MetaStyle: Help a stylishly challenged person get the perfect dress.
November 6, 2009 8:14 AM   Subscribe

Help me (a plus-sized picky person) pick out an affordable, versatile dress to wear to a December wedding.

I have no sense of style and I hate shopping for dresses; there are several reasons why too.

1. I have gained a lot of weight since an injury, so I'm around a size 18 and probably a 20 in some dresses. I feel like I look fat in EVERYTHING. I have thin nicely shaped legs though, but my torso is another story.
2. I don't like wearing dresses at all and I only shop for new cocktail/semi-formal dresses about every ten years. I am very picky.
3. I look terrible in many colors. I have almost an Eastern European look where my hair is medium to dark reddish brown, but my skin is very fair. Yellows and reds are out.
4. I prefer green and not just any green, but close to sage. I have only one feature that I'm proud of and that is my green eyes. Sage makes them striking and I nearly always get a compliment on my eyes.
5. I have to have something which hides my armpits. I have skin tags that I hate and am mortified over. Several times I've been to the doctor to have them removed, and every single time there wasn't "time" to do it. It's as though I'm destined to deal with them forever and always.
6. I need something that is about $75 or less, if possible.
7. Since I don't shop often for stuff like this, it needs to be versatile enough to wear for Christmas parties (et al) too.


I like this dress, in Sage, but again, no sleeves and I'm not entirely sure how it would look on me anyway.

So, any ideas? If I get the above dress, what kind of wrap could I wear with it or sweater, or something else? I can't leave it sleeveless. Is there another dress out there which would be a better option?

I'm at a loss.
posted by magnoliasouth to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (29 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
A simple cardigan in a dark color is almost always perfectly acceptable as a cover. If you went with a sage green dress, you could try a navy blue, chocolate brown, or black cardigan. White could work, too, but if it's an evening wedding I'd go darker. You could wear a wrap, but that would provide less coverage and you'd have to keep adjusting it all night.

Is there any reason that you need to shop online? As unpleasant as the mall can be, nothing beats actually trying something on.
posted by oinopaponton at 8:31 AM on November 6, 2009

I actually bought that dress to wear in a wedding, and despite the many glowing reviews on Amazon, it sucked for me (5'8", size 16ish, hourglassy). It's cut super low in both the back and the front, so it was hard to wear a decent bra with it, and although I don't mind showing a little skin, I felt like I spent the whole day tugging at it. I won't wear it again, and I would really not recommend it to someone who feels self-conscious about her body.

It might help if you can tell us what you like about that dress, other than the color. Is it the fabric? The silhouette? The retro-ish style of it? The full skirt?

Also, would you say that your waist is defined, or is your body pretty straight through your torso?
posted by Siobhan at 8:32 AM on November 6, 2009

(a dark green cardigan in cashmere or cotton would also be nice with a sage green)
posted by oinopaponton at 8:33 AM on November 6, 2009

Thanks so far for the suggestions. Please keep 'em coming!

@Siobhan: My torso is straight. I'm not sure why I liked the dress. It could be the color. I like things that aren't going to accentuate my center and that appeared to do it.

Truth be told, I prefer straight skirts, with a longer jacket (like mid thigh), but I couldn't find anything like that. Maybe it's too 80's or 90's. lol!

Does that help?
posted by magnoliasouth at 8:47 AM on November 6, 2009

All my go-to places are turning up nothing in sage, but I'll keep looking. I will say that those "Pacific Plex" dresses are kind of cheap looking in person.

I'm a size 18 also, but thrilled about it, since I can now shop in a lot of places I couldn't before I lost weight. Don't limit yourself to "plus size" searches, many retail places have "regular" sizes up to 18 or even 20.

If you are uncomfortable about your size, velvets or thicker knits might be more flattering than satin. But it sounds like you have too many rules already. Try things on and you may be surprised as to what works for you, especially since you say that you don't dress shop much. Go to a department store (the nicer Macy's locations often have great plus-size dresses) and try everything on, even stuff you could never afford. Then once you see what shapes, fabrics, and colors work for you, jump online and try to find something similar in your price range.

Good luck!
posted by JoanArkham at 8:49 AM on November 6, 2009

I'm a size 14/16. I wore this dress to two weddings and a fancy dinner this summer/fall. Here is a similar version with long sleeves. I wore a cardigan over the dress for the fall wedding, and I think a pashmina or wrap in a signature color would have also been fine.

I've never had a "little black dress" before, because 1) I'm not little and 2) I have bought a dress like twice in the past 10 years. I really liked that the dress was very simply and easy to accessorize, and also had a flattering top with kind of an empire waist and loose fitting skirt that did a nice job of hiding my tummy. Here's me and my hilarious farmer tan. (and my SO) Apparently I don't have a full length shot!
posted by sararah at 8:57 AM on November 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

This doesn't come in sage, but I think that peacock color would look wonderful with green eyes.
posted by JoanArkham at 9:09 AM on November 6, 2009

If you're unaccustomed to wearing dresses (or any other category of clothes) or unaccustomed to dressing a new body shape/size, one of the best things you can do is to try on quite a few different options and be open to what looks good on you. It may mean going above your $75 price limit, but one option would be to go to a department store with a free personal shopping service (I know Nordstrom's does this) and ask your shopper to find you sage or similarly colored dresses in a range of styles. The lower budget option would be to do this on your own at cheaper stores and just make yourself take one of every sage-colored dress to the fitting room.

Another thing to consider would be to buy some nice shapewear--nothing that's going to cut off your circulation or transform your body shape, just a piece or two that you can wear under dresses to smooth things out a little. This will make fitting room decision-making a lot less frustrating. At least in my experience, I have quite a few dresses and skirts that look great with the right undergarments but awful and lumpy without them.
posted by Meg_Murry at 9:22 AM on November 6, 2009

Do check out Igigi. I felt so, so fabulous in the dress that I bought and can't wait to wear it again and again. They're a little more expensive, but the fit was unbelievable. It was one of my first experiences with plus/larger sizes (I bought a 14/16), and I was so happy that I had found someone who actually knew how to make clothes for my body! They even had helpful little details like snaps to hold bra straps.

I WISH I had an event to wear this dress to. I think it would look delicious at a winter wedding.

Don't you owe it to yourself to make yourself feel great?
posted by Madamina at 9:24 AM on November 6, 2009

I do think that you are limiting yourself a lot with the sage green thing, particularly in winter -- there are a lot of other colors in that range that seem like they'd suit your complexion, and another green will emphasize your eyes even if it's not a perfect match. If you truly buy a dress only once every ten years, you might consider spending a little more than $75. This one from igigi looks like it would be flattering and not clingy around your midsection, is a gorgeous color, and would show off your legs.

Also, if you really hate dresses, is there a reason you have to wear one? Unless it's a black-tie event, I think a pair of black palazzo pants, heels, and a dressy top or jacket would be just as suitable, and might be more comfortable for you.
posted by Siobhan at 9:40 AM on November 6, 2009

I want to suggest a jersey convertible/infinity/Marilyn dress. I actually made one for myself to wear to a wedding over the summer, but there is a really popular plus-size one from Monif C. There is also a cheaper option from Victoria's Secret (stretchy jersey, I think the XL would work for your size), but I would check out as well because a lot of people will make them much cheaper, to your body measurements, and in whatever color jersey you'd like. This dress is made up of a skirt and two really long strips of fabric to twist/tie/wrap into whatever formation feels the most flattering to you. I absolutely LOVE the one I made, and it made me feel like a million bucks.
posted by so_gracefully at 10:09 AM on November 6, 2009

I take it you're in the South. I must say, I always have horrible luck finding good looking plus size clothes when I'm home in Alabama. I have great luck with Macy's here in New York, but their selection in Birmingham is atrocious.

Call Lisa Dolan at Lee Lee's Valise. They're based in Brooklyn, and have an online store, but the real value there is that Lisa knows all the lines that are actually flattering to plus size women, and will be able to guide you to lines that have the style you're looking for, in the price range you need, and that are appropriate for your particular shape.
posted by ocherdraco at 10:09 AM on November 6, 2009

In addition to all the good suggestions here, take a look at the LiveJournal "fatshionista" community. You'll see lots of other women your size and shape posting photos of them in dresses that might give you ideas.

As for "everything makes me look fat"--that's because you are "fat" by your own definition. Don't try to find the dress that's going to make you look "thin"--try to find the dress that's going to make you look gorgeous.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:22 AM on November 6, 2009 [3 favorites]

We have the same coloring and I also went through a I-only-look-good-in-greens phase. But it turns out that we have options! Warm nut browns and purples (lavender to plum, depending on skin tone) flatter both green eyes and red hair. If you're into eye makeup, be sure to use browns and deep purples to further emphasize your eyes.
posted by zoomorphic at 10:37 AM on November 6, 2009

There are a few sellers on Etsy who make custom clothes and plus-sized clothes, some out of nice bamboos and cottons that dye and wrap beautifully. Lots with long sleeves. I've seen dresses from Salts and from Conscious Clothing personally and they're beautifully made, and from what I've been told, wash beautifully. Both have a nice green. This top from Salts is insanely flattering - the friend who has it looks gorgeous in it. It could be made into a dress, or you could wear a matching skirt for more mixing options. It defines the bust area and the area just under the bust in a really flattering way. These are perhaps more casual than the look you had linked to, but check them out, even if just for future reference!

Salts - Conscious Clothing - Laramie Loom - Gaia Conceptions - Ureshii

I have your coloring as well, and like zoomorphic, find that I look really great in chocolate brown and in plums.
posted by iconomy at 10:45 AM on November 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Check out eshakti. I haven't ordered from them personally, but it looks like you can give them specific measurements and can choose sleeve length.

The only drawback is, well, you can't try it on first.
posted by cleverevans at 10:52 AM on November 6, 2009

Not that I'm a fashion maven by any stretch, but when I was size 20 I had better luck with two pieces rather than dresses.

I had a plain black skirt that had a slit up the side just enough to walk, and then I found flashier tops that varied depending on how formal the occasion was.

Pick a plain color for the part you want least emphasized and something more fun for the parts you don't mind showing off.

Also, those empire style dresses that are everyone's favorites these days made me look pregnant. I needed a dress whose waist was at my natural waist- not under my breasts. Not sure how that works with straight torsos.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:52 AM on November 6, 2009

I posted this question over the summer. I ended up buying a shrug - it covered my armpits nicely and made me a lot less self conscious. Pashminas are a great idea too.

The dress you linked to is gorgeous, by the way.
posted by futureisunwritten at 11:12 AM on November 6, 2009

It's $100, but this 3-piece skirt set from Dillard's seems to match most of your requirements.

Also, this dress from JCPenney seems similar to the one you linked, it comes with a matching shawl, but it's at the $100 mark as well.

If you bought a dress at $75 and then bought a cardigan or some other cover-up, I think you'd be at the $100 mark anyway, so hopefully these might work for you.
posted by shesbookish at 11:43 AM on November 6, 2009

Halter dresses, satin, ruching - all really unflattering for most people.

You should look at Diane Von Furstenburg wrap dress look-a-likes. The wrap is really flattering in the d├ęcolletage department, and the tie waist helps to create the hourglass look that so many plus size women can rock so well. The length on a nice version will hit right at the nice part of your knee, and make your legs look great. Think Joan Hollaway, not Marilyn Monroe.

This would be amazing with red, plum or green heels.
posted by chuke at 12:04 PM on November 6, 2009

This was on a site posted by someone else. Amazing colour, sleves are good, it's cut under the breast, which will make you look slimmer, and it will show off your good legs! Plus it's only $67!
posted by pick_the_flowers at 12:48 PM on November 6, 2009

I second the idea of a wrap dress, and the faux-wrap Jessica London one that chuke linked to looks pretty great. Wraps are super flattering to women with curves: they highlight the bust (although you can always put a lace-topped camisole underneath if you're uncomfortable showing too much chest), they create a great silhouette, and they also look fine with sleeves. Sometimes it's hard to find a sleeved dress that doesn't look frumpy. Plus you can wear them basically year-round if they're a thinner knit! Just add dark stockings and a heel for winter.

This is a little OT, but holy smokes, Madamina: that venice dress is HOT. I wish they made it in my size.
posted by alleycat01 at 12:55 PM on November 6, 2009

@everyone who has responded: WOW! So many great suggestions that I can just about cry. Some of you have suggested I spend more and that I owe it to myself. You all are right about that, I just am not sure I can really do it with the holidays coming up. I hate December weddings for this very reason. Although, shesbookish is absolutely correct in that if I don't have to buy a cover-up, $100 is about what I'd spend.

Also for those of you suggesting specific dresses and where to find them, thank you so much. They're all great finds!

@JoanArkham: What are some of your normal go-to places? I love your velvet (and shopping) advice and I did once have a dress that I loved which was velvet. I wore it after my last pregnancy where I was almost as big as I am now. It's the only dress I've ever liked! It was just a plain velvet straight dress. That other dress is amazing. Do you really think that the peacock would suit dark hair and fair skin? I did once have a pantsuit (in my skinny days) that was near that color and true enough, it did look good.

@sararah: Gorgeous picture and you look fabulous in that dress! Thank you for sharing it.

@Siobhan: I agree whole heartedly with you on limiting myself. This is probably why I only buy dresses every decade.

@Meg_Murry: About that shape-wear.... Do you have any suggestions? I have never found anything that I really felt made much difference. If you know of something I'm all ears.

@iconomy and zoomorphic: Thank goodness someone else is out there who knows what I'm talking about in the color department. It's really a hinderance sometimes. I even had my colors done by a professional who honestly couldn't decide if I was autumn or summer. Go figure. Now that you two mention it, I did have a mock turtle in chocolate brown that I loved. I've forgotten all about that. Plum has never even crossed my mind.

Again, I'm still open to ideas, but it has been so helpful for all of you to chime in. For the first time I really feel like I do have choices and that I can look good in something!
posted by magnoliasouth at 1:18 PM on November 6, 2009

This is coming not from a looking-fabulous-while-fat perspective, but from a looking-stylish-while-not perspective. (I'm both. Fat, I mean, and also I have no real sense of style. I do believe that nearly every thing I own is from Land's End.)

Can you sew, at all? Do you know anybody who sews, at all? Because if I were you, what I would do is buy a chocolate brown dress in a style that you feel comfortable in -- possibly even a little on the casual side -- and then go to a highish-end fabric store and get 4 yards of silk shantung or dupioni, 2 in sage and 2 in plum. Sew those together, turn and topstitch, and then you have a beautiful, classy, enormous, reversible wrap for about $40 that would dress up anything. Or if you wanted only one color and a narrower wrap, half that much.
posted by KathrynT at 2:22 PM on November 6, 2009

This might go over your budget, but there are a lot of bridesmaids dresses that aren't very bridesmaid-y and may suit your needs. And they are always available in many colours and in plus sizes -- even Vera Wang's dresses go up to size 28.
posted by emeiji at 3:02 PM on November 6, 2009


Properly fitted bra - get measured properly!

Pants that go up over your tummy area and go down over the tops of your thighs think cycle short type shape. These will not make you drop clothes sizes or restrict circulation. But it will give you a nice smooth line from your boobs right down to your legs. And any dress, skirt or dress pant will look a lot better if there's no lumps and bumps around your tummy, hips and tops of your thighs!
posted by koahiatamadl at 3:08 AM on November 7, 2009

I have fair skin and dark red hair (natural hair is dark brown), and my eyes run from grey to green to blue, and peacock is very flattering on me.

I think most of my go-to places have been mentioned. I have bought quite a few fancy dresses from Newport News. Many of their regular sized items go to size 20, and they offer some things in plus sizes as well.

Shapewear: I've got two slips similar to this that I wear under clingy things. I haven't personally tried Spanx but I know people who swear by them. I usually buy tights one size too large to get them long enough (I'm 5'10") which means I can pull the waistband up under my boobs, which gives a similar smoothing effect.

I actually love fancy dresses, so I always keep an eye out for them on clearance in department stores. I figure if you buy the dress, the event will come. (Protip: buy next year's holiday dress in February.) We don't have Boscovs in the DC area, but I have found some great stuff there when I'm up in PA.
posted by JoanArkham at 7:55 AM on November 7, 2009

Just noticed your follow-up. I've had good luck in the past asking staff in lingerie stores for help and just being very clear that I need to be able to breathe in whatever garment I get. They'll start with stuff that cuts off your circulation, but once you hold your ground they'll bring out things that will work for you. (My shopping strategy is mostly just to to try not to feel bad about trying on a ton of clothes.) I was thinking of something along the lines of the slip JoanArkham links above or high-waisted underwear, although I'm afraid I don't have any specific recommendations as to brand. Sorry :(
posted by Meg_Murry at 8:13 AM on November 7, 2009

Sarah, great dresses, thanks.

I found a gorgeous dressy top, and wear it with a velvet skirt in winter, or a silk skirt in summer/fall. Finding a dress that fits well is harder for me than finding a top and skirt/pants.
posted by theora55 at 9:58 AM on November 8, 2009

« Older Catfish Tikka Death   |   Prolonged fever in a toddler Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.