Plus-sized clothing: how do I skirt?
February 21, 2015 7:17 PM   Subscribe

I'm 45, female, fat, and pear-shaped (big hips, relatively little waist, big chest). Usually I wear trousers to work. I would like to wear more skirts (or dresses). Can you help me figure out what will flatter my figure?

I don't really have a good feel for what style of skirt or dress will suit me. A-line? Pencil skirt? Other? I genuinely have no idea where to start. I need to know what to look for and where to look.

I also have concerns about wearing clothes that are "too young" for me. (Don't get me wrong, I think people should be able to wear whatever they want to.) Example: I think ModCloth has cute dresses and things, but I also can't imagine wearing any of them myself; they seem more appropriate for quirky 25 year olds than for me.

So, please throw me your suggestions for (1) skirt and dress styles to look for or consider; (2) that are age-appropriate for a woman in a business casual, but otherwise fairly conservative workplace setting; and (3) where to find these things. Online a plus, but not a must.

posted by That's Numberwang! to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (18 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
If you have wide hips but a small waste, pencil skirts are Not Your Friend. You will have the same problem with those that you probably have finding well fitting jeans. The waistline will always be gigantic in order for the garment to fit your hips.

An A-line skirt will work, depending on the ratio between waist and hip, but your best bet is any flavor of full skirt - circle, pleated, skater. Two places that have a great selection of full skirts in plus-sizes are and I would buy the Asos scuba full skirt in every color if it were just a wee bit longer. (Gigantic calves here.)
posted by ereshkigal45 at 7:42 PM on February 21, 2015 [5 favorites]

I just had a very good experience buying a dress for my curvy lumpy postpatum body from eshakti. A-line skirts are great. You may find the websites You Look Fab and Already Pretty helpful.
posted by jrobin276 at 7:50 PM on February 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm shaped pretty much exactly like you (or at least I think so, from what you say), and I'm about your age, and I'll say what I said in a recent AskMe: the styles that look best on me in dresses are wrap and faux-wrap (or surplice top) and anything with princess seams. I avoid fit-and flare or skater dresses, as they cut me crosswise and make my hips and bust look out of proportion. I can sometimes wear swing or A-line dresses, although it depends somewhat on the cut.

My favorite lines at the moment for office wear are Boden and Karen Kane. As an example, this Karen Kane dress has been pretty successful; I wore it to a professional event and got a bunch of compliments on it that day. I've also had some luck with Asos Curve, although their stuff does skew a bit younger.

If you want to try a variety of styles just to future out what looks good, you might take a look at Gwynnie Bee, a plus-size rental clothing service. I think they give the first month free and there's a range of plans from one garment at a time to ten at a time. You can cancel any time without penalty. A lot of their stuff is polyester, which bugs some people, but of course you'd be trying on to look at various styles, not keeping the stuff (unless you wanted to).
posted by holborne at 7:57 PM on February 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

Oh a lot of eshakti stuff has a vintage feel but is a bit more grown up than Modcloth. I think part of it is having the garment fit really well, longer skirt, etc so it reads professional rather than cutesy. I'm tall so a lot of skirts and dresses read too short on me. I paid extra on eshakti for custom measurements.
posted by jrobin276 at 7:59 PM on February 21, 2015

I'm gonna toss a link to eshakti at you. They make everything custom to your measurements, and you can ask for many different lengths of most of their skirts and dresses. Also, almost everything they make has pockets. Big ones!

I think for "age appropriate" what you really want to think about is "role appropriate". How do you want others to see you? Since your workplace is conservative and I assume you want to look like you're in charge and/or have the answers to people's problems or that you're very trustworthy with your job's conservative responsibilities, you probably want to stick to less embellishments and strong colors. So, not much ruffle or floral print or zippers, but solid purple or a suiting pattern (like pinstripe or a subtle check) or classic details like clean pleats, buttons, or even some embroidery embellishment would work.

As for shape, since your description of "big hips, relatively little waist, big chest" means that really you're hourglass shaped as opposed to pear shaped, you should be able to wear practically any kind of skirt! The idea is what looks "good" is what will balance out your body proportionally. But the thing is, your body is already balanced! You are neither top nor bottom heavy. The hardest part will be finding clothes that fit you off the rack, which is why I highly advise tailoring or buying made-to-measure. For a different example, I am very top heavy with nearly identical waist and hip measurements. So I'm always looking for full skirts to balance my top half with my bottom half. You can do that too, and you might find them very comfortable. But you can also wear pencil skirts or a-line or tulip-skirts (which are the ones that fit tight along the thigh but flow back out again) or straight skirts, whatever you're comfortable in, because if the garment fits you, it won't be fighting your shape at all.

I think the thing to keep in mind the most is probably length. How do you sit? A fuller skirt will allow you to sit comfortably in more positions than something like a pencil skirt. You also probably want to keep things just above knee length, because higher gets into inappropriate territory for conservative workplaces, and also reads younger. Lower can come off as dowdy, although at-knee length is just fine, and mid-calf, also known as "tea length", has recently made a comeback. I love tea-length skirts because they're often fuller. These days an ankle-length skirt is often called a "maxi skirt". They're great in hot weather I think.

Other places that have nice skirts with character but classic details: Boden, Simply Be, and actually Land's End.
posted by Mizu at 8:03 PM on February 21, 2015

I think I have a relatively similar body type to you, and what works for me are dresses with a defined waist and a skirt that's swishy (fit and flare - example). Look for a skirt that goes down to your knee or just past it, and pair with a blazer for a more professional look. Go for a slightly stretchier fabric so that your bust isn't constrained too much. You want to be able to breathe!
posted by stoneweaver at 8:39 PM on February 21, 2015

You might also get some ideas by posting at the you look fab forums.

The best way to find out is to go to stores and try things on.
posted by bunderful at 8:40 PM on February 21, 2015

I am also pear/hourglass shaped and (full disclosure) I have never been able to find a skirt outfit that looked cute AND business like. I have found dowdy and business-like and I have found cute and retro. That's it. Basically, if it looks like it was from the 1940s or 1950s I have a better time pulling it off.

In general, though, I have had terrible luck at Land's End, and have never had a pleated skirt that didn't make me look like a sausage. (Which is too bad- I love how they look on other people so I buy them and am sad over and over again.)

The only skirts that I have looked good on me are the styles like the ones in the sShakti links under "color block"- full skirts, tailored waists, "fit and flare," and the occasional, really well cut A-line.

That said, I have definitely seen women pull off pencil skirts. Unfortunately for me, and maybe you? they were women who had a great eye for putting together whole outfits- their pencil skirts had patterns and were part of a whole, rather colorful, yet professional look. That is far beyond my skill level, alas.
posted by small_ruminant at 8:45 PM on February 21, 2015

I'm roughly your age and roughly your body type. I buy from eshakti, Boden, and occasionally Land's End or (carefully) Eddie Bauer. I have not tried Karen Kane but have heard good things about her line.

I like maxiskirts because I'm also tall and live in a climate where mine work most of the year. I've had good luck for those at Soft Surroundings. These may not work for you depending on your height and the business formality of your office (i.e., I would only try them in a very casual office).
posted by immlass at 8:47 PM on February 21, 2015

Pinterest has a lot of boards full of good information to help with this - you might check it out.
posted by aryma at 9:32 PM on February 21, 2015

I find that the best skirts for looking business-like are pencil or straight skirts. I also find that they work really well on my hourglass figure (I can often find pencil skirts that are cut well for a small waist and bigger hips). When I try on A-line or full skirts, they make me look bigger--my hips are already "full" enough, thanks, no need for fullness from clothing! In contrast, pencil skirts follow the line of my legs, which angles in below the hips. The silhouette is more similar to a pant silhouette.

A good standby outfit is: pencil skirt, tucked-in blouse/shell, cardigan. I am in my 20s, but I think that the librarian-chic effect of the pencil skirt-blouse-cardigan is pretty ageless. And they should also work with many tops you would wear with pants.

Here's an option from ASOS. It's "longer length" (also sometimes called "midi"), which is a length I like a lot. Long enough for anti-chub-rub shorts underneath with no fear of hem clash, and sleek looking. Knee length pencil skirts are also great, though, and are more classic; midi just seems to be enjoying a moment right now. For comfort, and also for fit, go with softer, stretchy fabrics like jersey or ponte, which will hug the body a bit without being constricting.
posted by snorkmaiden at 9:36 PM on February 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

I know it's not helpful, but I just want to say that your height makes a big difference. 5'2 and pear shaped is really different than 5'8 and pear shaped.
posted by boobjob at 2:53 AM on February 22, 2015

Structured A line skirts and fit and flare dresses work great on people with small waits and big hips. It's a very easy, flattering style to wear.

If you're used to pants it might surprise you at first how high waisted a lot of styles are (most A line skirts I have sit at my true waist, most pants sit below it), but that's just how they work. It creates a nice long bodyline.

Depending on your height you should pick skirts that fall just at or slightly above the knee (if tall) or a few inches above the knee (if short). You don't want to drown.

Personally, I hate the way full skirts look on me. There's so much fabric right in the part of my body that has the most butt, and it turns into this 150% butt situation that just looks kind of ridiculous. Like, here is a skinny model wearing a full skirt. It's cute but also makes her lower half look enormous. Add that to someone with a generous undercarriage and it turns into a big ol ass parachute basically.
posted by phunniemee at 4:52 AM on February 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

We are of a shape (I'm also short), and I live in maxi skirts when I'm of a skirt wearing mood. The best ones ... flutter, for lack of a better word, at the hem a bit, and so minimize my lovely childbearing hips that are totally going to waste. Vertical stripes make me look taller, too. And they're super comfortable.

My favorite came from Lane Bryant several years ago, but the nice thing about maxi skirts is that everyone sells them at all kinds of price points.

This isn't about what kind of skirts are best for you, but: probably the best way to go about this is to just steel yourself one day, go to your favorite retailer, grab a pile of skirts, and try things on until you find what you like that looks good on you (everything, even if you think it's your style or not - you'll be surprised what looks good, or doesn't, once it's on you). (Or Goodwill, if that's your thing - my local Goodwill happens to be awesome for skirts and I've gotten some great, barely worn stuff there). If you don't want to do that out in public (I hate clothes shopping), places like Target and Old Navy and Catherine's do free shipping over a certain total price and free in store returns, so you can have stuff shipped to you, try it on in the comfort of your home, and take back what doesn't work. I figure if stores are going to keep cutting their plus size in store offerings (Target, I'm looking at you), they can pay the shipping for me to do that.
posted by joycehealy at 6:34 AM on February 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Coming in to second snorkmaiden. Look for great cardigans or twinsets. They can be bought in lots of colors, lots of different weights for different climates, the cardigan can be paired with a crisp collared blouse and pearls for super professional look or with a shell and a funky, statement necklace for something more stylish. Very forgiving with a large bosom and look great with multiple skirts styles, pants or jeans. So easy to dress up or down. Good luck!
posted by pearlybob at 7:20 AM on February 22, 2015

I'm 5'6", which is pretty much average as far as I can tell. I don't consider myself short or tall.
posted by That's Numberwang! at 10:25 AM on February 22, 2015

I'm actually exactly your height, too -- sounds like we're kind of twins in body. I will note that I'm quite long-waisted and that's why fit-and-flare dresses look bad on me; if you're short-waisted they might look good on you, as they do on some here.

I also agree with what phunniemee said about the full skirts; I can't wear them for just the reason she notes. Since it turns out we seem to have quite similar body types, I will note that I can wear pencil skirts and they look good on me; I adore this one from Boden and have it in a couple of different prints; when I wear it, I don't walk out on the street without someone stopping me to say they love my skirt.

Feel free to MeMail if you want my dress size and measurements; I don't mind giving them although I'd prefer not to post them publicly.
posted by holborne at 11:18 AM on February 22, 2015

I'm also heavy with an hourglass shape, and recently have been trying to add some non-pants to my wardrobe. Even working with a shopping consultant, I found it frustrating and tiring until I figured out a couple of things. One is that I look better when the top and the skirt have similar color tones; contrast between the top and skirt seem to make my waist look wider and me look shorter. Tucking things into the waistband is as bad with skirts as it is in pants -- the shirt or blouse needs to stay un-tucked. All that is when I'm just wearing a skirt and top.

But if I wear a jacket or longer cardigan, that adds a vertical line and covers up most of my waist and upper hips. I feel less self-conscious about tucking in my tops. I also feel okay about wearing a belt under a jacket or sweater -- and the buckle can add a nice accent.

But the important assumption that I've had to let go of is that dresses are too dressy. That doesn't have to be true. I feel like some dress styles are much more flattering than skirts because the color or print is the same above and below the waists. A narrow belt is fairly manageable with a dress. If I'm beltless and need a little something for the outfit, I can wear a scarf or necklace.

I suggest that when you try on a skirt or dress in a store or at home, wear whatever shoes you'd wear with the garment. Wear flattering hosiery, unless you prefer bare legs. Add accessories or jewelry to give the outfit its best chance of pleasing you. Stand well back from the mirror and look at your entire image from various angles. Even take a picture...a great way of comparing outfits.
posted by wryly at 12:21 PM on February 22, 2015

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