It used to be that plus-size women were told to cover their problem areas with baggy and dark-colored clothing from the store’s women’s section. The new pack lives and preaches the philosophy of “make it work” — meaning plus-size gals can shop wherever they want even if they don’t fit the clothes. In essence, they choose flattering pieces and alter their clothes to work with their bodies.
“For a long time, people told me I was only able to shop at straight size stores because I was an ‘inbetweenie,’ around a size 16,” she wrote on her blog, GabiFresh. “Forty pounds later, I’m a size 20/22, and I still bring my fat (behind) into H&M, TopShop and wherever else I want.
“They may not make clothes to fit me, but they can’t stop me from making their clothes fit me.”
Change Your Mindset
The “make it work” mantra is a breath of fresh air for plus-size women, but that doesn’t make navigating the racks of seemingly too-small clothing any less intimidating.
“There are so many different concepts of style,” said stylist Sheri Collins said. “The hardest part is helping my clients embrace it.”
How hard? It’s a total mind-set change. The February 2011 edition of “Glamour” included a study that showed women have an average of 13 negative thoughts about their bodies a day. Some women admitted having as many as 100 negative thoughts. A plus-size woman figures to have even more.
Collins tries to get her clients to focus on what they like about the clothes instead of what they don’t like about themselves. She takes her clients on shopping trips to stores such as Lane Bryant and H&M to see what they gravitate toward naturally. She pushes them to consider pieces that accentuate the parts of the body they do like, like their breasts or arms.
“Look beyond the size,” she advises. “Don’t just go for the size 22 because that’s what size you think you wear.”
Clothing designers all have different sizing guidelines, so a size 18 for one brand could be a 20 or 16 for another.
“Even the skinny girls know you go up or a size down to have a different fit,” Collins said. “Many times a size large or extra large will work for a plus-size woman, like a chic black turtleneck that hugs the curves or trendy crocheted vest.”
Leora Platt, creative director for fashion label Teri Jon, agrees.
“There should always be balance,” she said. “If the bottom is straight, then the top could be flowy or have more volume. Longer tops that hit right at about the lower hip is very flattering with a pencil skirt.”
Embrace Inspiration — and Fabrics
Fashion inspiration is everywhere. Magazines such as “Vogue” and “Harper’s Bazaar” offer pages and pages of inspiration, even if those clothes don’t look like something made for you.
You might not be able to afford high-end designers, but many retailers offer something similar in a body-flattering fabric. For example, you might love the versatile and size-friendly DKNY Cozy, but can’t afford to drop hundreds on one. Instead, look at budget-friendly retailer Old Navy for one of its inexpensive and widely available cardigans.
“I still wear my Old Navy lime-green cardigan that I bought during a sale,” Collins said. “I pair that with my black turtleneck for a look that hugs my curves.”
Platt said layers help create a shapelier look.
“Fitting knits and cardigan sets look great with pencil skirts as well,” she said.
Collins recommends looking for certain types of fabric when shopping, especially in straight-size stores.
“I love good jersey knit, love spandex, love rayon,” she said. However, shiny fabrics such as satin are not flattering for plus-size women.
Make It Work
It’s inevitable: you find the perfect piece for your wardrobe, but it’s either too big, too small or just doesn’t feel right. Does that mean you have to give it up? Not at all: this is what alterations are for.
“I’ve had this black cocktail dress for a decade and bought it when I was a bigger size,” Collins said. “It’s too big for me now, but I add a belt to it and let it fall off my shoulder. I get tons of compliments on it.”
When it comes to professional wear, business image consultant Sandy Dumont recommends a bit of creative tailoring.
“I have tons of plus-size female businesswomen as clients, and the most of the clothes available at shops are oversized and baggy “daddy suits,” she said. “I advise them to have the collar removed so they have a tidy and flat V-neckline that lets them wear fabulous necklaces and brooches..”
Tailors can alter pants, jackets and other too-big garments to flattering proportions. The cost will depend on the alterations, so it is worth it to shop around and find a tailor that will listen to what you want.
Too-small pieces can be creatively altered too.
“Recently, I was at Goodwill and came across a gorgeous silk dress with a jaw-dropping print. There was absolutely no way I was walking out of the store without it. It was a size 8, but I knew I would do whatever it took to make it work for me,” Gregg wrote on her blog. “When I got home, I cut the seams up the side, threw it over a pleated skirt, and put a belt around it. Voila!”
Platt said some of her style clients do the same thing.
“I have had customers take two skirts and put them together,” she said. “Alternatively, I have also had clients make a side panel on a dress or a pencil skirt.”
Collins did the same with a tunic that was too tight on the arms. She slit the sleeves from the elbow to the shoulder to create a new top that was flattering and on-trend.
Adding a panel takes a bit of sewing know-how, especially when you’re taking apart a more expensive piece of clothing. Seamstresses and tailors can help if you’re afraid of ruining your clothes.
Even if you never alter a thing, the clothes themselves should always fit your body and personality. They should have some versatility, and you must be willing to care for them. That doesn’t change regardless of your size.
“I like ‘Project Runway’ judge Nina Garcia’s style strategy,” Collins said. “Invest in really good pieces for your wardrobe and they’ll last forever.”