The clothes on my back.
July 28, 2014 7:53 PM   Subscribe

I'm a lady, it's hot, I'm shaped weird, I need something to wear that looks nice and isn't t-shirts, and my fashion sense is totally failing me. Relevant details inside.

Dear Mefites, I am at the end of my very short fashion rope. Can you help me find some tops to wear to work that I don't hate with every fiber of my being?

Context: I am a graduate student who will be doing some light teaching & TA-ing and a lot of meeting industry professionals in the fall. I am not expected to dress business or even business casual, but I feel better about a lot of my work and research duties when I look like I'm there to Get Shit Done. This means I usually wear nice, dark jeans, casual slacks, or sometimes pencil skirts. Shoes are flats, casual (not power) heels, or, for the rare months it's actually cool enough, boots.

Physical difficulties (of course!): I have an unusual bodyshape. I am definitely, definitely a spoon-- I have very broad hips, a big round ass, and quite a small waist (think a 12"+ difference in waist/hips). I'm also a weightlifter/ex-martial-artist, and I have developed trapezius, which give my fairly broad shoulders a slope rather than a square shape-- but my ribcage itself it quite small (I'm a 34 on the smallest clasp in bras.) I also have small breasts and do not fill out shirts that rely on boobs to give them shape very well.

Fashion sense: I am a dark brunette with warm toned skin, and I tend to wear a lot of neutral and autumn colors. If I were being picky, I'd say I skewed more towards the masculine and the feminine classic end of style rather than "trendy" or "flirty", but if that needs to change to make this work, I'll do it. What's more relevant here is what I DON'T look good in, and there's quite a list. I often can't wear tunics, even with a belt, because my waist/hip ratio is too large. I can't wear square-cut or draped things, because they hang off my shoulders and make look like a linebacker. On the other hand, things cut with too MANY feminine curves tend emphasize how sloped my shoulders are and be way too large in the chest. Dropped waists make me look like a sack, and empires are dicey under the best of circumstances.

Caveat: I also live in Phoenix and I routinely bike to school in 100+ degree heat. For this reason, my previous tricks, such complex layering, short sleeved sweaters, and scarves are pretty much out.

What I need: I don't need specific tops that you think I should buy (although that would be great too!) I'm a pretty experienced thrift store/Goodwill-er, but right now my problem is that I don't even know what I'm looking for. What kind of tops are structured not to look comically inappropriate on wide shoulders, small boobs, and a small waist? Examples would be stellar. I'd be thrilled for any ideas of what might look good on me!
posted by WidgetAlley to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You need tank tops, because they can be tighter on the torso without restricting arm movement. For work buy sleeveless shells to wear under a jacket. Tops without buttons, preferably.

Also if you can get a suit fitting (just go in the right kind of store, like Kaster) do it. They are not as expensive as you think but go a long way to making you look professional, and you can get different sizes for upper and lower body.
posted by tooloudinhere at 8:22 PM on July 28, 2014

Hi, I have a very small upper body and (slightly in my case) bigger hips/thighs and I live in Phoenix too. I swear by dark boot cut jeans and slim fitting v-neck knit tops that come down to hip length. If they're shorter, the line cuts me in half at my smallest part and emphasizes the disproportion. A fitted tank, or dressy or wrap-style tank with a slim fit cardigan or blazer (blazers are hard, they have to be quite fitted to not look like a box) over it on e you're in-class could work.
posted by celtalitha at 8:28 PM on July 28, 2014

Like this?
posted by celtalitha at 8:36 PM on July 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Are you in AC a fair amount when you get to work? I bike to my very similar sounding job (in terms of dress code/activities) in Tucson and solve some of this problem by wearing gym clothes to bike in and bringing along my nicer professional wear in my backpack. This allows me to still use tricks like layering and structured jackets/long pants, especially since it is very cool inside thanks to AC. It sounds like blazers and structured jackets would really do the trick for you (give sloping shoulders a shape, emphasize small waist) but you may have to buy larger (for hips) and get them tailored at waist or elsewhere. Also, keep one or two jackets somehow at the office or in a gym locker so they don't get crumpled in your bike bag. Wear basic sleeveless "shells" or work-appropriate tanks underneath.

I love Liz Claiborne suit separates at JCPenney, such a great deal and good construction (not the trendiest). In general JCP has great cheap work-wear to play with, there is almost always a 15% off coupon on their website.
posted by dahliachewswell at 8:55 PM on July 28, 2014

First: I'm a 34 on the smallest clasp in bras.

You are not wearing the correct size. Your band should fit snugly on the loosest hook and provide 90% of the bra's support. You need to go down a band size or two, then up a cup for every band you go down, if your cup is fitting properly. I'm very small chested and I measure to be a 28D and wear a 30C. Use this calculator.

A well-fitting bra is the basis for well-fitting clothes. It may even help some of your fit issues in the chest area, being as your boobs will be properly supported.

Next: I'd go for sleeveless (not strappy) knits and blouses. You can also try high-waisted tops that float away from your body toward your hips. I too am a small chested, tiny-waisted, big-booty person.

With broader shoulders you want your sleeveless (or cap-sleeve) shirts to end near your shoulder. Strappy tops can accentuate your broader hips, whereas sleeveless shirts can balance your body.

I'd try something like these:
Basic button blouse
Cowl necks create a feminine neck line. 1 and 2
Here's a nice wrapped top.
Here's a nice print blouse.

Last: Stretchy is your friend. You'll want stretchy cardigans, jackets, blazers, and button downs for add-ons to your sleeveless tops. Also, you'll probably want a blazer that is one-button that's a bit lower. The two or more button blazers are often very tailored in the bust and if you don't fill it out, it's awkward.

Here's a knit blazer.
And another from target.
And a third from Target.
Fitted non-stretch blazers require some trying on, but again I'd go for only 1 button.

The Essential shirt from Express is also pretty good for me as far as not-too big in the bust. I wear an Xsmall and it fits amazing. They are made with some stretch to them.
posted by Crystalinne at 9:09 PM on July 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

We have the same body and coloring. You want V-necks and/or boat necks. (Or turtlenecks, but obviously "100-degree weather" prohibits that.) Avoid U-necks, crew necks, and anything boxy/loose/not fitted. I personally don't wear sleeveless tops because I don't like how they look on my shoulders, but your mileage may vary. Cap sleeves could work for you. So could wrap-style tops. So could ruching, in the right places. (It's a little early in the year, but this is my favorite top and I own it in four colors.)
posted by dekathelon at 9:16 PM on July 28, 2014

I am similarly proportioned (size 6-8 waist, size 14-16 hips in American sizes), with a small bust and broad shoulders (also thanks to weight-lifting!).

I just bought a couple of tops at H&M that I think would work for you too:
This draped sleeveless top
This frilled front t-shirt fabric sleeveless top.

They are good because the sleeve holes are big, so they fit my large-ish upper arms, they are stretchy fabric, and they have something going on around the bust area which balances my shape a bit.

I often find H&M capped sleeve blouses fit me well too, but the ones I tried on this season were too big around the rib-cage if they fitted through the sleeve.
posted by lollusc at 1:06 AM on July 29, 2014

I'm worse than you in the waist-hip ratio department, if you can believe it. One thing you might try is fitted tanks (look for a cotton/lycra blend) with a gauzy (gauze, chiffon, georgette) top. I like a length that is long but not-quite-tunic length (for me that's around 28"). Pay attention to the bottom hemline and make sure it's not banded or anything stupid like that. I have broad, rounded/sloped shoulders as well and peasant tops don't work well, as they accentuate the roundedness of the shoulder.

If you're cycling to work you could wear just the tank on the way and then toss a breezy chiffon top over it when you get there. If you like a slightly masculine but not butch look, the sleeveless georgette colorblock blouse was quite popular recently. If you hate synthetics, cotton gauze may be an option, although since this is classically a summer style "beachy" colors tend to predominate and earth-tones/autumn colors are harder to find.
posted by drlith at 5:00 AM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm thinking tanks with floaty, unstructured short sleeved sweaters over them, or boleros.

Draped Cardigan


Open front cardigan

Cardigan vest (wear with a sleeved shirt)
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:03 AM on July 29, 2014

I'm a fan of the tunic over leggings or skinny jeans, paired with a belt to give your waist a little definition. This seems to work for most body types, and tunics are pretty breathable. For casual, wear with flip flops. For less casual, wear with sandals or ballet flats.
posted by hippychick at 5:29 AM on July 29, 2014

Do you have any experience sewing and/or access to a sewing machine? Tailoring off-the-rack clothes to fit often makes the difference between "nope" to "wow". Craftsy has a good course that teaches you the basics of tailoring clothes. (If you wait, sometimes their classes are 25-50% off.) Additionally, WildGinger has a "style match" software that gives you a full report on what would fit you, based on your detailed, exact measurements. They might have a student discount.
posted by apennington at 6:55 AM on July 29, 2014

Have you tried wearing a tunic with a belt (scarf type belt) tied around your upper hip area (just above your bum) rather than your waist?
posted by WeekendJen at 9:40 AM on July 29, 2014

Guys, tunics with belts totally do not look right on this body type, trust me. It makes your top half look like a box and emphasizes the size of your hips.

I sometimes wear tunics with skinny jeans but it's not the best look and definitely never belted.
posted by celtalitha at 11:24 AM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

How do you feel about dresses? The great thing about dresses with full skirts is that as long as it fits your waist properly, you don't have to worry about it fitting your hips. A shirtwaist or wrap dress might work for you--something that hits your natural waist, not an empire or drop waist. You can wear bicycle shorts under it when biking too!

I bet you are wearing the wrong bra size. I have a rather large ribcage, wear a size 12-16 and I'm almost a 34 band size (i wear a 36 on the smallest size). Prior to getting professionally fitted, I thought I should be wearing a 40 band size! Get fitted, your clothing will fit better!
posted by inertia at 12:06 PM on July 29, 2014

Response by poster: Hi all,

Thanks so much for the advice so far! Great stuff to keep an eye out for. I have a few quick follow-up question and a clarification:

- If I'm wearing a blazer or cardigan, how do I find the coolest (temperature-wise) designs possible? I love the blazer look, but unfortunately much of my job involves moving from place-to-place on campus. Also, it's routinely 110 here, and in that heat even just walking across a large parking lot to get into a building can pretty much ruin you if you're wearing a jacket. Should I just be taking it off for those quick treks and putting it on when I get back inside? I know linen and cotton, and loose weaves, are cooler than synthetics or closely-woven fabrics (and I love the way they look), but any other tricks?

- Secondly, the bra issue. I am 100% sure I am wearing (really close to) the correct bra size, as per reddit's a bra that fits, much of the AskMefi advice, the online calculator that Crystalinne linked, and not one but TWO professional fittings. (If you're curious, I'm a 32/34C with shallow breasts.) Unfortunately the brands I can afford as a graduate student do not carry 32Cs so I make do with a 34B/C depending on the type and brand of bra (balconette v. full cup, etc.) When it comes to bras, I'm set for the moment (thanks in no small part to Mefites who have asked previous questions about bra fit.) Actually, for the several of you who have mentioned bra fit changing my shape, the way that a correct bra changes my shape is one of the reasons I'm in the market for new shirts!
posted by WidgetAlley at 1:08 PM on July 29, 2014

Somewhat similar shape over here too. I'm going to disagree with all the posters who want your tops to hit at the hips -- for me, that's the worst possible option because it calls attention to the widest part. Might as well highlight the small waist!

I like full skirts with a fitted waist and a tucked-in shirt. Something like this, although you can find it in all price ranges and lengths. Dresses work well too, especially if they go in at the waist and have some volume on the bottom. This one and this one look like they might work well on your shoulders, but ymmv. If you like Anthro, check out their sales -- most items eventually get marked down to a reasonable price.

And yes to tailoring! Either by yourself or a professional. It's less expensive than you might expect, and it makes a huge difference if you can find someone good or get good yourself. Turns out all celebs have their clothes tailored -- that's why they look better than the rest of us schlubs, even before Photoshop.
posted by equipoise at 2:19 PM on July 29, 2014

Oof yea I work on a campus too and sympathise with the heat/walking to meetings problem, nothing worse than turning up a sweaty mess.

My go-to cool outfits at the moment include loose weave cardigans and Kimono jackets which are having a moment. I've picked up several on the high street the past two seasons and they're super to wear instead of a jacket/blazer when its hot. Avoid the festival / hippie versions with tassles (or be prepared to remove any ridiculous frills) and look for the ones that are more blazer length.
posted by Ness at 3:16 AM on July 30, 2014

Oh yes, seconding wrap dresses. They seem to work well with the hip/waist proportion we have going on, and they add a bit of detail around the bust area. Because they are usually stretchy, they usually fit over any size bust (or lack thereof). I have never met a wrap dress that doesn't look great on me.

Tunics over leggings CAN work, but I've found they need to be very loose fitting around the hips, and not come in again at the thighs. Also, that is a good winter outfit, but I can't imagine finding a tunic/legging combo that isn't uncomfortable in the heat.

In regard to your follow-up, yes, definitely take your blazer off to walk across campus and put it on again inside. That's what I do. As you say, loose, unlined linen or cotton is cooler, especially in paler colours if you will ever wear it in the sun.
posted by lollusc at 10:13 PM on July 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

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