Reader Request: Styling High Waists

How to wear high waist skirts and how to wear high waist pants

Laura e-mailed me this request:

I think it would be great if you could write about the high-waist trend (i.e. what types of tops to wear to balance a high waisted skirt, how to balance high waisted pants). I just can’t seem to figure it out without it looking strange, and I assume others feel the same way. I guess hip huggers have just been in style too long!

Since high-waisted bottoms bring the perceived waistline upward, each woman will need to consider how that impacts her proportions. Women with larger busts and long or short torsos may find that high waistlines emphasize these features. Some will love that, some will hate it, some will be neutral … but it’s worth noting. High waists also mean that a defined break in your outfit hits higher on your body than usual, which means that shoulder span, hairstyle, and jewelry should be considered. All three are going to be closer than usual to your waistband, so giant shoulders, hair, or jewels may feel like too much.

Although high waistlines can be hidden beneath untucked shirts, most often you’ll want to show them off. That means tucking! In my experience, button-front shirts tend to work beautifully tucked into high-waisted skirts and pants. The style hearkens back to dressier times, and the structure and formality of a button-front fits right in. Button-fronts also create a narrow v-neckline, which means you can do a fun necklace but allow it to just peek out from the shirt collar. If that style of top won’t work for you, consider something fairly close-fitting. Certain slim-fitting high-waisted bottoms look gorgeous with billowy, voluminous tops tucked into them, but that pairing is much trickier to pull off, in my experience.

Since this style is all about the waist, feel free to emphasize it even further by adding a belt. Doing so may allow you to bring the perceived waistline down just a smidgen by belting an inch or two into the high waist area of the garment. If you opt for a button-front shirt, you could also try knotting it at the hem which will pull the shirt body in a bit.

Again, this style may feel challenging for those who already struggle to balance their figures. High-waisted silhouettes are exaggerated and purposely imbalanced, which may be off-putting to some. But skirts and pants with high waists can be comfortable, elegant, and eye-catching, so don’t knock ’em till you’ve tried ’em!

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  • I love that Black, white and red outfit. It’s probably one of my favourites of yours. So flattering and awesome.

  • I have wide shoulders and a high waist, so I’ve always disliked high waisted looks. I was so glad when pants waists slipped to below the navel (although I like them to stay above the panty line thankyouverymuch). I do have a couple of higher-waisted skirts and I like wearing them because they have defined waists and tops stay tucked in, but I feel like I have to bring the waistline lower with a wide heavy belt through the belt loops. And I always wear the lightest of soft shell tops with them — nothing bulky or widening like a button down, nothing close around my throat.

  • I like a high-waisted look but haven’t pulled one off successfully yet – I’m looking for a fabulous skirt like your red one, but knee-length. Then I shall feel free to copy your look : > You look fierce in both these outfits!

  • Susan

    Supposedly, high waisted styles are “ideal” for my body type (tall, long slender waist, balanced hips/shoulders). However, I am mostly on “Team back” when it comes to pants, as I have very small breasts but a more prominent and athletic behind. High waisted pants often don’t flatter a backside, making it look flat and long. I guess if you have feminine assets on top, that can work, but I since I like the accentuate what I’ve got, lower waisted pants on my go-to.
    Some higher waisted skirts are OK, though. I like the vintage look of a slim fitting, high waisted skirt that hit just below the knee with a fitted turtleneck or similar light sweater, worn with flats. Very 1950s casual.

  • I have a long torso so love the higher waist trend. Number one, it’s what I grew up with in the 80s so I still have a tendency to “go there”, which my 13 year old daughter thinks is insane (higher waists have not hit the teen market yet, lol!). Number two, higher-waisted items might actually fit near my actual waist. I have too long a rise for low-rise pants and showing off too much butt and belly drives me nuts.

    I’m happy to see this post! Thanks.

  • Anna

    The two outfits you show are lovely, but to my eye they are not high-waisted. I think of a high waist as resembling an Empire style, somewhere below the bust but above the natural waist. To me, the smallest part of the waist is the natural waist, and that is where both those outfits hit. How did the lower waist of recent years become the “real” waist? Anatomy has not changed. I am just plain baffled by this terminology!

    • Nuranar

      You are so right! I think it’s just a shift in terminology, because the “waist” has been low for what, 20 years now? and a shift in definition has occurred in pretty much everyone’s mind. My actual waist is a good 2″ ABOVE my navel. And I have to say, on an hourglass, it looks awesome to wear the waist there. Maybe not the typical long, slim-hipped awesome, but a totally different kind of awesome.
      A true “Empire” high waist is right below the bust.

    • Thursday

      So with you on that! The low waist seems to have dominated fashion for so long that the natural waist seems to be some kind of extreme…

      I wear everything at the natural (high?) waist – my hips are very wide in comparison to my waist and upper half, so emphasising the narrowest part of my torso helps to create a visual balance and flatters the hips. And it’s such a great vintage look. I don’t really wear trousers though, but it works for dresses, and full or pencil skirts for me.

  • I tend toward wearing either flowy tops OR exaggerated bottoms. Usually, this means I wear flowy tops and close-fitting bottoms because it can be challenging to dress a curvy tummy in high waisted garments. When I do feel like changing it up and throwing on something high-waisted, I always tend toward close-fitting shirts, normally in a dark color to minimize my shoulders, since I am an apple-shape.

  • Aziraphale

    Ahahahaaa. Nope, not on my figure. Not high-waisted pants, at any rate. Fewer silhouettes look sillier on me than a shirt tucked into high-waisted, flowy pants. It’s like by boobs are walking around on two long sticks, with no torso in between. Which is too bad, because I quite like the look on others.

    I do actually have a few high-waisted pencil skirts, and those, by contrast, work very well. But I cover up the high waist with a form-fitting top, so I don’t think that counts. The high waist of the skirt had a girdling effect on my belly, while the top, which has to have some built-in shape to it, defines my waist and adds volume to my hips, creating an hourglass effect.

  • D

    I…I am not a fan. I’m not a full on hater, but I don’t feel comfortable in high waisted anything. This may be partially because I have a pretty short torso, so this could look really strange on me. Also, I hate tucking in my shirt.

    I will concede that it can look good on other people sometimes. Your lovely red skirt outfit above is wonderful!

  • Cleo

    I’m on team “short torso,” so I thought the look was unflattering on me… And it mostly is! But once in a while, I still do it, when I want to look especially put together.
    I might cheat a little with it though – use a long scarf to rebalance things out a bit, for instance (close to your second look), or belt a little lower than I “should” in a color close to that of my shirt…

  • Ellen

    I’ve got a long torso, shorter legs, and a small waist, so the high waisted pants work well for my figure. I’m a bit relieved the low rise thing is no longer the only option!

  • H.

    I am a big fan of high-waisted skirts. I like to tuck-in a cami or thin t-shirt and layer with a cardigan, which I often belt. But to rock the high-waisted skirt, I had to accept that my little lower-tummy bulge would always be there and that it was just a natural part of my body.

    For some reason, I don’t gravitate as much towards high-waisted pants. Not sure why.

  • Bubu

    This is so enlightening just to finally understand why this look DOESN’T work on me: because I am short and hourglassy, with a short waist and broad shoulders. I always heard the “emphasize your smallest part”, i.e., waist, but whenever I tried it I looked all chopped up and hippy… so now I get it. That said, I do think more fitted is always better to avoid dumpy, but prefer things more monochromatic or fluid.

  • Gwen

    I’m a huge fan! With my long torso & short legs, the low rise years were dark. High waisted skirts and pants, on the other hand, make me feel positively glamorous.

    • LinB

      Exactly! Had to make my own trousers for at least a decade, since natural-fiber, all-the-way-to-the-waist trousers were nonexistent in rtw (at least in my price range). High-waisted garments give a needed break in the eye’s travel down my longer than average torso.

  • i think high waisted bottoms look sooo classy. i have a large (maybe huge?) bust though, so they make me nervous. but i try to suck it up and channel joan from mad men. so far so good. belts help.

  • I hated hip huggers passionately. I never abandoned my natural waist, I just wore my shirt untucked for years and years, to camouflage my unfashionyness. Now I do tuck a bit more, but only skirts. Having high, square hips, tucking pants make my behind look huge, and while it´s ok to have a huge bum, I don´t particularly like it on me. I have ended up with shirts that go with skirts, and shirts that go with pants, and I´m not really able to analyze what works and why, but trying stuff on and photographing myself from behind is the trick. The mirror tells me nothing anymore.

  • Sonja

    I own some high-waisted pants, but have never worn them “as such”, because I’ve never been one for tucking. I have a big butt and bit of a tummy, and high-waisted pants already emphasize that, but with something tucked in, it looks even worse, so I’ve alway hidden them underneath long tops. Last week I bought a very thin blouse that is a bit looser and wider than what I usually wear, and tried to tuck it into a skirt. It looked great! That has been my first successful tucking since ca. 1994, so I will slowly explore this new path and maybe, maybe even show of my high-waisted pants.
    Also, does anybody remember Carrie Bradshaw in those high waisted pin-striped pants and the white blouse with the red dots? I wasn’t that much into the suspenders, but all in all she looked so cute!