Dear MetaFilter: Please Dress Me
March 7, 2009 10:44 PM   Subscribe

I need to move my standard dress mode up - dramatically - when I go out and address the Big Wide World. Pyjamas are apparently not an option.

Ten years ago, I was wearing Cute Things from Ann Taylor, Anthropologie, and Dorothy Perkins in a creative professional capacity. I was also a size 10, max. For the past five years, I've been freelancing from home, full time, and literally wear pyjamas all the time.

In between, I was involved in an RTA, extended incapacity, surgery and reduced mobility, and gained an ASSLOAD of weight. I have never dressed as a grown-up at this weight and have no idea how to do it, who to look at for inspiration, or what shops to browse through.

I will be appearing or presenting in front of large groups of people in the next few months in a professional capacity. A suit is absolutely out of the question; we're talking SXSW more than boardroom in terms of what constitutes appropriate attire.

So the question is:

If you were a 36 year old, 5'2" tubby munchkin with a bell body shape, and had to present as a creative type in front of crowds running the gambit from from ad agency wankers to aching hipsters to run of the mill geeks, what would you wear?


I cannot wear heels (see reduced mobility.) I don't weigh enough for "size 16 and up" clothing stores like Evans. I am not afraid of colour or patterns, but I really, really do not want to wear a mumu.
posted by DarlingBri to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (15 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
i recently had to go from older student to casual professional. I bought most of my new clothes on-line from Coldwater Creek. Their items are generally well made and if you find what you like in the outlet, the price is reasonable, especially if you get on the mailing list which often offers additional 25% off or more and/or free shipping.
posted by metahawk at 11:15 PM on March 7, 2009

I don't think you should try to do this shopping online. Rather, you need to get to a few stores with helpful sales clerks. Be honest with them: "I've gained some weight and need clothes that look professional and make me feel confident."

I think Ann Taylor could still work for you. Perhaps Ann Taylor petites? If the sales women aren't friendly or helpful, leave the store and try elsewhere.

And don't fear your current size--ignore the labels and just go for what fits. No matter the size, I always feel more confident in clothes that fit well and are comfortable.

And you definitely won't get stuck with mumuus! The best clothes for bigger women are the same as for smaller women--good fitting, tailored clothes. With your body shape, perhaps look for empire waist tops. But a good sales woman will go a long way.

Avoid any stores aimed at younger and/or skinny women, like J. Crew or H&M.

As for shoes: flat shoes can be very stylish, so don't even worry about that until you have a few outfits picked out.

You're in the UK, right? So I won't recommend specific stores. But good luck!
posted by bluedaisy at 11:47 PM on March 7, 2009

I dress business casual, I'm a size 12-14, and I buy 90% of my clothes at Target or Ross (and the other 10% at Old Navy).

Standard outfit in the winter is a pair of cords or khakis with a layer or two of knit long-sleeve tops with maybe a top sweater layer on really cold days.

Summer is same pants but with fitted button-down collared shirts, or a short-sleeve knit top, if I'm sitting at my desk (the chair has rolly-wheels that don't work well with long skirts) or sometimes those shirts with long skirts if I'm at a conference or something, where there are no rolly wheels on my chair.

Long sleeveless dresses with a fitted button-down shirt over them work really well for summer, because you can take the shirt off after work and be comfy with your glass of wine.

As far as buying pants goes, something with a little flare below the knee can make your thighs look less huge.

Comfort is a must for me, and these things seem to work really well both in the look and comfort department.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 11:57 PM on March 7, 2009

A few more thoughts:

Are you sure you can't fit into the smaller end of the plus-sized stores? Sometimes it's better to be smaller at the bigger ladies' stories than bigger at the smaller ladies' stores.

Also, the tailor is your friend. This can get expensive, but if you find some pants you love, but don't fit quite right, bring them to a good tailor instead of trying to find something absolutely perfect.
posted by bluedaisy at 12:17 AM on March 8, 2009

Ah, bless Bluedaisy, but Cork hasn't been part of the UK for about 90 years now!

anyway, I think your most adaptable and comfortable options are to get two basic tailored pants, in Black and Brown and/or Blue/Navy. M&S petites range may have something to suit. Go try the Dortothy Perkins range (can't remember the name of their petite one). The pants are the most hassle so go get them altered if you find a style you like and is comfortable but needs a hem up or an alteration to the leg.

Then buy a few cheap spaghetti strap tops in a few colours that go well with the black brown or navy pants:- cotton is best, whichever colours suit your hair and skin tone. Always buy one white and one black top

Finally find knit cardigans that go below the hips, which will make you less self-councious of the weight gain here, in colours that go with the top. Pale Blue top, Navy Cardi, Pale green top, matching darker green shade cardi. (don't make the mistake of getting these too big, you're not huge by any means if you still can't wear Evans!)

The Black top can go with the black pants when you want to wear a stronger colour cardi. I do this with a fuschia pink angora cardigan that people rave about.

For the more formal presentations I wear a black blazer with white or pale top and black,
for the less formal any combination of the above.
For even more Boho accessorise with interesting scarves, necklaces in chunky plastic colours which echo one of the colours in your clothes.

Also, scour the charity shops for things you like (and for the more expensive items such as jackets) as what's in fashion now might not suit your own personal style.

and, finally, the very first step is to go in and be measured for a comfortable bra. Seriously, most women wear the wrong size and if you've changed size and been in Jammies for a few years the difference of a properly fitting bra when you dress more formally cannot be understimated
posted by Wilder at 5:03 AM on March 8, 2009

Oh, I'm 5.4 and wear a Next size 14 trousers (Debenhams Size 12). Some of their more classic businssy trousers last for ever, but trousers are are individual as Jeans, and sizes vary between manufacturers so for this one do not buy on the internet. You need something that suits you.
Debenhams Classics , Next, & M&S are all worth investment.
I found a Next trousers last week at a factory outlet place I visited for £5. (It was the Long range and cost £9 to alter) But for £14 I have a new black talored trousers that will do me about three years.
Good luck!
posted by Wilder at 5:09 AM on March 8, 2009

Best answer: Start first with a properly-fitting bra. You're in Cork, and I see from the internet that there are a few 'proper' lingerie shops there. Don't get measured in Marks & Spencer, they're useless. A bra that fits properly makes all the difference to how your clothes fit. I thought I was a 38C until I was measured properly, and now I'm a 32E or 34E (depending on the manufacturer). It's incredible what a difference it makes to the fit of clothes.

Seconding M&S for trousers, though. I'm 4ft 11 and find their short length is alright, just a tad too long on me, so probably great for you at 5ft 2. I also really like Debenhams, they've upped their game tremendously in recent years where fashion is concerned. The new John Rocha line in there is fabulous.

I would go for plain, dark trousers (black, navy, dark green) with a nice top, something like this, this or this. Being short and round, I find separates more comfortable and flattering than dresses.

Debenhams has some fab dresses too, such as this, this (gorgeous!), this (which, if you have a well-fitting bra, will be very flattering), and this.

For shoes, Clarks are great for flat, smart shoes if you need a wide fit.
posted by essexjan at 5:56 AM on March 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

Jan, I think you've just done my next shop for me! Should have realised with your google-fu skills! That third dress is exactly what I'm looking for.

My links tend to concentrate on cheap tops since budget is a big issue right now but I agree with Jan, the John Rocha range is gorgeous.
posted by Wilder at 6:37 AM on March 8, 2009

Lots of great ideas here and I would just like to chime in to back up essexjan and Wilder on M & S. I love love love M & S and can always find something I like there.

Also, I would like to second the suggestion of H & M, where I can find decently-made, trendy work clothes for a generally affordable price. I also would not rule out Zara. Yes, their sizes are smaller than their UK equivalent and yes, everything is made as if all women are six feet tall. BUT a size 12, 14 or even 16 should be able to wear most of Zara's clothes in a size L or XL and too-long trousers can be altered to be a perfect length. If this doesn't bother you, their Basic line has some great clothes that are just safe enough to be worn in a work setting while still having a fashionable flair that isn't over the top. My favorite suit is from Zara and I've found some other great work clothes there as well.
posted by triggerfinger at 7:24 AM on March 8, 2009

In addition to some well-tailored pants, you might also look for a knee-length dress with a very defined waist and an A-line or wider skirt (a vintage-style shirtdress might fit the bill). When I looked at the photo you linked to, I thought the model could use a well-defined waist (to make her figure look a little more well-proportioned) and a skirt (to hide lumpy hips or thighs). Sometimes, on a well-padded but not quite plus-size woman, skirts look a lot better than pants.
posted by Meg_Murry at 9:37 AM on March 8, 2009

Best answer: I'm kind of the Vase type, and I think M&S can do wonders, if you keep your frump sensor on hand. They do damn good dresses and tops in viscose/jersey, which wash well and fit like a dream without clinging in the wrong places and are kind of staples without the mumsyness of 'classics'. I'd steer well clear of frills or ruffles unless you love them as they're kind of polar opposites of the designer/hipster/creative uniform, and I have misgivings about tailored pants looking rather officey but the right shoes might offset that.

I'm a fan of a-line skirts with tights and cute flat shoes, block colours, the occasional print, jersey tops under cardigans, and being a bit matchy-matchy. When I'm trying to look smart, I avoid: the hoodies-and-t-shirts end of my wardrobe, poor fits (especially cotton knits that have ballooned in the wash), too-short tops (constant fidgeting!), top/bra combinations that reveal too much if it's chilly, and rigid tailored clothes (I'm squirmy, my stomach bloats and contracts, etc).

wardrobe_remix merits a bit of scavenging (shortcut by going through wardrobe_remixers o' the week) - if you can find one or two people whose style hits you as being both smart (or non-pyjama) and hip, as well as being compatible with your body type, then take mad notes on the types of clothes they're wearing and look for the equivalents. Even if some of it's too trendy or silly or whatever, dig a bit. There's The Sartorialist (I find many of the women too fashiony but like the men, generally) and a tons of others too, of course.

The thing that really strikes me, just looking at the w_r photos there (and falling for the style of someone my shape, yay!), is how confidence and put-together-ness are bringing together a whole load of different outfits and making them read as cohesive. So, ditto on the bra fitting, and if you don't usually get your hair cut professionally, do that if it'll make you feel polished. If you have a friend whose style would work at your presentations or who's clued in to the audience you'll be facing, borrow them for a morning and hit one or two likely winners (Debenhams is a great suggestion), so's it's not just you in mirrored solitary confinement wondering if the outfit is smart and awesome and right.

Ditto Clark's and adding Camper for the shoes.
posted by carbide at 10:20 AM on March 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

(Okay in my defense, I mentioned the UK based only on the spelling of the word "pyjamas." Sorry not to have probed deeper!)
posted by bluedaisy at 12:51 PM on March 8, 2009

Bri- Can you get ahold of J. Jill stuff where you are? It seems that they do international shipping. They have petite stuff that goes to a US size 18 (which, I think, at least according to Boden's sizes would be a UK 22).

Do pay close attention to their size charts as I've found that their stuff tends to run a little large, but it is really quite comfy - almost like wearing jammies - and they do wash well.

I've recently lost a bunch of weight, so I've gone up and down roughly 8 sizes in my wardrobe. I definitely feel your pain! But, echoing the others, most definitely go and get a proper bra fitting. It will make a world of difference in how your clothes fit.

Good luck!
posted by dancinglamb at 2:29 PM on March 8, 2009

Response by poster: Wow, you guys rock, thanks so much! I am going to go to M&S, Debenhams and as backup, Monsoon with a girlfriend who shares my sense of style. NEXT here just has terrible stock in petites for some reason, and we have no H&M.

Are you sure you can't fit into the smaller end of the plus-sized stores?

Yes, totally sure. I tried this last time and it was a disaster. I am plus-sized for my height, but not plus sized enough to not swim in these clothes, even after an attempt at shrinking them. Don't worry, I am definitely not cramming my fat arse into too small clothing!

Can you get ahold of J. Jill stuff where you are?

Only with a $52 fedEx shipment. However, when I am next visiting my parents in the US, I will hit up J. Jill, Old Navy and Target. These are the stores that were most helpful four years ago, but I am one size larger now so none of that stuff fits.

Thanks a lot! Store ideas and individual clothing item links were the most helpful to me, and I really appreciate it. I also love the Wardrobe Remixers link; I'd love to see more real life photos of tubbier women wearing real clothing if anyone has any links!
posted by DarlingBri at 6:34 PM on March 8, 2009

Response by poster: Oh, I found this photo pool: Fatshionistas.

I'm not convinced by some of those outfits, but they are all being worn with 100% confidence and I like that :)
posted by DarlingBri at 12:20 AM on March 9, 2009

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