How to dress after weight gain?
December 27, 2012 7:09 PM   Subscribe

How do I dress for work and fun when weight gain has made me unfamiliar with my body?

Due to a lovely cocktail of a break-up, long-term depression, job hunting, medication Russian roulette, and moving from a pedestrian city (NYC) to a driving city, I have gained rather a lot of weight in the past 18 months -- as in, I went from a size 6 to a size 14. And I am not at all externally conscious with how different my size is; my mental image of myself is still of a relatively skinny chick.

I am taking every step to lose the weight after hitting rock bottom. I also just got a job that is back in my career field and I need to be 100% on the ball when it comes to how I dress, since I will occasionally find myself on-camera. (I'm a reporter.)

I am pear-shaped -- my hips have 3" on my bosom. My calves are too large for the kinds of boots I want to wear (16.5" circumference is too small). I'm also very tall for a woman -- 5'11" -- so I have the benefit that, while I am overweight, I at least look proportional.

I just don't know how to dress myself! I never have -- my uniforms when I was skinny and worked in media back in NYC were smart little sports jackets, an artistic graphic T/button-down under a sweater, skinny jeans, and knee-high boots. Occasionally I'd mix it up with a skirt, but, you know. I wore the same style every day because I was comfortable in it and it fit in with my work environment.

That is no longer the case. My office is strict business-casual; no jeans. On days when I am filming, I will need to be in a suit and I don't know what kind of suits are flattering for my body type. I also don't know how to dress myself business-casual without looking like a frump -- I'm 24, I'm too young to resign myself to frumpiness.

Please help me look like an Ace Reporter and not the assistant editor of the Oswego Pennysaver.
posted by none of these will bring disaster to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (23 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
You don't mention where you are, but if you're near a large mall, I recommend a personal shopper. The ones at Nordstrom are great, and I believe people here have also recommended the ones at Macy's.

If that's not feasible, I recommend Inside Out Style - she has a lot of great tips for sorting out what your body "type" is, and then dressing to flatter it.
posted by dotgirl at 7:47 PM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You're going to need a lot of basics for your new look, and as I'm sure you're finding, it's not always easy to find flattering basics as a size 14, much less one who's very tall. My suggestion: Hie thee to a personal shopper at Nordstrom and/or Talbots, or other chains of that caliber, to start. They'll help you get a sense of what you should be looking for, what achieves the look you want, and some foundational garments that move toward that look—as well as help you get alterations, at least in the case of Nordstrom, to help the clothing best fit you.

After that, you might look up a personal stylist in your area and get a consultation to help you figure out what other chains and boutiques might have items that match the look you're establishing. Then, once you have some items you know suit your shape and style, I'd suggest looking into a tailor for some additional items—the personal stylist might be able to suggest someone in your area.

This might sound daunting—getting all these style professionals involved who you've never needed to consult before!—but I think you'll find that the (usually) gals who do this are totally gung-ho about helping you get to where you need to be, style-wise. And if you're going to be on-camera, as you noted, that's the kind of professional touch you need—especially if you're not the type to already have been scouring style blogs for tips. I know people who pull together the kind of professional look you're going for on their own, but they're superskinny style mavens who live for fashion and/or are already employed in the fashion industry in some way.

It is possible to change your look this dramatically yourself, but given all the wardrobe changes you're making at once and the fact that you need to get the look right to continue your work, in this case, I'd say go to the professionals. Then, once you have a better sense of what will work for you, you can start seeking out separates on your own that go with the look you've established.
posted by limeonaire at 7:49 PM on December 27, 2012

Check out the Gabifresh blog. There are a lot of great outfits for this sort of body type (my body type included).
posted by livinglearning at 7:52 PM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I don't want to thread-sit -- as a newbie, I've ascertained that sort of thing is discouraged around here. But I would like to say that my annual income, being a journalist and all, is well under $30,000, so please do keep price-points in mind.

That being said, the above suggestions are incredibly valuable and I will be looking into obtaining a personal shopper.
posted by none of these will bring disaster at 7:52 PM on December 27, 2012

To answer one specific part of your question, I tell everyone I know with larger calves to try Duo Boots. I love mine.
posted by cabingirl at 7:56 PM on December 27, 2012 [5 favorites]

A good blog to checkout is youlookfab

Pencil skirts look great on everybody type, and I find they're pretty easy to wear. High waisted ones are very cute and seem to be a trend where I am right now. If you can't find any boots that fit, black heels go with everything and I've seen these shoes on many women in my office (too high for me tho). Have you been to Express to check out some of their suits? They're normally sold as separates, but they make me feel like a million bucks when I step out in my editor pants. They're having some good sales right now too
posted by Attackpanda at 7:57 PM on December 27, 2012

Try on a bunch of clothes at Express, they've got very smart business yet non-frumpy clothes, and you can probably get some stuff on sale after the holidays.
posted by katypickle at 8:00 PM on December 27, 2012

One more call out to the personal shopper thing - do NOT feel obligated to buy. If there are pieces that you absolutely love, ok - but don't let "But I've taken up so much of her time .." guide you. I promise that personal shoppers are used to people trying on 20 things and buying 2. It's totally ok.
posted by dotgirl at 8:01 PM on December 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think it would help to identify parts of your body that you want to highlight and downplay. Wrap dresses look good on everyone. Jackets make you look professional easily. I know you're on a budget but lady, sales are going on now that are bonkers. I actually find a lot of nice stuff at Target - they have a ton of crap but their nicer stuff is definitely work appropriate.
posted by kat518 at 8:05 PM on December 27, 2012

I'm pretty much exactly your size, and at about your income level. I buy a lot of Banana Republic and J Crew items in 14 tall or XL tall on eBay for really cheap. Also, many of my tops are tall sizes from Old Navy (though their stuff this season appears to be mostly weird backless tops with batwing sleeves and sequins) I also love the the dresses and some tops from Target; they're not the greatest quality in the world, but they look great on. Most of my suits are Jones New York, which tends to run a little longer in the sleeves than some other brands, though I've found that the skirts run small. Also, queen sized tights and pantyhose will likely fit you, even though the size charts say that they are meant for women shorter and heavier than we are. And I've found good deals on wide calf (and extra-wide calf) boots on Amazon.

If you (or anyone else) wants to talk XL tall fashion in greater detail, feel free to MeMail me. It's a problem size, but it's not nearly as much of a problem as it was a few years ago, and there are good deals to be had.
posted by decathecting at 8:11 PM on December 27, 2012 [5 favorites]

I'm also a journalist, so I totally get the price-point concern, but I would still suggest at least doing the first part and consulting a personal shopper at Nordstrom and/or Talbots.

As for independent personal stylists, they can get a little pricey for styling for specific events (which would include hair, makeup, stuff like that), but for a more general style consultation, you may find them to be quite reasonable—and very knowledgeable of what's available in your area. They can save you a lot of legwork. The price range for an independent stylist varies a lot, but it would be worth Googling and asking around about stylists in your area—I bet there's someone at your station who could recommend someone (or five someones!). Alternately, if there's a city or regional magazine that covers fashion in your area, you might get in touch with them and ask for a personal-stylist recommendation—they very likely will have contacts (or someone on staff) who could be of some assistance. If there's a local style editor, you might be able to just shoot them an email and get some recommendations, e.g., "Help, I'm new to the area—where can a fellow journalist find professional on-camera wear?"

And tailors, too, can be more economical than you might think. A good one can help you get secondhand finds in amazing shape for the price of what you'd pay for an off-the-rack piece that wouldn't fit you half as well. As I noted, that's something to look into way down the line—right now, I understand that you just need professional-looking things to wear!
posted by limeonaire at 8:25 PM on December 27, 2012

You are too young for Talbots, but probably too old/curvy for Expres. When I was a 14 I could still find cute stuff at Limited.
posted by radioamy at 8:45 PM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Came in to say Nordstrom -- even at your salary. And Talbots has great clearance racks that turn over constantly (I got some $80 cardigans for $12 each a couple months ago), as well as big clearance sales. The other thing I've found with Talbots is that the well-trained sales force knows women in their 20s and 30s are not their core demographic and not their big spenders, but that if they hook you young on their classic basics, high quality, and clearance sales, you will be buying your seasonally-changing cruisewear there at full price when you're 50 and fab and wealthy. So they're pretty cool about it when you go in with a budget and shop sales. Talbots definitely has a lot of stuff that's way too old for you, but also a lot of well-made classic basics. You can pre-shop the website to see what sorts of things you like the look of and what sorts of things are definitely not you, so you're prepared when you go to the store to tell the saleslady, "Definitely not!"

You have also got to look at other women, and notice what works and what doesn't on pear-shaped women about your size. It took me a while to realize this, but it's a lot easier to figure out what will look sharp if you start noticing what looks sharp on other people! And an enthusiastic "I LOVE your pants -- where did you get them?" almost never goes awry; people are flattered you noticed and usually sad if their pants are not local!

Try on a LOT of stuff. Try on stuff a size larger (and sometimes a size smaller, especially with dresses, where a full skirt may let you go a size down and get a better fit on top). Pay a tailor. Try on things you don't like the look of -- we tend to gravitate to the same handful of styles that we're used to, so you may be totally missing a style that looks great on you, especially since larger sizes don't look so great on an empty hanger. I try to always pick out at least one thing that I would "never wear in a million years" to try on. Most often I am correct, but every now and then I find something awesome that I had no idea would look good on me. (More often, I go, "Yep, makes me look like an aging hooker, but the waistline is really cute, I wonder if there are any other dresses with the same waistline but a little less gold spandex?")
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:55 PM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Everything else at Coldwater Creek is going to be too old for you (probably), but they have longer length trousers in a billion styles for a wide range of sizes. And they have good sales. And promo codes. And cashback from some of the big cashback sites. Recommend for basic like your black no-pleat pants.
posted by Kalatraz at 9:00 PM on December 27, 2012

Best answer: At 5'11" and size 14 you are, as you note, not too far off the dressmakers' proportions for regular-sized women's clothing. I get most of my office-casual stuff from Banana Republic these days, and I rarely-if-ever buy anything there at less than 40% off the sticker price. They have near-constant sales and if you ever give them your email address, you will never stop hearing about the sales.

Flattering styles for zaftig body types include V neck ($15.40 on sale, once you combine the sale price with the current 30% off promotion), cowl neck ($28), and wrap ($17.50) tops, wrap dresses ($28), trousers with wide-ish legs (yes they have those in a 14 Long, $56), pencil skirts ($23.80), structured jackets ($84, a decent price if you can get the matching pants or skirt to wear as a suit), and unbuttoned, not-too-bulky cardigans ($28).

The Limited sells inexpensive suits and office-casual stuff, and I'd probably shop there more often if I had one nearby. They, too, seem to do the constant sales and promotions. I've found the quality of their merchandise to be a notch below Banana Republic but when you're hoping to lose weight and just trying to fill out your work wardrobe for the next couple seasons, it's a good place to look. This suit, for instance, has classic lines (no trendy hip-emphasizing peplummy things, phew), is available in a size 14 in both the jacket and skirt at the time of this writing, and is on sale for $57 for the khaki color if I'm reading correctly.
posted by Orinda at 9:06 PM on December 27, 2012

My favorite work trousers of all time are from the Gap - specifically their Modern Boot Cut. You can see from all the positive reviews that they are really popular pants. Super flattering, a whole range of sizes (and the Tall versions are very long) and they are on sale frequently, but in any case are only $60 full price. Once in a while Gap also has suit jackets that I think are pretty flattering and reasonably priced. If you have a Macy's or a Saks Off 5th near you, you can get great deals on Calvin Klein suits, which are flattering and classic but still fashionable. Also affordable - I think my CK suit jacket that I have was maybe $80? And it's a nice looking suit jacket. Macy's in general is great for stuff like this though - they have tons of options for work clothes and they are always having a sale (and you get added discounts on top of that if you have a Macy's card).

Also, right now Banana Republic has an amazing dress that you should snap up before they're gone. It's been such a popular dress that BR brought out two different colors over the holidays. It's a ponte dress, which is a super flattering fabric (in fact, always pay special attention to ponte clothing, which is really popular, and for good reason - BECAUSE IT LOOKS AMAZING) and the v-neck (as mentioned above) is a really good neckline for most women. But holy crap is this a flattering dress for anyone and everyone. I've gotten compliments from strangers in it. I wear it with a cardigan and I always feel great in it.
posted by young sister beacon at 9:18 PM on December 27, 2012

An economical, flexible, sleek look for tall gals is the long pull-on knit skirt in basic black. You can find these dirt cheap at discount clothing stores (Ross, etc.). The trick is to get a substantial knit, not a flimsy, clingy fabric.

Because you will be slimming down, you may want clothes that have some "give" to them -- clothes that will serve you across a size or two. I have a bunch of these skirts, and can wear them across a plus/minus 15 pound range. They are wonderfully comfortable, and that length will look sharp and chic on you.

Look also to thrift shops, especially if you can find one in an upscale neighborhood. The money you will save on purchase price can be applied toward tailoring. You can get quality pieces taken in as you lose weight, and in time, you can donate items you no longer fit in back to the thrift store (and get a tax write-off for doing so).
posted by nacho fries at 10:15 PM on December 27, 2012

Best answer: Can you post a photo of yourself wearing a basic tee and leggings from the neck down? It would be helpful for us to help you out if we know your body type.

I'm a smaller pear shape, but I really love high-waisted pencil skirts and trousers that hit me above the belly button, because that's where I'm smallest. Bands tend to gravitate towards where you're smallest locally, so don't go for anything low-waisted or drop-waist (because muffin top will happen and draw attention to less flattering areas).

Another important thing is collar-detail and collar-types. Do you have a long neck or a short neck? Are you busty or not very busty for your build? Turtle necks can be chic on long-necked women with smaller busts, terrible for women with smaller necks and larger busts. Yeah, pay attention to how flattering collars are on you, try a whole bunch of stuff on.

And because it's more formal, don't feel constrained by the white-buttoned-up blouse. Look into dressy blouses with interesting patterns and or detail that draws attention to flattering parts of you. Look into blouse + jacket combos rather than looking at each piece separately. And have you figured out which colours look most flattering on you? Black isn't the best on everyone, for some, brown or charcoal is better.
posted by Hawk V at 12:40 AM on December 28, 2012

You might also want to check out eShakti. Almost everything there is customizable (sleeves, hem length, etc) and comes in many sizes.
posted by meindee at 6:28 AM on December 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you're on a budget, it's worth it to spend three hours at the mall with a notebook or smartphone figuring out what size you are at the big retailers like Gap, Old Navy, Ann Taylor, etc. This allows you to grab successful bargains on Ebay.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:21 AM on December 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm the same size and build but a little shorter than you are (5'8") but also long in arms and legs, so I have to buy tall or have wrists and ankles sticking out. Nthing the Gap jeans but also adding Eddie Bauer as a potential source of tall clothes. I have good luck there and so does my 6'4" husband on the men's side. I also do a lot of 3/4 sleeve clothes and have had good luck at Garnet Hill and Boden for mail order.

Good luck--we're in a tough zone to buy in.
posted by immlass at 8:28 AM on December 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, also I buy most of my pants at New York and Company. About once a month, they have a buy-one-get-one-half-off or some other decent sale that makes the pants pretty cheap. The tall sizes are the perfect length, though I usually end up going a size down to a 12, because they run a bit big. And I've occasionally found those on eBay or in thrift stores too.
posted by decathecting at 1:15 PM on December 28, 2012

You can still wear blazers / jackets with these black pants you're going to buy. They will even help give you shape in the middle.

Check out the past episodes of What not to Wear, focusing on women who share your characteristics (shape, age, city-region)

Be careful about graphic tees, they won't look as professional... Colourful blouses will likely be better.
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 6:07 PM on December 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

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