A reader reached out asking how to disguise a belly in the summer. Below I share her email as well as tips on how to disguise a belly in the summer with what you wear and how to style outfits to not make one's stomach take the spotlight.
I have a large stomach that can easily pass for being seven or more months pregnant if I let it hang out and do not camouflage. Wearing A-line garments is tricky because I inevitably get asked if I'm pregnant.
My “uniform” is slacks, a fitted tee or shirt, and a sweater or jacket, but you can see how this becomes tricky in the summer heat. Also, to accommodate my stomach, my pants often end up baggy in the rear (I have a tiny ass and thin legs). I want pants that fit but don't call attention to my stomach, aren't saggy in the bottom, and that is classic or on trend. My preferred style is classic and polished.
What do you recommend?
This post was originally published in June 2017 and due to reader requests and new styles, was updated in April 2021.
Tips on How to Disguise a Belly in the Summer
1. Let's Start with the Bottom Half: Pants, Jeans, and Shorts
Oh pants, they can be such a pain when you have curves. But they’re so versatile and easy to style, and so perfect for so many occasions. When it comes to really great pants in plus size that look classic and polished, I have to recommend the Kady pant from ELOQUII.
It’s made of this thick, tightly-knit doubleweave stretch fabric that looks professional yet can dress down. The fabric is made that it holds its shape, no saggy bum or diaper effect after a day sitting at your desk. They’re an ankle length, which is also flattering and perfect to pair with summer shoes.
They come in three lengths as well as three fits – their “Gena” fit is for those who have a fuller midsection and smaller hips and thighs. their “Viola” fit is for those who have hips that are one to two sizes larger than their bust, and their “Regular” fit is for those with hips and bust proportional and a defined waistline.
Shop the ELOQUII Kady Pant:
If ELOQUII doesn't fit your body well (we're all shaped differently, the problem isn't you but the clothes), check out Universal Standard. Offering sizes 00-40 with several pant styles in petite and tall and hundreds of customer reviews, you may find exactly the right pants to fit your frame.
I am a fan of Universal Standard pants because I feel that they are made for a body with a belly. I can achieve the sleek, slim, and crisp pants look I desire without busting out above the legs.
Universal Standard's color and fabric selection is more limited than ELOQUII, but the quality is stellar and they make for great wardrobe workhorses you can style a variety of ways.
Shop Pants from Universal Standard:
If you're looking for jeans, I highly recommend Talbots. I bought a pair of their white ankle jeans and wore them on a cross-country flight I found them so comfortable. Even more amazing, when I arrived at my destination the jeans weren't stretched out!
They wash like a dream, come in a dozen different silhouettes, have a curvy fit, long/tall options, petite in straight and plus sizes, pull-on styles, and extensive customer reviews to help you find the right pair for you.
And if you think Talbots is for a certain age you haven't tried their clothes lately… you'll be pleasantly surprised.
Shop My Picks for Talbots Jeans:
When it comes to shorts, I know this can be a difficult topic. I like a longer short which will balance the midsection. A color that is lower contrast (white, beige, and faded denim for paler skintones; black, olive, and darker denim for deeper skintones for example) will look stylish and will elongate the figure.
An unexpected place where I have found great shorts that look good, slim the midsection, and are comfortable is Spanx. Yes Spanx! Offering up to size 3X, Spanx has a great Bermuda short that is a 10″ inseam. The Spanx Get Moving Skort is 15″ making it a great length to prevent thigh chafing while still looking modern. And for those who are shorter, their 6″ Get Moving Short is a great option.
Again, I must recommend Talbots for dressing your bottom half. Talbots has a great range of shorts where you can choose rise, length, and curvy or classic fit in misses, petite, plus, and plus petite. As a 5'3″ woman who carries her weight in her belly and rear, I am a fan of their 7″ Perfect Shorts. For taller bodies, their 10.5″ Perfect Short is a bestseller for good reason.
Shop My Picks for Shorts:
2. Now Let's Dress the Top Half:
As for tops, steer clear from trapeze or a-line tops like you mentioned, as well as anything with an empire waistline (below the bust, above the natural waist). Those are stereotypically found in maternity fashion. Instead, you want something fitted, or that is gathered to create the effect of a waist at or below your natural waistline.
Surplice or faux wrap style tops and wrap dresses are great for this. Also, don't be afraid of tops that have a gently elasticized waist or a self-belt at the waist. Instead of adding bulk, it will help create the effect of an hourglass shape.
By creating the effect of a waist, whether or not you “go in” in the middle, it will balance the figure thereby minimizing focus on the midsection.
This carousel of images below showcases tops of this type currently available in stores. You can use the arrows to scroll through the images to find a top you like. Click on the photo and a separate browser window will open directing you to the site offering the top.
Shop Tops To Disguise a Midsection:
Since you say you have slim legs, I am betting you also have arms that you don’t mind being seen. Showing your arms will not only keep you cool in the summer but also elongate your frame and balance your figure.
Sleeveless, semi-sleeveless with a ruffle covering the top of the shoulder, or even a cap sleeve will likely flatter and look polished. Having that bit of shoulder detail will balance the body and keep the eye looking up. Steer clear of deeply cut armholes, racerbacks, or halters as even when the top is fitted, they create a triangle shape to the body, emphasizing the midsection.
As for length, I think it’s up to you for comfort. I’ve seen women with large stomachs look phenomenal in tucked-in blouses or tops that hit right at the waistband, while others look better in tops that hit mid-hip. Tunics can be tough as again that’s a length that is popular in maternity fashion; if you prefer some length to cover the rear I say go even longer.
The dress over pants look is back in style (and honestly if you do it right, a style that is never unstylish). Consider longer tops or shorter dresses in lightweight fabrics over slim but structured pants or longer shorts (not leggings, again that’s too typical maternity and not polished) for a very chic and modern look.
While many style gurus recommend wearing a column of color (same color top as trousers) to slim the figure, I think in this case it may emphasize your belly. Having a top with interest – gathers, a ruffle or drape, a tie neckline, a print – will camouflage your midsection without effort. Prints are our friend as they create an optical illusion.
I find the best optical illusions come from black and white patterns and they look so crisp with white pants and can winterize easily when the temps cool. Again, I offer another carousel of tops that create an optical illusion with prints.
Shop Tops that Create an Optical Illusion at the Midsection:
And speaking of patterns, they don’t have to be reserved for the top. A fabulously printed pant can draw attention away from your midsection. Especially when paired with a black top (which recesses), this can be a very chic look. I love a black and white printed ankle pant; add a colorful sandal for even more style points and to again draw the eye away from the torso.
3. Consider Your Accessories:
Accessories can make a major difference. As I mentioned, colorful shoes can add style but also bring the eye down. The same holds true for colorful statement earrings. Earrings are better than shorter necklaces or bold bracelets for making a statement as they are farther away from your midsection.
If you do wish to wear a necklace, look for a long chain with a pendant that will elongate the frame. Have fun with sunglasses – big plastic frames, ‘70s inspired aviators or rose-tinted shades, anything that creates a bit of a statement while adhering to your personal style.
With bags, a big bulky shoulder bag that hangs at waist- to hip-length will only enlarge that part of the body. And in the summer heat, who wants to lug around a big heavy bag anyway? Consider totes, single strap backpacks to carry lots of gear and clutch bags when you don’t need to bring much.
4. Find a Tailor:
This is the advice that is the least desired, but the most important to really feel confident with what you wear. Don't expect to have clothing fit you off the rack. No one can dress off the rack. Those celebrities with enviable style? They employ tailors. That really stylish woman in your office? I'll bet she has a tailor. No matter your shape, size, or age, you will look better and feel more comfortable if your clothes are tailored to fit.
Do not wait until you've lost weight or just for your fancier or more expensive pieces; everything in your closet will likely improve with some tailoring. Not only that, when you have clothes that fit your current body, you will have less of a desire or need to shop, and find you achieve more style with fewer items in your closet.
I'm telling you, properly fitting clothing will minimize the appearance of your stomach, make your body look more proportional, improve your posture, and emphasize the parts of you that you want to be the focus. It's a real gamechanger.
Shop for the largest part of you, whether it is your stomach, bust, hips, rear, or a combination. Then a tailor (or seamstress or sewist) can modify the rest of the garment to work with, not against you. Start small; have a tailor shorten the hem on a pair of pants or the sleeve on a jacket. But when you find a tailor you trust, they can achieve amazing things. For example, my tailor will take a pair of pants and slightly taper them below my rear and on the sides of pants so there is room for my belly and bum, but no sagginess underneath which just makes those curves look both bigger and less firm.
Where to find a tailor? Check Yelp, ask on your local Facebook page or NextDoor. If there is a bridal shop in town, ask if they have a seamstress who will take outside projects. A local theater likely knows of a seamstress that helps with costumes; that person may also do alterations. If there is a pageant community nearby, they likely know of quality tailors and seamstresses. An unexpected place is a bra boutique; they often have clients who have had body reconstruction and know of individuals who have helped their clients modify their wardrobe to accommodate the change.
This may seem intimidating or overwhelming, but if you keep shopping but feel you still have nothing to wear, if you are uncomfortable in your wardrobe, if you find what is in stores doesn't seem to work with your body… a tailor will transform your relationship with clothes and in the long run save you money. And tailors are like therapists… they have seen everything and your body is nothing weird or awful or bad. You are a client and they want their client to feel great.
5. The Most Important Styling Tip:
And finally, the most important accessory to wear is confidence. When you feel good, you look good. You stand taller, you have better posture, you rock your outfit, and people notice the whole package, the amazing woman, not one specific body part.