How do I dress myself after gaining weight?
October 2, 2015 1:48 PM   Subscribe

Thanks to a much-needed medication, I've just gone from super skinny to not-so-skinny in a very short amount of time. I am having trouble dressing my "new self." Also would like any advice on coping with body image difficulty. TW: weight gain and body image issues and detail.

Background: For 30 years, my natural body type was tall and super skinny - 5'8", 120lbs. I was not anorexic or unhealthy, I worked out occasionally but not all the time, and I never really gained over 5lbs except during pregnancy (twice) when I gained a total of about 30 and lost it both times without great difficulty. That was just my normal size. My fashion sense, therefore, was very "thin girl" style - think the waify/bum look with oversized drapey sweaters and shorts or skinny jeans, stuff specifically designed to emphasize and flatter a small body.

Five months ago, however, I was put on Zyprexa for mental health issues (very much needed) and in literally three months I had gained 40lbs. My cholesterol was also increasing, so we switched my meds, and I naively hoped all that weight would "fall off" once I went off the Zyprexa. But it hasn't. So yeah, aside from all the "eat healthy and go to the gym" stuff, I'm stuck for a while being a lot bigger than I'm used to.

I know 160lbs on my height is not really overweight. I know, cognitively, that I did the right thing for my mental health and that the weight gain shouldn't be so important to me. Yet, every day I stand in front of the mirror for ages, changing clothes again and again, trying to find something that doesn't make me look pregnant (I get asked frequently, as a lot of the new weight gain is in my belly and hips - my arms and legs are still pretty thin). Literally zero of my old clothes fit. I'm a broke single parent, so I've bought myself a couple new pairs of jeans at goodwill at a couple loose tank tops (I live in Arizona, it's still hot outside) but I always feel like a slob. How do I look "put together" at this weight without looking pregnant?? Most of my friends are either very thin themselves, or much heavier, and it would seem really snotty and priviledged to ask them "so, how do I dress now that I'm fat?" .... ha. ha. ha.

And I'm not "fat." But I feel fat. I'm a size 10-12, and in April I was a size 2. How do I mentally accept and love myself at a more average size - and what kind of clothes do I wear that won't make me look pregnant or like a box?? Again, I'm pretty broke, so I'll be perusing thrift stores, so general style suggestions, links, images, etc would be super helpful. My normal style is sort of on the classic side of trendy, more hippie/flowy and less tailored or buttoned up - if you could wear it to work in a bank, it probably isn't "me" (button up shirts are my lifetime nemesis, I hate them with a firey passion so please do not suggest button up shirts).

Thank you Metafilter! Sorry if this is all over the place!
posted by celtalitha to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (18 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
First of all, please PLEASE make sure you have gotten your bra size re-checked; most likely the band (if not also the cup) size has changed and I promise you, the right-fitting bra will wonders to actually make you look slimmer and more put-together.

Second, what is your body shape now? Hourglass, pear, etc? Knowing that will help people make suggestions. My general suggestion is that you switch to dresses made of flattering but forgiving fabrics (think cotton blends, modal, etc - stuff with a little give to it). Dresses are very good for hiding problem spots and making you feel feminine. Plus, as your weight shifts up or down you will still be able to wear them. I really like a lot of dresses at Modcloth for this. Here is an example that I think is universally flattering and not too expensive.

Finally, try as hard as you can to not focus on the size or number and just wear what fits your body. I recently gained about 30 lbs and kept trying to wear my old clothes but they were just a little too tight. Admitting I was really ready to put away the M and go for L/XL suddenly made my body look more slender because it looked less squished into my outfits.
posted by joan_holloway at 2:00 PM on October 2, 2015 [7 favorites]

The best advice I can possibly give you is to get fitted for a new bra by a professional bra fitter. With 40 lbs of weight gain your boobs have almost certainly changed a bit. A new bra that fits exactly as it should will help every piece of clothing sit better on your body. And shit man, get a cute one. Even if no one sees me in them, I only buy adorable bras because I like it when my boobs look cute. For me. (Same for underpants. Wear cute underpants. You're worth it.)

Have you ever worn leggings? Leggings with tunics or stretchy skirts are very easy, comfortable, laid back styles that also have the benefit of stretching with you for whatever weight fluctuations come next (saving you money on more clothes if/when that happens). Don't be afraid to wear tight or form fitting things.

And hey, you're gonna be ok. I gained about 40 lbs myself a couple years ago (bumping me from a "normal" bmi to overweight) and it's all still there. I'm happier with my body now than I was when I weighed much less (and I get sick less often, too). I know everyone's mileage varies, but this has been my experience. Most of it was just deciding to love myself. The rest is dancing around my house naked because I live alone and I can and pants are no fun.
posted by phunniemee at 2:02 PM on October 2, 2015 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Very much a pear shape - small breasts and shoulders, most of the weight in my stomach and hips.
posted by celtalitha at 2:02 PM on October 2, 2015

I am around your height/weight/body type, and I am super duper cheap & frugal with clothing. Here is what works for me (and if your style is "more hippie/flowy and less tailored or buttoned up," it sounds like it'll work for you too: skirts skirts dresses skirts.

They're plentiful at thrift stores and mix/match easily with all kinds of tops. I like tops to tuck into skirts, so that rules out a number of the trapezey tunic tops that have been trendy. This type of shape is nice because it's structured and nips in at the waist, and it's versatile for almost any setting. Wrap dresses might also work--something like this (and if you're working with a new belly, that wide belt is nice).

Essentially, the silhouette you preferred earlier (larger tops with smaller bottoms) will be flipped in this style--smaller tops to emphasize your smaller arms, and larger bottoms to give your hips some room.

A benefit of dressing this way and loving myself has been that I generally feel very feminine and pretty, and I've started taking extra care with my face and hair. It also helps to spend time making myself feel good in basic ways: massage, exercise, a nice bath, some fairly indulgent sex (alone or with my partner). A little doting on yourself goes a long way in self-love and body acceptance.
posted by witchen at 2:03 PM on October 2, 2015 [5 favorites]

Silhouette wise, you want a closer fit on top, to showcase the parts you now feel best about showing. Never do huge armholes and sleeves (which are popular now). All this goes against the boho esthetic you like, so buy plain clothes and let the accessories - especially jewelry - read hippy, not so much the clothes. No more sloppy!
High waisted tops could be good for you. And long skirts, as long as they don;t look bulky or overwhelming.
Long dark jeans or pants with slim straight legs will also work for you. Good fit is super important for pants.
posted by TenaciousB at 2:05 PM on October 2, 2015

General tips for women with hips, butts, and bellies: Look for longer tops with slightly loose hems and three-quarter-length sleeves; breaking that line at the waistband and upper arms helps. The sleeves can be close-fitting, since you have thin arms, but the torso should not be. You're in a hot area, but darker colors are also more flattering if you have a belly and hips. Do not wear empire-waist anything, as it emphasizes the ratio of breasts to stomach. Do not wear anything partly see-through. When I was closer to your weight, men's medium T-shirts and polo shirts were also a cute go-to, as they help create that longer line on the torso and arms. Capris and Bermuda shorts are flattering if you have hips and a belly, but don't get the ones with diagonal pockets, because they tend to gap if you have any curves at all. You can probably get tons of great golf wear in Arizona that would really be flattering, between the capris and polo shirts, but still look put-together. Also, watch it with the skinny jeans—tapered pants emphasize the butt and hips, so look for more of a straight-leg or boot-cut style, long enough to hit the middle of your shoes at least.

All of that said, 5-foot-8 and 160 pounds is a totally normal, average size. I would like to be that size again. You can be a lot more daring with your clothing choices than you think. Get above 180 or 200 pounds and it's a different story, but at your size, thrift stores are your friend. Just get a little bit larger clothes and you will look totally fine.
posted by limeonaire at 2:16 PM on October 2, 2015

I'm about your pant size, but a little shorter, and wear the hippie/flowy boho look pretty often. Long skirts, heavy and straight but not tight, create a "column" appearance that helps with wearing flowing tops/cardigans. Short circle skirts that are loose enough to be comfy but not so loose they're just hanging on you with black tights (buy queen size with wide waistbands and NO control top, it's worth it if you're heavy in the middle) and cute shoes gives you a fun look that draws attention to the length of your long muscular legs. Long cardigans with the short skirt helps when you're sitting if you feel blobby and want to tuck something around yourself.

Black and dark brown help you look down at yourself and feel less like your eye catches on some feature--I know everyone says wear whatever patterns you want, but patterns can end up falling on awkward places. Wear texture instead! Lace is my personal favorite, and looks mighty classy/funky in dark colours. If you have a favorite color, wearing that makes you just feel prettier! But, bright orange right across your middle might feel like you've drawn an arrow. Bright orange tights, maybe?

For tops? That's always been my personal problem, but I loooove long line tank tops with split side hems. They flatter without pulling across your front from your hips. If you can find the type with lace trim, all the better. Long line tank tops look excellent with long sweaters and cardigans too. Avoid anything that cuts off at your natural cut off lines (waist, bottom of butt) and you'll think you look leaner.

Caveat: my big hips/tummy/butt means that I HATE HATE HATE pants. They seem to pull and squeeze and floof in all the wrong places. Wearing pretty skirts helps me feel physically comfortable and fashionably put together even though my body doesn't always feel fashionable.

Second caveat: You are beautiful. You're also not fooling anyone, including yourself. Don't forget that there are no clothes that will actually trick your body into being 40 pounds smaller. I know it's obvious, but really really believing that, just going out and buying clothes that feel pretty on your body rather than trying to fool your mirror is the most important thing.
Tailored, close fitting clothes where it's comfortable (for me, that's hip length jackets) and soft textured things where you're more likely to feel pinched (for example, your belly) does a lot for your overall comfort and poise, which is more important than the number on a scale.
posted by zinful at 2:18 PM on October 2, 2015

Also a pear - at higher weights, the easiest things for me to wear have been
- a heavier-weight, loose-fitting men's or men's style dress shirt (floats around your body, nothing's annoying, can roll up sleeves for balance), skinny or slender stretchy jeans or pants (anything that adds bulk is a no), and boots. Sometimes, a long, belted cardigan or other sweater over that, with a scarf to bring the eye up and balance things out. Fancy-looking belt and fancy-looking scarf. Hair up, for height, or loose and big (again to balance things out).
- loose jersey or wool mostly straight dresses (like T-shirt dresses), sometimes belted, sometimes with a denim jacket, scarf, and boots.

It's basically bulking up the upper half, keeping the lower half as streamlined and long-looking as possible, and using layering and strategic belting to create the shape you want. (I usually wear combats with a 1.5" heel; if you can wear heels, wedges, or platforms, those also help lengthen the leg.)

A-lines can work, but a lot of them have more volume than I prefer, which winds up (imo) exaggerating things vs. hiding them. Dresses/skirts that just skim the lower half and barely flare keep things looking lean, imo. 2nd wrap dresses, those are probably the absolute easiest to wear.
posted by cotton dress sock at 2:21 PM on October 2, 2015

I did a quick google and found a few blogs devoted to fashion for the pear shaped, including this one.

This post from You Look Fab has a lot of advice, as does this one from Already Pretty.

Good luck!
posted by bunderful at 2:34 PM on October 2, 2015

This blog has great advice for figuring out your body shape and how to dress accordingly:

I think dresses are your friend, old navy has decent wrap dresses, the wrap style will accommodate your weight fluctuating, if you throw a scarf on top you'll look put together.

And I feel your pain, I gained 25 lbs that would not budge while I was on an SSRI (I went from 140-165, I'm 5'8" as well), it was all in my tummy/thighs, and diet and exercise didn't work until I went off the medication (although doing those things was good for other reasons obviously). I remember hating pants although I found some ok ones at Mark's Work Wearhouse that had no fly/zipper, were more straight-leg/boot cut than skinny and had a tummy panel, the tummy panel keeps you from feeling like your torso is getting cut off.
posted by lafemma at 2:41 PM on October 2, 2015

Honey, I'm practically you: the weight gain in my case was due to age-related metabolism change rather than medication, but I'm your exact height and also went from 125 to 160 over the course of two years. I am now....a little more than that, and dealing thusly.

The advice I'm going to give is something I got out of a style book, and has been the only thing that has helped me make sense out of fashion - a lot of people, when they're trying to assess themselves in a mirror, will focus on just pieces of the whole - the shirt, the pants, their butt, their stomach, their arms, etc. Instead, what you want to do is look at the entirety of yourself when you look at an outfit. While it is true that certain styles and cuts will work better on your frame than others, the best thing to do is to look at you as a whole when you have something on and evaluate it that way.

Here's why that's important - for me, the advice people have been giving you to wear dresses and skirts would flat-out not work, because I don't just carry weight in my hips, I carry it on my belly, thanks to some wacky surgery when I was 26 that has made my belly pooch out more than usual ever since. And as a result, 95% of the dresses I put on make me look pregnant. But on the other hand, there are a couple dresses and shirts and pants and sweaters and such that I own that technically are not supposed to work on me at all, but they have some kind of weird elven magic that when I put them on, I look thinner and my waist looks smaller and my hips are hubba-hubba rounded and it just works.

So yeah, have some rules of thumb when you're shopping - but make "how do I look in this" your final arbiter. You will have to try on a fuckton of stuff, and a smaller fuckton of stuff won't work on you but that's how it's supposed to work, actually; remind yourself that if the cute top doesn't work on you, then it's not because you're to big or too weirdly-shaped or whatever - the top is the problem. The saying I use when I'm returning things to a shopkeeper is "I liked it, but it didn't like me back." That sounds witty, but it also kind of reinforces in my own brain that "I am not the reason why these clothes didn't work on me. The clothes themselves are the problem."

I can memail you the name of the book I used if you want. They had some definite guidelines for stuff to look for when it came to styles and cuts of clothing and stuff for different body types, but the "look at the whole picture rather than just the one clothing piece" is the best advice ever.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:43 PM on October 2, 2015 [5 favorites]

What EmpressCallipygos says is true—it's actually part of why I find thrift-store shopping so gratifying, because at least out of all the terrible, poorly cut clothing for sale in the world, these clothes passed that first cut, "Does this fit anyone?" and secondarily "Will this last any time at all?" You'll still find a million bad choices on the racks, like tube tops with holes in them, but I find a larger proportion of clothing in thrift stores actually fits me, compared to shopping somewhere like Target, where everything looks great on the rack but doesn't fit at all. It's also way easier to load up a huge cart full of potential choices and run through them in the thrift-store fitting room, rather than falling in love with the one potential item that might fit on a given endcap and finding that it's no-go when you try it on. At the thrift store, the hit-or-miss nature of shopping for clothing is laid bare, with no illusions, and it's completely refreshing.
posted by limeonaire at 3:11 PM on October 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

"I am not the reason why these clothes didn't work on me. The clothes themselves are the problem."

Repeating Empress Callipygos' statement for emphasis. Also: Sally at Already Pretty has pointed out that the reason clothes look better on celebs is that celebs have their shirts, trousers, dresses, skirts, etc., tailored. Something from off the rack looks a hell of a lot better when it's taken in/taken up/whatever to fit the body that it's covering.

(One of the many reasons I regret that my sewing skills don't extend past re-attaching buttons ...)
posted by virago at 3:12 PM on October 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

As it gets cooler, I like a tee or tank with a flowy cardigan over it. Add a scarf or cool necklace and you've got visual interest to distract from the stomach/hips. Target is a good place for all of these items, and you can mix and match with a nice neutral-ish cardigan.
posted by bizzyb at 5:09 PM on October 2, 2015

Cardigans are really good for belly camouflage, it's like an optical illusion. But until it's cool enough, I like sleeveless shirts with some kind of detail. Knit stretchy fabric is no good, but things that are oversized are also no good. So it has to fit without being clingy. Here are some styles that might work: H&M
High-waisted jeans can provide a corset effect.
Dresses are good if the waist hits at the right place. I can't wear anything without a defined waist.
I have been the same weight (size 14) for a long time and I still spend a lot of time trying to find things that are flattering. But once you know what works on you it will get a lot easier.
posted by katieanne at 7:05 PM on October 2, 2015

I immediately thought of this book: Life in the Fat Lane. It's one of my favorites, I'm not sure if you'd like it, but it's about a young woman who gains a lot of weight in a relatively short period of time and how she was able to navigate the challenges and faced while learning to accept and love her new body. Maybe it will help. It was a fantastic read.
posted by lunastellasol at 8:46 PM on October 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

You've got lots of good advice here from people who know way more than I do about clothes. I just wanted to add: I have the "when are you due?" belly, and I find that ordering tops online from Old Navy in the Tall version of my size really gets the the heart of the matter. That extra fabric, God bless it.
posted by The Noble Goofy Elk at 8:59 PM on October 2, 2015

My boat is not so different from yours: I have 30 lbs of baby weight that won't budge. (Baby is nearly 2.). My shape is not really what I'm used to - I've always been a pear with no boobs but now I'm a bigger pear with no boobs and a belly. Fucking YAY.

So, inspired like this thread and a couple others recently, last night I went to a J. Jill store, found a sales lady, and said (almost verbatim) "My body has changed and I don't know how to wear clothes. Please pick me a work outfit."

And I'll be goddamned if she didn't find me some stuff that was more flattering to my current shape than I knew was possible. I ended up with stretchy fitted pants (one thick ponte, one lighter) and a couple of shirts, one that hits at the hip to go with thick pants and skirt, and an A-line longer butt covering shirt for the other pants. And a long cardigan.

But it was super super helpful to have them bring me a bunch of stuff and help me narrow down what styles I did and didn't like. I would really have just floundered without their help.
posted by telepanda at 5:33 PM on October 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

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