What is business casual for plus size and where do I find it?
May 24, 2012 2:31 PM   Subscribe

What are your best sources for women's business casual clothing?

I'm going back to work for the first time in five years. Two babies and a lot of weight gain later, I've gone from a 4/6 to a 18/20 on the bottom and from an xs or 6 to an xl or 14/16 on top. I'm 5'4" and very apple shaped. What do you wear if you're close to this size, and where do you find it?
posted by percor to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (16 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Herbergers is the best of the department stores - their plus size selection is great and they actually sell women's dress pants in shorter lengths.

Simply Be is a plus size catalog out of the UK that is like a mail-order department store - everything from juniors casuals to work wear to formal dresses. Their prices are a bit high, but they send me a new sale code nearly every week. Only issue is shipping time - my last couple orders have arrived within about two weeks, but I once waited nearly four months for a dress that got stuck in customs somewhere.
posted by Flannery Culp at 2:40 PM on May 24, 2012

If you can afford it, I think Coldwater Creek would be a great option for you. They make clothes that flatter "mature" figures (I hate to describe it that way, as I'm in my early 30s, but such is life) without being too matronly. It's not super boxy and linen-y like Chico's, but well shaped, which would probably be an asset to you. Plus their size range goes into that area without having a completely separate (read: much smaller) plus size section.

Lands' End and Talbots are two "better" suggestions, too; the Talbots Woman section is very nice and blessedly complete.

You should probably stock up on some basics, if you have to buy a whole bunch of stuff at once. Old Navy's men's polos are actually much better (longer sleeves, better quality) than the women's, and look just fine on my 18W self. Old Navy's plus-sized stuff is online, but they have some decent khakis, pencil skirts, etc. that you should probably buy a few of. Target has a woefully small plus size section, but their misses' section typically goes up to an XXL (fairly generous), and you might luck out for khakis, capris for summer (if you can get away with that), etc.
posted by Madamina at 2:45 PM on May 24, 2012

Oh - missed the part about what to wear. I am no fashion plate, but FWIW, I wear a lot of bold patterned tops with black pants and black flats or low heels, sometimes a decent pair of jeans and brown flats. The tank-and-cardigan look is good for both looking pulled together and dealing with variable office temperatures. I find light-colored khakis are not very flattering on my bottom-heavy self, but your ass may vary.
posted by Flannery Culp at 2:45 PM on May 24, 2012

Talbot's has both petites and a petite plus size line that you might find appealing. Despite their stodgy image, they've got good, well-made basics.
posted by amelioration at 2:45 PM on May 24, 2012

Seconding Talbot's. I am normally a Loft/Banana Republic-type person but found myself really liking a lot of their clothes when I was in there last week.
posted by something something at 3:09 PM on May 24, 2012

What do you wear if you're close to this size, and where do you find it?

I bet you would find some good inspiration and ideas at Wardrobe Oxygen. Here is her post on building a professional wardrobe ("Hi, I'm a Stay at Home Mom returning to work after 4+ years. I'd like to purchase a professional wardrobe however, I will be really honest with you I don't have a clue where to start.").
And here's all her posts marked with the "career wear" tag (many pictures of her outfits with links to where to buy the pieces) and the "what to wear in an office setting" tag; also posts marked plus size and wardrobe staples.
posted by flex at 3:25 PM on May 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

I haven't actually bought from them yet, but I've always admired the dresses at eShakti.com. I think they're specifically designed to flatter all body types, IIRC. And their site makes a big deal of the fact that they offer customization in sizing.
posted by désoeuvrée at 3:35 PM on May 24, 2012

J.Jill online works well in my casual business environment and comes in a gazillion sizes. If I could afford it, though, it would all be Eileen Fisher. For the most part, we all wear some version of a cardigan, which seems to dress it up a bit, and nice flats (which you can even find at Payless). Since you want to balance out your upper and lower body, I think longer cardigans would work for you, and draw attention to your face with some appropriate jewelery.
posted by puddinghead at 4:20 PM on May 24, 2012

I would stay away from bold patterned tops in larger sizes. I work in a business casual office and the women who look the best generally dress in combunations of black, beige, cream, and grey, with little or no patterns. Sometimes a blouse or sweater will have a bit of trim, and now and then I see a jewel-tone or subtle plaid blouse with black slacks and a black cardigan, and that looks nice.
posted by Dolley at 4:22 PM on May 24, 2012

I wear fine gauge cotton cardigans, sometimes in patterns (argyle, embroidered, etc.), sometimes solid colors, over either a fine gauge crewneck, or a good-quality tshirt. I got a couple of trendier cardigans, and had to buy some scoopneck, thin tees to go under them. In winter, I wear a turtleneck, or heavier sweaters; in summer, lighter sweaters, nice tshirts, or polos. I wear nicer jeans (not too faded, cut somewhat fashionably), khakis, corduroy, twill, or wool pants. I happened to find some very nice skirts at Goodwill, which I wear with the same tops, and tights/boots in winter, flats in the summer. I've gotten some very nice jackets to wear, at Coldwater Creek, especially.

I shop wherever they have petite sizes and clothes that aren't fashion-slavish. Cotton cardis, petite sizes - LLBean, Landsend (30% off everything this weekend -woot). Pants - maybe Old Navy, Gap, JCPenney, Talbots. I shop at Goodwill and am wearing a cotton sweater set that was a great deal. I find a lot of pants there that fit and are in pretty good shape.

Wear nice shoes. Buy the best shoes you can afford and take care of them. You'll be more comfortable, and nice shoes make everything look a little better. I can't wear earrings, so I wear scarves pretty often - thrift stores are awesome for accessories.

If you're starting from scratch, try to buy a couple of outfits. Then you can buy separate pieces to add. Otherwise, sometimes you have nice clothes in the closet that don't quite work well together.
posted by theora55 at 5:49 PM on May 24, 2012

Dress Barn is awesome!
posted by radioamy at 6:11 PM on May 24, 2012

Jjill's everywear separates are a good way to get that flowing line that puddinghead was talking about.

definitely get some simple outfits you feel comfortable in that you can augment over time. For pear-shaped me that means navy & black pants that fit (alterations often require) in good khaki or linen, a couple of jackets or sweaters and shirts that match. For a long time I didn't wear button-downs cuz I got pulling around the boobs, but I've found some that are better cut recently.
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 8:02 PM on May 24, 2012

Seconding the blog Wardrobe Oxygen for tips. Allie, the blogger, is also very active on twitter and will reply to any questions sent her way (same for email). Most of her clothes are good quality but not too expensive, and would work in any workplace.
posted by xmts at 9:44 PM on May 24, 2012

I really like Macy's Woman. They have a huge selection and their sales are amazing. Get a card and you'll nearly always get 20% off!

I have a casual office, but I've not really embraced it. I'm hour-glass shaped, so that changes things a bit. I like Lauren, but it seems to be cut for folks with less hips and thighs and more tummy than I have.

I like dresses, for comfort and for how they look on me. I get Jones New York when they got 50% to 75% off. The jersey stuff is great, machine washable, no ironing, very flattering.

Macy's has a few house brands, Charter Club for preppy things, INC, for drapy, flowing tops and pants, Alfani, for more traditional work-wear and Style & Co for casuals and jeans. American Rag for younger, very casual clothes, although I've bought some CUTE little shrugs in that line.

My rule for finding clothing as a plus-sized woman is: It must fit perfectly. So no gaps across the boobs, no sleeves falling below your shoulders, no smiles or frowns at the crotch of pants, no grabbing the tummy in a too tight dress or top.

Sizes vary wildly among brands, even within brands, so try everything on! You'll start to notice that certain cuts are more flattering than others. On me, I like things with a defined waist or a drape that accentuates my waist. Pants are hard due to my waist:hip ratio, but if they're a bit lower than my natural waist, sans-waist band, have a draw-string or elastic, that usually works for me.

When you go shopping, go alone, well fed and rested. Clothes shopping as a plus-size person is not for the faint of heart! You will take 100 things back and be lucky if you find 2 or 3 that are great for you. DON'T WORRY, that's normal.

If what you're wearing doesn't make you feel like a hot number. Don't buy it.

Also, before you go to Macy's to buy clothes, go to Nordstrom and get a professional bra fitting. Wear your new, perfectly fitted bra to shop. Everything will look better on you, and you'll look 1 or 2 sizes smaller.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:01 AM on May 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh! I can't believe I forgot. A friend of mine runs the blog Fat Chic.

Great resource!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:02 AM on May 25, 2012

Have you seen FatChic.net by MeFi's own medea42? Diana does a fantastic job on that site which includes a clothing search, too.

(Doh! on preview, Ruthless Bunny agrees!)
posted by jillithd at 9:57 AM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

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