Trendy or timeless: Empire & high-waisted dresses

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Stylists recommend high-waisted or empire-waist dresses to anyone who wishes to downplay her midsection or hips. But many women find that although this style can be flattering, certain empire waist dresses absolutely scream "maternity." If you like the look of a high waist but loathe looking somewhat pregnant, here are some tips:

1. Look at fabric and construction. Empire waists that have gathering or pleating are much more likely to blouse out over the belly, so find a dress with a flat waistband. Also seek fibers that have some structure and stiffness to them. Cotton twill will sit flatter than cotton knit.

2. If you worry that this cut is a little on the schoolgirl side, try a high-waisted maxi dress. The high waistline makes many figures appear taller, and the long skirt is a style seldom seen on grade-schoolers. You can offset the proportions slightly with a jacket that hits below the waistband and a long pendant necklace.

3. If traditional empire waists just don't work, look for a style that has shaping below the bust but an actual waistline that hits lower. Inverted yokes are great, as are designs with high but wide waistbands.

Empire-waist dresses have been around for ages - since the late 1700s, actually - so you can definitely find them in thrift and consignment stores! But here are a few new options.

- Ralph Lauren Floral Cap-Sleeve Dress, $134 at Macy's, sizes 4 - 14

- Piped Trim Cotton Knit Dress, $69.95 at (Here's a direct link if you want to include it, sizes 0 - 36W

- Fit and Flare Maxi dress, $39.99 at Land's End, in regular, petite, tall, and plus sizes