How to Wear Dresses If You’re A Size 4 On Top and Size 12 on Bottom


2017 Update: Links have been updated below! You may also want to check out our more recent discussion on clothes for the curvy professional, or our discussion of the best brands for different body types.

Ladies, do you buy bespoke dresses and clothing?  How else can you wear dresses if your top and bottom halves are very different sizes? Reader N wonders:

I would like to wear dresses more frequently to the office, but I find it very difficult to find a good fit. I wear a size 4 to 6 on the top, and a 12 to 14 on the bottom (I definitely carry all my weight in my bottom half). Any suggestions on a style/cut of a dress that might work? I don’t always want to wear a wrap dress.

We haven’t talked about how to dress professionally if your top and bottom are different sizes for a long time, so let’s discuss.  My immediate thoughts for reader N:

eShakti sounds PERFECT for you.  Not only can you customize dresses in “standard” sizes — for example, for the dress pictured above you can choose from five different sleeves, four different hem lengths, and two necklines), but you can also get the dress entirely custom made to your exact measurements for just a few dollars more.  (Portrait collar poplin dress, starting at $59.95 at eShakti.)

– There are a number of new specialty boutiques popping up that do custom sizes, as well.  For example, Carrie Hammer I’ve met the founder a few times at various events, invariably wearing her own dresses, and they really do look lovely.  They offer a similar customization service for dresses up to size 24 — sleeves, neckline, hem length — as well as bespoke dresses. (Right now, personal fittings are in the tri-state area, but dresses will be available nationally by self measurement by the end of April.)  (Pictured: Sarah dress, available at for $295.)

Etsy.  You can get a lot of things handmade on Etsy for fairly affordable prices.  I don’t have any specific recommendations for you, but take a look through their general women’s/bespoke area.  I might suggest a) look for a person whose work you admire — you’re looking at craftsmanship and detailing more than the specific styles of dresses — and b) perhaps send her a dress (or even fabrics) that you already love, so he or she has a basis to work from. (Check out our review of 7 Etsy stores for workwear, here.)

– 2017 Update: Stores Elsa and Me and Michaela Jerdinak both do custom measurements as well. (Check out other workwear fashion start-ups you may not have heard about…)

– If you’d still prefer off the rack clothing, you may want to take a look at Nordstrom’s TrueFit. I’ve always heard great things about how Nordstrom (like a lot of department stores) will tailor your clothes for you — it looks like they now have a whole “TrueFit” system that will give you recommendations based on your body type, after you fill out a questionnaire. It doesn’t take your exact measurements, but rather asks you a bunch of questions (is your bust high or low? is your butt flat or round? etc) and asks you to choose some of your favorite brands so it can select other ones similar to it. It’s an interesting idea — readers, do you have any experience with it?

Of course, for those readers with the reverse problem (a bigger top half and smaller bottom), there are a number of shops that primarily cater to women with larger busts.

Readers with different sized tops and bottoms — do you buy bespoke dresses or other clothes?  What are your favorite shops and methods for buying?

Social media image: Pixabay.

Dressing for work can be difficult if you're a different size on top than on the bottom -- so we rounded up the best companies and brands that make bespoke dresses for the office, whether you're a triangle shape, a hard-to-find size, or more!


  1. Family relations TJ:
    DH and I bought a new car, and got a seriously lowball offer for our trade-in ($1000). I called my brother and told him if I was only going to get $1000 for the SUV, did he want it? He said yes, and was supposed to pick it up 1-2 weeks ago–and was finally set to come get it this weekend…and the blizzard hit. So today, I went to move the car, and it wouldn’t start. It needs a new starter, which will cost about $200-250. This isn’t a manifestation of an old problem; it just happened.

    So now, we’re stuck with either paying the $250 and fixing the car before my brother gets it (now netting only $750) or asking my brother to repair it before he even owns it.

    If we fixed the car and donated it, we could actually come out significantly better, netting about $1200 (yes, I know the rules about donating cars, but we have a local charity that would actually use the car–not sell it–so we could deduct fair market value). We could fix it and then go the private party sale route, and offer it to the fine folks on Craigslist for $3000 and probably get some takers (again, BB value is over $5k).

    What would you do? For what it’s worth, my brother doesn’t *need* a car. This would be a second car for him to use in bad weather instead of his sedan.

    • I’d eat the $250. It’s a small price to pay to avoid family drama.

      • I guess what gets me is that this is already a *great* deal for him. And if he picked it up when he was supposed to (back in Jan) this would be his problem. He also knows it’s a great deal, and I know we could be getting 3x what he’s paying by going the Criagslist route–we just offered it to him at the low price to save the hassel.

    • I guess ask your brother if he wants to repair it. If he does, then I guess it’s only fair to have him take the car. Even if he doesn’t need it…you did offer it to him.

      If he doesn’t want to fix it, though, I think it’s fair game to then tell him you’ll fix it but you plan to sell/donate it.

      I mean, I don’t know what your relationship is like, but would it really strain your relationship? For my family, it wouldn’t, but again, I don’t know what your relationship is like.

      • No, it wouldn’t. I shot him a note and I’m guessing he’ll be reasonable. It was all I could do to forbid DH to keep the darn thing (WE DO NOT NEED THREE CARS- esp. since only one of us drives to work).

    • I would tell your brother what happened and say that the car now needs to be fixed and that you’re paying $250 to do it. Maybe he will volunteer to pay for it all, but I would just offer to split it.

    • ive never sold a car before :

      If it were me, and I was just going to give it to my brother for cheap (not knowing anything else about financials/dependency/your relationship) I would make him pay for the repair – you are already giving it to him for way under value. Besides that, you already offered to your brother and he accepted, so if you change course I would make sure he is going to be okay with it. Otherwise, if he doesn’t want to pay $1250 for the car or is ambivalent, then I would either donate or sell (I would probably just donate because I don’t want to spend time vetting people on Craigslist, but if I had more time/flexibility and needed the money I would be more likely to do this). It doesn’t really sound like you need the money, so then my rec would lean towards donating.

      • ive never sold a car before :

        Reading your responses, I would *strongly* recommend the donation route since it doesn’t sound like you or anyone in your family *needs* the car or the money. It seems like you and your family are doing pretty well, and this car could make a real difference in someone else’s life (or for a charity you care about). Again, making sure your brother is on board and it won’t cause any hard feelings.
        *gets down from soapbox*

    • I’d let him know and ask him if he still wants it. If yes, tell him it’s $750 and he gets it fixed or $1000 and you’ll get it fixed.

    • springtime :

      This sounds like a classic law school contracts exam problem.

    • Just tell him that the car won’t start anymore and ask him if he still wants to buy it. If no, then either option are open to you, but can you donate it as is? It seems like you don’t need the cash and fixing + selling sounds like a hassle.

    • I would pay the $250.

      And if I were him, I would hesitate taking it from you to begin with. It seems like you are viewing everything from what is the best advantage to you and probably overvaluing its worth. Him buying the car from you saves you from all the advertising and hassle and avoids you having to store and maintain and insure until it sells. You said it yourself, he doesn’t “need” the car. You seem like you are mad at him, and all he did was agree to buy it at the price a dealdership offered. (One could even look at it from the perspective of you probably should have discounted it a bit to begin with since he is family.)

    • You need to leave the $5000 (or $1200) out of it. You already made a choice to sell it to him for $1000. Now you have to decide if you want to net $1000 or $750.

      If this is such an unbelievable deal, I would think he’d be willing to spring for the $250, so just ask him. But $250 is not worth ruining a relationship over.

  2. Just a heads-up about Eshakti. I have never bought from them myself, but have been sorely tempted because they have so many cute things and the prices are wildly good. But, I have heard mixed opinions on them, and I think the bulk of the issues were raised by women who had used the custom service. As I recall, the main issues were that things took forever to show up, and that custom-fitted pieces were waaaay off, size-wise. Something to be mindful of, in any case.

    That said, I’m curious to know if any ‘r e t t e s have had experiences with them that they can share.

    • I’ve used them often, and have no complaints regarding the custom sizing. I think a big part of getting it right is getting measured properly (not implying that they didn’t). I’m sure it will vary for each person, but it’s been good for me! Also, for shipping, the clothes are coming from India, so for an inexpensive custom dress: I’m willing to wait for their shipping times. (usually 2-3 weeks for me)

      • Oh, that’s totally acceptable in terms of wait time. I think the complaints I saw concerned much, much longer, and poor communication.

  3. I would actually lay that all out to your brother. Explain the situation, ask him what he thinks. Hopefully you can then both make a decision with all of the information/advantages/disadvantages on the table. I think because you’ve offered the bar to him, that you should honor that, unless you can make a case for needing the money more than he needs the car, which seems possible. At least, I can see my brother coming back with a bunch of yelling and then lots of bringing it up years to come if I just said, “I can make more money selling it online or donating it, than letting you buy it” or something to that effect. Especially since you knew the bluebook was $5,000 when you offered to him at $1,000. I’m hoping this doesn’t sound harsh. In this scenario, I imagine your brother will say, “Oh, in that case, you should sell it or donate it to the charity.”

    • thing is, he doesn’t really need the car . And we’re not desperate for the money. We would get have a couple extra thousand dollars if we sold it elsewhere, so I sort of feel like there is already a very big discount. The SUV is such a behemoth that giving it to him with a full tank of gas is an extra $100 :)

    • ive never sold a car before :

      I like this answer better than mine.

  4. Caribbean dress code TJ. I will be headed to an island in the western Caribbean to negotiate a deal in a few weeks. Any thoughts on dress code? It seems ridiculous to bring suits, but the internet says business people may dress formally. Would dresses be ok instead of suits? Any other advice or packing tips?

    • I’ve done work in Puerto Rico but in universities, so YMMV in the private sector. In my experience, people dress more formally than in the states (I”m in DC), and a suit would not be out of place at all. That said, I think you would be fine in suiting dresses, especially if you bring a jacket you could wear over if need be.

    • Light colored suits? From what I’ve seen as a flip-flopped cruise passenger, local office workers do seem to dress formally. I bet a beige or light gray suit would let you feel less stuffy while still looking crisp and professional.

    • I was just in Curacao for vacation. They have a number of business travelers with the refinery and banking industry. I didn’t see any women but the men were (surprisingly) in full tropical-weight suits. I would probably go for a shift dress and matching blazer (with 3/4 sleeves if possible).

    • When I vacationed in the Caribbean, we were warned not to wear “beach clothes” in the main city. To me, beach clothes = swimsuit/coverup. So I wore shorts and a t-shirt. I think my outfit was considered ‘beach clothes’ by locals. I looked completely out of place because everyone else was in business clothes, everything from business casual to suits. I would wear a light-colored suit, or professional separates.

    • Cornellian :

      I think Houstonites input would be valuable here (also, NOLA?) in terms of comfort in heat while looking formal. In Austin you saw a lot of linen and seersucker suits.

      • Thanks all for the advice. Looks like I need to pull out my summer suit and see what else I have that is formal but cool. I have some formal dresses that would probably work as well.

    • Bermudarette :

      I’m from Bermuda and used to work in banking before I moved to the US. I’ve also had business travel in the Caribbean. The dress code definitely tends to be more formal (business casual at my bank meant suit separates instead of a full suit), but you have more leeway in terms of color. A dress with a blazer is perfectly acceptable, a dress with a cardigan is more borderline. We just deal with the heat when outside because all of the offices have a/c inside. I also had a brooks brothers seersucker skirt suit that I wore on a regular basis.

    • I did a study abroad in Curacao and we were instructed to bring a suit for business functions. They really did mean a suit-suit. I was fine in a light grey linen-wool blend suit dress and heels. Another classmate looked amazing in her seersucker dress and blazer from Target. We noticed a lot of men in tropical wool, linen/linen blends, and seersucker.

  5. I don’t have much to add to the dress discussion, other than that something that is fitted up top and flared on the bottom probably works best when you are different sizes on top and bottom. Also, ponte and jersey fabrics would be easier to work with than silk and wool.

    What are the hive’s thoughts on this bag? For fun, and not necessarily for work. Although, I work in a pretty casual place.

    IIIBeca by Rebecca Gryson North Moore Satchel.

    I love it and it looks quirky and fun. I’m looking at it in the red color. But, I don’t know if it looks too teenager.

    • TO Lawyer :

      oh so cute! I love it! I would probably take it to work (but not meetings etc.)

      FYI in case you didn’t see – one of the reviews suggests the red colour is more a hot pink. But I still love this

      • I saw that review and I’m hoping its wrong. Nordstrom has free shipping and free returns, so its not really a risk to order, see the color and return it if it is really shocking pink. I love the color on my monitor, which is kind of a pinky-red and I hope its like that.

    • Was going to make this same suggestion. I’m also much smaller on the top than the bottom and I find the “fit ‘n’ flare” style works really well. As the name suggests, the top part is very fitted, but the bottom is loose and falls away from the body at the waist.

      Super flattering, too.

    • I agree it’s a very pretty bag. FWIW, it looks much more pink than red on my screen.

  6. Cornellian :

    Potentially stupid question: what would you do in Vegas for a night? I’m spending a night in Vegas before heading out camping for several days 3 hours away. Needless to say, trail running, camping, and horses are more my scene than Vegas. But it seems like I should spend at least a bit of time checking the city out, since I’m flying in and out of there. I’m not a gambler, I do drink, and I live the rest of my life in NYC, if it matters. I’m also iffy on bringing single-use clothing, but my impression is that jeans are not accepted on the strip. I’m flying totally on stereotypes here, though, so if someone can correct me, I’d be grateful.

    • I am not a gambler and I don’t drink, so I thought I would hate Vegas. Turns out, I love it.

      First, re dress code, unless you are going to some fancy-schmancy place, jeans are fine everywhere. You will see people wearing everything from pyjama bottoms to Louboutins. No one will blink an eye at your jeans.

      If you are are there for a night, I would just walk up the Strip and check out all the hotels. That said, that would easily take you a full day. But you could spend a great evening just seeing the volcano at the Mirage, the Bellagio fountain, walking through Paris and New York New York, and checking out the fake Grand Canal at the Venetian. It is all pretty mind-blowing. If you want to do something more formalized, get a ticket to one of the Cirque de Soleil shows. I had a great time at Ka.

      Have fun – Vegas is like Disneyland for grown-ups.

    • I would go out to a nice dinner and/or a show since gambling isn’t really my thing either. You’d be surprised about what people wear on the strip. I was just there and it’s everything from sneakers and sweatshirts to dresses and heels. Of course, if you’re going to a nice restaurant, you may need to dress up a bit. But there are also some great casual places to check out. Some people dress up for shows, but I don’t think there’s a strict dress code. I am jealous of your post-Vegas camping plans!

    • Everytime I’ve gone (pretty often) jeans are no problem anywhere. Maybe some clubs, but I’m not into the clubbing scene, so someone else would need to confirm/deny.

    • Jeans are fine if you’re not trying to pick up a guy. ;) Agree with Nonny’s suggestions above, if you haven’t been before there is plenty to see just walking around. The shows are pretty much all fabulous, but pricey. You may also enjoy checking out Toby Keith’s I Love this Bar & Grill (just guessing as a trail runner and equestrian you may like country music), which often has live music.

    • Jeans are fine. Go see a show! Cirque de soliel “O” is great fun. Also lots of excellent restaurants.

    • When I was there, the only place where women weren’t wearing jeans was at the club. There was only one woman wearing jeans and she really stuck out, though it was also August. Maybe more people wear jeans when it’s not a million degrees out.

      • Ha, that might have been me. Am pretty sure I was the only woman in jeans at XS.

    • Merabella :

      I really love the Bellagio and their art museum, also they have a mean buffet.

      I would just do a quick run through the strip to check everything out – the shopping there is AWESOME!

      The pools are also pretty good, and if you can swing it they would be a nice addition.

      And jeans are totally fine. I’ve seen far worse things before.

    • anonypotamus :

      Walking through the Venetian and Paris is pretty fun – it’s so bizarre to have fake cities within buildings! I highly recommend finding a good place to eat (there are many!) and maybe seeing a show. SO and I aren’t into clubbing, and don’t really like gambling (except for a few wagers at the sports book) and the few times we have gone we have seen a show (for Cirque: O and La Reve were both excellent) and then had dinner. We’ve enjoyed Mesa Grill at Caesar’s palace and the Enoteca at the Venetian. The Chandelier Bar at the Cosmopolitan is also fun. Have a great time!

    • I live in Las Vegas (yes, people actually live here), and I second everyone else’s comments. Jeans are more than fine for wandering around and most any activity. If you want to go to a nicer restaurant, show, or a lounge/club just bring a nice top and cute shoes to wear with your jeans and you will be fine. If you are looking for just general stuff to do without committing to a show, there is plenty of stuff to look at (i.e. Bellagio fountains, Bellagio conservatory, Forum Shops at Caesars, etc.) There are also helicopter tours that go to the grand canyon, excursions to red rock canyon (which people tend to forget we have, but is only 30 minutes from the strip), the hoover dam… There is seriously so much to do you kind of have to have an idea of what you want to do and then narrow the options, if that makes any sense.

    • Vegas is a great place for starting off an outdoor trip!

      I packed a knit dress and wore that for our evenings there. Every other person I saw there had black capri pants on so consider those. Despite what you see on TV it is pretty casual. All the hotels/casinos are heavily air conditioned. If you go to a show you may want a sweater because it can get cool. Switch your big satchel purse out for a cross-body bag if your’e out and about.

    • IME, it’s easy to be underdressed and hard to be overdressed in Vegas. I recommend a dress (long or 3/4 sleeve so you don’t need a sweater) & cute flats instead of a Vegas Outfit. Jeans are OK nearly everywhere, but the jeans you wear riding and hiking are probably going to be too casual for Vegas. A dress is a safe bet and takes up minimal space in your bag. I did Rock N Roll Vegas in December and brought only a dress, flats, a cell phone case that’s also a wallet, and a liquid eyeliner and lip gloss for the post-race night out.

      I love the Cirque shows. O is my favorite.

      There are lots of great restaurants and clubs, but not much you won’t have already seen in NYC. I like the ultra-lounges every hotel seems to have over the mega clubs. I think they’re more fun for people watching, meeting new people, talking, dancing, etc. — and are much less expensive.

      If you’re going later in the spring, the pools and pool parties (at the upscale hotels, avoid the more douchbag-infested “Day Clubs”) are the best. Plus, if you spend all day at the pool, grab dinner in your hotel and go to bed early at night, you only need to pack a hot swimsuit and coverup.

      Sorry for the long post. I love Vegas. :)

  7. (former) Clueless Summer :

    I don’t have that much of a difference, but I do have a difference (8 top, 12-14 bottom). This is sort of makeshift advice the OP has likely figured out but stretchy materials like ponte and certain brands – I like Talbots dresses actually (ponte + big hips) will help. Otherwise, cuts that look okay with extra material in the bust (something with a high neck I think is more forgiving in being too loose, but something with a v or a wrap is less forgiving), or something with give in the hips so you can actually go to a size somewhere in the middle.

    • This could be me with my tuchus, before the excerciseing. But with my FITBIT, I have been abel to reduce in the rear area. Now, Myrna says I look normal! YAY!

      Even Frank is complementing me for walkeing to work every day and back (but he does NOT know about 40 carrot’s and my FROZEN YOGURT side trip’s! If he found out, I am SURE he would tell the manageing partner, who wants me svelte for court appeaearance’s! FOOEY! The judge does not seem to care, b/c he see’s me from on the BENCH and I alway’s dress up for him! YAY!

    • Midwest Transplant :

      I’m the same sizes on the top and bottom and normally purchase sleeveless dresses (easier to alter) in a size that fits the hips. Then I bring it to my tailor and she clucks at me for purchasing clothes too large before seriously taking in the top.

      I think some of the fit and flair styles are hard to find in professional fabrics and styles. This might sound strange for a pear shape, but I really prefer a straight skirts. I also always wear jackets or cardigans to make the top a little wider and de-emphasize the drastic waist to hip ratio.

      • Midwest Transplant :

        I have this dress:

        this one also looks like it would work:


    I have a longer jersey dress similar to this, where it’s more draped at top and tighter at the bottom. The top part is too big on me, but it looks nice and drapey instead of like it doesn’t fit me.

  9. oil in houston :

    this is exactly me! I have a good 2 sizes difference, and the way I deal with it is by only wearing a-line or full skirts, which makes the selection of suits rather small, but you have plenty of dresses or skirts this season that work. Combine with a nice cardigan / jacket, and it makes a perfectly suitable professional attire.

    brands that work for me (and can be found easily):
    Jones New York / Ralph Lauren / J Crew sometimes
    Monsoon in the UK

    good luck!

  10. Clearly Speaking :

    Ladies, do you buy bespoke dresses and clothing?


  11. I’m not quite that different between top/bottom but I always fit to the bottom. Since I have a thin chest I don’t hesitate to layer, often wearing another shirt under the top. It adds some bulk and keeps tops that might slide around because I’m so thin in the chest from revealing too much.

    I out and out stay away from some styles because I just don’t have enough chest. I do not like wrap dresses. If you don’t have curves the wrap part doesn’t stay wrapped. Dresses with a definite waist and not too much darting in the bodice.

  12. I cannot buy suit sets for this reason. I am much smaller up top than below. (I believe the Fashion Gods recently announced that there is a new shape… in addition to the hourglass shape, there is now the DewDrop. That would be me, I suppose.)

    I can wear a 4/6 in blazers but the skirts/pants size can be anywhere from a 6 (vanity sized) to a 12. Ridiculous. A size 8 jacket makes me look like a linebacker, but sometimes the size 4 sleeves are not wide enough to accommodate my disproportionately large (in circumference) arms versus my tiny trunk. (And now I sound like a tree.)

    I had excellent luck with Nordstrom prior to my job interview last Fall. I knew from past experience that Theory suits would run straight up and down, but that Nordstrom could tailor to fit me. And that’s exactly what happened. I found a great black suit and the size 6 jacket was perfect but it wasn’t until we got to size 12 that they fit properly through the butt and thighs (after having the personal shopper retrieve first the six, then the eight, then the ten… sigh). But the waist was hilariously huge. I had to hold them up to keep them on. The tailor came out and measured and pinned, and two days later… voila. Perfect, perfect suit.

    For girls like us, tailoring is really the best option. It’s the right option for everyone, but ESPECIALLY the dewdrops among us.