Ask Allie: Dressing to Hide your Belly

I'm not fat per se , but I've gained back all the weight that I lost in the first few months after giving birth. My stomach has gotten enormous, like 6th month pregnancy enormous and I hate it. I can't find anything to wear that doesn't make it even more obvious at least to me. I tend to wear jeans + t-shirt like top 99% time. Skirts are supposed to be flattering on me but I couldn't find anything I like + know what to pair with + can handle my daily commute of 1.5 hours in the bus , each direction. Shoes wise -same rut. I got wide feet and wide calves and am yet to find boots I can wear.

I have a belly. When I used to go to the gym daily and was a size 4, I still had a belly. Before I had a child, I had enough of a belly that more than one person asked when I was due. And now, after having a child and gaining/losing weight and not making much time for crunches I have a very soft midsection that Emerson finds to be the best pillow in the world. She likes it far more than I do, to me it looks as though I have one big monoboob below my actual breasts. But it’s a belly that created a human being, it’s natural, it’s me, and so I have learned to dress it and come to terms with it.

Dressing to Hide your Belly featured by popular DC curvy fashion blogger, Wardrobe Oxygen

You can dress a tummy without drawing attention it, or hiding it in layers of fabric that will make you look like a big blob. Luckily, such pieces that flatter a figure with a belly also have stretch which hold up nicely through a commute or long day, and often are available at retailers of different pricepoints.

THE BEST PIECES TO HIDE YOUR BELLY

Wrap Dresses
Be they a true wrap or faux, such a dress gives the illusion of an hourglass figure and have a double layer right at the tummy, which disguises the shape and gives it a bit of added control. Choose a style that comes to your knees to flatter your figure and be more work-appropriate. If the neckline is too low, consider a camisole or strategically-placed safety pin.

Matte jersey doesn’t wrinkle, it doesn’t stretch out, and you can throw it in the washing machine and hang it up from your shower curtain rod and it’s dry and ready to wear the next day. This fabric is stretchy polyester, but has a matte crepey feel that is more refined, not clingy, and dresses up and down with ease. I have found such dresses at Old Navy, Target, ASOS, and they are often at thrift stores (I know I have donated quite a few from my days as a merchandiser at Express).

Other fabrics I like for such a style of dress are chiffon overlay with a polyester lining (also doesn’t wrinkle easily, but can be more delicate when it comes to laundry) and ponte (a very heavyweight and tightly-woven knit that is more refined than jersey and less likely to show lumps and bumps and can be laundered like matte jersey).

How to Wear in Winter: With opaque tights (I love the Spanx Tight End Tights for extreme durability, a control top that doesn’t cut you in half, and matte opacity) and boots or shoes of most any heel height. Keep the tights and shoe the same color to lengthen the leg, black is a safe bet with most any color, even brown and navy.

Vintage-inspired Dresses
The vintage trend isn’t going away any time soon, and women with bellies are rejoicing. Be it Modcloth, eShakti, or true vintage, these dresses have a slightly higher waistband which hits at the smallest part of your torso, giving you more of an hourglass shape and allowing the skirt to hide your tummy.

With such dresses, fit is paramount. Go up a size if necessary and have it tailored, but don’t let it pull at the shoulders or bust, cinch the upper arms, or ride up in the torso. A too-small fit will only make your figure look larger.

With many of these dresses, they have a percentage of polyester which will resist wrinkles. A print also can disguise creases that may take place on your commute (or keep a bottle of Downy Wrinkle Releaser in your desk for a douse once you arrive).

How to Wear in Winter: Opaque tights yet again, make such dresses perfect for the colder weather. Again, black is a safe bet with most any color or print, keep the vintage vibe going with a T-strap or Mary Jane shoe with a thicker heel.

Wrap and Surplice Necklines
It’s amazing that a neckline can change the look of a midsection, but it really does work. A wrap or surplice (faux wrap) neckline elongates the neck, enhances the bust, and draws attention to the smallest part of your torso (bottom of your rib cage). Like a wrap dress, you end up with a double layer at the torso which disguises the tummy. Surplice tops may not have that double layer, but they often have gathered side seams which provide strategic ruching at that part of the torso.

After I had Emerson, I lived in faux wrap, wrap, and surplice tops. Sure, they were great for nursing, but they also made my figure look amazing. I’d wear a wrap sweater with a black cami and black pants for a cohesive outfit; a necklace would draw the eye up and add interest. I had a half-dozen outfits of this style and looked great without a lot of effort.

Fit and Flare Styles
When trying to draw attention away from a body part, the worst thing to do is make the fabric on that body part too loose. A baggy top over a small belly will make it look Second Trimester. A fit and flare style will skim over the slim part of your figure, flare out right where your curves are, and work with, not against your figure.

Blazers often achieve this fit and flare look for you, if they fit well. Roll up the sleeves a couple times to let your slender wrists show, wear a top underneath with a v- or scoop-neck, and the line of the open jacket will disguise the tummy and allow for that fit and flare shape. Jackets of ponte and unlined stretch fabrics will give that shape nicely without adding bulk.

Wide Calf Boots
I have very wide feet, short toes, and ginormouse calves as well as thick shins and ankles. And yet, I own several pairs of tall boots. Get out of the mall and get online to find wide-calf boots that fit your feet and your legs. Check out these posts regarding wide calf boots:

Ponte Knit Pieces
Ponte de Roma, otherwise known as ponte, is one of the greatest fabrics on the planet. It’s stretchy like jersey, but heavy enough to hide lumps and bumps. It’s a very tight refined weave that looks appropriate for work or social events, but is as comfortable as yoga pants. It is a pretty uniform fabric, so often a pair of pants from one brand will work with a jacket from another. With a fabric so heavy and tightly woven (no stretching out or bagging), it flatters soft curves and even gives them a bit of support.

I own ponte pants (fitted to slip into boots or wear with flats, fuller to wear with heels), ponte jackets (blazer style and longer trendy cuts), ponte dresses (all styles worn year round), ponte skirts (pencil, drop waist, fit and flare… you name it), ponte tops (drape-neck tanks, wrap-style tops, boatneck shells and more). I love how I can put two ponte pieces together for relaxed yet polished look appropriate for work or Sunday brunch. I love how I can usually machine wash the pieces to save time and money. And I love how the fabric works with my belly.

The goal with ponte is to find pieces that do not cut at the widest part of your belly. Drop waists, tops that end between the waistband and high hip, or shapeless styles that can tent out making the abdomen look even larger. But with styles that work with your curves, you can have a stretchy yet polished collection of garments that will survive a long commute and a busy day.

Dressing to Hide your Belly featured by popular DC curvy fashion blogger, Wardrobe Oxygen
Build a ponte collection that can mix and match with itself and other fabrics for multi-season versatility. 

Powerful Accessories to Hide your Belly

The person who notices your belly the most is yourself. I bet the majority of the people you see each day don’t even notice its size. That being said, accessories do a great job of drawing the eye to another part of the body:

  • Statement Necklaces will draw the eye up to your face. Right now such necklaces are very popular, so it’s easy to find them in any style or pricepoint. Wear inside the collar of your shirt or over a round neck for a dramatic disguiser.
  • Heels are a great way to elongate the legs, make the tummy appear to be smaller with extra height, and also draw the eye away from the middle of your figure. I believe in commuter shoes – wear one style en route, and change once you get to your desk.
  • Wide belts worn above your natural waist can create an hourglass shape and provide subtle gathering over your midsection. You’ll see in my outfit post archives that I own several wide belts and wear them at this location over dresses, cardigans, blazers, and more.

Proper Underpinnings
Control garments that cut you in half, hipsters that slide under the belly by lunchtime, bikinis that cut lines into hips… such pieces won’t make your tummy area look any better. For control garments, I like the ones that either strap to or around your bra or else come right up to the bra line. This type of garment won’t cut or emphasize your belly and give a smooth continuous line. For regular underwear, I like Hanky Panky’s Retro Thong which has a higher waist so it doesn’t cut or slide under the belly. A brief is better than a bikini for the same reason; some styles may look like granny panties but some brands make them high enough to stay put while looking darn feminine or sexy. Consider the same things when purchasing tights – Spanx makes tights that have a higher waist which prevents your tummy from being cut in half; DKNY does a good job of making an opaque durable tight with a control top that doesn’t give gas pains, fall down, or cut you in half.

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20 Comments

  1. Alison Collins
    January 19, 2018 / 12:46 am

    Hi Alison, great name! Thanks for sharing. I too have had a belly since I was 14, even when I was a size 8 (US size 4) and skinny. I also have narrow thighs, A lot of style advice assumes that if you have a tummy you have fat hips, and suggest things like straight skirts. Straight skirts make me look pregnant. I was so encouraged to read about your suggestion of flared skirts. I have been wearing flared skirts most of my life, and find that the widening effect on my hips actually helps my tummy look flatter. Also have a couple of ankle length flared skirts, which are sort of A line, empire style and these are my favourites. I think the length can also have a slimming effect, as long as they are not overly gathered at the waist.

  2. Nicky
    April 15, 2015 / 2:51 pm

    I totally agree with above article. Bought a wrap dress and short (above the knee) a-line skirt the other day.

    The skirt made me look frumpy so I will be returning it, but the wrap dress worked miracles on my big bellied size 14 body.

    Will be looking for more wrap dresses and will give fit and flare dresses a try too 🙂

  3. Madeline
    January 4, 2015 / 10:49 am

    I love all of these tips, so wonderful and helpful. Can anyone recommend a place to easily shop for items like these (I don’t like to rent) as I am a horrible shopper and grow very impatient in the store. Again, thank you and so glad I came across this board!

  4. March 5, 2014 / 4:19 pm

    Hi Allie. this is disha from india, my problem is im 4’11 and weighing 57kg. since beginning im pear shaped but offlate below my bust line everything is out of shape, what kind of dress i should wear to hide my tummy. i tried empire waist as i read somewhere to hide tummy but in that i look pregnant.. many suggested infect u r also saying to go for wrap dress but im very confused what to wear. as i like to wear maxi dresses, short dresses, jumpsuits but as per my body type what will suit me better…??

  5. December 14, 2013 / 7:27 pm

    Every woman looks incredible in a wrap dress in my opinion. It is the #1 thing I encourage people to buy if they want to update their wardrobe, and hide.. pretty much any kind of flaw.

  6. Carol
    December 14, 2013 / 12:32 pm

    Love the post, so many of us struggle with this. Don’t forget a well fitting bra, it does wonders for the whole midsection.

  7. NeenaJ
    December 12, 2013 / 4:00 pm

    Thanks, Allie! I can relate to every single thing you’ve written here. I find myself being drawn to button down shirts these days – untucked over dress pants with a statement necklace and blazer or long cardigan. It’s a very forgiving, work-appropriate look for me.

  8. foodfashionandflow
    December 12, 2013 / 2:19 pm

    This is such great advice. The fit and flare dresses are very forgiving and it is by far, my favorite dress silhouette since I have gotten older. Flowy tunic tops and skinny jeans are also great for this problem.

  9. Beverly
    December 12, 2013 / 11:10 am

    Your blog is always great, but “belly” really hits home. I’m 67, a retired professor, and have what I call an hereditary/menopausal/overweight belly and I can look “matronly” with little effort [sorry for the judgement, but matronly is not who I am]. Years ago, I started loving what is now called lagenlook, which works so well for me. It’s not about embracing curves, but more about beautiful fabrics, colors, jewelry, shoes—and an attitude. Just want to add this to the mix—-lagenlook makes me feel lovely and powerful, belly and all.

  10. Katy Rotman
    December 12, 2013 / 1:28 am

    The funny thing is, it took me a whole 3 seconds to realize why does this reader Q seems so familiar… Hmm.. ‘Cause I’m the one who asked it 😀
    Thank you sooo sooo much ! You’re the best 🙂 It comes so handy today right after I purged some more of my winter clothes due to them being perfectly wrong fit for me 😀

  11. Agirl
    December 11, 2013 / 11:02 pm

    Great post as always from the amazing Allie, and I can so relate. A stomach is so very hard and frustrating to hide.
    I’ve had three c- sections and despite being back to my pre- pregnancy size 8 I have a belly no matter what. One thing I love to wear is straight leg jeans with a loose, feminine blouse on top. I like to wear this with combat boots or something else to ” toughen up” the girly blouse. The loose blouse disguises my stomach. Also this may sound strange but I like shirts with horizontal ruffles. I wear these sometimes under long, open cardigans. The ruffles disguise stomach and the open cardigans act almost like curtains, drawing the eye top to bottom for length.

  12. December 11, 2013 / 7:59 pm

    My lower abdomen is big for my body and the fat is lopsided so it looks super weird. A good bra is key because it makes my torso look smaller. I also subscribe to Gwynnie Bee and like trying out different styles of dresses – some of them make my stomach look positively normal!

  13. December 11, 2013 / 5:45 pm

    This is awesome advice. I have a major belly problem too, the post baby weight just making it worse! I found that getting a great pair of tummy control jeans to wear with my old tops works wonders!

  14. Beth @ Turn2theSimple
    December 11, 2013 / 4:07 pm

    Thanks! Love the suggestions…I need to get some ponte, even for this SAHM! One thing that I have discovered this past year is diastisis recti…separation of the abdominal muscles that often happens during pregnancy. I had a very mild one and “fixed” it in about a week with exercise (fit2b). This made a huge difference in my midsection and that is even with not loosing any weight/fat! I still have a bit of a belly, but it is much improved.

  15. em
    December 11, 2013 / 3:17 pm

    Oh I should include I love the rest of the post anyway and find it helpful, so that you don’t think I was just fixating on those things 🙂

  16. em
    December 11, 2013 / 3:15 pm

    Ali, you may have a bit of a tummy to your shape but you are also sooo lucky to be as balanced as you are with your bust size! When I’m at a weight or fitness level where my tummy is so much there, wrap dresses and tops don’t work for me because there is not proportionately the nice bust size compared to the tummy to bring it all together! Then I don’t know what to do and just drape myself in frump until I get it sorted physically (which takes longer and longer the older I get – 38).

    • December 11, 2013 / 3:20 pm

      It’s so funny because with my bust wrap styles usually are too small and I end up displaying far too much so I have to size up to accommodate my bust! Oh our female snowflake bodies, no two are the same and hardly anything fits off the rack on anyone

      • Kitty
        December 11, 2013 / 10:48 pm

        I’ve never been able to pull off the wrap dress well either even though they are always recommended for my body shape. I think I learned why in a book I read recently. Sorry – I can’t remember the title/author. He said what makes a wrap dress flattering is that it pulls out-in-out on the body. So if you don’t have the bust or the hips to pull it back out at the top and bottom – it just will never lay right because that’s how it was designed and cut to fit. Ah-ha!
        Like “em” above – I missing one of the features that pulls it back out – mine is no rear/hips.

  17. elye
    December 11, 2013 / 1:50 pm

    This is so great! Like the perfect style guide for the rest of my life. I’m loving the retro trend too, actually embracing the fact that almost ALL women have some curves 🙂

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