Dressing professionally
November 1, 2011 7:18 PM   Subscribe

How do I look like a professional young working woman when my body-type gets in the way? Fat (pear-shaped), with curly crazy hair. I look fine in casual, float-y, "girly" clothes like wrap dresses and tunics, but put me in a suit and I look really frumpy.

My preferred style is casual/girl-y and I look nice in wrap dresses, tunics with leggings, and other float-y clothes which are forgiving of bulges etc. At work I am much more casual than the other women my age because I can't carry off tailored pieces, pencil skirts, blazers and other work-type clothes without looking frumpy. It's not who I am at all. How can I look tailored, not frumpy, and let my personality shine through?

I also have very curly hair which, again, looks fine in a casual setting but just not professional enough. If I tie it back I get a lovely little halo of frizz and my round face looks rounder.

I usually think I am pretty good-looking, weight notwithstanding, but my looks do not seem appropriate for a young professional. It's doing a number on my self-esteem to compare myself to my sleek, shiny-haired, skinny co-workers AND I think it does me a disservice professionally to not be able to look as tailored as they do.

I am in the UK, and mostly shop at ASOS, New Look, Dorothy Perkins and Evans. Fatshionista is cool for non-worky clothes inspiration but not for work.

Anonymised because of mild embarrassment-factor.
posted by anonymous to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (40 answers total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
I can't help you with the clothes but I am help you with hair. You need short hair. Find a stylist who can do short hair for CURLS and pay them what they are worth. It can make a huge difference.
posted by bq at 7:22 PM on November 1, 2011 [3 favorites]

I bet that there are tailored pieces that look amazing on you - but I also bet that they have to fit you perfectly in order to look right (and to avoid looking frumpy). Things that don't fit quite right tend to look a bit frumpy.

I'd pick a day you're feeling good about yourself and your body, and go try on LOTS and LOTS of clothing. Try on pencil skirts, A-line skirts, trousers, blazers, suits. Anything that doesn't fit at all isn't worth it. If it comes close to fitting, think about alterations.

Then, buy one or two well-made pieces that fit you as well as possible, and get them altered so they really fit perfectly. I think that will really help.
posted by insectosaurus at 7:24 PM on November 1, 2011 [8 favorites]

Don't wear pants suits. They make any woman look frumpy, even super models.
posted by yarly at 7:27 PM on November 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

I have to disagree about the hair, at least as a blanket recommendation. My thick, very curly hair looks positively awful short, like I am trying to get away with looking older or something, which instead makes me look like I'm playing dress-up. Something between shoulder-length and bra-length works best for me - it's not out of control, it's very pretty, and it makes me look my age. If I've got a great cut, I can let it go longer than that and it still looks mature and professional. Go to a stylist with curly hair and ask hime/her to help you develop a style that will look more professional.

Try out the curly girl method to see if it helps with frizz. If you're treating your hair right, it will stop frizzing for the most part.

As far as clothing, my recommendations:
-pants in dark colors with firm, crisp creases (iron them if you have to)
-cardigans that look like jackets - a great alternative to jackets
-pointy-toed shoes with a small heel
-a 3-piece mantra (top, bottom, and something else - scarf, iconic jewelry, cardigan/jacket, etc)
-polished, professional makeup and understated jewelry (if you're not using a single piece as your "third piece")
-a color scheme - find some colors that work for you and stick with them. My wardrobe has black or grey as a neutral, and a jewel tone teal/green, purple, and cherry red as colors. I found that those colors made me look and act more polished, so that's all I buy (bonus: everything is mix-and-match).
-Make sure everything fits perfectly. Tailoring will help a lot, since clothes off the rack suck at fitting anyone with a real body shape.

Take your time shopping. I find that I tend to rush through and try to get all the things on my list in an afternoon, and it's just miserable and I find that a lot of the things I buy later in the end up never getting worn and/or get returned.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 7:37 PM on November 1, 2011 [25 favorites]

A lot of cues for "professionalism" are in the details, not the actual style (e.g., suit vs. dress). The specifics will certainly vary by industry and office culture, but I can easily picture you looking great in:

- a solid navy wrap dress with non-cheap-looking jewelry (pearls, maybe?) and on-trend, well-cared-for shoes
- a crisp solid-colored twin set (with nice buttons and no pilling) paired with a simple dark A-line skirt
- a knit blazer with some stretch in it (maybe grey/white?) over a white or cream silk shell, paired with professionally pressed wide-legged black trousers and great classic pumps. Not a suit. Separates for sure, bought separately and tailored as insectosaurus says above.
- Plain but precise makeup and clear-or-palest-pink manicure (no French tips)

Regarding hair, have you thought about bangs? They might be especially helpful in balancing the shape of your face (and the "halo") when your hair is tied back. I love a nice curly bob cut, too.

[on preview, seconding peanut_mcgillicuty]
posted by argonauta at 7:40 PM on November 1, 2011 [7 favorites]

I realized only recently that I feel more put-together, stylish, and professional when I dress "up" instead of "down". Not dressing down as in dressing casually, but dressing down as in the direction the clothes fall is down. Even if I'm technically wearing the same clothes (skirt, shirt, jacket), I feel schlumpy when they're down and really awesome when they're up.

For instance, I would describe a tunic with leggings as down. The widest opening is at the bottom of the tunic, there's usually detail on the bottom of the tunic, and the eye is drawn down to the bottom of the tunic instead of up to the face. When I wear a straight skirt with a somewhat shapeless sweater, I feel like it's also a down outfit.

But! When I'm in an A-line skirt or dress (which makes a triangle on the lower half of your body that points upwards) with a well-fitting jacket (that's cropped to hit above the hip) and a nice scarf, it sort of draws an arrow to my face. It almost feels like it's physically pulling me upwards instead of dragging me down. Same with shirts that have ruffly details around the collar. It's like "HELLO, SEE THIS FACE?" and makes an upward shape on my body.

So now, when I put on clothes, I look at myself in the mirror and think, "OK, is this up or down? Do I feel like it's got the most interesting shape and structure up around my shoulders, or is it just kind of flopping around my midsection and butt?"

And, with the up/down method, I find that I feel fancier, even when I'm just wearing casual clothes.
posted by phunniemee at 7:40 PM on November 1, 2011 [20 favorites]

You need to get your clothes tailored. (I am in the same boat.) Check on yelp or ask friends to find a place that does good alterations.

1. Pants: buy ones that fit your butt. Get the waist taken in to fit perfectly.

2. Blouses: make sure they fit without gaping or dragging on the boobs. Tailor to fit elsewhere. If you wear knits, make sure they aren't too tight, or clingy, or lumpy.

3. Jackets - this is tough, I personally hate the sensation of wearing jackets enough that I don't do it unless I absolutely have to - but if you must wear them, get your blazers altered so the sleeves are the right length and the fit is not boxy.

4. Heels. Not too tall/skinny!! There was a beautiful woman in my last office who was short and curvy and always wore towering, tottering stilettos, and she looked like a beach ball on stilts. It's trying too hard. But something to give your legs some length. I personally like wedges to get the length while keeping some volume at the end of the leg to balance out chunky thighs.

5. Phunnimee's advice about keeping the details near your face is excellent.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:51 PM on November 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

super-curly hair can be adorable really short (pixie-short) but it's terrible to grow out. do you use any product in your hair? a smoothing serum and some hair spray can keep the frizzies down if you wear a ponytail or a bun.

A wrap dress can be totally professional, I think, with good accessories and shoes. You could wear a blazer over it. You could also wear a sheath dress with a cardigan over it. A tailored button-down shirt that fits you well, slim enough not to blouse too much when tucked into a pair of nice pants, with a flowy cardigan is also a nice look. I second phunniemee's advice--a top with an interesting collar--whether it's a shirt with a ruffle collar, or a cardigan with some detailing--projects a kind of regality. An a-line skirt is your friend: find one, buy five. Ditto well-fitting trousers. A wide-leg trouser cut is very flattering on a pear figure, with heels (chunky or delicate, as you prefer). Top it off with a high-quality twinset and some nice jewelry.

As for blazers, consider a mod, boxy shape (I'm thinking Eileen Fisher here, or J.Jill). They will look fresh and modern, and still professional.

Black tights and pumps under a neutral dress will also add polish.

If you dress simply in well-made clothes, a statement necklace and nice stud earrings can bring it together.

Makeupwise, go neutral, but wear at least powder, lipstick, and mascara. Get your eyebrows done--that makes such a huge difference in how polished your face will look. A spritz of good perfume always adds a touch of class.
posted by elizeh at 7:56 PM on November 1, 2011

I agree with the commenters above - take some time to find pieces that fit well, and if they're just a little bit off (too long or loose), get them altered. Since you work in a professional setting, it's worth your money to have items tailored because you'll probably be wearing them fairly frequently.

I'd recommend getting two sets of skirt suits, one dark (black or navy) and one neutral (perhaps khaki or dark brown); being curvy myself, I find that straight skirts that hit about two inches above the knee are the most flattering. Have a few colorful blouses with with interesting details around the neckline to pair with the suits. A couple of standby dresses a la Joan from Mad Men paired with cardigans might also work for you.

Additionally, if you find yourself getting bored with your outfits, accessorize with eye-catching jewelry. I'm a big fan of stacked bracelets or chunky necklaces.

I'm afraid I can't help with the hair, though my ex-roommate (who had curly hair) usually put a defining gel in her hair after showering to control the frizz. Perhaps you just need less volume and more definition?
posted by constellations at 7:57 PM on November 1, 2011

Unless you are morbidly obese, weight definitely does not affect how professional you look. Do you have a fashionable friend who could take you shopping and pick out some work clothes that suit you? Around here you can even hire someone to do this -- I think they're called wardrobe consultants. Once you get an idea of a few styles or stores that work for you, it'll be easier from there.
posted by chickenmagazine at 7:58 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think pantsuits are fine; wear them if you like. For me, I find that tailored shirts don't look nice unless they're really expensive. I simply look better in blouses with a lower neckline. I add a scarf or a necklace to look more formal. It looks fine and I've been told by supervisors that I look good at work.

Also, I have to wear a jacket that's just the right length. Have you tried a lot of different lengths and cuts? Usually, at any one time, a particular length seems to be in, but other lengths are available. I'd go to a store with a lot of different lengths and experiment.

Ultimately, I look better in outer layers that are dressy but NOT suit jackets: cardigans with ruffled cuffs, jackets that have sleeves and drape (and which look pretty dressy in black with black slacks), etc. Maybe you do too? Give it a try!

Do not listen to people who insist that you straighten or cut your hair. To me, this is no different than insisting that everyone become blonde (or blue-eyed). I agree with looking into the Curly Girl ideas for reducing frizz. (And does it REALLY look "unprofessional" when it's not back, or are you being overly harsh on yourself for not looking like all your boring straightening-iron-abusing coworkers? You know, you don't have to look just like them.) My hair is wavy, but ... hmph.
posted by wintersweet at 7:58 PM on November 1, 2011 [4 favorites]

Second the notion that a correctly fitted pencil skirt and twinset can look so professional. Definitely wear heels too.

I have to say as a curly-headed professional woman that the best thing you can do is get an excellent cut (does not have to be short but needs to be specifically tailored to the way your curls fall) and good product. For my hair, which is extremely curly, shorter-than-shoulder length and fine but massive in amounts, it's necessary to use Aveda Be Curly Style Prep, Be Curly lotion mixed with confixor (1 to 1), then a diffuser on my dryer and a good bit of Brilliant pomade. This makes my hair not only professional but I get a ton of compliments from coworkers, men and women alike. I should buy stock in that damn company for the amount of stuff I use, but it's worth it to me not to have triangular frizz hair. YMMV.
posted by lucydriving at 8:00 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, meant to add: tailored pieces don't have to be frumpy. You might just need to get them altered. Clothes made for larger sizes are notoriously not one-shape-fits-all. If you like a jacket but it loos dumpy, see if a tailor can take some of the seaming in or adjust the sleeves. Ditto pants, which you might need to get taken in at the waist or hip, or hemmed.
posted by elizeh at 8:00 PM on November 1, 2011

A wrap dress is totally professional! (As long as it's not too cleavage-y, but that's what camisoles are for). Buy a bunch of them -- they're cute with cardigans, and you can even wear them under blazers. They are classics for a reason.

N'thing that good shoes and carefully-thought-out accessories also "professionalize" a look.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 8:01 PM on November 1, 2011

Maybe watch some episodes of what not to wear featuring people of the same hair/body type. They give lots of useful general tips and it's amazing how polished and awesome everyone looks by the end regardless of body type
posted by ad4pt at 8:07 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

YMMV, and I know this is a controversial answer, but after years of super curly hair I just started getting it chemically straightened (brazilian blowout, so it's not totally straight, just much easier to straighten and easier to manage overall) and I honestly feel it's made a great positive impact on my confidence, which in turn makes me appear more professional. I know it's conformist and you should love your curls. I even went back to natural this summer and felt like I looked like Shirley Temple every day.

Yes, there are a million ways to use products get your curls to look frizz free and nice. But you might find straightening as freeing as I did.
posted by sweetkid at 8:16 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

I, for one, am totally "morbidly obese" but I still don't think it has an effect on how professional I look.

Don't be afraid of color or pattern, as long as it's just one element of the outfit (or use your discretion). I like to do a patterned pencil or a-line skirt with a close-fitting plain-ish (think solid color but with a ruffle or something) top, or a patterned shirt with a solid-colored skirt or pants. I tend to feel more confident in clothes that aren't loose, but that aren't too clingy either. I am large busted so a lot of button-up shirts and wraps don't really work for me, so I frequently just surround a regular scoop-neck tee with nicer everything else. Also--jewelry and shoes are your BFF! You can get away with some pretty risky accessories (I love giant earrings, but I have short curly hair, so YMMV..maybe necklaces?) if the other elements are somewhat toned-down. Not to break the rules (I hope) but I blog about my outfits-check my profile for the link, if you're interested (and look for posts tagged "OOTD").
posted by masquesoporfavor at 8:18 PM on November 1, 2011 [4 favorites]

If I tie it back I get a lovely little halo of frizz and my round face looks rounder.

You're doing it wrong. You need a product that works to keep the frizz-halo from happening, to part your hair instead of pulling it straight back, and a haircut (long or short hair) that allows for some tendrils/long bangs around your face. Curly girls are the absolute luckiest because they can put their hair up in two seconds and look like they spent hours.
posted by moxiedoll at 8:21 PM on November 1, 2011

Take advantage of personal shopping services at Nordstrom (other stores like Macy's and Bloomies might also offer the service). Nordstrom also offers tailoring. Nthing watching not "What Not to Wear"... normally I'm not a big fan but their advice is good. Also if you have a stylish friend to shop with who will be kind but also brutally honest, shop with them. Don't go with someone too nice to be truthful. Sometimes, you really need to know if those pants make your ass look fat. Also, figure out which sales people are good. Some can give really good advice. Ask for them when you go back. But never rely just on someone else's opinion, keep looking if it doesn't feel/look right to you.

Bangs are usually a bad idea for curly hair but a good cut is key, whether long or shot, just go to someone who specializes in curly hair. Check out naturallycurly.com for hair care info and even to find a salon.
posted by shoesietart at 8:33 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

There are lots of products for curly hair, you need to figure out what you are going for and how much effort you want to go to.
With clothes, you have more options depending on how large your budget is. You could forgo strictly businessy for more stylish, designed looks but tailoring may be the cheapest option unless you have access to a wide array to shop from.
posted by provoliminal at 8:36 PM on November 1, 2011

From one curly haired curvy girl to another, here's my tips! (I'm 35 and i think i only really figured this stuff out a few years ago.) With my advice and everyone elses, remember that its always free to experiment with clothes in the change room!

For your hair:
- Definitely keep it long or grow it long. Short curly hair looks SUPER frumpy, so get it below your shoulders at least
- There's no reason for curly hair to be 'crazy'! Do you use hair products? I recommend using a hair gel that is liquidy and described as 'firm hold' (not 'natural' or 'soft' hold.) I use Biolage Gelee
- I have two 'go to' professional hairstyles. The first is the headband+plus high pony tail. The headband sleeks back any frizz around my face, and adds a bit of 'accessory' like polish. Placing the ponytail high on my head, so that you can see a bit of the ponytail when you're looking at me from the front, reduces the 'round orb' thing that can happen. The second style only really works once you've tamed the frizz, but it's clipping back the hair thats just in the centre front, and tucking (or bobby pinning) the hair at the sides of my face around my ears. I think the normal 'half up' style (where you basically clip back all the hair on the front half of your head) can look really childlike, and not what you want for work.

For clothes:
- High heels are your friend. If you try, you can find some that feel relatively comfortable. You don't need to wear them every day - think for days with important meetings when you need the extra boost of confidence. On other days, try to wear shoes with structure - no soft ballet flats!
- There's no reason a suit should look dumpy on you - in fact, blazers are pretty universally flattering. Go to store with good sales associates (even if you can't afford to buy anything there), and get advice on the best shape for your body. Then go to a store you can afford and buy a few.
- Pairing a blazer with the kind of clothes you like - wrap dresses, tunic & leggings, wide leg pants etc - can look really good! And fashionable and professional!
- Don't forget the little details. Every day, wear one interesting thing. Every day! A bracelet, a scarf, a detailed sweater, a pretty headband. A pair of cute boots makes any skirt or skinny pants look instantly fashionable and can make your clothes look like an outfit, rather than an accumulation of clothing. Its the little things that you make you look and feel put-together

And for you:
- Remember, you are the only one who's really paying attention to your clothes. Make these changes because they'll make you more confident, and confidence is always good. But don't worry that anyone else is thinking "those wrap dresses are so unprofessional". Because no one is thinking it!
posted by Kololo at 8:36 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Accept that to get the tailored look, you will likely have to get things Altered. This is true for 90% of people, regardless of body shape.

I am also a pear-shaped woman, and look frumpy in some suit like things. One solution I have is like to wear darker pants with bright jackets, and either blouses or nice knit shirts tantrum "tie" the two pieces together. But my I'm a bit more social work than banker and in Canada, so I might be aiming for a different type of professional than you.

Invest in a complete good outfit and then solid bases (jackets & pants) then buy brighter & cheaper shirts and jewelry.
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 10:05 PM on November 1, 2011

I hate to say this but I'd book in with a personal shopper at Debenhams. It doesn't cost anything and it can be really helpful when you do not know how to get dressed. Also, as someone in the same boat: trouser suits for the win.

Finally, professional women with curly hair really, really need stylists who specialise in curly hair. A proper cut, maintenance and products make a huge amount of difference in how well it styles and wears.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:45 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

There are already so many good answers above, but something else that might on top of hair and clothes: makeup. I think a bit of makeup goes a long way. It helps give me a more "polished" look. Does your makeup reflect someone who puts time into their hygiene and professional appearance? Just a suggestion that might help on the "frumpy" factor.
posted by carpediem at 10:50 PM on November 1, 2011

Are you sure you look frumpy? Like, did you get some trusted friend's opinion on this? Because I'm wondering if what's really going on is that you see some of these styles as frumpy, and thus you feel frumpy in them. Or maybe you feel fake and frumpy in them?

Or maybe not. In any case, sometimes you might have to spend a bit more on professional items. You also have to make sure you're still getting things that feel young to you. So you might find out where some of your coworkers' whose looks you admire are shopping. Also, expect to try on tons of suits. I don't wear suits every day, but enough that I usually have one or two ready to go, and I've been through the purchase process several times now. I sometimes have to try on ten or more suits to find one where I'm pleased with the fit and the style.
posted by bluedaisy at 12:09 AM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

-ugh. Business suits for women...i do not envy you. there are sooo many truly dreadful ones out there, it becomes almost impossible to find a good one as they are so hopelessly outnumbered. try changing the conversation altogetherby sticking with dresses. to get a good chic look going, i would turn to the early 1960's for inspiration. women def. had more in the ways of hips back then...look at Mad Men (Christina Hendricks might be a little bit saucy but your body type sounds like hers and she does wear some more conservative stuff on occasion), or Hitchcock films from that time...lots of great business dresses in those great, tweedy, knotty fabrics...but kept from looking frumpy by really elegant, simple color choices.
-foundational undergarments to bring the waist in a bit? i'm thinking like an elastic waist cincher, not a laceup corset...just something to bring out your curves...again, avoid jackets...they aren't going to do you any favors.
-keep the accessories big, but simple, and not too many of them...Jackie O sunglasses and a big strand of pearls OR a big bangle bracelet OR a scarf (solids, not patterened)...no rings or watches or too much small, busy stuff.
-Hair: Bigger! (not longer, though) (the higher the hair the closer to god! ;) it will help balance your hips and always makes a good power statement. try a small amount of leave-in conditioner, or even a hair oil (remember, a SMALL amount...a little goes a long way)...this will give your curls a nice shine and keep them together and not frizzy.
-invest in some nice perfume. avoid the big, overly recognizable brands (chanel, hermes, etc) and get something 'boutiquey' from one of the nicer department stores. every office has it's perfume expert. she will be stumped and have to ask you what it is. this will give you cache' ;) ....this may take several shopping trips: do not try to sample more than 3 fragrances at a time...the human nose is rather dumb and gets confused easily...when you find something nice, put some on, wait about 3 minutes for the volitiles to boil off and then smell it.
-makeup: avoid too much foundation and blush, but go a little heavier with the eyeliner and shadow...this will make people focus on them more, and thus listen closer when you're talking...i know it sounds weird, but it works.
-match the handbag to the shoes!
posted by sexyrobot at 12:32 AM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Your starting point is a good bra - if you've never been properly fitted before, I'd recommend this. Not at M&S or a department store, but a specialist lingerie store like Rigby & Peller or Bravissimo. Be prepared to spend at least an hour trying on bras and to spend more than you've probably ever spent before on a single bra, but it'll be well worth it.

Wrap dresses are fine for the office if they're not too low-cut or too short. Plain or in a fairly low-key print. A wrap top and a fitted skirt or trousers would also work. Something like this one from Land's End is perfect, or this from Per Una at M&S, or this one at Debenhams.

If you have the kind of figure that suits a wrap dress, you'll probably do well in a fitted jacket. One of the most versatile pieces in my work wardrobe is a bouclé knitted jacket I bought from M&S 20 years ago, in a black/white tweed mix. It's really a cardigan that looks like a tailored jacket, it washes beautifully and looks great worn with black pants or a skirt.

I'd suggest keeping your basic colour palette plain, so you can jazz up your look with accessories.
posted by essexjan at 2:23 AM on November 2, 2011

You might want to try with something like this, this is an excerpt from the book Dress Your Best.
posted by leigh1 at 4:17 AM on November 2, 2011

Short curly hair looks SUPER frumpy, so get it below your shoulders at least

That is not true. I have short curly hair and it is so not frumpy at all. It really depends on the cut, not just an overall length.
posted by SuzySmith at 4:45 AM on November 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

A good bra is really important. Work on that first.

I am curvy also, and I suggest you make sure that any jacket is not boxy (like most of Chicos, which is not in your age group anyway, but for illustration). This is key! Cardigans that look like a non-boxy jacket are great. I don't even like to have square corners on a fitted blazer, but that's not as important as having a fitted jacket.

Try on jackets in "w" sizes from Jones New York and Talbots; you can get the skirt and/or pants in large misses sizes if that works better. (Those stores might not be in your age group, either, but we're not buying citrus-print resort wear.)

I nth the "third piece" advice and always give that out.

Finally, not to sound like a broken record, but find a copy of Color Me Beautiful, ignore the dated styles in the photos and embrace the timeless color advice.
posted by jgirl at 5:45 AM on November 2, 2011

I agree with those who are recommending A-line skirts. I am somewhat pear-shaped, and find that these are much more flattering on me than pencil skirts. Of course, you want to avoid something too poufy/flouncy, as that looks more like a party dress or a little girl's outfit. But something that hits around the knee and flares out a bit can look really nice with a well-fitting jacket.
posted by LaurenIpsum at 5:46 AM on November 2, 2011

I don't think you should cut your hair. There are great hair products that will tame the frizz and show off your pretty curls.

As for frumpy, I'm guessing you have a curvy body causing you to buy clothes that accommodates the bigger parts and not small enough for the smaller parts of your body.

You can buy beautiful wrap dresses that are professional looking.

Buy a shorter blazer that cinched your waist. Button only one or two buttons under your breast and if you need, have your dry cleaner take in the waist.

If you like pants, buy flared bottoms or boot cut. This will even the look from your hips to your ankle.

I'm sure pencil skirts look great on you if you could find the right cut. See if you can get a stretchy pull on one that tapers by the knees but has room for your hips.

If you put the attention on your better attributes, you'll see that you'll look polished and not frumpy.
posted by Yellow at 6:33 AM on November 2, 2011

There is much good advice to be had - I agree with watching WNTW, and many of the reccomendations.

I seem to have gone a bit pear-shaped myself, and as a no-longer young working woman, I'm finding that a few things have made a huge difference. I've always had my "uniform", buying the same thing in multiples so that getting dressed in the morning doesn't involve decisions - black tee or black sweater, trousers/jeans, peacoat/leather jacket etc.

One thing was that I can no longer wear turtlenecks because of this "glaghgtahathhgarg" bonus feeling-of-strangling feature I've developed with age. So I started finding scoop and v-neck shirts, that then felt too bare. I dug into the tray of necklaces I never wore, and found a few scarves, with colours even - and people started asking me "Are you going somewhere?" and saying "YOU look nice TODAY." Those qualifiers meant something to me - people notice when you pay attention to detail. Right. I also learned that basic black was doing nothing for me, but adding a scarf let me keep wearing my favourite colour, but look healthier. Great.

Then, one day, I added a belt over a long sweater - a cardigan over a tee. People asked if I'd lost weight. Aha! "Your clothes should be tight enough to show you're a woman, but loose enough to show you're a lady." - Marilyn Monroe

I tend, for work, to wear wide or boot-cut trousers (that I have to have taken in at the waist so they fit my butt) with a fitted light sweater or a loose sweater with a belt. Or a skirt with nice tights and boots. Though I don't wear these colours, and these are still skinny clothes, I've started buying things in these proportions, and focusing on buying knit shirts and tees with neckline details.

I always wear powder, mascara, lipstick and shape/define my brows. My hair is a wreck right now - but for work, shiny, clean, and properly blown-dry, not just brushed makes a difference. I agree that getting a proper haircut or conditioning treatment that makes your curls look glossy and healthy is key.

One more thing is to be comfortable in whatever you're wearing. If you're aware of your clothing, or moving stiffly, that is subtly noticeable.

The other thing, that I think is huge, is something I learned from a friend who owns a costume warehouse for movie/TV productions. He says that when they want to show "class", the wealthy or good-girl characters get proper undergarments so there are no bulges and no jiggling. Sometimes three pairs of Spanx at one time. Properly fitted bras make an enormous difference, giving more of a waist. And girdles/Spanx/shapewear are not for looking skinnier, but for smoothing out seams and rolls and letting clothing move better.

(You know what I like here? How many people want to help someone look and feel better. My friend owns a salon, and is a colourist and makeup artist, and once when interviewed about why she does it, she said "Because changing how you look is one of the fastest ways to change how you feel about yourself.")

PS - I think, if you like Fatshionista, that Nicolette Mason has a great sense of style, and love looking at someone who puts so much effort into looking great. Her grooming is impeccable. The problem with most sites that suggest clothing for pear-shaped women is that they still use rather thin models, and though she's not quite pear-shaped, her exploration of patterns and proportions is terrific.
posted by peagood at 6:58 AM on November 2, 2011 [31 favorites]

It really helps if you pick one (maybe two) neutral colors as the basis for your look. Black, grey, navy are best. Tan can make you look larger, especially in pants and skirts. Brown may be hard to do. Pick the neutral that looks best on you and buy everything in that same color, including shoes and bags. Then accessorize with saturated jewel colors near your face--emerald green, ruby, purple, sapphire blue, deep gold. They are dramatic and pretty and will give your upper body and face visual interest. The worst and most unprofessional-looking dressing is a hodge-podge of patterns and colors and styles with too many flaps and ruffles and pleats and too much trim. If you try to stay with classic styles in plain, not-shiny fabrics and use color mostly in blouses and scarves, you'll look lots more grown-up and polished. In professional dressing, less is more and less color and detail (except for the chosen color zone--your upper body) is better.

Hope this helps.
posted by Jenna Brown at 9:53 AM on November 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Forgot to add: Make sure your grooming is exquisite. This doesn't mean lots of makeup or fancy manicures, etc. Just make sure that your skin and hair and nails are clean, trimmed, and neat and that your makeup is understated. Even homely people can achieve this sort of personal appeal with good grooming.
posted by Jenna Brown at 9:59 AM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm a big girl who likes dressing professionally (sometimes even for work)! I can help!

If you want to keep your hair long, you can, but start investing in deep, deep conditioning. This made all the difference for me, more than chemical relaxing, and I wish I'd never touched relaxers. I went from long to short hair when I entered the working world and it did wonders for my self-esteem and my look (to the point where I let it grow out one year and my mother exclaimed "you look so much younger!" when I cut it again), so do look into a stylist who knows and does not fear curly hair, if only to get a consultation. Frizz isn't your friend, really.

A lot of the shapes and styles that are supposedly "for plus-size women" tend to make me look pregnant, so I get a lot of my style inspiration from menswear and a lot of structure in my clothes (darts, collars, cuffs, pleats, but not schoolgirl pleats). Pants with pockets that don't flare are a big sticking point for myself and my mother.

One thing that I've been trying to experiment with larger pieces of jewelry. Chunkier statement pieces look different on larger women, but naturally you'll want to wear them with non-competing colors and only very subtle patterns if at all.

Hope it helps.
posted by koucha at 10:42 AM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Nthing the skirts + tights + boots option, and a brighter nice quality wool cardigan. Try a few pencil skirts as well as a-lines. Pencil skirts work better on me (also pear-shaped).

Black dresses (knee-length) and cardigans also work well for me. I hate the standard dress shirt, but collarless/mandarin style dress shirts work fine for me.

For curly hair, experiment with gels, smoothing lotions, etc to find one that works for you (there's some that are silicon free if you're going curly girl). I usually wait too long between cuts too (after 10 weeks I can tell my hair is misbehaving).
posted by ejaned8 at 11:58 AM on November 2, 2011

1/ Work out hor formal a style you actually need - I am an accountant and I can get away with wearing a 'suit' less than 5 times per year. Most of the time I wear smart separates.
2/Work out what colour schemes you want your work wardrobe to be
3/ Find some images of professional attire that actually meets your requirements as defined in point 1 and point 2. Use these to refine points 1 & 2.
4/ Analyse what these outfits consist of - clothes, shoes, bags, jewellery, hair styles, make up. Try to imagine what the clothes would look like without the accessories or with different accessories........
5/ Work out where the gaps in your wardrobe are based on this and approach shopping as a serious project. When working out your gaps consider underwear, too. Bras, shape wear, tights.
6/ Try on all clothes you buy. If they don't fit challenge if they are a good buy. If in doubt don't buy. If they fit well in places but not in others decide if they can be altered or not.
7/ Learn about shapes - not all pencil skirts are the same. Not all wide legged trousers are the same. Sublte differences in cut can make all the difference in how something fits you.
8/ Shop at different shops. Have a look at Next - they have loads of wrap dresses that can be easily dressed up or down at the moment. Whilst I never thought I'd say this do not dismiss M&S out of hand. Does not matter where you get basics from as long as they fit you and are fit for purpose and work with your lifestyle. ie. dry clean only may not work for you for basics like trousers. Also have a look at some specialist sites for oversized clothing. You can get some really nice stuff or nice ideas at least, google IGIGI or Kiyonna and review for ideas or even buy something.
posted by koahiatamadl at 12:32 PM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Love this thread! I SO fall into this very same problem.

For the hair, I have to agree with the right stylist, but that's not what I want to share.

My two cents is to also try cutting back on shampooing and using conditioner instead.

I'm a nurse and used to work for a plastic surgeon. The one thing that prickled him is society's need for bubbles. He scolded everyone for using anything that bubbles, saying you don't need bubbles to be clean. The same goes for the scalp as well.

Some will tell you that it'll weigh your hair down if you only use conditioner. Wrong again, sort of. You need to find a better not so heavy conditioner for conditioner-only use.

Try cutting back to shampooing only once or twice per week. I do it only once a week now, unless I do something like yard work, and my hair is now soft, silky and manageable when before it was wild, everywhere and wiry.
posted by magnoliasouth at 1:37 PM on November 2, 2011

A woman I work with has similar proportions, and she recently got a suit from Igigi that makes her look like executive material.

They have a shop-by-shape option on their site to help people find things that work with their frame.
posted by Sallyfur at 12:08 AM on November 3, 2011

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