Plus-sized, 40-year old lady on the town in NYC - dress me.
January 20, 2011 7:30 PM   Subscribe

What can a plus-sized, 40 year old, fashion-backwards lady from Seattle wear on a night out in NYC with a bunch of fancy gays?

My friend is having his 40th in NYC with a lot of our fabulous pals, and I have not a CLUE what I can wear.

I am: 40 (and look 40), about a size 18 (no boobs, no butt), have basically no fashion sense, and can only wear things that are comfortable enough so I don't want to kill someone.

I don't know what types of fancy-wear are age-appropriate anymore as I never go out AND live in Seattle, so I'm totally at a loss. Are they still wearing satin? Ruffles? Maxis?

I find that stuff I'm looking at is either too young, too elderly, too just weird and creepy (Lane Bryant I'm looking at you), or just plain UG-leh. Or made for girls with tremendous racks and asses.

Any tips on a) trends/styles that might work for someone my age and size, b) stores online or Seattle to try, or c) whatEVER are so welcome. I am open to dresses, separates, anything.

I don't want to disappoint my gays!

(Not to damper the suggestions, but a lot of previous questions like this have "wrap-dress" as an answer - I think they look *horrible* on me because I'm all waist and no boobs/hips. but I could be convinced.)
posted by tristeza to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (50 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
You have fancy gays at your disposal and you will be in NYC? SHOPPING TIME!!! Go early and recruit somebody to be your shopping pal. Problem solved.
posted by TooFewShoes at 7:37 PM on January 20, 2011 [8 favorites]

I am thinking Ricki Lake in Hairspray. Timeless. Fabulous. May be a bit colorful for NYC, but they can go pound sand for all we care. It's our night, our town, and we own it!

Plus, you'll get cred from the cognoscenti of they make the John Waters connection.
posted by Xoebe at 7:38 PM on January 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you have a pair of jeans that make you feel schmexy, dress them up with leather boots and a cute top (though I don't have advice re: that). You should be plenty dressed!
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 7:38 PM on January 20, 2011

Response by poster: TooFewShoes - heh, actually excellent idea, logistically impossible due to flights.

Others: I love you guys, seriously, but I need something black and flattering or I'll feel like a fucking hobo in NYC. Have you been OUT to bars there in a sweatshirt/jeans on a Saturday night?? BRUTAL.
posted by tristeza at 7:39 PM on January 20, 2011

What are you doing for his bday? Going out to dinner, going to a club, going to a bar? This will probably dictate a lot of suggestions.
posted by wuzandfuzz at 7:39 PM on January 20, 2011

You really cannot go wrong with a vintage 1960s caftan or mu-mu. You are supposed to be shapeless in these outfits, and the fabulous fabric makes the point.
posted by Scram at 7:40 PM on January 20, 2011

Response by poster: wuzandfuzz: thanks, yeah, dinner and bar, and maybe other bar. Probably other bar with dancing, not a club. Likely in Chelsea.
posted by tristeza at 7:41 PM on January 20, 2011

I've always really liked the online dress shopping at Nordstrom. You can narrow the selections by silhouette, which is good for me (busty) but probably good for you, too--if you click on the "dress fit guide" in the upper right corner they'll tell you what silhouettes will work for you. Generally, play up what you like best--great legs? Wear a v-neck, a-line dress with a beautiful wrap, huge jewelry, and killer heels and you're done.

Not sure, but I bet they'll ship to a store near you for free, too--then just return the ones you don't care for.
posted by stellaluna at 7:42 PM on January 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have a friend with a similar shape to what you describe (and I agree that a wrap-dress wouldn't do her justice) who has fairly slim legs which she often overlooks (and I'd love to have myself). She looks lovely in black trousers with a fancy-ish top (chiffon, drapey sleeves). That said, I second the idea of going shopping with a friend you trust. Have fun!
posted by pammeke at 7:43 PM on January 20, 2011

I'd splurge on the accessories. Black pants with cute shoes, some sort of basic, not too clingy top in a color that's but with a low V-neck (flattering no matter how boobless) and a whole bunch of cool jewels, earrings, bracelets, great manicure, and a lot of flair. Get a blow-out, and red lipstick (it's in this season.) Simon Doonan likes sequins, lame and lots of fuss.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:43 PM on January 20, 2011

Okay okay. The Shabby Apple has a great feature where you can shop by body type. You'd probably be considered an apple, and they have some great suggestions (yes, some are wrap dresses but they have other cute stuff.) The great thing about Shabby Apple is that the dresses aren't too short or too low cut, so adult women can wear them and not feel like they're hanging out somewhere. Plus, things are super cute! I personally like this one a lot.
posted by TooFewShoes at 7:44 PM on January 20, 2011

If your personal style is more adventurous go to Re/Dress, if more conservative (and you have a little more bank) go to Lee Lee's Valise. Both places have amazing staff who would be happy to help you put together an outfit. They are only a few blocks from each other in Brooklyn... so you could check them both out!

My person comfy yet dressy outfit of late is a longish tunic/short dress (whatever shape looks best on your body), some leggings, a knee high boot, and a long cardigan. Accessorize any way you like!
posted by kimdog at 7:44 PM on January 20, 2011

Nordstrom has a personal shopper service (no purchase required) that you can schedule ahead, but I'm sure the assistants there will be able to help you without an appointment at any time. The people there are seriously skilled in what they do for a living, and I'm certain that they will be more than happy to make sure that you look great and feel wonderfully confident about it. Plus-sized friends of mine have bought awesome, envy-inducing dresses there, so I'm guessing that you will have no trouble finding your size. Not a paid shill.
posted by halogen at 7:45 PM on January 20, 2011

Keep the basics simple, and wear some really fabulous accessories that make you super happy. Separates might be good, both for comfort and to sort of break you up into a nice shape.

Maybe some simple straight leg slacks with a fabulous pair of shoes, a solid color blouse with a structured jacket or sweater that you love, a cool belt, some jewelry? A big necklace is nice if you don't have boobs that get in the way like I do, or some dangly earrings.

What's your budget looking like?

For Seattle accessories, come on over to Fremont and check out Lola Pop. It carries some gorgeous, ageless & fun French and Italian things.

If you need to be super fancy, go with textures and fabrics that seem richer - silks are always a good choice, and comfortable, too. The fancier you need to be, the less colors your outfit should have. Stick with one neutral (black white grey brown navy) one metallic (don't obsess, your purse buckles don't have to match your rings), and one accent color. If you're going for festive and party funtimes, though, more color is good!

Really, though, please don't think about "age-appropriate" as anything worth paying attention to. Screw that nonsense. Unless you're trying to pull off a short plaid skirt and pigtails, or a floor-length pink bathrobe, you can really wear anything at 40.
posted by Mizu at 7:47 PM on January 20, 2011

I agree that a wrap dress probably isn't going to be the right style from what you've described. I'd start by trying to figure out what basic styles will fit your shape so you can quickly ignore anything that won't work, then work on getting the right amount of fancy/young/shiny/whatever for the occasion. Because it doesn't matter how fashionable something is if it doesn't fit right or suit you.

A pretty commonly used system is the one made up by Trinny and Suzanna where they classify shapes then recommend styles, you'll find stuff online by searching something like "style your body shape". It sounds like you might be a column, i.e. pretty much straight up and down, but I'm not sure how tall you are. That might give you somewhere to start anyway.
posted by shelleycat at 7:48 PM on January 20, 2011

I'm the same size as you (slightly different shape—I haz teh boobs) and in New York, and this is what I'd recommend: well defined waist (possibly empire, depending upon the dress), full skirt, some sort of sleeve (cap to 3/4 length). This is what I'm talking about: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. Add opaque tights and some kickin boots. You'll look fab!
posted by ocherdraco at 7:48 PM on January 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do you have a pair of jeans that you like? And some cute heels? Or do you need an entire outfit?
posted by bluedaisy at 7:48 PM on January 20, 2011

Vintage scarves. Dior, Pucci, etc. The color will be at your face and you can get away with your basic comfortable top otherwise.
posted by Leezie at 7:49 PM on January 20, 2011

A quick question - where do you get your size 18 clothes now? An 18 at Lane Bryant or plus designated store can be much bigger than a size 18 elsewhere.

btw if you feel like you don't have enough T or A for the some of the clothes you might benefit from finding extended sizes - like regular in shape just bigger vs. plus which can get a bit tenty if you lack said assets.

Nordstrom online used to have a better selection of plus than in store. A lot of what was in store looked dowdy and old lady to me.

What about a really basic black dress from somewhere like target plus great accessories?
posted by oneear at 7:56 PM on January 20, 2011

Response by poster: Thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou. Best answers ever.

- assume $200 budget or so
- entire outfit
- I get my 18s now at Macys, but I wear 16, 18, 20 depending on brand (crazy non-standard sizing)
posted by tristeza at 7:59 PM on January 20, 2011

Avenue is hit or miss, sometimes like Lane Bryant sometimes better. They do have a store in Seattle, so what about something like this jacket? It's also not too pricey. Wear something like that with a black shirt underneath and a nice pair of dark wash trouser jeans with whatever cute boots or heels you can handle.

If you want to step up from Avenue, try online or instore at Talbot's (if Lane Bryant seems creepy, this might work). You could get some black or dark rinse trouser jeans and then a corduroy jacket.

You could also go for jeans and a plain top with a more dramatic scarf. Go to any department or mall store and find a scarf you like.

This Seattle plus-sized consignment shop looks neat. I bet they'd have some great ideas.
posted by bluedaisy at 8:04 PM on January 20, 2011

Maybe this?
posted by Nickel Pickle at 8:04 PM on January 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

I think you can look fabulous without going totally outside your comfort zone. You'll be in NYC, where black clothing is always in style. Get some nice dark jeans or trousers that you feel good in. Add a black top with a cowl or drape neck, so you'll have a nice openness at the neck to bring focus to your face, and the cowl will enhance your chest. Then, accessorize. Get yourself a big statement necklace and maybe a cuff bracelet. Add pops of color or metallic shine in your accessories, especially in the necklace, which will also bring focus up to your face.

For stores, Nordstrom has a decent plus-size department. Their winter stuff is on sale right now, so you might be able to find some good sweaters on the sale rack, and their salespeople are pretty helpful. Try Nordstrom Rack if you want to find deals, though you'll have to do a little more digging. Avenue also has some decent, reasonably priced things.
posted by bedhead at 8:06 PM on January 20, 2011

I'm about your size, a bit younger than you, in NYC, and not a fancypants girl :) But I do have to play the part on occasion.

Here is what I would do, and yes, I shop Old Navy pretty much exclusively.

Dark jeans (boot cut, wide leg), like these. If you have no butt (I don't either), don't buy the "plus" sizes, you'll just have saggy stretched out jeans butt. Top, whatever you're comfortable in. If it were me, I'd choose this or this.

Don't go crazy with the accessories. Cute but comfy shoes/boots. You will be doing a lot of walking, probably.
posted by AlisonM at 8:14 PM on January 20, 2011

A beautiful cardigan (in cashmere or cashmere/silk blend), long so it covers the places you want to cover. Wear a shimmery tank top underneath. They're all the range now and everyone has them. (I've seen them at Macys). Pair that with a pair of comfortable, dark denim jeans. Chandelier-style earrings will draw all the attention to your gorgeous face! Voila. Ready for the City.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 8:19 PM on January 20, 2011

If you are apple-y, this thread at Big Fat Deal might be helpful. It's mostly about dressing in general, but it might give you a few ideas. Zaftique has a shop-by-shape option, too, although their stuff looks like it might be a little downmarket for a night in NYC.

I hear you on the black, I really do - it's safe for sure. But don't dismiss solid color out of hand - I don't know anything about your coloring, but sometimes women wearing a bold and flattering color look more fashion-forward than they would in black.
posted by gingerest at 8:21 PM on January 20, 2011

Knee high boots will make you feel like a badass!

I am from Portland and went out in NY with my friends to a hip bar (sexy young gay bartenders and super loud music) and I wore black riding boots, black tights (control top!) and a dark grey ponte knit dress by Maggy London (similar to this one. I felt pretty fabulous and hip.

I have become a fan of ponte knits (aka doubleknit) becuase they are stretchy but firm unlike a jersey knit so you will be comfortable without showing lumps/bumps.
posted by vespabelle at 8:30 PM on January 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm pretty style lazy, but I try to look cool/elegant. I'm not skinny (size 14, curvy) and I'm 24, but I really think this look can flatter most anyone.

I like to pair a long sleeved, scoop/v-neck knit tee in a dark color, usually black (j.crew's perfect fit tees are great... I wear an M, so I bet an L or XL would fit you just fine), with dark wash jeans. Alternatively, a well-fitting black cardigan, over a tank in a contrasting color or print can look great. Straight or boot cut jeans are hard to beat. For shoes, I go with a slim line ballet flat, mary-jane, or boot. I top this with a chunky, distinctive necklace (believe it or not, Forever 21 has some GREAT, sophisticated, quirky jewelry are really low prices), and a well tailored blazer/jacker if you like.

It's a pretty fool-proof look, and it'll take you from day to night. The key to making this look elegant and versaltile is for the main components (shirt and jeans) of the outfit to fit really well and be really simple, but for the accessories (shoes, jacket, and/or jewelry) to have a pop of personality and/or color. I go light on makeup--usually mascara, a natural-looking blush (Tarte's cheek stain is my favorite), and a natural-looking lip stain (Laura Mercier makes the best).
posted by faeuboulanger at 9:08 PM on January 20, 2011

P.S. Boden has adorable, stylish clothes up to an 18! I really recommend them, and I think their styles a pretty ageless. I usually size-down with them, so if you see something you like, you might want to try a 16.
posted by faeuboulanger at 9:11 PM on January 20, 2011

I bet this dress, with black opaque tights, possibly with a subtle pattern, and black knee-high boots or cute heels would do the trick.
posted by barnone at 9:13 PM on January 20, 2011

Also: go get your hair done ahead of time. Get a great new cut, and color if you can afford it. If not, get one of the newer box hair dyes from the drugstore. A fresh haircut makes all the difference.
posted by barnone at 9:14 PM on January 20, 2011

Do you have slim dark wash jeans? Start there, and then add this: Tank Top in navy and this cardigan (I own both these pieces and the "petals" on the shirt move really nicely and the cardigan in olive is a really gorgeous color in person - push the sleeves up to the elbow, the way the model is wearing it is horrible.) Or this super-simple tank and this cardigan.
posted by wuzandfuzz at 9:26 PM on January 20, 2011

You need to check out the fashion advice at
(note: I am no way affiliated with this site. Just an avid reader!)
she talks a lot about different styles that work on plus sized women and suggests websites and brick and mortar places to shop.

She also talks a fair about about her love life, but I believe you can just read the blog entries tagged "fashion" or something similar.
posted by MrsHarper at 9:43 PM on January 20, 2011

One good website for dresses etc that hasn't been mentioned yet is Kiyonna. Perhaps this dress? They have some wrappy dresses too, and you could wear a camisole underneath if they're a bit low cut for you. Old Navy has some cute plus-sized dresses as well (not super fancy obviously but you could get some exciting accessories).

(ain't no paid advertisement)
posted by hansbrough at 9:53 PM on January 20, 2011

I'm age 44 and a size 16 (used to be 18), and I've always liked the plus-size items from INC at Macy's. Get a snazzy tunic, dark or black jeans, and cool shoes or boots.
posted by matildaben at 10:05 PM on January 20, 2011

What about Igigi? I think they have really gorgeous stuff. Though she's bigger than you, Gaborey Sidibe got her Oscar dress last year from Igigi.
posted by sugarfish at 11:07 PM on January 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Xoebe: "I am thinking Ricki Lake in Hairspray. Timeless. Fabulous. May be a bit colorful for NYC, but they can go pound sand for all we care. It's our night, our town, and we own it!

Plus, you'll get cred from the cognoscenti of they make the John Waters connection.

Okay, you totally read my AskMe!

Tristeza, Beauty Plus Power is a great resource for plus-sized stores. You'll find all the aforementioned sites there... Igigi, Zaftique, Kiyonna, etc. It's even organized by category.
posted by IndigoRain at 11:30 PM on January 20, 2011

Tons of great advice above, so I will be here simply to support the above posters in saying:

Hey, I'm pretty close to your age, not at all fashionable, grew up in New York (left for the west 7 months ago..woot!!!!!) and I have always found that wearing something black, well cut (i.e. not clingy) and that I felt I was comfortable in made me feel best. I know you want to wear something sexy or cool, but the sexiest, coolest thing you can do, ESPECIALLY in NYC is to FEEL good. No one is going to take your outfit apart, they are going to, if anything, judge you by how "good" you look which equals how good you feel.

Seriously. Old Navy is a great choice for plus sized (heck, ANY sized) party clothes and the one down on 6th ave is great and always has more size choices (don't know why).

NYC ain't scary one bit if you just FEEL good. I cannot stress this enough.

I have last minute tossed that "cute" shirt (which is tight and only looks good from this direction when I exhale and stand up really straight and jut out my chin and BAGGGHH.. I just want to stay home!!! ) for something that had room so many times and every single time I was grateful for having done it.

A little swagger and great makeup goes a whole lot farther than you think it might in NYC.

TLDR: Wear Old Navy or equivalent. Don't stress. Fun is the sexiest most fashionable accessory you have...and it sounds like you already have it. Show 'em how to be as cool as Seattle while you're at it!
posted by metasav at 11:52 PM on January 20, 2011

Black crossover dress. The fancy gays are the only accessories you'll need.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:32 AM on January 21, 2011

You're in Seattle. Surely you can find at least one fabulous gay here to help you shop! We have a fair number of them, after all.

(Can't offer any more specific advice, I fear, because I'm a 31-year-old goth chick shaped quite differently from you who gets most of her clothes at the Capitol Hill Value Village. I can tell you where to get a good chai, though...)
posted by Because at 2:35 AM on January 21, 2011

See, I thought Igigi, but they are SO centered on the hourglass.

(Also, okay, yeah, if you can't find find a fabulous and sympathetic gay man in Cap Hill, something is wrong in the universe.)
posted by gingerest at 4:15 AM on January 21, 2011

Eliza Parker is another good source for plus-size dressy dresses, and they have a shop-by-shape option.
eShakti is mostly more casual, but might have just the thing. Almost everything is customizable, so you can get the sleeves and the length adjusted to fit.
posted by libraryhead at 6:43 AM on January 21, 2011

Oh, yeah, I feel you on the Lane Bryant - uck! For fancy plus-sized dresses I've always found Lord & Taylor a godsend -- all three times I've needed something that nice, that is. Although I did get a crazy-not-me sparkly long sheath from Goodwill or someplace once that looked great, I say go to an upscale department store and look at the black dresses - you'll find Far Nicer things than Lane Bryant, often for less money, and then you can snazz them up as you see fit.
posted by ldthomps at 7:13 AM on January 21, 2011

Heels make any outfit 50% sexier on women of any age! But if you hate wearing heels and don't do it often - like me! - you'll end up miserable and with sore feet. So when I have somewhere fancy to be, I wear my new heels around the house for a couple hours a day leading up to the event. It breaks them in and I get comfortable walking in them and then I feel so much fancier!

Also, I Nth everyone who said accessorize. A 1980 study by Stillman and Hensley found that waitresses who wore a flower in their hair made better tips, possibly because they were more memorable and came across as individuals, not "faceless member[s] of the staff" ...or faceless members of a dinner party, as the case is.
posted by sarling at 7:28 AM on January 21, 2011

When you're out somewhere crowded, people are going to be at close range so top, jacket or cardigan and jewelry close to the face will be noticed first. Spend your money and energy there.
$200 may not be enough for a really perfectly fit, high quality blazer, but that's what I would do if you can find one on sale. Worn open with dark slim jeans, you will look polished while de-emphasizing the proportions of your bust and waist.
posted by slow graffiti at 7:47 AM on January 21, 2011

Response by poster: I heart you all so much. There are SO many good ideas here, I'm now going to spend all weekend shopping online and at Northgate/Alderwood. :) Bless you!
posted by tristeza at 9:04 AM on January 21, 2011

I am late to this thread, and not your size (but I am your age!) and I just want to add this little reminder to all the great advice you got above:

You can find the most FABULOUS. CLOTHES. EVAR!!! but if you do not also finish the look with great hair and pretty makeup then you won't look finished.

Trust me on this. Great hair and makeup are super important. If you can swing it with your budget and schedule, I'd try to setup a salon appointment in NYC prior to hitting the town. Hair, nails, face, get it all done at once. Maybe try a spa.

Also, one of the better tips I ever saw a designer give was "no matter what age, shape or size, womens' shoulders are always beautiful. Show them off!".
posted by lonefrontranger at 9:27 AM on January 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

You've gotten lots of great ideas here, so I'll only add one word: eyebrows.

Seriously. A good professional brow shaping will make you feel like a new woman.
posted by cyndigo at 3:26 PM on January 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

By the by—while I totally agree with libraryhead that eshakti is a great place to look in general, because of their turn-around time and the higher possibility of errors in fit due to customization, and assuming that this trip is coming up fairly soon, I wouldn't recommend them for this particular purchase.
posted by ocherdraco at 3:46 PM on January 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: You've gotten lots of great ideas here, so I'll only add one word: eyebrows.

THANK you for reminding me! I'm scheduled for cut and color the week before, but I had forgotten this. The last time I did it the gal at Wax-On totally maimed me, but I will soldier on!
posted by tristeza at 7:05 PM on January 21, 2011

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