Why I don’t like empire waistlines

I clearly remember the empire waist being in style at some point back when I was a teenager and a busty friend complaining to me about all the cute things, like empire waists, that looked so much better on smaller boobs. I couldn’t agree more at the time, which is why I don’t understand how they have become such a staple for boob-friendly clothing companies. Note that an empire waist (sitting just under the bust) is different from a high waist (sitting a bit above the navel).

About fashion page on “Empire” : “Best on slender-on-top or petite figures”

Wikipedia’s page on Empire silhouette : “The outline is especially flattering to pear shapes”

Now, most busty women are either apple shaped or hourglasses. And while some items with an empire waist might work depending on the shape, length and neckline, I just dont get why it is touted as universally flattering.  There are three things that bother me about empire waists:

  • They make you look pregnant. Especially (but not only)if the top/dress is kind of floaty like a babydoll.

Case in point: compare these two pictures of the same model.

These type of clothing emphasize the bust and erase the waist, unless they are extremely fitted.

This dress is not really floaty, but the model’s waist is nowhere to be seen.

I like people offering me a seat in public transport as much as the next girl but I’d rather not wear something that hide the smallest part of my body (and trust me I don’t have a nipped in waist) while outlining what’s already large, which brings me to the next point.

  • They make yours boobs look bigger. I’m not advocating for busty women to spend their life camouflaging, but I don’t know many H+ cup women who actually want to make their chest appear larger than it is. Add in a scoop or square necline and while our A cup sisters will look like a dainty medieval young lady, the result on an H+ cleavage will be more not-so-classy milkmaid.


  • They make your boobs look saggy. This can be mitigated if the top is long and fitted, but as a general rule the illusion of your boobs sitting just on your waist is not the best look in my opinion.
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21 Responses to Why I don’t like empire waistlines

  1. spacelib says:

    I have a couple of empire line tops and I find them really flattering. However I also have a dress that I need to wear to a work do on Friday and trying it on again I am shocked how big I look in it, not sure I am ready for my colleagues to realise just how busty I am!!! Oh well it’s too late to buy anything new so empire line and J cup combination it is ….

    • astrid says:

      Sometimes, they do work. I have this one form fitting top with a deep V-neck, that I really like. I just think that they are unflattering most of the time.

  2. June says:

    I’m a J cup who like empire lines. I think for me, though, it also helps that I don’t have the typical hourglass shapped with a nipped in waist so, for instance, the red tank top on the BiuBiu model wouldn’t be very flattering on me because it shows off your waist, which is actually about 2″ larger than my underbust.

    All that being said, it helps if the part below the fitted underbust is very well fitted. It’s the difference between the Porto and the Etna in my post here: http://braslessinbrasil.blogspot.com.br/2012/04/biubiu-lovin-part-1-strechy-clothes.html The Porto still fit well around the rest of my midsection whereas the Etna was too big in the body, hence, the pregnant look. ;)

    I guess that’s a long winded way of saying I like empire waist lines as long as the body section is fitted and doesn’t flow out (granted, that’s typically the style, though).

    • astrid says:

      Hey June, your comment got stuck in my spam box for some reason. Anyway, the empire waist lines with a flowy body sections are the ones I find always unflattering. I’m not even an hourglass (although my back is sort of V shaped) and I’m not sure the model in the pictures is, but the black top make her look like she’s expecting.
      The Porto top looks great on you, but I’m not sure it would work on me.

  3. Hannah Jean says:

    I sew a lot of my own tops, and from a fitting perspective empire waists are a GODSEND. They isolate the area that’s larger than average– your bust, so it can be fitted really well without messing with the whole pattern. I think that makes it easier for companies to fit the patterns to different bust measurements without affecting fit in other areas.

    Personally I really like to wear empire waists as well. When they fit correctly, rather than bisecting or smushing your boobs, they can show off what is the smallest part of most women: the braband area. This is great because even if you know how large a woman’s bust, you can’t be sure is she has a small or large waist. And, even though my waist is 2-3″ smaller than my bra band, I still look pretty thin in an empire waist because the difference isn’t that great and there’s no fabric hanging from my bust. It can be a more carefree, less structured or shaped style that’s perfect for cute, floaty fabrics. I think it just adds variety to my wardrobe and is a good candidate for a wide belt.

    • astrid says:

      Thanks for your perspective! I can see how it could make construction easier and that might explain why it’s such a popular choice for retailers. I disagree that the braband area is the smallest part of most women though. I think the natural waist is smaller on just as many women. Good for you that you look good with an empire waist. As I said, I have a few that work, but most look horrendous on me.

  4. I completely agree that it can make you look pregnant. The extra material will hang away from your body at the arch of your back, adding inches to your stomach area. It looks horrible on me, especially because I’m naturally a bit swaybacked.
    The empire styles that look best on me fit snugly around my hips, and taper up to my underbust without the material becoming “flowy”. I find it pretty flattering, although it’s worth noting that I’m a pear shape.

  5. Darlene says:

    YES, YES, YES!!! I don’t mind a few empire options, and it’s true that they are the easiest to construct for full busts because of the need for more fabric around the chest than the torso, but I am SO TIRED of this being the default style for large busts. They put all the focus on the boobs, which is okay some of the time but not all the time. It’s time to exercise a little more creativity in the full bust field. (Having just said this, I am fully aware of the cost involved in developing just one style. Once a designer develops one style that works, it’s cost effective to do slight variations on that style until one makes enough sales to be able to develop new styles. Small businesses that design for the full bust market have to grow very slowly in order to ensure their survival. We can’t afford to take giant risks that wipe us out.)

    • astrid says:

      That’s the thing: the empire waist has become sort of a default style. If I were to chose one style to build variations on, I’d love to see more princess seams, which I find super flattering on a full bust regardless of the rest of the body shape.

  6. spacelib says:

    I wore the empire line dress I mentioned above to the work party a couple of weeks ago and actually got a few compliments. I think the shapewear underneath holding in my stomach was what made it OK. That the amount of alcohol I was drinking meant there was no mistake that I am NOT pregnant!!

    So I am still undecided about the empire line. Just like June I find BiuBiu’s Porto top (and the Blue Lagoon) to work very well on me and the Etna less so. I think I probably will buy more but it’s certainly not the only style in my wardrobe.

  7. I definitely don’t like empire waistlines. I’ve not found one that I think looks good on me. My underbust and waist are pretty much the same size and empires definitely make me look pregnant – completely unwanted at 21!

    I do find it very sad because I love Regency fashion and would love to be able to look good in a Regency-style dress, but I guess I’ll find out how I look if I ever find one.

  8. JudyM says:

    I (like Hannah Jean) sew most of my clothes. A full bust alteration greatly changes the lines of a top or dress; having a separate bodice (ending at waist or empire) limits the degree of distortion and alteration needed. So, it’s easier to make this style with sufficient room for a large bust as opposed to a knit tank dress, for example. One of my most flattering dresses is a cross-over vee neck empire dress that is very fitted through the underbust and waist area (more so than is shown in the Vogue Patterns line drawing.) I altered the front bodice to have princess seams, which fit my bust better than darts. http://voguepatterns.mccall.com/v8724-products-14163.php?page_id=856

  9. Lynn Dunning says:

    I so agree. I was so excited when I discovered BiuBiu, but I was quickly let down when I went to their website.They have soooooooo many empire line tops!! I absolutely hate empire lines too. I’ve always wondered why busy ladies like them, since they emphasise the bust and make the waist disappear. They make me look bigger all over, basically. No thanks.

    This also feeds into the question of why don’t the boob friendly companies make more simple V necks? They are the most universally flattering style for big boobed ladies.

  10. astrid says:

    So true about BiuBiu. I remember checking out their “new products” page some time ago (it has changed since then) and evey single item was an empire line top. The only one I could see working on my figure was the Amargos (black one with a deep V neck in the front and V neck in the back). But, they do make some really pretty dresses.
    I love simple V necks and princess seams. I’d love to see more of these.

  11. Lynn Dunning says:

    What I don’t understand is why can’t these companies make lots of v-necks or broad scoop necks in different colours? These are the most flattering style for me anyhow. I am a figure 8 shape, which is a cross between an hourglass and an apple.

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  14. xelestial says:

    I agree. I loved wearing an empire waist when I was pregnant but I’ve come to realize that’s the exact opposite of what I need with my busty shortwaistedness. But then most websites say they’re good for hourglass figures! There’s also discrepancy with pencil skirts though that’s another matter.

    I do have one long flow empire waist that works because of the length and tailored fit to my breasts from Pepperberry but it still gives me the opposite of the kind of look I should be going for.

  15. Joan Henderson says:

    I hate the empire waist. I am big busted and short waisted. I either look pregnant or just huge. I wish designers would start getting away from this. I also wish I could find companies that sold dresses that didn’t use the empire waist. I’ve searched “big busted” and “big busted and shot waisted” on Goggle and they all use the empire waist. I’s so frustrating!!!

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