The Wandering Waistline Explained

wandering waistline

The Wandering Waistline

Pulling on a pair of vintage 1980’s pleated shorts (sharkstooth print, no less), I found myself thanking the fashion gods that the best of fashions always keep coming back for a revival, thank goodness for retro style! The pleated high waist, which was a no-no for so long, finally acceptable to wear again and I’m grateful, so comfortable and so practical!

Consider for a moment, the insanely low waistline of the hipster pants and jeans from the late 90’s and early 00’s, the inevitable plumber’s bottom and the hassle of making sure that your undies (which tended to end up sticking out) didn’t have sheep or anything else ridiculous printed on them. To think that that was perfectly acceptable and yet a picture of a 1980’s pleated pants at the time looked totally unsavoury and rather hilarious, someone actually wearing them was considered tragically uncool. It’s strange how we change and how fashion changes with us, hopefully for the better!

Now the high waisted skirt and trousers are back and quite acceptable to wear again, whilst you’ll be hard pressed to find a low cut hipster in any store!

The whole experience really got me thinking about the waistline, such an integral element of fashion, the way it varies over time and place and really how important the waistline style is to the fashion movement as a whole. I thought it would be a good idea to take a look at different waistline styles, what body types they flatter and where they fit into the fashion spectrum.

Basque / Antebellum / V-shaped Waistline:

Here’s a waistline that’s perfect for those curvaceous pear shaped or hourglass shaped ladies. This classic waistline is usually reserved for ball gowns and wedding dresses and lengthens the torso whilst the full skirts normally associated with it will hide a multitude of chocolate induced sins (like serious hips and bottoms). With the bottom of the V or U well below the belly, between the hips, this style works better with a flat tummy, although the stiff material of the bodice might do well to cover those extra lumps and bumps as well.

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Dropped / Drop Waistline:

Now, this waistline we don’t really see too often in everyday fashion, maybe the fashion cycle has yet to bring this one back in full force. Think 1920’s, long cigarette holder, the wavy bob and the feather headband and then you’ll know what a dropped waistline is. We do still see this in ballgowns and wedding dresses, usually with a full skirt. This waistline lies at the mid or upper hip and works best on slim women who are looking to gain the impression of height or women with an hourglass figure…but if you already have a long torso, stay away from this style.

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Empire Waistline:

This everyday and formal favourite sits just below the bust, usually with a skirt cascading straight down from it. This style accentuates the bust and hides fat tummies, giving an impression of height and slimness…not to be worn if you have a hefty bust as it really does make the ladies look larger!

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Raised Waistline:

A horizontal waist about an inch above the natural waist, this line is often confused with the Empire line, which falls just a little higher, right beneath the breasts. This style lengthens the legs, curves the hips and shortens the torso. This effect also applies to mid and high waisted trousers. This won’t look good if you have a short torso or buxom hips!

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Diagonal / Asymmetrical Waistline:

An interesting style, most often seen in formal, wedding and office wear. Running diagonally across the waistline, this line is above the waist on one side and below the waist on the other. This waistline slims down a larger figure but won’t look right on a short person as it really cuts the figure in half.

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Inverted V / U Shape Waistline:

This style, also mostly seen in office and formal wear, wedding and ballgowns, shortens a long torso and lengthens short legs.

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Natural Waistline:

A horizontal waistline, falling directly on the natural waist. Arguably the most comfortable of waistlines, for both a two piece ensemble, like trousers and top, and a dress…the waist is where the body naturally bends and it makes sense that the narrowest point should be there. This waistline looks great on all body types as it enhances all natural curves, except for the apple shaped figure, where the waistline is the largest point. Extra tall women appear shorter with a natural waistline because of the way it divides the figure.

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No Waistline:

These dresses are sewn together in panels, and have no waistline at all.  They are suitable for any body type and create a slimming effect.

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Wedding dresses and ball gowns are one thing…but it’s really in our everyday street fashion that the wandering waistline strikes me the most.

Consider the wandering waistline on men’s trousers for instance, which reaches it’s lowest point at the age of about 16 years old (where the boxers must be seen and the pants held up with one hand, goodness forbid), it falls across the natural waistline in the late 20’s and the 30’s, after which the real waistline is never seen again as pants reach up, as high as just 7 inches below the armpit for gentlemen in their 70’s and upward…a known fact.

Indeed, fashion is a funny thing, influenced by not just time and place but a wealth of other factors and it’s exciting just to wonder…”what on earth is coming next?”

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283 Responses to The Wandering Waistline Explained

  1. Diane Kovach says:

    Great tutorial ! Thanks !

  2. Gail B says:

    I like all of the different types of waistlines and have worn all of them at one time or another, just didn’t know it until now!!

  3. Karen Thompson says:

    Natural waistline or slightly higher.

  4. Suz Anne says:

    I love the no waistline pattern. I can wear them when I’m slimmer or fatter or slightly blotted during the ‘time of the month’. Thanks for the informations on waistline.

  5. Tina Anderson says:

    thank you for explaining the different waistlines for different body shapes. I am new to sewing and I thought it was very easily understandable.

  6. Lisa says:

    Good post, thank you!

  7. Dory Koszewski says:

    I’ve always preferred the natural waistline.

  8. Hadiyah says:

    Empire waistlines suit me best..but sometimes the design allows me to go for the natural waistline. Your post was good and removed a lot of confusion for me ..Thanks 🙂

  9. Brittni P says:

    I prefer the natural waistline, but I think each one has it’s time and outfit that it pairs perfectly with.

  10. Clarissa says:

    Lots of different ideas. I’ll try some of them.

  11. Miriam says:

    I prefer a natural waistline. It was interesting reading, thank you!

  12. Jszij says:

    Nice photos and descriptions of waistlines.

  13. Emily says:

    Dropped or natural waistline here. I am fairly thin and a raised waistline of any sort elicits suggestions that I am expecting ? (from certain family members anyway).

  14. Trudi says:

    I’m SO glad pants waistlines are coming back up. Natural waistlines have always been the most flattering and most comfortable on me.

  15. Alice says:

    I like both the empire and natural waist.

  16. Noelia says:

    Very useful! I love th empire waistline, is my favorite!

  17. kitcat96 says:

    Natural Waist I think

  18. Evelyn says:

    thank you for the information

  19. Ana says:

    Inverted V waistline is my favourite- interesting and flattering!

  20. Nuria says:

    interesting article. I did not know all these names

  21. Danita says:

    Great information for all sewers!

  22. Cathy L says:

    Happy to hear that pants waistlines are back up.

  23. Vicki says:

    I love empire high waist but also enjoy just a simple plain at the waist desire!

  24. Tracy K says:

    Thank you for the interesting article – seeing all the waistline options on one page sparked my ideas & creativity! Off to the sewing room… 😉

  25. April Pinheiro says:

    This is such a great explanation of waistlines!

  26. Catarina says:

    Great info. Clear and with figure reccomendations. Made it easier to choose patterns and clothes and explained why I like a particular waistline

  27. Grace Bader says:

    I’ve tried the Empire, and my boobs looked HUGE. I like the dropped waist, but at 5’1″, that didn’t work out so well. The no waist makes me look like a tube. Soooo, I guess it would be the natural waist! 🙂

  28. Mary A says:

    This is so interesting! I never knew the names of these styles

  29. Miranda says:

    Helpful diagrams. A natural waist works best for me.

  30. Heidi S says:

    I love the line drawings demonstrating the various waistlines. So much clearer and easier to understand. Thank you!

  31. Linda Crabbe says:

    Since I’m an apple NO waistline is my favorite. long tunics

  32. Linda Crabbe says:

    Since I’m an apple shape no waistline is my favorite. I love long tunics

  33. I like no waistline, since mine disappeared. But in my younger thinner days I wore and liked them all. I think any one can be stylish and elegant but I absolutely deplore those low-waisted trousers on anyone/everyone. Muffin tops and plumber’s cracks will never be stylish or elegant.

  34. Emily M says:

    Natural waistlines, especially with a nice wide belt, always flatter my figure.

  35. Terry Oneto says:

    Love this article

  36. Dorothy speer says:

    I’m a no waistline or an empire, due to the tummy issue. My problem is I always think people consider the empire waist for pregnancy cloths unless you are in a bridal gown or evening attire. Unfortunate.

  37. Jinger says:

    I prefer the natural waistline.

  38. Laurpud says:

    I’m an apple shape, & ‘should’ wear an empire waist, but I didn’t grasp the difference between it & a raised waist. Thanks for the clear description & illustrations!

What do you think?