Upping my femme game
September 8, 2015 7:27 PM   Subscribe

How does a chubby middle-aged lady bring out more of her femme side?

I spent most of my youth baffled by makeup and wearing jeans and t-shirts. While I'm still happy to go that route, I've also been starting to wear cute dresses and actually applying makeup instead of just buying it and holding onto it as some sort of talisman. For example, I used to wear it once every several months or so, now I'm wearing it every week. I'm actually...sort of figuring out how eyeliner works. But lipstick beyond a pale pink scares me because I think I look clownish.

I'm a size 14-16, broad-shouldered and plain. I'd be big even if I weighed less. Most of the plus-size ladies I see who have mastered the sexy look are still kind of dainty - tiny hands, tiny feet, cute little features. This is not me. But every once in a while I'd like to swan around and know I look fabulous. Any ideas for helping me dial up my femme side?
posted by PussKillian to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (22 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite

Since you had mentioned make-up, I'd go to a place like Ulta where the salespeople are helpful, used to customers of all sizes, and not pushy like some stores. They could give you make-up tip and help you explore options, should you be interested. I'm sure you don't look "clownish" with bright lipstick but I agree that it's something to ease your way into so it feels comfortable and that confidence shows!

How about looking for some books on style by women with similar sizes (I know of some but can't think of the titles off the top of my head!) as well as blogs. What about finding a style icon for inspiration?
posted by smorgasbord at 7:40 PM on September 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

Also, kinda cheesy and random but applicable in some ways! I find watching RuPaul's Drag Race to be fun and quite empowering, especially characters like Latrice Royale who take their size and own it! Of course, there are plenty of differences in your situation versus a reality show with female impersonators BUT it might be fun to watch if you don't already. After all, so much of fashion and style is taking what you have and doing it/being it/wearing it with pride!
posted by smorgasbord at 7:44 PM on September 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

How about accessories? Pick something that doesn't feel too "not-you" and experiment some. Purses, scarves, necklaces/earrings/bracelets, hats...
posted by msbubbaclees at 7:53 PM on September 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

A new hairdo or cut can really help me feel like I'm changing up my look.

Also, the show What Not to Wear can be interesting to watch for ideas.
posted by bunderful at 8:09 PM on September 8, 2015

I too was once a wearer of pink lipsticks. I think Clinique Black Honey was sort of a gateway lippie for me, though, and eventually I moved on to sheer reds, and now...now I mourn the wasted years where I was not going around with WONDERFUL WONDERFUL RED LIPSTICK. It is so easy and so easy to not look clownish.

Go to a Sephora-type store, explain you are looking for a beginner's red, maybe something a bit sheer... They will help you find a colour that works for your skin tone, and something with the right level of RED.

Feathering has turned into an issue for me in recent years (I'm 40, not particularly wrinkly, but apparently wrinkly enough) -- the ideal fix for this is a clear wax pencil outline. Wax pencils made for this purpose are hard to find and overpriced; this NYX Eyebrow Shaper chubby clear wax pencil is perfect.

In the 1980s a wee company sold red-framed sunglasses and matching red lipstick and advertised it as a sort of "all you need, even if you've just rolled out of bed" solution. Red lipstick (and [sun]glasses) really do femme up and finish off a face, easy-peasy.
posted by kmennie at 8:22 PM on September 8, 2015 [4 favorites]

Work your d├ęcolletage.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:23 PM on September 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

No one is plain.
You can find out what to highlight by experimenting.

I cannot recommend Lisa Eldridge enough. Her makeup is natural, easy, and she goes through how to achieve a look in simple, manageable steps. She also uses expensive makeup and very cheap makeup in a mix, and often gives alternatives for anything pricey.
posted by oflinkey at 8:30 PM on September 8, 2015 [5 favorites]

Also edit, err sorry. For me, also a plus woman, femme is in the detail. A bracelet with everything.
Put a pin on a sweater instead of leaving the house without. Nails done (hey long-wear polish, save me a lot of time every week). Earrings. A pretty hair clip. A very girly shoe. Tees and jeans are perfect, but to femme it up, the small things add up.
posted by oflinkey at 8:35 PM on September 8, 2015 [5 favorites]

Is there a particular style sub-genre, perhaps, which might speak to you? I like kind of twee looks and kind of retro-vintagey looks, and both help with making me feel a little more comfortable when dressed up, because it's a bit like a costume anyway. (I still think that makeup feels clownish on me and I haven't gotten the hang of it myself. But if I'm dressing for a theme party or something, and red lipstick is part of the look, it doesn't feel as strange when I look in the mirror.)

One of my favorite plus-size bloggers is Georgina of Fuller Figure Fuller Bust (linked you to her About Me page; very mild NSFW warning for some on the regular website as she poses in lingerie often and since the last redesign the pictures can be huge). Admittedly, she does look rather dainty to me, as you said, but she is (IIRC) a size 16 and looks fabulous, with a very femme, glamorous style and a sort of vintage pinup sensibility. She even has her own dress line. Her Instagram also often shows her sans makeup and living her life, and while she's still gorgeous the transformation between normal and glam can be pronounced and she seems pretty clear on that. So maybe seeing other people navigate back and forth can help you develop the confidence to do it yourself?
posted by spelunkingplato at 8:38 PM on September 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

We have a similar body type! And while I'm too lazy to go full femme, I really love looking girly.
Dresses and skirts are both comfortable and femmy. With fall approaching, leggings under skirts or dresses with cute boots can help you keep warm. Smaller prints and/or florals are very feminine. Clothes that hug the body a bit more whether jeans or dresses show off your shape. Dresses or skirts that hug your true waist are very flattering. Wearing a colorful belt over an outfit at your waist adds definition and texture.

With pants and a shirt, shirts that end mid-hip look best. Not too tight, not huge. Softer fabrics like silk are feminine; even Target has cute nylon blouses. Get clothes with girly embellishments - draping, a tie that goes around, embroidery. Wear clothes that show off your collarbones, or wear your hair up to show the nape of your neck. Show a bit of cleavage!

If you don't feel comfortable in heels, get a couple of cute flats! Ones with sparkles, ones with bows, one with leopard prints. A shoe is a great way to add fun color - a nice bright turquoise flat with skinnyish jeans and a blouse - super cute! A good shoe choice makes an outfit feel more "finished."

Accessories REALLY take an outfit to femme-land, and, honestly, make me feel a little more "covered up" and a little more comfortable. Glittery rings, a statement necklace, a shiny hair clip. A cute handbag! Scarves are very feminine; you can wear a thin silk (or silk-like) scarf, or a heavier piece. There are a million YouTube videos on different ways to wear one. Do your nails. Wear your hair up. And wear make-up. To take make-up in a more femme direction, have a good brow, or wear winged eyeliner, or have a strong lip color. Definitely wear mascara, it makes a big difference. There are so many amazing makeup videos on YouTube. Nthing Lisa Eldridge, and then see what else YouTube recommends.
posted by missmary6 at 8:49 PM on September 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

I suspect that this is about scale. I'm similar to your proportions - wide, wide shoulders and all. I need to be selective about the size of accessories I pick - a too small scarf and a too small bag and too small jewelry and I look like Godzilla invading the city. Me BIG! Everything else small.

Two things seem to help: structure and size. When you are larger it's easy to go from slouchy to sloppy - structured items, like a structured bag look both neat and feminine. The other thing is size - nothing overwhelmingly large (ponchos are not ever going to be your friend!) and be careful about things which are cutesy small. If you carry a small bag (I do!) then make sure your jewelry, shoes, coat are all bigger.
posted by 26.2 at 8:53 PM on September 8, 2015 [3 favorites]

Lisa Eldridge is also my guiding light and guru, with Wayne Goss a close second, and youtube channel VintageOrTacky a tight third.

And here's the thing I have come to embrace as a fat middle-aged woman: your hair is everything. I finally gave up 5 months ago and cut off my wild mid-back hair for a longish pixie, which takes 5 minutes to flat-iron into swoopy shape. I'm in the process of going platinum, and even pausing at the weird orangey-blonde stage for a week to let my hair rest, it looks edgier than I've looked in years. That plus well-kept eyebrows means I can get away with "natural" makeup or super over-the-top, whatever my mood.

My clothes are actually overwhelmingly frumpy, a thing I'm working on but even a well-fitted long-sleeved tee and charcoal trousers look pretty polished with my hair and makeup done.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:55 PM on September 8, 2015 [4 favorites]

Get your hair blown out at a blow dry bar.
Get a mani-pedi.
Buy and wear some glam sparkly earrings.
Spend an hour at the perfume counter picking out a scent you like (or 2-3 little bottles) and wear a small spray every morning.
posted by amaire at 9:21 PM on September 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

Seconding the perfume suggestion. I have the kind of build that would make you look like a ballerina in comparison, and nothing amps up the femme feeling for me like smelling fantastic...
posted by Sublimity at 4:24 AM on September 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Order a bunch of serum, exfoliants, and lotion samples from Paula's Choice, then try them all over the course of a few weeks and buy regular size of whatever makes you feel like a goddess when you massage it on in the morning or evening. My mother swears by Kiehls Creme d'Elegance and indeed, she has incredible skin. Also keep a mini pack of moisturizing face towelettes in your bag for whenever you get hot, dusty, or whatever during the day. For me, if I have a freshly washed face with lovingly applied skincare items, I feel like a Lady whether or not I bother with makeup.

Tinted lip gloss/sheer lipstick is about all I bother with, but I have to add: Maybelline Brow Drama. Subtle enough that you don't look overdone but provides just the right finishing touch.
posted by notquitemaryann at 5:56 AM on September 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Nothing makes me feel more feminine than a pair of heeled shoes. You don't have to go for crazy 4" stilettos to get the effect. I recently purchased these very sensible 1.75" inch Mary Janes. Even a one inch heel will give you a more feminine gait.
posted by joeyjoejoejr at 7:07 AM on September 9, 2015

Busty, curvy lady here! Getting properly fitted for bras at smaller boutiques was a game changer. Though it may not be immediately apparent to others, my confidence in my femininity soared when I finally stopped wearing cheap, ill-fitting, overwashed, and otherwise unattractive beige/white bras. I think I look so much better in certain types of dresses and shirts now and have embraced my curves.
posted by futureisunwritten at 9:12 AM on September 9, 2015 [4 favorites]

face-wise: definitely seconding having your eyebrows manicured. it doesn't mean plucking them into a severe/definite shape, but go to a brow bar or a good salon with a reputable threading person as a start, and maintain the shape thereafter. Even if you don't choose to go into having it pencilled in every morning, a tinted/clear brow gel and a manicured eyebrow does instantly lift the face into looking more femme/made up.

even if you don't line your eyes, black mascara + red lips (even with a lip tint) would definitely help in a quick way to look more together, femme-wise.

in terms of dressing: accessories. experiment with styles and pieces that you like, and then have a set of regulars to rotate through (or wear constantly!). more than specific clothing choices, accessorizing helps a lot. these days hair accessories are also very wearable, glam and innovatively constructed, but i notice ppl still tend to ignore this the most (and i think it's just ingrained fashion tradition of the post-50s era). a subtle hair band would not go amiss, especially the lacey wirework kinds with diamante etc. clips too. go a little old school and convert a light scarf into one! it'd be tres chic. ;)
posted by cendawanita at 9:42 AM on September 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

So much of femininity is performance. Going retro helps, as gender differences in clothing were very exaggerated in the early 19th century. If you don't like your face shape, contouring can completely change it. It's really impressive when done well. When I wanted to get into makeup, I got some cheap makeup and just played in front of the mirror for a while. It gave me lots of ideas, esp for costuming (narrow chin for elf, sunken cheeks for vampire, crazy blush for counselor Troi, etc.). Part of this depresses me, because it's a lot of work and money to perform "being a woman". On the other hand, it's nice because you can just spend more money or put more work into it if you don't like the way you look. Men have a lot less in their arsenal.
posted by domo at 1:47 PM on September 9, 2015

Makeup will look scary and clownish to you if it's a style you're not used to seeing on yourself. You need to give it a week or so and get used to it.

The thing to do is to make sure you've chosen a color and style that don't look ridiculous to other people. And then you can spend your week-or-so of acclimation telling yourself "It's okay. Everyone else thinks this looks great. I am not, objectively, making an ass of myself here. I can afford to wear it for a week and decide what I think."

Which means (1) like kmennie says, going to Sephora or someplace similar and getting color recommendations, and (2) ideally, swapping selfies with a friend or two who are more into high-femme territory than you and who can reassure you that you're wearing it well if you start to feel ridiculous.
posted by nebulawindphone at 2:32 PM on September 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

When I want to look more feminine, I ask myself, "Would a heteronormative male wear this?" If yes, choose something else. I can sometimes be "masculine" in my dress -- crew neck T-shirts, jeans, no jewelry, big man watch, "boy" shoes like running shoes or plain black loafers. If you wear "boy" stuff like Converse sneakers or no jewelry, do the opposite and choose feminine details such as lace, pearls, jewelry, ruffles ( if they suit you) heels, dresses, skirts, styled hair and makeup. Seconding Lisa Eldridge on YouTube for makeup lessons.
posted by Fairchild at 5:11 AM on September 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

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