Every woman’s body changes in her 40s and 50s. Gravity comes to us all, and believe me I tried to outrun it! But for some women, metabolic, hormonal, and lifestyle changes coincide to cause a major alteration in her figure. Some women cross from straight size clothing to plus size clothing, and it might be more than a little jarring to go from a lifetime of straight-size shopping and styling to plus-size shopping and styling. Combined with the frustration attendant to plus-size shopping in general, becoming newly plus sized as an adult woman with established taste and style could feel downright maddening!
I’m thrilled to tell you, we can help! Let us talk you through reassessing your figure so that you have an accurate idea of how to select pieces that will help you look and feel your confident best while keeping you comfortable. Every woman creates her own style and her own beauty—you will not see a long list of “don’ts” here, or be encouraged to change your personal style. Your aesthetic is part of you, and you is just perfect. You, your style, and your body are great in jeans and leggings, dresses and shorts, bathing suits and snow pants. . . anything and everything you need or want to wear. At the same time, we are here to help you understand your new shape and figure, and teach you some of the things that those of us who have been plus-sized for a long time already know! If you don’t know what to do when you’re newly plus-sized in your 40s or 50s, let us support you.
Is your figure the same, but a bit fuller, or has your shape altered? If your body has new volume in one place or another, it could actually change your body type—you know, the old fruit chart of apple, pear, banana, and so on? Or geometric shapes are sometimes used: circle, rectangle, triangle, etc. We encourage you to Google “assess my body shape” to find literally hundreds of articles and tutorials on that topic. It’s necessary to determine if your essential shape has changed because you might make new choices in cuts and silhouettes based on that information. The important thing to understand is that if your body has shifted from “banana” to “apple” or from “hourglass” to “pear,” you are still you, your style is the same, and we can help you with tips and tweaks to make your aesthetic and your figure work together. It would be easy to fill a book with this information, so remember that you may need to extrapolate some of our advice to your particular body shape or fashion preference!
If you lean toward Preppy styles, plus-size shopping is generally the same. Tailored, classic pieces work beautifully on nearly every body type and size. A size six woman and a size 20 woman will both look terrific in slim, dark jeans, a crisp blouse, a sharp blazer, and loafers. A blazer will flaunt the figure of a curvy gal and create definition for a woman with a straighter shape. In contrast, if you prefer a rock’n’roll or bohemian vibe, you might need to consider additions or tweaks to your wardrobe choices to make your new body shape work well with your personal style.
Bohemian looks, for example, often feature flowy silhouettes that could make a full figure seem undefined and big-all-over. Ruffles and fringe can add volume. Long necklaces can hit a fuller bustline at the most unfortunate spot. You don’t want to give up your relaxed, flowery, bohemian style and go shopping for a bunch of gingham button-ups and penny loafers, so pay attention: Tweak and cheat your silhouettes and rely on other aspects of the boho look to express your style. Consider ditching your voluminous boho skirts for a trim tank and slim-cut jeans, topped with a chiffon boho kimono featuring a loose floral print. A slouchy hat and a few long necklaces complete the look, which is totally you, but rather than your figure being hidden and amplified with tiers and ruffles, your figure will be glimpsed through your kimono, trimming your silhouette. Check to be sure that your necklaces don’t stop at the fullest part of your bustline and that shoulder bags don’t rest against the widest line of your hips. If you love fringe, make sure it’s not hanging over a part of your body you would prefer to minimize. If you love tiered skirts, look for a narrower “prairie” skirt rather than an extremely full bohemian skirt. Same feel, better cut for a fuller figure. Consider how your preferred aesthetic can be adapted to your new shape or figure to help you look and feel your confident best.
Dressing a fuller figure not a foreign concept, it’s just trickier. Every woman who loves clothes and uses them as a tool to present herself to the world understands that clothing can be used to balance the figure, enhance favored features, camouflage less-favored ones, give the illusion of assets we wish we possessed. . . clothing can be almost magical! All of this is true for plus-sized shoppers as well, except that our bodies vary more than slim women’s, imbalances can be greater, and we are often shopping from a comparatively paltry selection of pieces. What you need if you are newly plus-sized at 40 or 50 is the basic tricks that long-time plus size shoppers have already learned. Plus-size ladies generally aren’t an exclusive bunch when it comes to shopping—we all know what we’re up against and share our knowledge gladly. Please allow me to be your guide to the basics.
1. Find Three Stores or Online Retailers Whose Clothing Works for Your Shape, Size, and Taste
There are several brands that just do not work for me; maybe their fit models are shaped too differently from me or perhaps their patterns are sized-up rather than re-drafted for plus sizes. It’s a mystery. But I know where I can find high-quality jeans that fit, T-shirts that aren’t see-through, and knitwear that’s truly comfy enough to lounge in. I’m an old hand at this so I also have go-to places for lingerie, sequined dresses, and tweed blazers. Identify “your” places, so you are never at a loss for where to start.
2. Understand That You Need Better Basics
Slender women can get away with a few things that larger women cannot. You’ll need to seek out and invest in better basics. They will look better, hang better, last longer and be more comfortable than fast-fashion pieces designed for a single season. High-quality basics, well-cut from good fabric, and designed with thoughtful features can make all the difference in a plus-size wardrobe.
3. Make Sure You’re Wearing the Correct Lingerie
Bras, specifically, must fit properly. Women really ought to be re-sized every year or so because so many things can alter our ideal bra size, but we just buy the same size out of habit for a decade or more! See a lingerie fit specialist, or simply watch a tutorial online and measure yourself. The important thing is that you wear a bra that is comfortable and well-fitting.
4. Research and Purchase Shapewear
Your body does not need shapewear. You may occasionally want to wear a garment that needs shapewear. Good shapewear is comfortable enough to wear for eight hours, and it is absolutely not supposed to make you “smaller.” Good shapewear is about creating a smooth surface for a dress or other thin or clingy garment to rest against. Moreover, foundation pieces have many functions besides compression. High-rise compression shorts can help the littlest sundresses hang properly, prevent chafing (the dreaded “chub rub), and protect your privacy if you want to hop on your bike or sit in the grass—I wear them all summer long.
5. Wrap dresses, V-Necks, and Cardigans
These are plus-size wardrobe workhorses. Wrap dresses look great on almost every body, no matter the size or shape, but are particularly attractive on a fuller-figured woman. If you happen to have a classic “hourglass” figure, you may love wrap dresses so much that you will adopt them as your personal uniform! A V-neck creates a better stance on a larger figure, elongating the body line and opening the countenance. Many plus-size women consider a V-neck an absolute must for tees and sweaters. Cardigans are one of the most versatile pieces in any woman’s wardrobe, but plus size women can use them to cheat the proportions of long shirts and dresses, drawing them closer to the body to avoid a “dumpy” look. Identify a plus-size woman or two whom you consider well-dressed and see what they wear. Perhaps their exact pieces or aesthetic isn’t for you, but you can glean ideas about styling and proportions by observing.
6. Remember Swimwear, Outerwear, and Eveningwear
You may not have the luxury of last-minute shopping anymore. Most plus-size women I know, including myself, live in what we call a “constant state of shopping.” I cannot depend on finding the perfect evening gown just before an event, so if I find a gorgeous dress, I buy it and then wait like a spider for the right cocktail party. Luckily, things are a bit different for plus-size shoppers now, and there are retailers like Lands’ End offering spectacular swimwear and a terrific array of outerwear every season, which definitely alleviates some of the urgency, but still. . . if you see something you love, buy it and set it aside if you need to. Perfection doesn’t come along every day.
If you are newly plus-sized and have felt like you don’t know what to do next, rest assured: You’ve got this, and we’ve got you. Our bodies changing with age is just a part of life, and while some change more than others, you are you, your body is just right, and now comes the fun part—SHOPPING!