The 9 New Rules of Plus-Size Dressing
Convinced that you’re bound by certain style guidelines if you’re over a size 14? Get ready to change your mind.
The Old Rule:“You Should Never Wear White”
The new rule: The key to a flattering garment comes down to fit, not color, says celebrity stylist Susan Moses. “White does not make you look larger if you find the right pieces, just as black will not make you look smaller if it doesn’t fit properly,” says Moses. (The exception: On camera, wearing white can make you appear bigger.) When shopping for white clothing—Moses is a fan of white jeans and white ruched dresses in particular—avoid flimsy fabrics, which will highlight any bumps. Instead, pick materials with substance and structure; not only will they provide support, but that extra thickness will ensure your undies won’t play peekaboo whenever you’re in the sun.
The Old Rule: “Button-Down Shirts Are Unflattering”
The new rule: “Button-down shirts complement curves,” says stylist and former Biggest Loser contestant Nicole Brewer. “Look for one that has stretch and design details that create shape, like darts, ruching, and wrapping.” For an even more slenderizing silhouette, “layer the shirt under a blazer, jacket, or cardigan—it will shrink the appearance of your midsection and elongate you,” says Brewer.
The Old Rule: “Bright Colors and Prints Will Call Unnecessary Attention to Your Shape and Make You Look Bigger”
The new rule: “There are no rules when it comes to color—just make sure it complements your complexion,” says Amy Spivok-Richman, a Macy’s group vice-president who oversees the plus-size category for the department store. Adds Nancy LeWinter, the editorial director of the plus-size online shopping mall OneStopPlus.com, “Even bright red can be slimming when the cut and fit flatter your shape.” (If you’re still nervous about jumping into Technicolor waters, dip in a toe first: Start with small, vibrant details—shoes, jewelry, or bags—before trying bigger pieces.) As for prints, “make sure they’re in proportion to the scale of the body,” says Moses. “If a larger woman wears a tiny print, it may get lost.” An especially forgiving option? Watercolor prints. “One color melts into the other and it’s really flattering,” says Moses.
The Old Rule: “Dressing in Monochrome Is Always Slimming”
The new rule: Use it, don’t abuse it. Monochrome can indeed work wonders by creating one long, lean, continual line; but simply throwing on random pieces in the same shade can also make you look sloppy. To avoid that trap, “play around with different fabrications. Add an item with texture or a material like chiffon—and accessorize with a pop of color—rather than wearing the same fabric from head to toe,” says Frances Freixas, chief creative officer for Fashion to Figure, a national plus-size retailer. The hue also matters: “People love nudes, but it shouldn’t be the exact same color as your skin tone or there will be no delineation between where your clothes end and you begin,” says Brewer.
(To buy: Eloquii polyester-blend dress, $98, eloquii.com. City Chic faux-leather jacket, $91, citychiconline.com. Mynt 1792 viscose-blend pants, $158, heygorgeous.com.)
The Old Rule: “Stripes Are the Enemy”
The new rule: Don’t indiscriminately draw the line at stripes. They’ve gotten a bad rap, and—truth be told—with some justification: Chunky, straight-across horizontal bands won’t do anybody any favors. But there’s a whole world of stripes that are using their powers of optical illusion for good. “Many designers are now making stripes that are asymmetrical, making you appear smaller,” says Brewer. Look for stripes that angle inward to help slim your waistline. More trade secrets: Thinner stripes tend to make you look more svelte than thick ones do, and a dark background with lighter-colored stripes is far superior to the other way around.
The Old Rule: “Following Trends Is Too Risky. Just Stick to the Basics”
The new rule: If it floats your boat, by all means go for it. The trick is to adapt a trend in a way that works for your shape. Dying to wear a crop top? Opt for one that’s cut longer and pair it with a high-waisted pencil skirt. Want to give color-blocking a go? Wearing multi-toned pieces can be slimming if the vertical panels and darker shades are positioned on the areas that you want to downplay. Even hard-to-pull-off harem pants get the green light. “Find a pair with stretch and draping,” says Brewer, noting that women who carry their weight on top look especially good in this cut because the pants balance the silhouette. “I hear so many women saying ‘Oh, I could never wear that,’ ” says Marie Denee, founder of the style blog the Curvy Fashionista. “How do you know if you haven’t tried? You might have already dismissed something that could be your best friend.”
The Old Rule: “If You’re Plus-Size, an Empire Waistline Is Right for You”
The new rule: Despite what you may have been told, there’s no such thing as a one-style-fits-all solution—not even the Empire waist. If you’re smaller-busted or more bottom-heavy, the Empire waist can indeed fulfill its intended purpose “by drawing the attention upward and focusing on the waist and décolletage,” says Brewer. However, women who carry most of their weight in the midsection or are full-busted should steer clear of the style—or risk an unwanted maternity look.
The Old Rule: “Baggy Clothing Hides a Multitude of Sins. The Bigger the Better!”
The new rule: About the only thing that cocooning yourself in yards of billowing fabric will accomplish is to make you appear much larger. “Bulk isn’t great on anyone,” says LeWinter. Instead, show your shape “in clothing that follows your curves; it doesn’t have to be clingy. With new technology, fabrics have the perfect amount of stretch to give a smooth and sexy look without riding up or looking too snug.” When you do wear items with more volume, practice moderation—no exaggerated cuts—and team them with something more fitted. (Think a flowy trapeze top over slim ankle-length pants.) “Volume on either the top or bottom is okay, as long as it’s not all over,” says Spivok-Richman. A head-to-toe billowing look doesn’t flatter anyone.
The Old Rule: “Fussy Details Like Ruffles Will Only Draw Unwanted Focus”
The new rule: Put those details to work for you! Of course rocking a massive fabric flower on your least-favorite feature is an awful idea. But when properly placed, little extras can be like waving a sorcerer’s wand. “Ruching is really good at forgiving areas where you need a bit more support by creating shape without adding volume,” says Moses. “Curved princess seams in the sides of jackets and shirts will give you more of a designated waist.” And, yes, even ruffles can do their part. “Be strategic about where they’re placed—vertical ruffles on one side of a skirt or dress are elongating, and they’re also pretty on sleeves, cuffs, and the hem of the skirt for drawing the eye,” says Moses.
For great, trendy plus-size clothing options, see 47 Good Shopping Resources for Plus-Size Fashions.