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6 Ways to Dress to Hide a Belly Bulge

Structured jackets, untucked shirts and monochromatic outfits divert attention from a thick midsection


spinner image Steve Carell, Jodie Foster, Valerie Bertinelli, Gayle King and Olivia Colman
(Left to right) Steve Carell, Jodie Foster, Valerie Bertinelli, Gayle King and Olivia Colman
Photo Collage: AARP; (Source: Photo by Rocco Spaziani/Archivio Spaziani/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images; Photo by Gregg DeGuire/Deadline via Getty Images; Photo by Dia Dipasupil/WireImage; Photo by Gotham/GC Images; Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images; Getty Images)

Here’s the truth. Everyone over 50 — regardless of size, shape or weight — complains about their belly. Of course, the size of that pooch and its disruptive powers differ person to person. For some it’s a daily battle with zippers that won’t budge, buttons that gape and waistbands that pinch. For others, a bloated belly is temporary and arrives post-vacation (especially after cruises!) with digestive issues, or after a weekend salt binge. We all blame menopause, stress, sleepless nights (and late-night snacks!), lack of exercise, a lazy metabolism and the lure of sugar, carbs and processed foods. But it is time to stop piling on the shape wear and wishing for an Ozempic prescription and to start making your wardrobe your best ally. Here’s how to battle the bulge and win in style:

spinner image Gayle King, Helen Mirren and Jennifer Coolidge
(Left to right) Gayle King, Helen Mirren and Jennifer Coolidge
Photo Collage: AARP; (Source: Photo by Massimo Insabato/Archivio Massimo Insabato/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images; Photo by Gilbert Flores/Variety via Getty Images)

1. Wear bold attention-getting prints

Allover prints and dramatic florals are a fashionable version of military-inspired camouflage. The eye-catching blooms and swirly splashy designs take a hint from “Where’s Waldo?” and hide the bulge in plain sight. You don’t need to resort to dark colors either, anything goes — from pastels to brights. Think about the way decorative wallpaper disguises a bumpy wall, festive print slipcovers hide lumpy couch cushions and colorful patterned rugs keep crumbs, lint and pet hairs a secret. It’s the same thing with clothes and tummies! While the clothes shown here on celebs are tailored fit-and-flare dresses and pencil skirts, the same trickery works for softer styles like boho dresses with Empire necklines and flounces and pull-on elastic waist A-line skirts. Try Anthropologie, Natural Life and J. Crew for affordable florals that’ll do the job all season long.

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spinner image Olivia Colman, Pamela Anderson and Alfre Woodard
(Left to right) Olivia Colman, Pamela Anderson and Alfre Woodard
Photo Collage: AARP; (Source: Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images; Photo by Stefanie Keenan/VF24/WireImage for Vanity Fair; Photo by Unique Nicole/FilmMagic)

2. Go for the flow-y dress

Loose dresses that whoosh right past your middle are an instant and stylish solution to belly banishing — no shape wear necessary (and you don’t need to “suck it in,” either). The effect is confident, regal and kind of liberating, as evident on the red carpet lately. However, there’s a difference in fit between baggy and shapeless and an intentional flowing design. For example, in the celeb dresses, note the ruched and pleated details, sculpted necklines and sleeves, and of course graceful draping. Regular folks like us who want a casual lifestyle version of this solution can look for tiered A-line sundresses or loose shift styles. For a shapelier version of a flow-y dress, try “ballet” style dresses that are a combo of body defining stretchy tank top with a full pleated skirt that hides all. Longer midi and maxi styles provide the waist-down airy fullness that’s an essential part of all these dresses, which can be found everywhere from Target to Walmart and Old Navy. Add a pair of sandals, ballet flats or sneakers and have some guilt-free frozen yogurt.

spinner image Octavia Spencer, Steve Carell and Catherine Deneuve
(Left to right) Octavia Spencer, Steve Carell and Catherine Deneuve
Photo Collage: AARP; (Source: Photo by Kayla Oaddams/FilmMagic; Photo by Rocco Spaziani/Archivio Spaziani/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images; Photo by Marilla Sicilia/Archivio Marilla Sicilia/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)

3. Wear one color head to toe

Going monochromatic is a tried-and-true belly banisher that everyone can use right now (and it works for guys too). All you need to do is pair tops and bottoms that match, nearly match or are in the same color family — for example black, gray or navy — for a tonal effect. Include a range of fabrics since a mix of textures helps expand your outfit options and personalizes every look. The column of color you’ve created visually registers as one sleek line, whether you tuck, untuck or semi-tuck in a top. Stand back and squint slightly in front of a full-length mirror to test the results. If the color flows from head to toe you’ve got it right. And yes, pairings and mixes of relaxed pieces that don’t cling work better.

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spinner image Kate Winslet, Valerie Bertinelli and Vivica A Fox
(Left to right) Kate Winslet, Valerie Bertinelli and Vivica A. Fox
Photo Collage: AARP; (Source: Photo by John Nacion/Variety via Getty Images; Photo by Dia Dipasupil/WireImage; Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images)

4. Let pants and a blazer do a tummy tuck

The straight sharp lines of tailored pantsuits and blazer/pant duos have enough structure to gently reshape and firm the torso, and there are plenty of tricks to choose from. A double-breasted blazer (also known as a DB) offers even more coverage than a single breasted one, thanks to the double layer of fabric right where it does the most good: over your belly. A single-breasted jacket has other values. Worn with a matching pant, it creates the same “column of color” effect in tip number 3; worn open it frames the belly to trim your middle at the sides like the curtains on a window. Oversized blazers like so-called boyfriend styles add even more extra coverage thanks to the looser fit. One of the best tricks is to wear a blazer in a contrasting lighter or brighter color over a dark top and matching pants, for example a white jacket over a black tank and pants. And, of course, make sure the pants you choose have a high enough rise to tuck in that belly! Not a blazer fan? You can also consider other belt-free jacket styles like a peplum, utility or shirt jacket.

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spinner image Gabrielle Union, Keith Urban and Jodie Foster
(Left to right) Gabrielle Union, Keith Urban and Jodie Foster
Photo Collage: AARP; (Source: Photo by Gotham/GC Images; Photo by Rick Kern/Getty Images for CMT; Photo by Gregg DeGuire/Deadline via Getty Images)

5. Untuck and stand up straight

Sometimes the best strategy is to wear all your tops out, practice better posture and forget about what lies beneath. Be sure to choose relaxed tops and button-downs that don’t cling and are long enough to cover the entire bulge even when you reach, bend or stretch. And, of course, skip trendy cropped styles that hover just past the waist. While the untuck is never more valuable than during the spring/summer season, when we minimize layering, avoid revealing fabrics that are too thin and too sheer by holding them up to the light. I’m not a chiropractor or trainer, but my experience on photo shoots with models taught me that good posture can help reduce a visual tummy bulge too. Be sure to stand and sit straight, not slouched, hunched or slumped, which amplifies a tummy bulge.

spinner image Hannah Waddingham, Patricia Clarkson and Kim Cattrall
(Left to right) Hannah Waddingham, Patricia Clarkson and Kim Cattrall
Photo Collage: AARP; (Source: Photo by Karwai Tang/WireImage; Photo by Alan Chapman/Dave Benett/Getty Images; Photo by Dave Benett/ Getty Images for Harper's Bazaar)

6. Divert and deflect attention to your legs or shoulders

Yes, you can lose belly fat through a combo of diet and exercise, but it takes time and a consistent plan. But first, take the opportunity to shift the focus. Divert everyone’s gaze away from your belly by choosing clothes that play up another body zone. Many women opt to put the emphasis on legs with a just-above-the-knee or at-the-knee dress or a longer midi dress with a leggy slit. It’s a great choice if your legs have always been in show-off shape or have a newly toned look thanks to an increased walking plan. Others take the shoulder route with off-the-shoulder, strapless and one-shoulder styles — all good choices for evening apparel and summer.

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