The horror of "casual", the heat of "summer"
June 4, 2014 9:44 AM   Subscribe

I am a tall (5'11), fat (22/24), lady, soon-to-be attorney working in a downtown law office that just declared the next few months to be "Casual Summer". Help me look professional and casual and feel comfortable at the same time. Difficulty: pants.

The firm where I work generally has a dress code defined as "business casual", but the standard seems to be somewhere between "business" and "business casual", that the internet tells me is sometimes called "smart casual". I don't interact with clients, though they often come around the office.

I dealt with this by leaning more towards the business end of things and buying a few suits but wearing the pieces as separates. Think: black pants + blue blazer, grey pants+red blazer. Sometimes I'll wear a flowy cardigan to dress down a little.
I settled on a chunky heeled mary jane as my standard footwear (I can't handle kitten heels, or any heel much higher and 2.5"). The suit separates I own are mostly heavy polyester (and I'm transitioning to more wool).

On Fridays the dress code is casual, and all hell generally breaks loose: jeans, sneakers, t-shirts are common, from admins up through senior partners. For me, I'll go with dark wash, bootcut jeans, and do the flowy cardy+tank thing (so, not that different from what I wear during the week, but with jeans and maybe flats).

I'm usually a little overdressed than the attorneys (and fairly overdressed compared to the other clerks/paralegals/admins), but that hasn't bothered me until now.

On the weekends, I am almost always in jeans+nerdy t-shirt+flipflops(in the summer).

My dilemma is that I don't have enough "casual friday" clothing to go through a whole week. Also, I don't want to be the one clerk sticking to "almost formal business" all the time, and I would appreciate being able to dress down a little more. I could just go out and buy more (and better fitting) jeans, camisoles and cardigans, but I'm thinking that I should expand my "uniform" a little more.

Here are my general search parameters:
  • I really dislike skirts and dresses: Fat girls have chub rub (and I'm not really interested in wearing yet another article of clothing like bloomers or bike shorts to deal with that). Sheath dresses (a la Claire Underwood) can be professional looking, but I've never seen a fat lady look good in one, maxi-dresses look like mu-mus, and shorter skirts always seem girly and unprofessional (regardless of size) to me
  • Pants need to accomodate my 53" inseam (I don't mind getting longer pants hemmed)
  • I'm very skeptical of the professionality of capris/crop pants. Some of the admins wear them, and I don't think they look good. If it's possible to look professional in them, I'd love to see examples!
  • Skinny cuts (jeans, pants) are for skinny people (or at least not for this fat person)
  • I have a tattoo on my forearm that 3/4 sleeves don't cover. So if the top I am wearing has less than full sleeves, I need a jacket or a cardigan over it most times (sitting at my desk is fine)
  • I'm a dark skinned black lady (Bare Escentuals foundation Golden Deep), if that influences colour recommendations at all
  • I have Cayce Pollard Syndrome in that I can't deal with logos, and I don't want to buy things that will only be trendy for a summer.
  • Price isn't that important as long as it is commensurate with quality
I have tried following fashion blogs, but places like Corporette don't feature enough plus-size friendly fashion for me, and the Fatshionista type places are full of the sort of whimsical empire-waist, floral print, girly stuff that just doesn't read professional to me at all.

I don't really have any fashion role models in the office because there are only 3 other lady attorneys here, only one of which is tall, and none of whom are fat.

I'm willing to go the personal shopper route, but I'd like to be able to give him/her some positive direction as to what I want as well as my picky list of picky pickies.

So, given everything above: What kinds of clothing items should I be considering adding to my wardrobe? For example, I am on the hunt for a linen blazer. What stores (online, or available in Minnesota) should I be visiting? Are there good blogs of people whose style choices match mine?
posted by sparklemotion to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (32 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
How about colored jeans? I also avoid capris and skinny pants, so I've found colored denim a good way to add variety to my casual-work wardrobe. Black, gray, green, purple...pick colors that work with your existing tops and cardigans, and you're good. Old Navy has colored denim all the time, though it's not super well-made, but I'm sure you can find better quality elsewhere. Bright colors will read more trendy; black and gray should be fine forever.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 9:55 AM on June 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

I really wish wasn't on hiatus right now, but (mefi's own) Di is a busy lady these days. There are quite a few years worth of archived material on there, though. Bonus is that she lives in Minneapolis so she understands the Minnesota weather trends. She also has a custom Google search link that works really well to help you search online retailers and stores for what you are looking for. I typed in "linen blazer" and got these results where this looks promising as a start.

Have you tried skorts? I like them in that they are cute skirts but they help alleviate the horror of chub rub. They are fun and casual. Not sure if they are too short for you.

Good luck! I'm in Minnesota, too, so the hot, humid summer days are coming soon!
posted by jillithd at 9:57 AM on June 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

What about cropped or footless tights under a skirt? Lots of people hate tights, and that's fine and valid, but I love them, especially as a sufferer of chub rub. An Ask of my own recently turned me on to We Love Colors, and their tights are amazing. They have ten billion delightful colors and fit really well without feeling constricting or pinchy. Here. Different colors of tights are a great way to wear basically the same thing every day but still read as a varied wardrobe.

I also love doing a plain t-shirt with jeans and a neat scarf. I have several of these bright, inexpensive scarves I got from Amazon that I just love. You're casual because you're in a tee and jeans, but you also look kind of like a fancy put-together person because your scarf is so cool. THIS IS WHAT I AM WEARING TODAY, ACTUALLY. I get lots of compliments.
posted by phunniemee at 10:03 AM on June 4, 2014 [7 favorites]

Not sure how much the heat is an issue, as it would be somewhere further south, but I've been wearing more linen and seersucker and boy are they great for looking a little crisper/nicer while still keeping cool in summer.

Flax has linen flowy pants, and I know L.L. Bean does some linen and seersucker, tho I don't know how their sizes ranges are.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:08 AM on June 4, 2014

Dedicated Already Pretty blog reader here. What about the second outfit on this page? If you're in the Twin Cities, Sally, the author of the blog offers personal shopping and I believe she works at a consignment shop too.

And I know you said you don't want skinny jeans but what about that general straight-legged "cut" worn with high heels and a blazer? Like the third option on this page -- see how it's not ultra-tight on the legs?
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 10:08 AM on June 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

If I had to do this out of the blue, I would probably buy some Eileen Fisher secondhand via Ebay - or Eileen Fisher-like clothes in general. By which I would mean"slouchy" pants (which seem to be having a moment in real fashion as well as being an eternal verity of the sorta-casual working world) with a stretch waist in woven/washable rayon, crinkle cotton or maybe washable tropical wool or raw silk and slouchy summer sweaters or knits. Wear those with flats or low heels.

I have a pair of Eileen Fisher slouchy woven rayon pants that are super comfortable in hot weather - they are my desperation/do-not-care-that-they-are-not-masculine-of-center-because-it's-80-at-7am pants.

Alternatively, some pants in the "wearever" fabric from JJill and soft sweaters.

A friend tells me that the ASOS curve stuff is better than expected.

Once you have some softer separates, you can wear the cardigans over the top in lieu of a jacket.
posted by Frowner at 10:08 AM on June 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

I abhor capris, skinny pants of any sort, and logos as well. I don't see any problem with continuing on with the same uniform, and just changing up the accessories, and adding wicked shoes.

How about a low wedge shoe in summery colours? I am also a huge fan of gauze scarves with a simple tee. Add some shiny earrings and a bracelet, and you're good to go.
posted by sillymama at 10:17 AM on June 4, 2014

6' female formerly size 24. I worked in a business casual office and wore a lot of black pants with an untucked but tailored and colorful women's button down shirt and ballet flats. Or dark pants and a cardigan (either buttoned without a blouse or unbuttoned with a blouse). I am long torsoed rather than long legged (33" in-seam), so with some hunting I could find pants to fit. used to be a staple for me as they do a lot of neutral plus-sized clothes where sometimes you can choose length. They've gotten a little dowdy over the years, but if you look, there are still some classics there.
posted by cecic at 10:20 AM on June 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

First, I HATE jeans in the summer, they are SO HOT!

Macy's has some nice pants, that should fit you well (they drag on the floor with me.)

I think flowy pants like this, with a tank top and a light-weight flowy thing over it would look pretty and be super comfy.

These with a navy pattern are nice too.

This jumpsuit is pretty nifty, and cheap and can actually be dressed up for dates and things.

These Linen pants are pretty nice, and a solid color.

Macy's is having a Friends and Family sale, so 25% off. I'd order a bunch of shit online, and return whatever doesn't work for you in person. I went to the Macy's at Mall of America and they had a whole bunch of nothing there.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:22 AM on June 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I really dislike skirts and dresses: Fat girls have chub rub (and I'm not really interested in wearing yet another article of clothing like bloomers or bike shorts to deal with that).

I totally hear you, and I was the same way for 15 years, but I just started doing it about a month ago because of the heat and I'm kicking myself so hard. Maxi-skirts/dresses and bike shorts are my new uniform.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:30 AM on June 4, 2014

I haven't tried the We Love Colors capri tights but I like the ones from Target (and they're $5). I don't like wearing skirts without tights so it gives you the protection from chub rub and the psychological comfort of tights but still look/feel more summery.
posted by radioamy at 10:38 AM on June 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd stick to smart denim on the bottom half if that is what you are comfortable with, but shake it up with some different colours and washes. A lighter washed denim seems to be the trend for 2014 and also comes off as a little more casual but you can keep a cut you feel comfortable with, jeans are such a personal thing when it comes to fit I hesitate to recommend a brand. Look into dressier tshirts, again fit is personal with tshirts I like them slightly more tailored, and I'm a larger tall girl too but some people like soft and flowing. A nice light summer scarf or interesting necklace can top it off with a light shrug as needed to hide your tattoo.

I'd look at a nice summery wedge, believe it or not Crocs (yes Crocs) makes some cute summery shoes that are super comfortable, I hate heels and walking in these is like walking on clouds, cute summery clouds. Or a pair of pretty flats in a ballet shoe style or a pretty sandal. I'd avoid flip flops no matter how dressy in an office.

Capris, especially fitted pairs, strangely enough will look smarter, and more flattering on us bigger women if worn with a loose tunic length top .

Short kimino tops are very trendy this summer and look great over a tshirt, to give you the arm coverage you need and they are light and cooler than a cardigan and look a little more casual.
posted by wwax at 10:39 AM on June 4, 2014

I worked with Sally from Already Pretty to do a virtual wardrobe consultation! It was life changing. She helped me determine my wardrobe goals (stop dressing like a student, start dressing like a professional), find my best silhouettes, and she taught me how to shop online without getting overwhelmed. Over that, though, it was a crash course in positive self-image and helped me immensely in terms of accepting my body and dressing it lovingly. Later, when I lost 90 pounds, she helped me learn to love my new body. If you're okay with spending a few hundred dollars, I'd totally recommend it. Working with her really improved my life.

I'm regularly frustrated with, but they have some great fashion bloggers. You might find Marianne Kirby or Leslie Kinzel useful. I think Gabi Fresh is going to be probably too casual for work, but she's connected to practically every fashion blogger in the world.

Have you considered Gwynnie Bee? I have some friends who have used this rent-to-buy service for women who wear sizes 10-32. It might be a low stakes way to test out new trends.
posted by Pardon Our Dust at 10:56 AM on June 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

Another option for thigh friction is either a sport anti-chafe cream like Body Glide or this one from Monistat. (Also, standard issue deodorant is great for preventing chafing in a pinch.)
posted by kate blank at 10:59 AM on June 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

Lands End has some extremely cute cardigans for us plus size people this summer. Their plus size dresses are also GREAT. I have a few pair of their nicer knit pants that I wear with tunic length shirts. I have found their khaki pants inconsistent with sizing, but the Sears at the Mall of America stocks the Lands End plus sizes, so you can try things on!!!!!
posted by Malla at 11:11 AM on June 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm tall and plus-size, and my go-to for Nice Looking Casual Friday is NYDJ, which very likely is also inside your local Nordstrom. I've yet to buy NYDJ pants of any kind that weren't very flattering and comfortable -- try a size down from usual first. I'm not a fan of capris...but I have an NYDJ pair, and I do wear them.
posted by gnomeloaf at 12:00 PM on June 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Okay, this is very orthogonal advice, but you can defeat chub rub by putting deodorant on your thighs where they rub together (and on anywhere else that chafes). I think it's even more effective than bike shorts because there's nothing to pull or ride up.

I know that is not the ONLY reason you prefer pants, so of course you might not want to wear dresses at all, but I think a dress and a light cardigan could be a great way to add some flexibility to your wardrobe. In particular, I recommend getting two or three of this amazing Land's End dress. I wore this dress in sable, with various shrugs, belts, and scarves, to work every day for six months (I had more than one). I think the teal or pink would be great for summer, plus maybe the black or navy. Super simple to make an outfit (even simpler if you keep a neutral comes and light weight cardigan at work rather than choose a different one at home every time, can be dressed up or down depending the accessories, and the stuff you need to make different outfits can be got on the cheap.

Sorry, I know this isn't exactly what you were thinking of, but the one dress project solved soooo many of my work wardrobe problems that I wanted to share in case it might help you!
posted by Snarl Furillo at 12:34 PM on June 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

You should check out Jockey's Skimmers Mid Thigh shorts. They are your lightweight, underwear replacement, chub-rub solution. They are not "shapeware" like spanx which are hot and sweaty and uncomfortable. You forget you're wearing them, they breathe, and you can wear panties under them or not. I just bought 5 pairs.

Wearing dresses is the easiest way to have a totally new outfit. It's once piece. If you're shopping at Target, it's like $20-$30. Dress, (shorties), belt, cardigan, flat sandals. Maybe replace the cardigan with a denim jacket. Maybe put the belt over the cardigan. Whenever you have something flowy, you should have something structured or you look like you're wearing bags. With a dress like the one linked, you should put a stretchy wide belt at your waist, or button a fitting cardigan.

You want a dress/skirt that hits right in the middle of your knee. Pencil skirts look GOOD on ladies our size. Seriously, try one on.
posted by fontophilic at 1:15 PM on June 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm kind of surprised that no one has mentioned Simply Be yet. Sizes 10-28. Casual through dressy and business wear.
posted by Meep! Eek! at 2:07 PM on June 4, 2014

What stores (online, or available in Minnesota) should I be visiting?

I have a friend who is built almost exactly like you (though she hits 6 feet) and who works in a professional job, and she swears by Catharine's and Nordstrom; she orders online, tries on stuff in the comfort of home, and then they do free in-store returns.

For what it's worth... this depends entirely on your comfort with your gender presentation, but wearing boxer briefs solves the chub rub problem. It's super comfortable with skirts (for me at least; it's 90 here already and I'm living in maxi skirts and boxer briefs) and they're way cheaper than those Jockey shorts (though those look like a great product too!)
posted by joycehealy at 2:38 PM on June 4, 2014

Curvy Market has pretty much every retailer that has plus sized clothes in once place so you can search by clothing item or retailer once you find something you like.
posted by triggerfinger at 3:42 PM on June 4, 2014

I'd get some J. Jill linen pants in tall extra large. They might seem tight when you put them on, but squat down and they will stretch. Or get the plus-size ones; the inseam on those is about 32.

I swear by J. Jill and L.L. Bean washable linen pants and crops in miserable hot and humid Washington!!! I put them and my other linen in the dryer on the no-heat setting to get some wrinkles out, and then I hang them from the shower rod and smooth them out by hand.

I never wear jeans between May and September or even October -- they seem to suck up humidity.
posted by jgirl at 3:48 PM on June 4, 2014

As to chafing, the Vermont Country Store site has all-cotton pettipants I've written about here before. They go up to 3x.
posted by jgirl at 3:52 PM on June 4, 2014

Silk! Look for silk blouses and pants. They feel cool and look summery while still looking elegant. And silk trousers are rarely form fitting. Pair with cute sandals and lightweight jewelry for the win.
posted by myselfasme at 4:41 PM on June 4, 2014

Jessica London has a couple of different styles of linen pants and a linen blazer in their plus tall range. A pair of linen pants in white and a pair in khaki will give you lots of options that look summery and grown-up casual. The tall "classic" linen blend pants in white + the "spice" blazer as shown here is a very on-point color combo for this summer.
posted by drlith at 6:11 PM on June 4, 2014

Are your hips about the same size as your waist (up to about 6 inches more)? If so, try the men's department.
posted by brujita at 10:27 PM on June 4, 2014

They've worked decently well to accommodate my height, and they seem to have a good size range of sizes, so I'd try eShakti.

They don't seem to carry pants, however.

Honestly, faced with business casual and no skirts as a condition, I'd wear a lot of tunic type tops (loose, flowy, long sleeved) over my usual work pants and wear a flat sandal.
posted by skittlekicks at 5:35 AM on June 5, 2014

Not sure what shape you are other than tall and plus sized - I am slightly shorter, US18/20 and I guess triangle shaped. A few thoughts.

Wrap tops (both fake wrap and actual) with long sleeves. Wear a cami underneath to protect your modesty. You can wear these both with smart trousers, as part of a suit or with more casual trousers. You can accessorise them to dress up or down.

Floaty material long sleeved tops shaped like this or this can be dressed up or down. Use bright solid colour or patterns to add interest. For more tunic styles consider adding a belt to define shape more.

Also, I hear you on the chub rub but there are ways and means to prevent it. And few things beat a wrap dress for summer comfort in a business/business casual/(nice) casual context. You can dress them up with jackets, smart shoes and accessories. You can dress them down with casual accessories. You can find plenty of options that are long sleeved and knee length. And the shape allows you to do bold/bright colours without looking as if you're heading for the beach.
posted by koahiatamadl at 7:04 AM on June 5, 2014

Fat girls have chub rub (and I'm not really interested in wearing yet another article of clothing like bloomers or bike shorts to deal with that)

Just another data point for shorts under dresses--if you haven't tried it, it can be really comfortable. I'm a fat girl too (and I used to be fatter), and I have a few pairs of running shorts and even a pair of spanx that does a great job eliminating chub rub. The spanx are actually my favorite, they're the lightest, they're actually very comfortable, and they don't roll up (I think mine are probably a size too large on me, which might be why they are comfortable). Spanx seems to have dozens of varieties of shapewear out there, so obviously you have to find the right ones.
posted by inertia at 12:32 PM on June 5, 2014

Nthing the Lands End plus-size offerings. They have both tall and plus-sized clothing (I wore them from size 28 to 18 almost exclusively, and my inseam's 35"; I feel your pain). The plus-size line is supervised by a plus-sized woman, and they don't just scale up the patterns; they actually modify them to fit plus-size women. They'll hem most pants to whatever inseam you need. Their colors can run a bit too pastel-y for anyone who isn't very pale, though. I've got light olive skin and usually have to fall back to just picking whatever comes in black. Their customer service and clothing quality is top-notch, though, so I considered it a worthwhile tradeoff.
posted by culfinglin at 1:21 PM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

RE: Chub Rub - fat chick here - I exclusively wear skirts all year long - with tights and leggings in winter and bare legged in summer. Used to have chub rub issues, but I just powered through it and I just don't have it anymore - I have not noticed big callouses on my inner thighs either. Just sayin' it might not be an issue after a while.
posted by sarajane at 1:28 PM on June 6, 2014

Have you been to Fawbush's at the Galleria? I like their styles; nice fabrics, interesting designs, lots of flattering pieces. Kind of on the arty end, but plenty of things that would work in a business casual summer law office--and more stylish than some linen pants that can look like pajamas. They are helpful and know what looks good, no matter the size. And they will find the right size, which is important when you (we) wear larger sizes. Too big=sloppy. There is an Eileen Fisher store at the Galleria, too, if you want to try out the suggestions above.

I am not normally a fan of Lane Bryant, but take a look at some of their wide pants & other styles. Some might work for you.
posted by Nosey Mrs. Rat at 12:24 PM on June 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

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