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Clothes to suit sway back and saddlebag thighs

by Sarah
(Birmingham, UK)

I think I have a bit of an unusual body shape and it seems that no matter what I wear nothing looks right.

I have "dips" in my hips so when I wear jeans it looks like I have love handles (I am really skinny and those sticky out bits are bone). If I wear a low slung skirt I have the same problem and if I wear a high one I look all lumpy and weird.

I also have a condition called lordosis so my pelvis is tilted forward and my bum sticks out. This causes problems with trousers riding down at the back if they are too low or there being a massive gap at the back because they fit over my bum but are too big for my waist. If I wear a skirt it is really tight against my legs at the front and then sticks out at the back.

I can never get a shirt that fits me, it is always bunched up at the back and looks really baggy even if it is the right size. If I try to wear anything that sits at my hips it will ride up at the back until it is above my waist.

I would consider myself to have roughly an hourglass shape, my hips and bust are about the same with a smaller waist. I also have long legs compared to the rest of me although I am quite short (5'3). I have looked through the stuff on here about what to wear for my proportions but none of it seems to look right on me.

I don't know what to do, I just feel ugly and stupid no matter what I try to wear. Any advice you could give me would be very much appreciated.

Jane's answer... Hi Sarah. Thank you for your question -- the detailed information you have supplied enables me to give you specific recommendations. When you've learned a few strategies to deal with your specific figure challenges you will feel so much better about your appearance! However, I suspect you already know that, which is why you're actively looking for solutions.

saddlebags thighsSketch of Saddlebag Thighs

From your photo (which I haven't published, to preserve your modesty ;D) and your description above, those dips in your hips, and "sticky out bits", are what are called saddlebags. If it's any consolation, you share this body shape feature with Trinny of Trinny and Susannah (famous from the UK TV show "What not to wear"). I've tried to illustrate this in the sketch to the left.

sway backSketch of Sway Back

I hadn't heard of the "lordosis" condition. However, the body shape you describe is also known as a sway back -- it makes your bottom and stomach look larger than they are because of the the curve of your spine and the tilt of your pelvis . A sway back is often seen in the posture of gymnasts or ballerinas. See my sketch to the right.

Typically I have seen one or both of these body shapes in women who have Triangle horizontal body shapes. Although that's not to say that your horizontal shape isn't hourglass (I couldn't tell from the photo). And it's not to say that all women with a Triangle horizontal shape have these features.

These body features, together with your height (which is classed as petite), and your horizontal and vertical body shapes are all taken into account in the recommendations given in a personalized eStyles Portfolio.

Some recommendations for each specific feature are:

For saddlebag thighs...

Your aim is to find pants, skirts and dresses that skim your thighs, then fall straight, to form a smooth silhouette...

  • Choose pants that are straight and avoid skinny and tapered styles

  • Your best skirt shapes include straight and subtle A-line styles. This includes the bottom part of dresses too

  • For your bottom half choose fabrics of medium weight that provide coverage over your hips and thighs, and that flow over your body (that is, not too clingy or too stiff). For example, medium weight knit fabrics such as Ponte. Lined dresses, skirts and pants will also help skim this area

  • Avoid obvious pockets on your hips and thighs

  • Layer tops over your hip area. Choose tops in a similar color or color value (amount of lightness or darkness) as your bottoms and make sure the outer layer covers your saddlebags and bottom

For a swayback...

  • Alter clothes to fit your shape -- either learn how to do these yourself, or factor in the cost of alterations when you buy a garment. Alterations will include:

    • Altering a skirt or dress hem to make it straight

    • Making alterations to the back of a garment to ensure it sits correctly, without any excess fabric, over the curve of your back

    • Side seams of skirts and dresses may need adjusting so they hang straight

  • Choose jackets and shirt styles that are not too fitted in the back

More strategies

These work for your height and your body features...
  • Wear bottoms that are darker, or the same, color value (amount of lightness or darkness), as your tops

  • Create a high focal point -- a focal point is something that attracts attention. For example: an obvious design detail on the neckline of your top (a bow, a lighter or brighter color, or some ruching); a necklace; statement earrings; a bright lipstick

I also highly recommend you get your personalized eStyles to fully understand everything that works and doesn't work for you.

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Empire Waist
by: Ali

So glad I found this site! Although many of us struggle with finding clothes b/c of saddlebags and lordosis, fashion advice columns, blogs, magazines, etc., NEVER address these issues. I’m 5’2, and over the past five yrs have weighed anywhere from 103-123 lbs. Whether wearing a size 2 or 10, the most flattering items of clothing I own are empire waist dresses and tunics.

Good advice
by: Anonymous

I was just telling my sister the other day about how my ballet teacher would always come over to me and tell me to tuck in my pelvis, but I have a large behind (Thanks to my Swedish relatives - who knew?) and he would also tell me to tuck my butt in. But I can’t tuck my butt in. That’s just my butt! When I weighed 130 pounds (I’m 5’7") I wore a clingy dress to work (at Nordstrom of all places) and my co-workers were saying "you’ve got a booty!" It was somewhat embarrassing, but ever since J-LO came on the scene I have felt much better about the junk in my trunk!

Very wide hips
by: Liz

I am 5ft 1in and I have always had the problem of sway back and finding styles to suit. For a few months now I have been gradually losing weight with a well known weight loss company and that is accentuating my curves. My waist is about 10in smaller than my hips and my bust measurement is in between my waist and hip measurement. I am finding that I need tops that fit my waist more but don't highlight my tummy, just skim my hips but don't go beyond my hips otherwise with my height long tops make me look shorter.

I am currently wearing wide leg jeans by Evans here in UK that have elasticated sides to the waist band, 12in rise from crotch to waist and they fit beautifully on me. Lower rise jeans don't work as they then sit more on my hips and as such don't fit properly. But if the rise is too high then they seem to end up under my armpits. I have tried straight jeans with standard width legs and my husband very honestly (I think) said I looked frumpy in them so wide leg looks best on me
With skirts I can wear straight or a-line skirts to about knee length but with very little fullness over the hips as too much gathering over my hips hightlight them too much. If skirts are too long, again with my height they make me look shorter.
I have yet to try any dresses as I am still losing weight but with the warmer weather I might try on a few in the shops to see what styles suit me

Finding Underwear
by: Anonymous

Hello All,

Can anyone tell me if there is a style of underwear that are pretty and stay put on those of us with saddlebags?? I honestly HATE trying to find any that actually look flattering and feminine.

Sway back
by: Anonymous

I am glad I found this page. I have a sway back, and of course always look as though my tummy and bum are sticking out,, no matter how fit and trim I am. It still affects my confidence in buying clothes, and sometimes I still get it wrong.

So pleased to find this online!
by: Anonymous


I am so chuffed to have found this blog online.

Saddlebags are the bane of my life. I have a size 8 body with size12-14 hips and horrid saddlebags. I desperately want to wear slim or skinny jeans but I look so yuck in them.

I am still living in my low rise, wide leg tatty diesel lambry jeans from 2002. I would love to wear more skirts and dresses. Though I struggle in the winter with being very cold, and usually put my jeans on.

Any more ideas, suggestions of places to shop in UK would be great.

Thanks ladies for all your shares. Louise, Surrey UK

Subtle A-Line
by: MA

Hi - I find the subtle A-Line skirts and dresses more flattering than A-lines, and hems ending on or at the top of the knee work well. For good value hold-it-in mid-thigh-length easycare-machine-washable shaping underwear, (with free postage to Australia if you spend over a certain amount) I like Marks and Spencer. And I like to wear cheerful colours when my bodyshape's not great.

clothes can fit!
by: Anonymous

I have the exact same figure - big breasts, very small waist/rib cage, big hips and saddle bag thighs, a swayback making my average sized butt look quite big. I think swayback is a posture problem btw...
What I do: almost everything you said, plus
1) get tops/dresses with belt or ties
2) tailor everything to fit: put two giant darts at the back, two smaller ones at the front and sides.
3) Jeans: buy ones with stretch, then alter the waist.
4) Insert a zipper in clothes that don't have it.
5) skinny jeans can be worn, if paired with long tops that reach mid thigh.

Classy Solution
by: Raising GA Peaches

So glad to see I am not the only one with these problems. With the fashion industry today, I thought I was a total anomaly!!

My solution is to wear dresses. They are back in style and they are great for our body type. The ones I like the best are from J. Peterman! The 1947 Dress comes in different sleeve lengths and looks terrific on! I also have the Toile Print Dress! I wear it with a white shrug and it is just beautiful!!! They also have other dresses that would work, just depends on your print preferences; those are limited.

Good luck!

P.S. I am looking for jeans that flatter. Any suggestions?

Bustle bum
by: Karen

Have you noticed how people feel quite free to comment on the bustle of your backside, yet do not make personal comments about, say the bosom size of others or the length of their legs. For over 40 years I have struggled to find clothing in which I look good and feel comfortable. I am slender, fit and not overweight, but have a disproportionately huge backside and sway back.

Contrary to common advice, I contend A line skirts do not work as they emphasise the bustle. Ditto gathered skirts, empire line dresses and all jeans.

After much experimentation I have found the most flattering style is knee length, pencil skirts in fabric with a bit of stretch and long (absolutely NOT hip length, but finishing below the buttocks) top.

Avoid fashion trends...they are not designed for us. Think Indian women in their saris ...long tops with splits in the sides to the waist, thus allowing free movement of fabric over the backside..while still fitting well over shoulders.....always elegant regardless of size and shape.

Short with saddlebags
by: Thel

Being short, 5'2", I find much of the saddlebag advice when applied, emphasises my short legs. Here's a few more tips that work for me. In my case, my hip bones are unusually wide, creating a saddlebag effect regardless of how lean I am.

Avoid trouser pockets with a vertical/ diagonal opening, as they tend to gape. Stick with the classic jean shape.

I get away with narrow or tapered jeans by wearing low heeled boots and a jacket, coat or cardigan that is long enough to completely cover my hips.

Avoid skirt or short lengths that finish anywhere other than the narrowest part of your leg, eg just above or below the knee, or mid calf.

Sussan have a good range of jeans with waistlines designed to fit curves. They work well for a sway back, and on me, have no gape at the back.

Thanks Robyn
by: Jane of Style Makeover HQ

Welcome to Australia Robyn! Apart from the challenge of finding where to buy clothes that flatter your shape, I hope you're enjoying your new home?

Thanks so much for your detailed and helpful comments. I'm sure they will help others with this figure challenge.

I think you may not realise that Esprit is an Australian label. Find out if there's a store near you here.

I have the same shape
by: Robyn

This is amazing to see so many women comment on the same issue that I also have, that is -saddlebags. No one ever talks about this.

I have written to a few bloggers about this and had no response and no feedback at all.

I understand how frustrating it can be to not find pants or dresses to fit properly. For me slight A line skirts work if they are a soft fabric to fall softly but sturdy enough that they don't cling.

In the UK I found a brand called Kettlewell Colours to have a style of skirt that is just perfect for me.

In Australia sadly nothing so far (have been here 5 months).

I've also had great success with Esprit brand in EU, in their casual dresses in jersey.

I can only wear jeans if I have a long cardigan (finger length) to go over the top to mask thighs and I feel better with this look. In Australia I recently purchased dark wash jeans from Sportscraft that work and Jeans West. NYD jeans are too uncomfortable on me, the waist is too high

I find Spanx (shorts thigh length [Jane of Style Makeover HQ: I think they're called Power Panties]) good under dresses to stop wobble and give a streamline look.

Going to the beach is just mortifying so I don't go there.

I find exercise helps, both physically and mentally, to tone, stretch and with flexibility. But the shape of my body is still the same toned or not. My mother has the same shape.

Oh, about me, I am 55 yo, 165 cm, 54 kg, small everywhere except my thighs.

Shape wear
by: Anonymous

I have exactly the same problem. Sports like running help a little but you have to do it intensely and once you stop, it's the first part that returns to it's original shape. Diets are of no use at all.

I have learnt to live with it, too afraid of getting it fixed by an operation.

I use shapewear that helps to minimize the saddlebags.

I also wear a lot of coats that I leave unbuttoned and that cover your back and the sides and make you look taller and thinner.

I also have a sway back and I only wear mid to high waisted jeans but it's really difficult to find some that fit.

I mainly wear skirts and I love dresses that are tucked in at the waist and float around the hips.

Saddlebags are really not a funny thing to have because they are tricky to disguise.

by: Ann

Thank you for sharing, good to know that it's not just me that has saddlebag issues.

They make me feel so ugly and useless, even though I'm not big elsewhere. It is so frustrating to look 'ok' from the front, then from behind be such a monstrosity. People assume that I have a large backside because I'm lazy and eat badly etc etc, which isn't true.

I've heard that saddlebags are also exercise resistant, which is depressing. I can't afford surgery and am approaching mid thirties and so all will start to drop and sag anyway soon, so clothing is all I can do to help.

Thank you ladies for your advice!

by: Anonymous

Great to find your post as I have same problems as you. I never feel comfortable in my clothes and envy those at work who look good in suits and never seem to have loose bits or bits that ride up. I've never managed to get clothes to fit as I'd like but have discovered that I feel better and more professional at work if I accessorise. It's amazing how a really good necklace can detract from lumps and crumples around waist or hips

sway back
by: Anonymous

I have the same issue with a sway back. I am small as well, 5"3. I find that if I buy jeans with a higher percentage of elastane they fit perfectly

These work best for me
by: Anonymous

I have the same shape and similar height. I'm increasingly wearing dresses and A line skirts because trousers and jeans that fit are getting harder to find with manufacturers increasing waist sizes.

My last jeans were Monsoon, last trousers were Hobbs with drawstrings which helped draw the waist in at the back.

Smart fitted black work trousers which drop loosely from the hip work best although finding a pair with a suitable waist takes time.

A line skirts work really well, if you can find a small waisted one - my last was H&M.

Shirtwaist dresses, shift dresses with A line, and jersey fit and flare dresses work well, and shorter dresses/tunics with leggings rather than trousers or jeans which bulk out the thighs.

Tops, cardigans and jackets with pattern,brighter colours and patterns, scarves earings and neclaces work well to focus attention away from hips, thighs and back - and I match shoe colour with tights or trousers to avoid drawing eyes downward.

Smaller shoulder or grab bags you can wear under your arm rather than big ones at thigh level also help.

Having described what I wear now it is worth saying that 10 years ago I wore tighter fitting tops and full belted skirts and dresses which also worked.

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jane liddelow

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