry too, too much about my overall silhouette (long legs, short torso), since it’s actually one that shows up as desirable in pop culture (i.e. fashion drawings, comics). I usually just try to wear something that shows off my legs, and avoid the egregious offenders of empire waists and anything too poofy on the shoulders (and some kimono style sleeves).

      • Monica H

        I agree with this. Poofy shoulders and sleeves are a big no-no for me. Likewise, wearing sleeves scrunched up (like in the picture Sally posted above) also serve to visually widen that area in an unflattering way.

        I think that dresses and skirts tend to look good on me when the hemline hits above my knee. This seems to balance the ‘clothed’ parts, short waist and short bottom, making me look balanced, even though there is a lot more leg underneath. The legs help give a long/lean appearance, helping my torso seem more elongated than it is. I wear tall sizes in most things, but I find that tall dresses don’t work because the waist is in the wrong spot. I’m better off with a standard size dress that ends up being a little shorter on my legs. I wonder if petite sizes could be a good option for a woman of average height with this issue.

  2. Sarah

    Yes! This sounds so familiar! Like your correspondent, I have a wide ribcage, short waist, and small breasts (though unlike her, I have little waist definition and narrow hips/not much booty). I agree that the long-over-lean silhouette works really well.

    The surprising advice that took me a while to figure out is that I really need to pay attention to sleeves. Puffed sleeves are a definite no-go (I also have broad shoulders, this might be different on someone with narrower shoulders). Sleeves that are wide in the upper arm make my ribcage look even broader (I thrift shop a lot, and my nemesis is a phenomenon I call “80s arms”–come on, you’ve watched The Cosby Show, you know what I’m talking about). In summer, I prefer sleeveless tops, because short sleeves often create a horizontal line right around my ribcage that, again, ends up making it look broader.

    In contrast to your first commenter, I find that cardis with a low stance don’t work at all for me. They make me look even more flat-chested, and just kind of droopy. I never wear belts (but I agree with your commenter above that if you do, hip-slung is the way to go) and instead I often end up creating definition/structure by buttoning one button of a cardi right at or just under the bust. Essentially I’m nipping in right at my widest point, which sounds totally paradoxical, but it seems to work, or at least, I feel comfortable that way. (Again this might work because my shoulders are even broader.) Similarly, I find that a well-cut empire waist garment can actually look really nice (notice that I said well-cut, because there are a lot of crappily cut empire waist garments out there–rule #1 is to avoid those surplice/nightgowny/triangle top sundresses, that is a sure-fire way to feel sad about my boobs).

    Phew! Yes I’ve thought about this before, can you tell?

  3. Stephani

    Just an FYI, Sal, “those seams at the side that curve” are called waist darts.

    • Sally

      Are they? I thought darts were smaller! I must’ve been thinking of bust darts specifically – thanks for the details!

  4. Monica H

    I have very similar proportions to reader L, except even further magnified. In addition, my torso is fairly straight top to bottom. Somehow I thought I was the only one, LOL. Here are a few additional hints that work for me.

    1) clothes that are visually wide in the bust area but nipped in at the waist, like this dress: I have enough bootay that actually widening my torso at the very top gives more of an hourslass shape, and the illusion of more bust than I have. Since I can’t narrow the bottom of my torso, widening the top seems to help. I own that dress and it’s golden for me.

    2) Jackets with a faux belt, like this one: All the visual benefits of belting without risk of midsection rolling. This particular jacket would probably work better for me if the bottom half were straight instead of peplum, as it helps to create more of a long and lean look that seems to lengthen my torso, but this was the best example I could find to illustrate what I’m talking about.

    3) Buy/tailor clothing that is very close fitted through my torso. I have a jacket sort of similar to the one I posted, and when I button it up it fits pretty tight. The last thing I need is bulk in this area. I also like my dress shirts and tees to fit very close in this area, sweaters too. For me, clingy is better than straight and loose.

    Good luck and I look forward to reading any other tips on this dressing challenge!

  5. Jeanne

    Let me join the chorus of responses. I’m pretty average – maybe a bit short-waisted but not a lot – 5′ 6″ – 135 lbs. In any case, this rib cage issue is my biggest fashion challenge. I definitely wear a size small, but fitted dresses are difficult because I may not be able to zip them up through the rib area. I’ve finally concluded that I cannot wear anything unless it has a waist or I create one with a wide belt. I’ve even had a hard time getting sized for the right bra. I am a 36 A at this point. I used to try to be a 34 B but that was just uncomfortable. My ultimate solution is always to size up so I get the right fit for my rib cage and broad shoulders and then have things altered for a perfect fit. Thanks for addressing this topic!

  6. katie

    I think I have a similar shape, with one significant difference — my ribcage is small and my chest…not (32DDD/34DD), but I’m also fantastically short-waisted, as in my last rib is less than a finger’s width from hipbone (and I’m 5’6″, so it’s not like that’s ‘proportional’). I’ve basically got my father’s side’s 5’2″ torso on my mum’s side’s 5’9″ legs. =)

    While I do like long-over-lean and other layered looks, I’ve found that when it comes to structured things like blazers, something cropped is more flattering. Maybe it’s to do with also having a .75 waist/hips ratio, but usually jackets that extend over my hips end up distorting the upper half of my body and I don’t like the result. The one exception has been this: (click “illustration” for the line art, you get a better sense of the lines). Yes, it’s a lab coat (I’m a medical student), but I’ve never had a longer jacket fit that well — the belt does a lot for shaping, and the “skirt” is a little more ample than the illustration suggests. Monica’s #2 suggestion above also looks like it would do the same.

  7. Amanda

    I have that body type as well, but I am on the short side, at 5’1. I usually wear bootcut jeans, which put a bit of volume on the lower half, and I wear tops that skim my ribs and then fall away. I also belt a lot, with thinner belts working the best for my frame. I wear high waisted bottoms because they usually hit at my thinnest part. I hope this helps!

  8. Patience

    I’m wondering where one measures the rib cage. Where the bra band would hit? I have a problem with dresses always being hugely wide in the torso, with bunches of loose fabric under the armpits so I think I have the opposite problem, but I wouldn’t even know what a typical rib cage measurement is.

  9. Vanessa

    This sounds like me! I’ve found that it is definitely a large ribcage that defines my shape. I rely on a column of color. Wearing a top and bottom that are the same-ish color under a top layer that is open make a huge difference in the way the “eye” travels. I also use a bit of Gestalt in my topper: hiding my true waist under a cardigan or blazer lets people create in ther mind where they think my waist should go in… Most people assume I’m more hourglass than I am.

  10. Chris

    Hallelujah! Someone discussing my body type!

    I have a 38″ rib cage, broad shoulders, and a nice booty, but no hips. Oh, and I’m 5’10” and about 180 lbs, although I don’t look that heavy beacause my torso is, well, cubical. If you’re envisioning the proverbial brick house, you’re correct. No sleeve or shoulder interest for me either. I like my pants to sit higher on my waist to give that visual break especially under a longer cardigan or shaped jacket.

    I love the idea of tunics and wide leg pants. I’m awfully picky about proportions and you have given me some great ideas! Thank you all for posting!

  11. Sonia

    YAY! I’M NOT ALONE! I have big shoulders, big boobs, and a wide ribcage. I don’t buy dresses because I’m at LEAST a full size bigger on top than on the bottom. I have read the post and ALL the comments, and I’m glad to know that I’m already doing lots of things right, while also being grateful for all the new pointers! Thank you, sisters!

  12. Stefka

    Another 5’5 shortwaisted gal here…I can barely fit 2 finger widths in between my ribcage and my hip bone! I think my ribcage/bust is about average (34C), but I have fairly broad shoulders and hips and feel self-conscious of looking “thick” and waistless. But for comfort reasons I don’t like belts or waistbands that hit me at my actual waist (there just isn’t much space and the last thing I want to do is constrict it!!).

    Some GREAT suggestions have been made above. One of my favorite silhouettes is tucking my shirt into a belted, lower-waisted pant and wearing a fitted jacket or cardigan (open or partially closed, depending on the style and fit). The belt is comfy at the hips and when it’s visible it helps give the illusion of a lower waist. I like wrap dresses a lot, but it’s more common for me to wear skirts (again, low-waisted) with a top, because the proportions are easier to fit separately and I can keep waistbands around my hips. Blousy banded tops can be very comfy and flattering as well. I pay attention to the neckline of my tops, and often wear necklaces. Yay for a chance to share experiences and tips!

  13. Autumn

    Great tips here! I’m similarly proportioned and am a fan of the distraction technique–drawing the eye higher (the neck/face, either with a scarf or just with a somewhat exposed decolletage, which I find works for me despite not being busty) or lower (short skirts, etc.) helps.

  14. Rae

    Haha, reading this, you ladies have it good! I feel like a freak. I am only 5′ with a ridiculously long 29″ inseam. A tall heel makes me look like i am in a house of mirrors at the fun house! I carry broad shoulders, 32-34 B, but despite tons of ballet and yoga, a solid 28″ waist with less than 1″ from last rib to hip.
    Petite fashion is too small in the shoulders, regular is too long in the torso. Tee shirts make me look like a midget line backer… I was so happy back in the low-rise denim days of the early 2000’s!!!
    Nowadays, to make me look less weird: In Spring I live in 3/4 length leggings (which come up to my boobs, mostly, kitten heels, and sleeveless a-line tunics with drapy wraps to stay warm. A long, fine necklace seems to balance the look out a bit too.

  15. Jan

    Love this thread! Next to no-one talks about dressing a large ribcage. I’m hourglass and 5’5″ and I had years of doing all the “right” things to dress an hourglass shape and wondering why they all made me look a completely different shape to the one I saw looking in the mirror while naked.

    I totally agree with comments upthread about length and dropped waists (hourglasses are supposed to nip in at the waist, right? Hah, no, not this one). My main aim is to get my top to fit very close all the way down to my hips. It’s a hassle and basically means that if I want a nice dress (which I don’t often, luckily I’m a tomboy, but it’s fun occasionally) I have to make my own, but at least it’s a solution, albeit an expensive and time-consuming one. The rest of the time I rely on stretch cotton tops that come down past my hips (also usually home-made though some are available in shops).

    Funnily enough my underbust measurement is only 32, so I think maybe my ribcage kind of angles outwards as it goes down or something. I quite like the fact that it makes me look really strong and athletic (I was raised to believe that physical strength is feminine, which is handy!), but it does look unusual and most of us have days when we’d rather not look so out of the ordinary. Getting fit has been a challenge because losing weight has made it stick out that much more and feel really bony (I’m not a fan of that on myself though it doesn’t bother me in the slightest when it’s someone else) so I sort of wanted to stay a bit fatter to smooth me out. However, it does match my fitter appearance quite nicely so I guess that’s a good upside.


  16. Shay

    I honestly thought i was alone! For the longest while, my mom has been telling me I was pear shaped but I have pear shaped friends and I look totally different from them. I have pretty small boobs, 32A to be exact and my rib cage seems to gradually ‘flare’ out towards my waist. I do pilates and tones of cardio but there is barely any definition to my waist. My waistline for the longest while has been 27 inches and 26 directly under my rib cage. I have a pretty decent sized behind and a bit of hips, no thighs, thunder thighs. I find that skinny jeans look very nice on me, especially high waisted skinny jeans. They make me look slim and they cnch at the place I want them to, directly under my rib cage. I also find that crops don’t look as weird on me as they should. Also, even though i exercise and eat right, I have this annoying belly role no matte how I sit. I love my body though!

  17. Tammy

    Ugh, I have to buy a formal gown for my son’s wedding. I am 5/1 and about 125 pounds- sadly I have no waist and poof of a belly.
    Empire waste with chiffon gown looked good- but would zip around gorilla rib cage, silloetted with ruching didn’t work cuz of belly. HELP! No custom tailors measure the rib cage ( these two dresses were made to order) …sigh