Help me dress like a grown up lady - 30s edition
January 7, 2015 4:28 PM   Subscribe

I would like to figure out what the hell well dressed women of my age wear to look stylish, classy, and even if possible sexy! Please help me find what to wear, from inside out, like I am your own personal midthirties professional, casual, and formal doll.

I am:

Light-complexioned Hispanic lady in her thirties of average height currently living in the Pacific Northwest. I have broad shoulders, and am busty with a equally significant tailfeather. I am also overweight, though relatively equally proportioned.

I can wear heels, though need them to bear real weight, and have kind of large/wide feet. I prefer skirts to pants, and would prefer to dress at least somewhat conventionally feminine presenting.

Please help! Assume I am basically a tabula rasa. There are some things I have enjoyed, but not nearly enough to make a coherent Wardrobe. Bonus question: if you have any idea on things in various price points, I would like to figure out what I want to get, then ultimately to try to buy the best-made version of the classic/longlasting pieces so I'm not replacing shoddy clothing every year.
posted by corb to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (23 answers total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
I am short and chesty in the Pacific Northwest and live most my winter in nice, comfortable dresses, tights, and boots or flats. Wrap styles are universally flattering and I have some I love. Get some quality, neutral items and then mix up with scarves and cardigans (I don't need to be overly formal at my work-ymmv). As far as specific brands, that's tough. I actually have some dresses I love from REI, of all places, and some very flattering pants, designed to be slimming, from Lisette.
posted by purenitrous at 4:44 PM on January 7, 2015 [5 favorites]

You Look Fab does a great job of presenting lots of current, but not too trendy, ideas for for adult women who want to look professional and feminine. The Ensemble section also includes buy links.

You might also book an appointment with a personal shopper at Nordstrom. The service is free, though you are expected to buy some stuff, probably at least $100 worth (there is no formal minimum that I'm aware of). I've never done it, but have read many reviews from people who say the stylists are helpful, not intimidating, and respectful of whatever budget you give them.

Into Mind is a really thorough resource for building a classic, beloved, capsule wardrobe (a limited number of items that all work together).
posted by pocketfullofrye at 4:44 PM on January 7, 2015 [6 favorites]

I think it would help to know what your business/social context is. Do you work in a law office or a tech firm? Do you drive/ride a bicycle/take transit to work? What are your favorite colors, and do you know which look good on you?

Do you have a particular look (on other women) that you like? For instance, do you want to dress like Alicia Florrick or like Kalinda Sharma? Or are you more comfortable in slacks and oxford shoes?

That said, I would recommend finding a couple of fashion blogs that represent the kind of style you like. (One of my favorites is You Look Fab, also based in the PNW.) Look at the way the bloggers put together outfits, and look at the color schemes. Can you duplicate one of the outfits you like using clothes from your closet?

Start with what you have on hand, do some experimentation. Consider what your lifestyle is like and what image you want to present. Then look into buying some of the basics that might be missing from your wardrobe. A basic black skirt, or navy blue cardigan, or whatever.

But I would start with thinking about what you like on other women, and what you are willing to wear in the context of your own situation. Don't jump too far, because you don't want to spend a lot of money on clothes you're not comfortable wearing right away...
posted by suelac at 4:48 PM on January 7, 2015

Signing up for Stitch Fix has been a very useful answer to this question for me. Paying them to mail me what 30-something ladies of my size/shape are wearing these days has been so incredibly valuable for me. (It's a mix of data driven selections as well as a personal stylist selecting things, all of which gets shipped to you and you keep what you'd like and ship back the rest.) It's also helped expand my knowledge of what's stylish and what works on my body, so when I go shopping I can make better choices for myself.

If you give it a try, I recommend 1) giving very specific instructions in the notes ("I prefer to hide XYZ body part" "no dry clean only" "I need more skirts for work" etc) and 2) if a stylist does a decent job, request to be assigned only to that stylist henceforth.

(Caveat: my size/shape is different than yours.)
posted by soleiluna at 4:54 PM on January 7, 2015 [8 favorites]

You can get StitchFix for $20 a month applied towards any clothes you decide to keep that the stylist sends you. Whatever you don't want you can stick back in the prepaid bag envelope and stuff it in a mailbox.

My first box came on NYE and I was pleasantly surprised and kept a dress and cardigan. I love clothes but get weary of shopping for clothes. StitchFix is a pretty great thing for me so far.
posted by discopolo at 4:56 PM on January 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Whoops! Seconding soleiluna's rec for StitchFix.
posted by discopolo at 4:57 PM on January 7, 2015

Response by poster: Do you have a particular look (on other women) that you like?...Then look into buying some of the basics that might be missing from your wardrobe.

No, I'm actually spectacularly bad at knowing what I like, because I have spent most of my time around men trying to be "one of the boys" (former military veteran). Also I don't really know what the "basics" are. Like, what am I supposed to have in my wardrobe that I don't? I really have very little idea.


Thank you! It looks like I'm outside their size chart, though. Are there other services that do this?
posted by corb at 5:09 PM on January 7, 2015

Best answer: Gwynnie Bee is a plus-size clothes subscription service. I believe their smallest size is a 10. I have not used them personally, but have read several positive reviews by plus-size fashion bloggers.
posted by SweetTeaAndABiscuit at 5:13 PM on January 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Gwinnie Bee is a clothes subscription service like Stitchfix but in sizes up to 32.
posted by dreaming in stereo at 5:13 PM on January 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

This blogger's guide to body shapes is the best thing I've ever read about how to dress myself, it gives me some confidence in my choices and saves me time now that I know what to look for and what to avoid: Once you know what to enhance and what colours (see the colour section of the same blog) are most flattering you can start having fun.

If you can afford it you might like a personal stylist. I'm unclear on the cost but in a few hours they can steer you to the staples and classics and put it all together for you, you'd want to search for "professional wardrobe" type consultants. A good one will do the body and colour mapping I linked to and make sure everything is flattering. If you can't start looking at "capsule wardrobe" blogs, they do a similar thing. For dresses/skirts you'll be wearing blazers and cardigans over them as needed, and accessorizing with scarves, bags, and shoes.

This seller on etsy makes beautiful feminine custom wrap dresses and other clothes: If you like wrap dresses Diane von Furstenburg is the classic designer that will be pricy but last forever.

Do you have leather riding-style boots (black or brown)? Those are a good first start that will go with everything and you should be able to get them in a wide fit.
posted by lafemma at 5:15 PM on January 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

I highly recommend doing the personal stylist thing at Nordstrom. It's free! If you have more than one store in your area, choose the biggest one (for the best selection). They will even bring someone over to consult on alterations which is super helpful when you are hard to fit.

It sounds like you and I might be built similarly. I did this months ago, was skeptical going in but had a great experience!
posted by marmago at 5:40 PM on January 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

I am similarly built to you and I am obsessed with Eshakti. They're an online vendor but their customer service is phenomenal. The custom tailoring option is ridiculous.
posted by spunweb at 5:43 PM on January 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Another vote for Gwynnie Bee. I stayed with a friend of mine over New Year's (who is newly running around with NYC powerhouses) and I have never seen her more stylish; she looked unbelievable. She's a subscriber, and just loves it. If you're starting at Square One of "omg what the hell should I wear" a subscription service will save you from shopping hell where you don't know what to try on, buy a bunch of unrelated things, and then not like what you bought anyway.
To get an idea of basic wardrobe staples/rules, have you looked at this well-loved Metafilter post? "Because your wardrobe is a pretty complex organism"
posted by missmary6 at 7:38 PM on January 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

PNW and in my 30's as well. REI has a number of nice classic looking comfortable clothes, though finding stuff in larger sizes can be hit or miss. I'm particularly fond of hiking pants in lieu of slacks as the pockets are actually functional and the cut and fabric are meant for moving comfortably. Tatyana boutique in capital hill is great though the internet tells me they just closed. The 50's style dresses seem to really flatter curvy and/or plus sized women. is a great place to get ideas, but their clothes are hit or miss on fit and quality. The great thing about Seattle and the PNW in general is that style wise we are pretty casual and generally pretty accepting of lots of styles of dress.
posted by HMSSM at 7:38 PM on January 7, 2015

Are you in/near Seattle by any chance? If so, I wanted to pass along two salesladies at Nordstrom who TOTALLY get 30s lady plus-sized fashion:

at the Nordstrom in Bellevue Square, see if you can make an appointment with Dominica. She works in the denim department and really rocked at finding me stuff that fit my body perfectly. I'm not sure if she does personal shopping services (maybe all sales people do?) but if not, at least find out when she works and go then.

at the flagship store in downtown Seattle, make an appointment with Akia. She helped me pick out some sassy outfits to wear to a recent job interview and was SO patient with me. I think she helped me for 90 minutes and I didn't even have an appointment!
posted by joan_holloway at 8:01 PM on January 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: All of this advice is great! So it looks like from looking at some of these links, I need to just get rid of a majority of stuff in my closet before I even start tackling the problem of getting new clothes, and then I'm going to head to a personal shopper at Nordstroms who will hopefully know what she's doing?

In the meantime: any ideas on jewelry/makeup? I have tried going to Sephora and getting a makeover, but even though it was very attractive, it made me look really, really young in an Uncanny Valley type way.
posted by corb at 10:21 PM on January 7, 2015

I found a Reddit community that's really helpful for figuring wardrobe stuff out. It's called Female Fashion Advice and it's heavily moderated, so unlike some parts of Reddit, it's actually quite a lovely community. They have weekly "What are you wearing" threads, so you can see other people's outfits or get feedback on your own, and they also have a weekly "Simple Questions" thread for stuff you don't want to start a whole thread about. I find the women there are really knowledgeable and ready to help.

There's another Reddit community called Makeup Addiction and they are also quite helpful and friendly, and they have a bunch of helpful tutorials on their sidebar.
posted by colfax at 11:53 PM on January 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

When you get a personal shopper, don't be afraid of saying no. Tell her if it feels too risque, too casual, too formal, too trendy, too not you. Even if you're not sure what you don't like about it. Otherwise you'll end up with a great, coherent set of clothes that feel like they belong to someone else.

Tell her right at the beginning that you are trying to find your own style, she will be able to help you.

I finally settled on a workplace uniform of turtlenecks and slim pants, using accessoires and jackets to change the look. It sounds limiting but actually allows me to experiment and vary a lot more than when I had lots of disparate items that never seemed to gel to one look!
posted by Omnomnom at 12:16 AM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think Boden would be a good fit for you. They have bigger sizes but those tend to go quickly. Also: they use U.K. sizes so order accordingly!
posted by orrnyereg at 2:30 AM on January 8, 2015

Best answer: I was going to suggest Gynnie Bee- I totally love it- you get stuff to try, return what you don't want, and they offer deep discounts at certain points for things at home. It gets pricey- and I could see myself canceling at some point because now that I have used it a while I have been introduced to brands that fit me and that I like the cut and style of. Effie's Heart is one such brand I was introduced to through them- they have the most adorable dresses (with the bonus that most have pockets!) and all their stuff is stretchy cotton and is cut in a fit and flair way.

I also love Boden UK- but I now shop their warehouse sales they have 2x a year in my city- check to see if they have them in yours. They have great skirts and tops. Their pant cut can get a little wonky and many of their dresses don't have the V cut I need for my broad shoulders and chest.
posted by momochan at 6:04 AM on January 8, 2015

Try Sephora again, but (1) approach a salesperson whose look appeals to you and (2) express that you'd like help building a minimalist or natural look.
posted by mchorn at 6:05 AM on January 8, 2015

Makeup-wise, I asked a few friends for recommendations of their favorite brands, then based on that I went to MAC at Macy's on a calm, low-shopping-crowds weekday morning and asked the woman there to tell me what I need, from scratch. I was sold on MAC after a friend told their makeup photographs really well, and indeed, it does. Another thing I liked about MAC was that it was simply makeup and they didn't try to sell me on a bunch of skin care products.

I had a family wedding to attend and told her I needed guidance/makeup for that, but also made clear that I need everyday makeup and I am pretty clueless. (Maybe you should mention your Sephora experience and say you're looking for something age appropriate?)

The lady did my full makeup (no charge, just paid for what I bought) while explaining what she was doing and was super super nice about it. I ended up buying maybe 70% of what she recommended - skipping things that weren't me (eyeliner) and things I already had favorite brands of (mascara.) Be prepared to leave having spent a decent amount of money...I think I spent around $200, but it's lasted at least a year w/o any replacements needed besides lipstick.
posted by soleiluna at 1:07 PM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

Seconding You Look Fab, as it's helped me figure out what my style is, and n-thing a personal shopper as that gets you off to a solid start. I used a personal shopper for a few seasons several years ago, and still wear a lot of what I bought then as it was good quality and suits my body shape.
posted by harriet vane at 7:11 AM on January 11, 2015

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