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How to Dress Fabulously for Plus-size Women 
by Kiki LaMer October 21, 2005

Busting myths and offering tips on how to enjoy dressing up, no matter what you weigh.

In the last few years there has been an explosion of fashions for women size 14+. Designers and marketers have finally realized plus-size women have money to spend and they like to spend it. Yet even with all the options, plus-size women still tend to make the same old mistakes. I am going to point out the most common mistakes, while helping you find your style and look fabulous – no matter what you weigh!

Myth #1. Black is slimming.

Uh, not really. In theory, this would be true if you're wearing the absolutely correct fabric. For example, Coco Chanel always looks great in black. But we don't usually wear Chanel. So for the more common fabrics found in more reasonable merchandise, try this experiment.

Take a pair of black pantyhose. Put it on and stand in front of the mirror. See how the black stretches evenly in terms of tone down by the ankles? Now look up. See how the black fades to a dull gray in the more ample thigh area? This happens when fabric is forced to stretch. The same theory applies to pants, tunics, T-shirts etc. So be very careful of how the color black washes over every part of your body. If you do go black, wear really expensive fabric that gives and forgives. Always check for this sheer indignity.

With all the new fashions out there, try some color. Often they camouflage much more naturally. Wearing all black all the time makes people wonder what you’re hiding.

Myth #2. Vertical stripes are slimming.

Again, not really. Let's try another experiment. Take out those sweats you have (we all have them) with the lines down the sides. Put them on then look in the mirror. See how that stripes are not quite as straight as you might like? My stripes tend to go a little curvy right over my saddlebags. This only adds attention to certain areas.

Myth #3. Don’t wear prints.

This is sort of true. Don’t wear big huge cabbage rose prints – you’ll either look like drapes or a couch. A small, subtle print like polka dots or tiny flowers can implant style and fun into your wardrobe. Prints, within reason, is also a great way to convey confidence. You like how you look, you like your body, so you're going to spend time dressing it up in colors and patterns.

A word of warning, though. No ruffles! It doesn't matter what color or pattern ruffles come in, they enlarge. That's why they were invented. Leave it on your curtains, not on yourself.

Get to know your body

In order to figure out what to wear, you have to know your body and know it well. Too often plus-size women run in a store, pick something, ANYTHING, try it on quickly, and if it fits, good enough. Most of us never take long looks at ourselves to see if the new garment is flattering. We’re just so happy it fits.

Make yourself stand in front of a full-length mirror in a bra and panties (they can be in polka dots or tiny flowers). Now scrutinize yourself. Pick out your favorite body parts. Your breasts might be your best asset or your long legs.

Try on all your clothes and do an honest assessment: How do these jeans make me look? How do I really feel in this suit? It is necessary and acceptable for you to hate certain parts of your body and always want to cover them (arms, calves, etc.). Think about items in your current wardrobe that already make you feel good. Ask yourself, why is this skirt slimming? Why do I love these khaki pants? Clothing should make you happy! Once you know your body and your taste, you will instantly recognize what flatters you. I have arrived at the point where I can (usually) know what will look good on me from a glance. So shopping is fun and easy, be it on the Internet or at a store. Of course, there are always heartbreaking realities. There’s this sweater I love on one of my favorite websites but I know it will look horrible on me. The elastic waist emphasizes the wrong area, the sleeves actually would squeeze my arms into two sausages, the bold pink is tempting, but I'm not there yet. I still browse and look at it every so often.

That's the whole point of knowing your body and your style. You will be able to zero in on an established pattern of dressing. Then you will be brave enough to forgo items that might please your heart but will not pass the test of your eyes.

Where to shop

Quality and fit are the most important aspects when picking out clothes. You’ve heard it a million times: better to have one good piece of clothing than 10 bad ones. The right fabric, cut and fit will enhance. This goes for shoes and handbags too. Debate with yourself. Think before buying.

In the past, there wasn't that many shopping options for plus-size women. But the Internet has changed all that. No more spending hours on the third floor at your local Macy’s. Now you can buy high quality clothes online. My favorite sites are and If you hit these sites during sales you can get some amazing bargains. For everyday basics I’ll shop at jjill, Land’s End and L.L. Bean. Many stores have expanded sizing – Jcrew and Banana Republic now go up to size 16; the Gap goes up to size 20.

Look carefully at each company’s sizing information and be honest with yourself about your size. If you know you are a 22, don’t get a 20 because you’re on a diet. Get the 22, you can always get clothing altered later if necessary.

Little helpers

Body slimmers

We can all use a little help, especially holding that tummy in. Legg’s makes those fabulous body smoothers. There is a trick to wearing them however – lucky you, I’m going to divulge! You know that unsightly bulge that happens when the spandex ends and you begin? I know how to fix it! Take the scissors to the super control mid thigh brief, and cut off the waistband. Yes I said, CUT IT OFF. Cut it off relatively close to the top. Voila! No more bulge, not to mention the horror of trying to actually get that waistband up over your waist. This creates a much smoother line. I learned this trick from an old beauty pageant contestant years ago. The Legg’s briefs are inexpensive enough that you can do this. I’m still wearing a pair I cut up two weeks ago.

A good haircut

So many overweight women insist on having super long hair. I know why we do it; at least we have one thing to be vain about. Haven’t we all heard that men love long hair? Well, they do, but not when it’s ratty and split endy. Look in the mirror (again) and ask yourself if your current hairstyle really suits you. Check out your ends? Is your hair longer than mid back? Get it cut! Most women look good with shoulder length or slightly below. That is long enough for most women (and men!). Keep your crowning glory in good shape with frequent trims and remember what my hairdresser says, “Santa won’t visit you if you have roots!”


Shoes are the only thing that always fits, no matter how your weight fluctuates. That’s why we plus-size women have so many of them. Shoes need to be bought like clothes, as in the better quality – the better. Keep your shoes in good condition by getting them polished and refurbished. You’d be surprised at the miracles a good cobbler can do. It will make you investment last longer.

On that note, also find a good tailor. Most dry-cleaning places do alterations. Find someone you like and trust, even if it's just for moving buttons. I had a glorious pair of pants I never thought I could wear again altered and they look lovely now.


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