Wardrobe Tips for Seasonal Weight Fluctuators

This is me in the dead of winter.

Already Pretty outfit featuring marl sweater, cargo joggers, McQ Puma sneakers, Rebecca Minkoff Logan

This is me during the summer.

Already Pretty outfit featuring Karen Kane tie dye dress, strappy sandals, fringe bag

Still the same overall shape, but I’m bigger in January, smaller in June. I don’t diet once the weather warms up, I’m just naturally more active when it’s warmer than -30 degrees. And by the end of the summer, I have inevitably lost 5 or 10 pounds. Which I then proceed to gain back through the course of the long Minnesota winter, no matter how hard I work out.

And I’ve made my peace with this cycle. It’s natural and normal. It’s part of my physical self, just like my curly hair and pale skin and strong legs. But it does pose some wardrobe challenges. And since I know I’m not the only one who deals with seasonal weight fluctuations, I thought I’d share my techniques for building a chic, versatile wardrobe that works for my changing body year-round.

Observe: This is the hard part. It took me a couple of years to figure out how much my body was going to shift each season. Now that I’ve got a rough idea of what I’ll look like in February versus what I’ll look like in August, I can estimate what will fit me seasonally and plan accordingly.

Dress to your shape: Your weight may vary from season to season, but your figure will (probably) remain more or less the same. Hone in on styles that flatter your body shape no matter what your body SIZE may be, and stock the larder with those.

Buy multiples of key pieces: If you find a style of jeans that looks AMAZING on you, don’t just buy several pairs … buy pairs in several sizes. That way, you can wear that killer denim all year long. Sounds spendy, I know, but it’s an investment in comfort.

Stay consistent: If weight gain tends to bring you down – as it does for so many women – do your best to set and maintain a personal, consistent style standard for the entire year. You may be tempted to dress in nothing but loose, figure-masking clothes when you weigh more, and in sleek, fitted clothes when you weigh less. But doing so will both exaggerate the differences in your body and cause you to associate the weight gain with shame, sadness, and self-consciousness. Cold weather means that looser, drapier styles are a natural choice, and that’s completely fine. But don’t make them your only choice. There are ways to dress stylishly and beautifully at any weight, size, and shape. Find a happy medium that reflects the personal style you adore, and try to stick to it year-round.

Heed materials: Go for 100% cotton and silk in summer, but opt for versions with give and stretch come winter. This may seem contradictory in light of the previous point, but hear me out. In this day and age, structure and tailoring are possible in garments that allow for some give. A little hit of spandex in a twill blazer or pair of jeans can make all the difference in the world. And if you’re like me, that winter weight gain can mean real discomfort in tight, unforgiving clothing that doesn’t flex a little. So keep an eye on fiber content.

Don’t stress: If you’re a seasonal fluctuator like me, please, please, PLEASE don’t get upset about these weight changes. As I said above, they are natural, normal, and part of your physical being. Shame and guilt won’t change your shape. Focus instead on finding ways to dress and feel fabulous no matter the season.

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  • Raquel Mendonça

    Hi Sal! It is wonderful to read this words from somebody like you, who was born in such a wheather changes and still had problems to realizes what does better fit to you. I am brazilian – and in my city in Brazil we totally don't have such a big changes – and I am now living in Hungary. The main reason why I started to follow blogs like yours was exactly to learn how to dress up in winter. Of course, I've been learning much more than that since I started, and now I see that I have a long way till I am able to dress beatifully, as I used to easily do in Brazil. For sure, your tips are awesome for people like me, who needs to learn totally from the begin. Thanks a lot. I am always reading and enjoying your words. See you. Raquel

  • Casey

    Oddly enough, since moving to Florida, I've had the exact opposite seasonal weight gain! During the summer I tend to put on about 5-10lbs, and in the winter I can loose all that in a heartbeat. I'm not sure why, but it's happened two winters in a row! I think a lot of it for me has to do with environmental factors: the summers are so hot and humid down here that I tend to retain a lot of water and my body also swells a bit. I know for me, I'm far more open to the idea of elastic waists in dresses (covered by a belt of course so they don't look cheesy!), wrap styles and looks that don't include cinching my waist. It's a bit of an uphill battle sometimes to figure out what will work and what I am just not comfortable in (and admit that's okay if I don't fit into my favorite pencil skirt between July and November! ;). But I'm slowly getting there!

    ♥ Casey | blog

  • scherrj

    Good morning! I found your blog a couple months ago and fell in love! Your blog is on my short list of must read everyday blogs, thanks for all of the great advice and common sense you blog everyday.

    The reason I am writing today is to say THANK YOU for standing up against that horrible blog from Marie Claire, sorry I don't remember her name actually I don't care to even know it at this point. The article was horribly cruel and really pointless other than to trash people who are overweight. I am overweight, yes this is true, but I am happy and I have a wonderful life that I love. The assumption that someone who is heavy cannot be happy is obsurd.

    Well, anyway don't want to get started on that realy 🙂 I just had to stop and say thank for your input on that. FYI, I was ready the article on FoxNews.com and your name was mentioned there, that's how I knew you made on comment on the article.

    Thanks for being a great blogger and by all appearences a great person!

  • Julia

    Thanks for this post. I've had to acceptable season weight changes as well. Only I'm the same as Casey – I gain 5-10 lbs in the summer and lose it over the course of the year. I prefer cooler weather so I'm much more likely to walk places and be active than in the summer. I also think I swell and retain more fluids in the summer. Although to be honest, I think the main reason is that I can drive to and park on campus during the summer, but I walk to/from campus during the school year (3 miles total). I enjoy walking once the weather cools down.

  • Sal

    So interesting! Clearly it's not the cold that changes our eating/activity patterns, but the extremity of temperature. I can totally see how heat and humidity would change those behaviors.

    scherrj: Thanks so much, my dear! I haven't heard back from Marie Claire, but I did write to the editors …

  • Franca

    it's funny. i'm in a similar climate to you (I think!) but I also put on weight in the summer and lose it in the winter (though only around 2 kilos). It's because in the summer I go out lots, I drink lots of alcohol during the long daylight hours and I'm on holiday all the time, and holidays are our time for eating out lots and generally being hedonistic! In the winter I tend to just go to yoga after work, then home and I only really drink one day a week.

  • Generation Kvetch

    What a great post. I can see how weather can affect one's weight. On the other hand, some people like me have constant weight fluctuations. These are not as much as Sal is talking about, more like +/- five pounds, but if you're short, that can be a whole size. For me that can come from menstral cycle, eating something salty or w/soy sauce, or going through a period of being really busy with no time to cook.

    I think the take away here is Sal's enduring message to love your body as it is TODAY. Not tomorrow, not next summer, not 10 pounds less, but NOW.

  • Cynthia

    I also gain weight in the summer and find it easier to lose in winter. I think it's the abundance of glorious summer fruit, which I eat a ton of, and the looseness of academic summer schedules (which allows for pastry-shop writing sessions).

  • Future Lint

    I think I've mentioned this before, but I'm kinda the opposite! The summer is so full of BBQs and beer drinking, that I put on a few pounds! Plus it is so hot, I don't want to exercise (but I do bike a lot). Over the winter I am cold and working out and getting sweaty feels good! That combined with eating a lot of vegetable based homemade soups means I usually lose the few pounds from the summer. It's usually only like 5 lbs, so I've found I don't need new clothes for it. They just go from a little loose to pretty tight and back again!

  • Andie

    I have the opposite problem! In the winter, I have a tendency to lose weight and in the summer I gain! I think it's because in the summer, we stay inside out of the heat because it's so hot.

    In the winter, I love taking walks and such and I also eat soup almost every day which helps me stay thinner!

    I see Casey has a similar sentiment! LOL

  • veejane

    I, uh, really think it's a bad idea to buy multiples without a good tryon. When I fluctuate in weight, it really makes a difference to fit, not just sizing.

    (Trousers one size down, the rise is almost always too short: ow! Also, lost weight in the hips does not mean a narrower waist for me.)

    My clothes are way more heavily seasonal than what I see here — it's pretty much all wool December-March — so I don't generally even attempt to buy an item in more than one size. But for people who think about doing that, I strongly advise just waiting till your next weight cycle and trying the thing on. Fit is not the sort of thing one should guess at.

  • tinyjunco

    i tend more to Casey's approach – i can't afford multiple wardrobes, even multiple jeans…

    choosing waistbands that are whole or partially elastic; choosing clothing with stretch (like Sal said); choosing knits(!); wearing thin, floaty fabrics (knit or woven) that are easy to belt or sash for definition without bulk; and tolerating more fluctuation in fit generally are more of my strategies.

    i've also found that if you define one part of your figure well (shoulders, bust, waist, hips, calves) then you can wear more loose-fitting clothing over the rest of your figure without seeming overwhelmed or smothered in clothes. also, a big, chunky knit will read as bulky and 'hiding things' whereas a thin, silky, stretchy knit or woven fabric will seem to reveal and accent the figure (while adding as much 'room to grow').

    so i focus on fit in the areas that don't change as much or are easier to define (belts with numerous holes for the waist, leggings with stretch to define legs under short skirt/tunics) and go loose elsewhere.

    and a belt over an elastic or loose waistband will define your waist just as well as a tight waistband you can only wear one or two days a month….

  • Diana

    I don't really have seasonal weight fluctuations, but I wanted to add one more thing to your list: make sure you get different size bras, since for many women (including me) a 10 pound weight gain means that I go up a bra cup size, and wearing a cup that's too small is both unflattering and uncomfortable.

  • Rachel Rabbit

    Thanks so much for this, Sal. As a Chicagoan with a serious winter ahead of me, I know this cycle all too well.

    Okay, but instead of being jealous of the L.A. girls, I am going to embrace the pounds and curves to come. Right here, right now, I promise to love my body in all of the seasons.

  • Bethany

    I'm the same as many other commentors, I gain weight in the summer! I live in Texas where the humidity and heat is over the top for about three months, so that is probably the cause. It is a struggle every year for me, I never know which body to buy clothes for. Thank you for the tips!

  • Lise Marie

    What fabulous advice. But I also loved the outfit that showed you last year. I recently got a yellow cardigan similar to the one you are wearing and now have new ideas how to wear it! Thanks

    http://southerncomfortga.blogspot.com/2010/10/laughter-is-best-medicine.html

  • anna

    I ski in the winter, so I'm skinnier in the winter. But my weight only varies by about 6-8 lbs. It's only really noticable in a couple pairs of jeans that can give me major muffin top.

  • shoppingqueen
  • Linda W

    I was just thinking about the fact that I have to be ready to dress differently in the winter to accommodate my inevitable "extra layer of warmth" You read my mind!
    Thanks for the tips.

    The Auspicious Life

  • K.Line

    I know you fluctuate (though, in truth, I think it's more noticeable to you than to others). You make a great point that your shape stays the same, it's simply the edges that change a bit. My weight fluctuates occasionally but I don't think it's seasonal. I love your suggestion to buy clothing in different sizes. That's so intelligent. Then you get to enjoy your wardrobe at all your gorgeous sizes.

  • Rad_in_Broolyn

    I find that my weight fluctuates mostly based on stress. If I'm stressed, I don't eat or digest well so my weight drops. When I am happy and balanced, I weigh more.
    My hints are to wear more skirts and dresses. I find that I can wear my skirts and dresses no matter what my weight, but jeans/pants that are 5lbs too big tend to look silly right away. I am currently a huge fan of jeggings/stretch pants for this reason as well.
    I love the colors in the "dead of the winter" outfit.

  • tinyjunco

    double post !! oh no!!

    but i just had to second Rad's comment – skirts and dresses are SO MUCH MORE FLEXIBLE when it comes to ups and downs – esp. if your shape changes. i've had gains of 50+ lbs at times (prednisone) and the meds utterly change your shape in addition to adding pounds. sweaters, slips, and dresses that hung off the shoulders were the only thing i could wear.

    Go Rad! valuable info!! steph

  • IrishRedRose

    Sal, if I lived in a "SERIOUS WINTER" state like you do, I would do the same thing. As it is, here in fairly mellow NorCal, my weight fluctuations have more to do with discipline and sweets cravings (my ancient enemy, lol). If anything, as others have said, exercising in the heat makes me literally sick, and I tend to swell up like a pufferfish when it gets extremely warm–so it is important to have different styles of sandals for sure!! But I hear ya. Since this is a perennial state for me, I can't be as organized about it as you can (knowing that your winter duds should be a wee bit bigger, or more accommodating styles/shapes.) But I can tell you this much: I long ago overcame any lingering dislike of the elastic waistband. If need be, I cover it with an untucked top, a sash or a belt (I have belts in various sizes, natch.) Since I always do 90% of any gain or loss at the waist first, this strategy has served me well. I also make sure to have basic pieces–eg black skirts or brown pants or jeans–in a couple of sizes. I used to do that with a lot of my wardrobe, only to find one day that um…my house was getting a bit full. 😉 So now I stick to core waist-affected basics for doubling up.

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