Have you ever tried on a midcentury dress that fits beautifully everywhere—except for the waist? You are not alone. Believe it or not, the hourglass figure that was so prevalent in the 1950s is disappearing. Researchers are still trying to figure out why women’s waistlines are starting to resemble men’s straight up and down figure. But, this post is about how to give the illusion of an hourglass figure–how to make your waist appear smaller–if you have a more modern body composition.
A Little Mathematical Calculation
The average modern woman’s waistline is 7 1/2” larger than our midcentury counterparts’ 60 years ago. The average woman’s waist was 27” in the 1950’s compared to 34 1/2” now. In 1951, the average bust, waist, and hip difference was 10 1/2” whereas the average difference in 2013 was 4 1/2”.
Why am I telling you this? So that you don’t wonder why clothing looks so different on modern figures compared to the iconic midcentury looks. Simply put, our body composition is different.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t give the illusion of an hourglass figure! Here are some strategies for achieving the look with a non-hourglass figure:
How to Make Your Waist Appear Smaller
- Keep in mind that the eye always goes to where the contrast is. Scrupulously avoid horizontal contrasts.
- Visually divide your waist into three parts. Looking at the illustrations, the bodice and the skirt in Figure 2 are divided up but the waist isn’t. This actually makes the waist look wider than it is. Conversely, the line of buttons in Figure 2 help unify the bodice with the three separate components of the skirt. Instead of drawing the eye outward, the eye is is drawn up and down in a diagonal-ish direction.
- Create the illusion of a “v” above the waist and an inverted “v” below the waist. Figure 6 shows the optical illusion created by seams or design features that make it appear that the garment is simply following the curves of the wearer.
- Combine the “v” illusion with strong shoulders. Looking again at Figure 6, the shoulders are subtly wider than the hips and the lines created by the design feature give the illusion of moving in and then out. Don’t go overboard and create “linebacker shoulders” like those popular in the 1980s, though. The shoulders should still look natural while drawing the eye up and out from the waistline.
- Choose your belts carefully. Make sure your belt doesn’t visually cut you in half by being too wide or contrasting in color, such as the one shown in Figure 7. Also, keep in mind that belts draw the eye from side to side instead of vertically. This horizontal emphasis will make the waist appear larger than it really is.
- Be on the alert for waist thickening gathers. Ideally, darts, tucks, and gathers should slant outward from the center. They should also be fairly fitted around the waist. Remember, gathered fabric has to poof out somewhere close to the seam holding it in place. A very gathered garment, such as a long shirt gathered using a belt, could easily add a couple of inches to the waist.
- Avoid narrow bias skirts that cling. Slightly flared skirts (see Figure 1) are a good choice because they move the eye in and up. If you want to wear a pencil skirt or dress with a fitted skirt, lean towards a beltless monochromatic look. The design elements of the skirt or dress should visually move the eye up and out (such as the “v” illusion described earlier).
Say “No” to Corset Waist Training
As we get older, our waists start losing their definition. We really start to notice it during and after menopause. This loss of definition may give the impression of being out of balance or heavier than we really are. Fortunately, with the help of our clothing choices, we can regain visual balance without having to resort to corset waist training!
Some researchers theorize that the change in women’s exercise habits is the reason women’s waists are more “up and down” than they were 50 years ago. Do you agree? Why or why not? Have you experienced it with your own figure?
To your fabulous life!
Resource: Clothes Make Magic by Emmi Cotten, 1949, New York: E.P. Dutton & Co, Inc. (This is an Amazon.com affiliate link. If you click on the link and decide to buy the book, Amazon will pay me a small finder’s fee. Thank you for supporting Modern Retro Woman in this way!)
Photo credit: classic_film 1949 Fall Fashions, Wool Jersey & Lace Eveningwear (2 pages) via photopin (license)
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