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How to Wear Formal Dresses to Look Slim at the Waist

author image Tarah Damask
Tarah Damask's writing career began in 2003 and includes experience as a fashion writer/editor for Neiman Marcus, short fiction publications in "North Texas Review," a self-published novel, band biographies, charter school curriculum and articles for various websites. Damask holds a Master of Arts in English and creative writing from the University of North Texas.
How to Wear Formal Dresses to Look Slim at the Waist
Miss Ohio USA Kristin Marie Smith competes in a slim waist gown at the 2013 Miss USA Pageant in Las Vegas. Photo Credit Ethan Miller/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

There's something alluring about the idea of pulling on a waist-slimming formal dress. From visions of Southern belles to fairy tale princesses, a pulled-in waist just screams formal wear. However, when you're not accustomed to wearing a fancy gown that focuses so closely on creating a particular shape, you may not know exactly how to make your approach. Consider some easy-to-follow guidelines and dress ideas to make your experience a cinch.

Belt It

Whether you've opted for a dress that is already naturally slimming at the waist, or you've found a formal dress that you wish had a narrower waist, leave it to the accessories to do the work for you. Adding a belt to your look will define the waist, the narrowest part of your body, and bring the focus there. All bodies but apple shapes will benefit from this quick styling tool.

Create an Illusion

No matter your body type -- this includes apple shapes -- you can easily create the appearance of a slim waist when you're donning formal wear. It's not necessarily about having a slim waist or wearing a body conscious dress; the effect can come from visual tricks for the illusion of a tinier waistline. For example, imagine a fitted black dress with white side panels that curve inward at your midsection, creating the visual impression of a slimmer hourglass figure. Or, reach for a dress with an allover color or pattern that becomes darker as it nears your waist and lighter as it moves away to create the look of slimness.

Dress Your Body Type

Choosing a dress that works with your body is essential to getting your formal dress to look slim at the waist. For example, a cinched waist dress will look stunning on an hourglass figure but will not flatter an apple body. Flip through fashion magazines and speak with a stylist in your local boutique to find a dress that suits your figure and remember to try on several dresses. Women with hourglass figures, consider fit-and-flare dresses or body conscious dresses. If you have an apple body, look for dresses that fit without hugging your body closely -- use tricks such as a fabric with a darker waist to create a visual effect. For wedge bodies, reach for a dress with a fitted top and a voluminous skirt for balance. Pear-shaped bodies, grab a dress with a slim waist construction and an open neckline, such as a bateau neck, and added visual width in the shoulders, such as puff- or cap-sleeves.

Choose a Dramatic Shape

Regardless of your body shape, if your goal is to wear a formal dress with the appearance of a slim waist, consider going for a dramatic dress shape that achieves the appearance for you without much extra work. Reach for a ball gown with a fitted bodice and a voluminous skirt every time. Simply focus on the neckline to flatter your body. For example, a pear-shaped body needs width on top, so grab a dress with an open neckline and sleeves that drape over your shoulders; wedge bodies, do the opposite and consider a more refined neckline. A boyish frame gains curves with a sweetheart or scoop neckline. For apple bodies, reach for a V neckline to create a longer looking torso.

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