I can't go topless
September 18, 2013 6:26 AM   Subscribe

Busty women of Metafilter, what the heck do you wear with skirts?

I'm a 36H (36G in US sizes) so have not been able to buy button-up blouses or non-stretchy fabric tops for quite a while. (I know the ultimate answer to this is to learn to make them, but until the course I want to take that will walk me through an FBA comes around, this isn;t an option for now.) You know the drill if you're busty - it fits round the torso but not the bust, and going a size up makes you look like Big Daddy in florals. Finding dresses that fit isn;t too difficult as there are a lot of great jersey options out there, but I'm left not knowing what I can wear with some of the awesome skirts I have. I want to start dressing more like a grown-up, and this is making it hard.

Most of the time, with jeans, I tend to wear a plain-coloured T-shirt (which I'm becoming convinced aren't all that flattering on me as the neckline is too high) or a fitted v-neck jumper - but with the waistband of my skirt sitting on my actual waist, most tops end in an odd place, or look peculiar tucked in. This is a problem as I'd like to wear more pencil and fitted skirts, after realising they suit my shape. I have two or three T-shirts that go with my denim pencil skirt, but I'd like some ideas for other options so I can wear printed or block-colour skirts too.

I also find the kind of top that has gathers around the neckline - like this - is very popular at the moment but makes me look deformed. Similarly, tops that have a yoke just above the bust in a straight line, or tops that have 'cups' sewn in. Ideally, something like this would be great, but not as high-necked and without the large bust/woven fabric fit issues.

I work in a casual office, my style is quite vintage-influenced (I like 40s and 50s dresses a lot, and I like that 'vintage office lady' look) and I'm in the UK - though if there are places in the US I could look at that, as I'm planning to visit in the future. I'm an hourglass shape with a defined waist, although I have a bit too much sand in the front of it at the moment. Any ideas welcome!
posted by mippy to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (38 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
I can't figure out why I didn't figure it out sooner, but an open casual jacket over a knit top gives me the collared slightly dressier look while being stretchy across the part that needs to be stretchy. I was annoyed at first at basically having to buy an extra garment each day, but now kind of figure out my color schemes so that I only have to have a couple jackets that go with most of my t-shirts. But YMMV; I'm busty but also plus-size so I'm not sure how it'd look on your body type.
posted by Sequence at 6:34 AM on September 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

There are UK companies that sell shirts by bra size. Bravissimo I think?
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:35 AM on September 18, 2013

It's not the tailored solution you're looking for, but in the meantime - layers. Jersey tops (vest or short/long sleeved) with good necklines combined with any sort of cardigan or tailored shirt worn buttoned up to below the bust. I rely on this regularly and so do a lot of other bust-owners - many more stylish than me! It looks neater than it sounds because the fit along the waist gives good definition and that looks especially good with skirts. Wide belts also help if your tops aren't tailored enough.
posted by lokta at 6:39 AM on September 18, 2013

Response by poster: I have a couple of their dresses, but I find the tops are either not my style or not a good colour on me (I'm very pale, red hair). It's annoying that there's only really the one company that's easily accessible!

If I worked in an office that required shirts, though, I'd probably be ordering in bulk.

Should have said - I'm probably classed as an inbetweenie. My skirt size is a straight size, but being busty means I have to go plus-size for dresses and I have no idea when it comes to tops as above!
posted by mippy at 6:40 AM on September 18, 2013

InStyle (in the US) has three shirts that are sized by bra size.

But yes, tucking in may always be problematic.

I have good luck with layering.

I do a skirt, a blouse and a sweater-vest over. It gives a longer waisted look (in addition to having a large bust, I'm short waisted) and it doesn't call attention to the rack.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:45 AM on September 18, 2013

Polish company BiuBiu make very reasonably-priced shirts and other tops that are designed to fit your bust and your waist, like this one. You can select a size that reflects how busty you are - from 'B' for biggish boobs to 'BBB' for very big boobs.

I have a couple of dresses from BiuBiu and the quality is quite good. I don't like many of their designs, but some of the more classic items can be good buys.
posted by RubyScarlet at 6:49 AM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

For styling inspiration, peruse the lookbooks at Shabby Apple - here are their skirts.

As a very busty petite person straddling that "misses" and "plus" line, I feel your pain. In terms of secretarial-chic, the bow at the collar doesn't drape well over the ladies, buttondowns are impossible, and layering can really work but unless your office is air conditioned like a Texan July you're sweating most of the year.

Tucking is often a problem. I've found that since I am very short-waisted, to get away with tucking I have to have, perhaps unintuitively, a lot of interest around the waist. This means a flashy or high-contrast belt or sash or decorations along the waistline of the skirt, or at the very least, fanciful hip-height pockets. Something else that can help, depending on the fabric of the top, is that sort of poofy blouson thing, where you tuck, and then artfully pull up a bit so it puffs out over the waistband. Like this or this. This is, again, adding interest and movement at the waist. Basically what you're doing is drawing attention away from the bust and making it look like everything happening around your waist is purposeful. I rarely do it because it's hard to pull off.
posted by Mizu at 6:51 AM on September 18, 2013

I'm not as busty as you (34E) but I wear a lot of v-neck tees with cardigans. Boat neck shirts also work for me.
posted by phunniemee at 6:52 AM on September 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

Yes to jackets/blazers, especially shorter cut ones. The most flattering ones on me nip at my waist. The stretchier shirt underneath can be longer and untucked if you'd like a little more coverage in your midsection. Make sure the jacket is structured rather than boxy, and don't worry if it wouldn't close over your chest; you're not going to wear it closed anyway.
posted by donnagirl at 6:53 AM on September 18, 2013

I'm of similar construction, and also wear skirts whenever possible (like this very moment!). For me, the best solution for work has been a simple knit top, scoop- or v-necked, with professional blazer and skirt. (I think I may have exceeded some regulation about the number of black short-sleeved tops one woman can possess.)
posted by thomas j wise at 7:02 AM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Stick with stretchy knit fabrics. Sleeveless top + cardigan.
posted by Jacqueline at 7:03 AM on September 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Ah, I really like what I've seen of Shabby Apple - it's just crazy expensive to get shipped here due to the costs plus customs fees. I've looked at Modcloth as well, but I can't work out whether their stuff is of decent quality or will fit, and the cost of getting sending it back makes it too much of a gamble. Good for inspiration, but annoying that I can't get my hands on it if I want to.
posted by mippy at 7:03 AM on September 18, 2013

Modcloth is a crapshoot in terms of quality. Sometimes it is great and sometimes it is terrible - it's a collection of different brands and makers. Not sure about UK shipping, but Ruche often has some of the same things from Modcloth for a much smaller price. Sadly for me, they don't often have the same size range (and anything I get would have to be bought large and tailored down.)

Honestly if you're willing to drop some cash on your wardrobe, it's smarter to get things tailored. Get high quality timeless basics, and adjust them to fit you perfectly. Then to get the vintagey style you like, accessorize your heart out.
posted by Mizu at 7:08 AM on September 18, 2013

nthing some version of a colorful shirt, with a blouse over it but only buttoned from the bottom up to the waist. Then I throw a belt around the whole thing. Can work with sweaters and jackets too. Also works with pencil skirts.
posted by vitabellosi at 7:15 AM on September 18, 2013

Response by poster: I'll stop threadsitting shortly, but: it's harder and harder to find good quality stuff these days. A store which five years ago would sell me a silk dress for £55 now sells polyester dresses for £55, and no silk to be found. I also don't suit what most think of as 'timeless basics' - I don't suit black or white, and prefer navy, red, all shades of green and blue, sometimes mustard yellow, so unless one of these colours are in this particular year, I'm out of luck. (I'm clinging desperatelty onto my battered teal ballet flats, as one of the three or so shoe stores that does my size happened to be selling them in that colour in 2009.) When stores do 'colour', particularly for coats, it's usually purples and pinks, which don't work for me.
posted by mippy at 7:15 AM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Another option is to find someone who sews, or to learn to sew yourself. It's not cheaper than purchasing clothing, but you control the quality. Also, it's fun!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:19 AM on September 18, 2013

I think the classic vintage office lady look is a twin set. I do a lot of them with longer pencil style skirts and a chunky shoe (and pearls or beads) and get a lot of comments on how "Mad Men" the look is.

The other option would be to buy shirts that fit at the bust and have them tailored to fit/tuck at the waist neatly.
posted by anastasiav at 7:22 AM on September 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

I know just what you mean, and the only solution I have found is a good tailor. I take the skirt with me shopping, buy a few blouses that are TOO BIG objectively but fit the girls, and take those blouses to the tailor to make them fit me well. The key is buying the size that fits your largest part. (Woman bodybuilders often have trouble with blouses that fit their upper arms, so they do this too - buy big so it fits the arms, take to tailor to get the rest to fit.) I have bought extremely cute tops from Modcloth using this method, as Modcloth sells some very very cute plus-sized things. If you want to skip the tailor and can drop some dough, eShakti does made-to-measure blouses.
posted by juniperesque at 7:29 AM on September 18, 2013

Response by poster: Last comment promise! I can sort of sew, but as I said in the OP, I'm someone who learns by being shown how rather than from reading about it, and I've bookmarked a local course that deals with doing FBAs, but it's not running for now. I have tried working out how to FBA myself, but going up eight cupsizes (assuming it's a Big Four b-cup pattern) is absolutely beyond me - I have no clue what to do with the dart.

I do have some Amazing Fit patterns which I'm going to try out on the D/DD - once I work out if you cut for the waist size with those rather than the bust - but they don't seem to do them for tops, annoyingly. The skirts look good though - a ten inch waist/hip difference is a right old pain when it comes to anything fitted beyond the waistband.
posted by mippy at 7:29 AM on September 18, 2013

I'm not quite as big (34 DD), but American Apparel's two sided tee is super flattering to women with boobs (similarly, most scoop or boatneck tops). It's not as finished as the clothes you prefer, but looks great with a jacket thrown over it. Honestly I've found that modcloth/retro styles look pretty awful on women with boobs.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:49 AM on September 18, 2013 [5 favorites]

I am also a very busty lady (a bit bigger than you) with a curvy body, and I wear skirts all the time. I NEVER bother with button-ups. Just don't. I don't even think they're particularly attractive on women who can wear them.

I tend to wear a lot of fitted tops made of material that includes a bit of stretch so that it's easier to deal with the difference between my boob and my waist measurement. I also tuck in ALL of my shirts. At first I thought tucked-in looked weird but then I realized it's just because I wasn't used to that look, having done the untucked shirt thing for so long. And now, I can't even fathom keeping my shirts untucked-- it looks so sloppy now that I'm used to tucking in! I have also started buying lots of belts, my favorites being really wide ones that I wear to cover the waistline where my shirt is tucked, which also helps to keep it from untucking itself.

Many of my tops are sleeveless so I wear an unbuttoned cardigan or bolero on top for layering. This also helps to make me feel a little more polished and less self-conscious about the fact that I'm wearing a fitted top.

One last thing: large busted women should try to avoid any high-neckline tops at all costs. Scoop and v-neck are your friends. They help to create some vertical movement that makes your upper body look less bulky. In my experience they are also more accommodating than higher-necked tops which seem to be cut more narrow right where you need some give.

(I would give specific top recommendations but I am in the US and honestly have been buying about 90% of my tops and cardigans at Target, a discount store, lately.)
posted by joan_holloway at 7:55 AM on September 18, 2013

Sweaters! There's a particular type of sweater that has a ribbed section at the bottom that's tighter than the rest of the sweater, so you don't have to tuck it in and it still looks polished. The real killer is that most sweaters are just too damn long (apparently some people really want their sweaters to go down over their hips?) but try looking for petite sizes, which are shorter. (Not necessarily a contradiction in terms for the busty -- petite sizes go all the way up.)

Bettie Page sells some retro-style sweaters that are fitted, shorter in length, and have that useful ribbed waistbandy thing.
posted by ostro at 8:03 AM on September 18, 2013

I'm in the US, as well: 32F, 5'4", 145 - I wear a US8, typically, on the bottom. (Also, I'm 35 and in a management role, if that's helpful for context.) Today I'm wearing a stretchy V-neck T with a pullover sweater over it. (Denim mini and sweater tights with ankle boots on the bottom.)

I've found that stretchy knit tops with ruching are the way to go with skirts. I frequently wear a wrap top with a cami underneath it. I've picked some styles from Boden that I'd wear with a skirt for a polished look:



Deep V

I also, for what it's worth, prefer a 3/4 length sleeve for being flattering.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 8:05 AM on September 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'd think this vintage top on Etsy would fit you and look lovely! Ships to the U.K., too.

Worst case, you may need to adjust the fit at the waist (get it altered, alter it yourself, or even use a pretty clip to nip the waist in back).
posted by misha at 8:07 AM on September 18, 2013

loose fitting peter-pan collared shirts with bodycon/pencil skirts are flattering and modest
posted by dinosaurprincess at 8:16 AM on September 18, 2013

peter pan collared shirt
peplum tops look great too
posted by dinosaurprincess at 8:19 AM on September 18, 2013

I agree: skip the button downs. I go for good quality sweaters and use a skinny belt to help them look more tailored. Or twin sets. Lately there's a lot of pleplum floating about that can be flattering or not depending on the cut and your shape, but they tend to avoid the strange hit - recently Karen Kane has had a couple that work for the largely busted.
posted by dpx.mfx at 8:30 AM on September 18, 2013

Try tall size tops.
posted by brujita at 8:35 AM on September 18, 2013

Response by poster: I have a crochet pattern for a peplum top which I'm looking forward to having time to do - a perennial problem for me is that waistbands hit one to two inches above my actual waist, which is a right old pain. So a storebought peplum would flare right where I need the shirt to go in.

There are very few places here that do tall-size tops - Topshop Tall don't always fit as they cut for teenagers, and they do about 30 garments at any time compared with the 200+ tops in the regular line. Uniqlo fit quite long on me, though.

A loose fitting shirt of any type would make me look like the Venus de Willendorf. Which is annoying as all I'd need to do is size up a bit. I don't want to look 'modest', per se - just not like a teenager.
posted by mippy at 8:42 AM on September 18, 2013

Seconding wrap (or, more often, faux-wrap) tops - they're flattering and dressy while still being comfortable. I also love drape-neck tops like this, for the same reason, though they carry some risk of falling open when you lean over.

The Deletta brand at Anthropologie regularly has pretty, interestingly constructed knit tops that I love - like this or this or this.
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:36 AM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

We went to a store in NYC called Betty Paige that advertises as a place to get vintage-looking clothing especially reminiscent of the 1940's pinup gals, who are visibly bustier. You might browse their site to see if anything would work. They ship globally and have lots of US locations if you want that to be part of your trip planning.
posted by CathyG at 9:58 AM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am busty like you, and I spend a lot of money on tailoring. I have a new button-down shirt in my car right now to take to the tailor and have the sides taken in. Then it will fit around my chest and not be a tent in the back.

I wear a lot of what you describe. Lately, I've been shopping at Lands End a lot, and always keeping my eye on Boden. I prefer things with a deep neckline, a V-neck or a scoop neck, which is generally flattering. I have crew-neck cardigans that I unbutton to create the v-neck look; same with button-down shirts.

My secret weapon is a drawer full of tank tops (stretchy, non-ribbed) in a ton of colors. I wear them with everything, every day. They provide coverage when a V-neck might be too deep, or a wrap dress might gape. They layer under cardigans and button-downs. They layer under dresses and jackets. They are great! I bought mine at Target, but I am looking for a new source. I think any cami or tank will work, but the ribbed ones are a little too casual most of the time.
In the winter time, I often use a long-sleeve t-shirt (with a nice plain neckline) to layer instead of the tank tops (or even over the tank tops) for more warmth. But the tank tops are a year-round item for me, and I can't imagine my wardrobe without them.
posted by aabbbiee at 10:32 AM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh man, every year I go insane and spend money on a cute button-up blouse, get home and try it on, and relegate it to the "stop buying these things" pile.

I have come to love tops with some kind of kimono sleeve. They don't need to be ludicrously large, but having the sleeve hole at the base of the shirt be longer than usual helps balance out the bust. Shirts that have a simple kimono sleeve and a ribbed, tigheter section at the bottom make for a great professional look with a skirt.
posted by jess at 10:54 AM on September 18, 2013

Although I suspect I'm quite a bit older than you (at 53, looking like a grown-up kind of takes care of itself ;-)) I really appreciate your question and wish I had read it and the answers 30 years ago. There is a lot of wisdom in this thread. Plus your "Big Daddy in florals" observation is one for the ages. I hooted with laughter and totally get what you mean.

The solution I came up with back in my twenties echoes Sequence's very first answer in this thread, but the jackets I wear are almost all vintage; I've been accumulating and wearing them to work and elsewhere since the early 1980s. There's a level of detail and beauty in jackets from the 1940s and 1950s that is impossible to find nowadays outside of very expensive designer clothing. Careful structure (easier to find in some older jackets) makes a huge difference for my own body type. And because they tend to be well-constructed out of relatively sturdy fabric, vintage jackets tend to be much easier to find, and to cost less, than dresses or tops or lingerie, etc., many of which have long since disintegrated.

I was in the UK this summer and saw how much more expensive they were in the shops that I visited (although as a tourist I might not have known the best places to look). But in medium-sized US cities, and even in some of the larger ones, you can still find exquisite older jackets in a range of colors and fabrics and weights for $60 - $75 or so -- and that's at the medium/high end. I live in a place where the weather is very hot, but with a lightweight (preferably sleeveless) top underneath it's still manageable almost all year long.
posted by sophieblue at 1:16 PM on September 18, 2013

I bought some scoop-neck tees at Lands End, in petite sizing. They are very thin cotton, and were initially longer than I like, but they have shrunk in length, and look very nice with skirts. I'm always on the lookout for tops that are cropped, which means they'll be just the right length for me to wear with a skirt. I wear fine gauge cotton (Lands' End, LLBean, Ann Taylor for cashmere, which I can't wear) sweaters in winter, often layering a cardigan or v-neck over a tshirt. I'm old enough to wear twin sets, but I often wear interesting colors together, so as not to be too much the dowager. I love boatneck shirts, and LLBean and Lands' End often have them. They're always cut long, even in petite's, but can be hemmed or belted.

Right now, wearing a linen button-down from LLBean (outlet), olive drab cargo skirt, military belt, and feeling not un-snazzy at all. linen shirts are sometimes looser-cut, who knows why.









posted by theora55 at 1:30 PM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

I found somone who sews for me but I have just given up buttons in the front.....do love lands end and Victorias Secret though. Wear lots of jackets and cardigan sets to look professional.
posted by OhSusannah at 10:07 AM on September 19, 2013

Sorry I'm so late to the party! There are a lot of full-bust blogs out there which are full of incredible resources. Some focus on bras in particular (I'm going to assume you have that part covered), but most cover clothes, too; and most helpfully, many do reviews, so you can see what things look like on a real life busty woman and hear her targeted criticisms or praises. Many even cover busty woman body/life issues in a really friendly and body-positive way.

Hourglassy (which is run by a woman who left the corporate law world to start her own busty button-down shirt company) is my favorite lately, and it has a pretty comprehensive list of clothing companies and lots of reviews. (I've been wanting to try Biu Biu, Urkye, DD Atelier, and Trashy Diva on the strength of the positive reviews I've seen.) I especially like the posts on proportion in dress, covering topics I never would have thought about (sleeve length? bag size? glasses?), with comparison pics. See, for instance, neckline boobs vs. waistline boobs for why high necks usually don't quite look right.

There are full-bust women of all shapes, sizes, ages, and dressing styles, so my advice would be to try to find someone whose body type or target style is similar to yours and see what companies and styles she favors. Fortunately, they all seem to link to each other. The blog roll on the sidebar of A Sophisticated Pair might help you get started. It's been awhile, but I remember liking Thin and Curvy, Fuller Figure Fuller Bust (who I believe is British), Weirdly Shaped and Well Photographed, among others.
posted by spelunkingplato at 5:38 PM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Don't know if it's already been said, but I found - especially with high-waist/pencil skirts - that a loose blouse/sheer top over a matching-coloured singlet works awesome because you tuck the bottom in as much as you need, while you get a nice drape over your bust. It suits whatever proportions you have and looks really professional (but can be casual).
posted by aletheianink at 8:54 PM on September 27, 2013

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