Maximizing the maxi dress: Your personal stylist


By Sara Dahlquist special for The Oregonian

The greatest misconception of the maxi dress is that you have to be tall and thin to wear one. No matter what your height or your body shape, you can wear a maxi. You just have to know which one is right for you.

Plus size or full figured

The maxi dress can be just the right silhouette for showing off all the curve you want while camouflaging the bumps and bulges you may have. First, it’s important to understand that if you have a medium to large frame you should wear shoulder straps that are 1-2-inches wide. The wider strap will compliment your larger frame versus a spaghetti strap, which is out of proportion. Second, you want to draw attention to your tiniest area, be it your natural waist or the area above it. This smallest area is where you want a contrast band, elastic or cinching. Then the dress should fall as flat and skimming as possible, out and away from that small focal point.

Long body

 A maxi dress that comes in and blouses where the natural waist proportionately would be is great for anyone with a long torso and shorter legs. This waist detail will make your legs look longer and will give you a more balanced appearance.

Short body

The waist detail of a maxi can sometimes draw negative attention to a short waist or torso. In this case, choosing a dress that has no waist detail and is uniform in pattern or color to camouflage your disproportion and elongate your body’s visual line.


If you’re curvy and contoured, you can pull off a strapless maxi. It helps that your curves keep a strapless dress up, but it will actually draw attention away from your bust and up to your collarbone and shoulders. If you aren’t lucky enough to find a maxi with a built in bra, it’s important to find a comfortable and supportive strapless bra. Then you want your dress to fit at the contour of your waist falling out and away from your hips.

Straight up and down

There is one style of maxi dress that only looks good on those that are small in frame and straight up and down — the trapeze maxi. This style of dress falls out and away from the shoulder straps in a flowy A-line shape. The shape and movement of this style of dress helps give the waifs of the world the illusion of shape.


The maxi dress can do a petite no favors if worn incorrectly. The goal is to make your legs look as long as possible. This can be accomplished with waist detail, belting or empire seaming. You also want to be sure to keep the silhouette slim and skimming. Too much fabric can overwhelm a petite figure.

Age appropriate

I get asked all the time if the maxi dress is appropriate for those over 40. Of course it is, the maxi silhouette has great coverage and camouflaging capabilities especially for your legs and mid-section. If you don’t like your arms you can just cover with a lightweight sweater or even a denim jacket. It could be a great fresh silhouette to add to your wardrobe.

-Sara Dahlquist is a local personal style coach. Read more style tips and advice on her blog:

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