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What is a Cinched Waist?

By G. Melanson
Updated May 21, 2024
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A cinched waist is a feature in a garment that tapers narrowly at the mid-section, accentuating the curves of the body. A cinched waist look can be achieved in a number of different ways, by using certain sewing techniques, belts, corsets, and body shapers. A cinched-in waist is usually found at the natural waist above the hips where the stomach narrows; some waists, however, are cinched higher up along the rib cage at the empire waist. Corsets were traditionally worn to cinch the waist and create a “wasp-waist” look. Although they are still worn by some today, the corset has mostly given way to modern day girdles or “shape wear,” which slims the waist and creates an hourglass silhouette.

When sewing a garment, the placement of darts or folds where the fabric is sewn are what affects the way in which the garment fits and can create a cinched waist. While slight darts can simply create a curve at the waist of the garment, tighter darts can take the garment from being fitted at the waist to cinched, in which the fabric is tight at the waist and flares out gradually or dramatically below the waist. The best belt for creating a dramatic cinched look is a thick elasticized belt. These belts often come included with garments like empire tops and sweater dresses, and sometimes features clasps or hooks at the front rather than a belt buckle and loop.

The cinched waist has gone in and out of style over the years, subject to certain fashion trends. During the 1950s, cinch waists were featured on most women’s fashions, particularly formal wear. During the 1960s and 70s, however, the cinched waist took a backseat to the straight lines of the shift dress, which featured no identifiable waist at all. During the 1980s, crop-tops and slouchy, oversized tops were the standard style, and the grunge trend of the 1990s ushered in baggy sweaters, T-shirts and flannel shirts. In the new millennium, the cinch waist made a major comeback thanks to the return of vintage glam looks from the 1930s, '40s and '50s. The modern wide belt/cinched waist look has been popularized by stars such as Paris Hilton, Christina Aguilera and Kim Kardashian.

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Discussion Comments
By irontoenail — On Apr 11, 2014

@clintflint - Well, the ultimate way to cinch a waist is with a corset and they are still really popular, even if they aren't often seen in mainstream fashion these days.

Women still even use training corsets with the intention of making their waists a bit smaller by applying constant pressure, which I think is going a little bit too far, myself.

By clintflint — On Apr 11, 2014

@browncoat - I suspect that the 80's were simply too close and there were too many ways to record fashion, so we still see all the pieces that were never going to be classics. If everyone had a home video camera in the 1920's then we'd probably think most of their clothes looked awful as well. It's only the ones that are true classics that have survived.

I suspect that the cinched waist will be one of the things that survives from this decade as a classic look, but there's no way to know really. An hourglass shape does seem to have a relatively universal appeal though.

By browncoat — On Apr 10, 2014

It's kind of weird how some things seem to remain classics, while others look very dated. The way they used to use belts and long elasticated sections of dresses to create a cinched waist in the 80s, for example, looks awful to me now, even though I really appreciate the modern style.

At the same time, I really like the way they would go with completely straight lines in the 1920's. So it's not like I'm completely married to modern fashion or anything.

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