Dressing the Body in Flux

fashion weight gain weight loss

Creating a personal style is a rewarding and exciting journey. The processes of honing in on your ideal wardrobe, exploring your proportions, and building outfits that make you feel strong and gorgeous are all incredibly fulfilling.

But what if you feel in flux? What if you’re considering moving to another state with a wholly different climate? What if you have gained or lost weight, and don’t know if you’re going to gain or lose more? And what about those times when you feel like you’re still struggling to figure out what it is you want to look like?

There is no single right answer, of course. Much depends on your personality, budget, and goals. But here are a few possible actions to take if you want to feel stylish, but also feel like you’re in the grip of great change:

Thrift

One major concern when your body is in flux is clothing it without breaking the bank. If you’re unsure when or if the changes will end, spending big on new clothes can seem downright loony. But you also shouldn’t be strapping yourself into outfits that make you miserable or uncomfortable. So consider evaluating what still works – or what will work if some change is pending, like a move to a new area – and thrifting a few basics to fill in the essential blanks.

Stick to the classics

When my body is in flux, so is my confidence. I feel unfamiliar with my own physical territory, and am convinced that I no longer know how to dress myself. At all. So I generally stick to chic, timeless classics during those times. Button-front blouses, full skirts, and heels. Tunics, leggings, and boots. I fall back on dressing formulas that I’ve tried and tested in the past, and leave the experimentation for times when I feel more stable. If you’re in a place where you’re still unsure of your own best-bet outfit formulas, focus on classic pieces: Pencil skirts, cardigans, your favorite style of dress, quality slacks, flattering jeans.

Accessorize

Generally speaking, body changes don’t affect how accessories fit. Some shoes and belts may begin to feel uncomfortable, depending on what you’re going through, but earrings, scarves, necklaces, brooches, gorgeous eyeglasses, and bracelets are all likely to continue fitting. Especially if you’ve chosen the “stick to the classics” route until you feel more even-keeled, splashing out with accessorization can help you continue to feel creative, playful, and engaged with your personal style.

Be kind to yourself

Change is scary. Overwhelming and unnerving, even. So do your best to keep self-judgment and criticism to an absolute minimum. You’re already feeling off balance, so beating yourself up for feeling off balance is just going to make everything seem bigger and badder. Change is scary, but it’s also natural and normal. This is not the first time your body has changed, nor will it be the last. And that’s OK, and you’ll make it through.

Image via weheartit.

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  • I’m sure its different for everyone but when I lost the weight a few years ago now I spent a lot of time hitting the super sale racks and wearing trends. In my case I knew I would be in flux for a while (though it ended up lasting a bit longer then planned) and that much of the clothing would not be worn more then a season by me so I figured why not where the funny baby cord herum style pants from Old Navy. I also bought a lot of things that were a bit adjustable like shirt dresses with belts, pants that could be pulled in at the waist, anything that would look OK both fitted and belted. I actually still wear some of the fitted sweaters I bought during the precess they just look more like boyfriend sweaters now.

  • Augh. Sal, you must have your finger on the pulse of the zeitgeist because you hit a sore point that I’ve been wanting to vent about. This is happening to me right now. I’ve gained weight (14 pounds since this time 2 years ago). I can tell I’m at the top end of size 12 instead of the bottom — most of my clothes still fit but they’re not as happy. 14 pounds represents 3-4 hard months of work to lose and I’m not sure I’ve got it in me right now to be that obsessed, plus, I’m kind of waiting for my annual next week to see if I might have an actual thyroid issue that might respond better to medication than to “willpower”. I have been buying clothes when I should be controlling my spending, just because I want to have things that feel their best right now instead of 7 pounds ago.

  • Bravo, Sal, for a thoughtful article that we all can relate to. I tend to stick to a few beloved pieces when things are changing all around (or within) me. And a few favorite accessories help: hello, owl pendant – you always fit perfectly.

  • Lindsey

    Sally–as always, I love your blog. And this is extremely timely for me!

    I am moving from Ohio to South Carolina and am worried about dressing appropriately for work in extreme heat. (I’m not one to show a lot of skin, but the heat and humidity can be off the charts!) Can anyone make any suggestions on looking professional in that kind of weather?

    • LinB

      Wear long sleeves in lightweight cotton or linen — you have to worry about sunburn as well as heat! And air conditioning can be set to cause quite a chill indoors. Loose and lightweight is my best suggestions to you. If you wear a lined skirt or dress, be sure the lining isn’t going to make you overheat (even if the shell is cotton, rayon or linen, the lining may not be of a fabric that will wick away perspiration). Is your work indoors? All you may need to worry about is the time spent walking to your car, driving to work, and crossing the parking lot. Talcum powder. No panty hose in summer.

  • perfect timing, as usual, sal.
    as a gal who has spent the last decade constantly gaining weight and is now quickly losing it, it is tough to invest in good pieces that you know will no longer for in a year — or even a few months! i have really used thrifting in recent years to spice up my wardrobe, and accessorizing is a great tip too — jewelry, scarves, etc will still fit even when your clothes dont!

    • Susan, the one in Berkeley

      Also think about getting a tailor to fit the clothes you thrift. If it’s cheap enough in the thrift store the extra cost of the alterations still keep your item affordable. Sometimes you don’t have the time to wait to find perfectly-fitting deals. Plus a tailored item can be a starter piece to see what looks good on your new body.

  • My body always seems to be in flux and the solution is always a flowy, belted dress. I don’t have to worry about my pants cutting into me. It’s like the classy version of stretchy pants.

  • I recently lost a lot of weight (about 60lbs over 2 years) and also went through a major style change. It seemed like every time a new season came around, requiring different clothing due to weather reasons, nothing I owned fit me! Since I didn’t want to keep buying new clothes every few months, I’ve opted to take in as many pieces as I can, and donate the rest / sell the vintage and buy more thrifted things.

  • Hi!! This is a very good (and useful) post for me because I’ll soon be relocating and I always end up getting confused on how to adopt my wardrobe to my current area without sacrificing my personal style. The last time it happened I had just moved to a new country and it took me almost a year to learn how to dress as per the culture and people around me. This time I’ll definitely stick to your advice of sticking to basics as I settle down. Thank you again! You blog has such great advice:)

  • Iris

    I’ve been in flux for about a year now. Around this time last year, I started losing weight through targeted lifestyle changes because I was getting to a point where I just wasn’t healthy. I lost quite a lot of weight, and this summer I was really happy with myself. To celebrate, I gave away most of my then too-big clothes (with the idea that if I got rid of them, I couldn’t gain weight again because I’d have nothing to wear) and buying a lot of things that fit my “new” body. Losing weight was a good kind of flux for me – sure, it meant some of the clothes I really liked didn’t fit any more, but those loose waistbands were affirmation that I was doing well.

    Yeah, I’m sure you can tell where this is going.

    Since the summer, I started gaining weight again, and now I’m still at a lower point than I was this time last year, but quite a bit heavier than I was this summer. And suddenly, my wonderful new clothes don’t fit so well any more. I can still get them on, but they’re just not as flattering or comfortable or pretty as they were. It’s really depressing, and it’s difficult to not feel self-loathing about it – but I’ve realized that being too hard on myself and freaking out about my weight was, paradoxically, what caused me to gain weight in the first place, so I’m working on whittling my way back down while trying not to feel pressured to OMG DIET NOW because I saw how well that went last time… My new year’s resolution is to calmly make lifestyle changes that bring me toward my goals without giving myself silly deadlines or pressure that just causes my subconscious child to rebel. My subconscious child really likes binging on chocolate.

    It’s tough sometimes, but I find my best way to deal with flux is to focus on the positives: find things to praise and be happy with about your transition state and focus on them. Like hey, my waist has a much more impressive curve to it when I’ve got bigger hips.

  • Bubu

    Brava! Sometimes I see a post header and think “I’ve seen this topic covered before, in magazines, etc, there can’t be anything new to add” and then I read it and you ALWAYS have something new and really applicable and valuable to add, Sal, you are terrific! And your final point is so true – being kind to oneself no matter what is going on is key, and more likely to lead you in the direction you want to go.

  • I’m a long-time reader but a first time commenter since this rang so true with me! I’m on the downward end (hopefully) of a massive weight gain since graduating college, going from the large end of a 12 to the small end of an 18. There were a lot of factors at play, one of which was depression that wasn’t exactly helped by my new figure. This also coincided with me having a semi-regular income for the first time in a while and made me unwilling to spend money on clothes for a figure I despised. I know it’s not healthy, but it did end up helping me save where otherwise I would have been spending! Thank you for this post!

  • LinB

    Suggestion for a body in flux: elastic waistline. I’m not saying you have to adopt old-lady polyester doubleknit pull-on pants with a crease sewn down the front of them! I’m just suggesting that elastic waists forgive a multitude of fitting problems, are comfortable, and easy to style. In pants or skirts or dresses or tunics.

    • Similarly, consider knits. Leggings & knit tunics/dresses are more flexible in sizing & can be layered for different temperatures. Places like Target & Old Navy tend to have these types of pieces at affordable prices, so you can buy multiples & then mix & match colors for a practical little wardrobe to get you thru a period of change.

    • And if for some reason the completely elastic waistline is off the table (I have a friend who just thinks they look sloppy, for example), waist bands that have partial elastic give almost the same benefit. They look more tailored front and back, but have more ‘give’ than a completely solid waistband.

      Sal, I love that you love thrift store/consignment store shopping! My weight is very much where I don’t want it to be right now, and thrift stores allow me to still look professional (enough — it’s pretty hard in the winter, I need more sweaters) while I’m dealing with the weight thing. Besides, they just appeal to the hippie anti-consumer streak I have! ;D

  • Anna D.

    Thanks for writing this! I’ve lost a little weight, and would like to lose more (though since this is the first time I’ve actually managed to lose more than 5 pounds I don’t really trust that it’s happening or will be permanent…). I had to wear a suit to work yesterday and I spent probably 2 hours Tues. evening trying on all the suit-like stuff I own; the frustrating thing was that I think for every suit, one piece fit me but one piece didn’t. It was weird, too, how one piece of clothing I’d been wearing regularly would be too big, but another piece wouldn’t (was I just wearing it way too tight before, or is it a magical adjustable item??). For most of the suits, I’d like to get them tailored so I can keep wearing them, but I don’t know if I’ll end up losing more weight (don’t want to have to tailor stuff twice), and don’t know when is a good time to decide, Okay, now I’ll get it tailored.

    Which is a long way of saying: I appreciated reading this post this morning; it was very helpful, if nothing else, in validating how I feel! (Losing weight when you’re trying to is supposed to feel GOOD, and it does, but it’s still weird and frustrating at times.)

    (It’s a little ironic though, that at my heaviest I loved and lived for accessories – and makeup and nail polish and perfume – because it didn’t matter how they fit, and now I’ve lost some weight I’m still in that boat!)

  • Lain

    I have been in and out of flux for several years, losing 70 pounds, then regaining 20 and trying to figure out where I want to land. I am also trying to change careers and have no idea what the next job’s wardrobe is supposed to look like.

    Great overall advice. One alternative though…I find hitting super sales in department stores or discount retailers, like TJ Maxx, Ross or Marshall’s to have better price and quality than many thrift store options. And, I live in the 4th largest city in the US, in the urban area! To find a classis or even a trend can take hitting multiple thrift stores and scanning many racks, which takes massive amounts of time. I can hit the sale racks at discount retailers and usually find a pair of classic slacks, pencil skirt or blouse for the same price or even less than at a thrift store, and it is new. They are also frequently located in the same shopping area, so I can hit two different ones at once, where thrift stores are scattered everywhere. I’ve scored designer clothing, brand new, for less than $10, where a similar item at a thrift store is $25 and looks worn because it is used.

    • Sal

      Good point, Lain. Discount retailers are another good option!

      • Marshalls, etc. are the only option for me (small city). We have very few consignment stores where I live, and as for Goodwill or Salvation Army…there is no way.

  • Stephani

    Sigh. I feel like my body goes into the flux-phase every year–usually involving my expansion. So by the time a new season rolls around, nothing from the previous year fits, especially summer stuff. So I tend to buy less expensive brands for summer wear, since it probably will be donated by the following year anyway. My solution for colder months is flowier tops and dresses in a good quality, layers, and good quality brands for my denim (like Eddie Bauer, Talbots, shops of that type–no premium denim here) so I can get clever fits that don’t squish me but still look slimming.

  • Aziraphale

    Oh, goodness, Sally, I think every woman who has had a baby has gone through a serious period of ‘body in flux’! Those tips are useful for helping to dress the postpartum body, because very few women I know could fit back into their regular size two weeks after delivery. My body was in flux for nearly a year after the birth of my first, and I wish I’d known the bit about relying on accessories.

  • Becky

    Thanks for this topic! It is very relevant to me. I moved from a professional job in urban Texas to working from home in rural New England, while passing from my hip 30’s to fighting 40 and frumpy. Plus some weight gain – I’m still looking to see whether that’s a natural/healthy reaction to living in a colder climate (and my age), or something that will adjust now that I’ve figured out how to eat well and exercise in this new environment.

    I am really enjoying everybody’s thoughts.

  • Keely

    I’m going through a transition now where all my clothings are too big. It’s a happy place – but does leaving me swimming in material sometimes. I’ve found I actualy accessorize more now than a few months ago, guess I’m getting my creativity mojo back. That’s been the best part of this flux – having not just the confidence but the drive to explore my options for, ahem, gilding the lily. LOL! Thanks for the post – wise words, well received!

  • I pretty much feel permanently in flux as far as size goes, especially around the waist (I could be a different size from one day to the next), so except for formal pieces, everything has to have an elastic waist, or at least some stretch. This doesn’t look as bad as it sounds – I wear a lot of plain yoga pants and things like that, where the knit material creates a stretchy waist without a line. Being that I wear all of my shirts untucked and hip-length, it means that I worked for 2 years in a business casual office without anyone noticing I was wearing things that some people would consider gymwear…

  • Ruby

    Sal, thanks for posting this and everyone else, thanks for your comments. I feel a lot less alone. I’m in flux weightwise, careerwise and living in another culture, too. I dread getting dressed. I’ve found that crafting a few “uniforms” that work with where I am now in terms of weight and modesty helps. It’s best not to have to think about it. Currently wearing knit dresses, tights and boots with a scarf or shawl everyday. When I am living in the “other culture” this becomes Ts, long skirts and sandals. It’s not terribly exciting, but helps me keep my focus off of the frustrations and uncertainty.

    • Mar

      It sounds like I will be in the exact same place in a couple of months, so I totally hear you. I like your idea of having “uniforms” that work and take some of the frustrations off of getting dressed. That’s a great suggestion for me – to put my urge for creative fiddling around my outfits on the backburner for now, and just fall back on formulas that work, even if dressing becomes repetitive. Thank you!!!

  • Tracy

    Hi Sal! Thanks for this post. Since I began reading your blog about 2 years ago I have definitely changed my style and shopping habits. I am a huge fan of thrift shops, resale shops (like Buffalo Exchange), and consignment shops. Right now I am pregnant with my second child so I am definitely a body in flux and have been for the year and half before that! Shopping at thrift and resale shops has saved my budget and let me experiment with new styles, vintage clothing, and fun bright colors. Even though I am 7 mos pregnant and feeling very big right now I want to wear clothing that makes me feel great and shows off my fun and vibrant style/personality.

  • M23

    Oh my – this is SO pertinent to me.

    My story is very similar to Iris’ above – but add in a move from the NW to the SE – so the style is different as is the predominant season to dress for & I just feel like a mess. I do tend to stick to those things that are comfortable for me & I feel good in – mostly jeans & solid colors. But I get bored & depressed by it all. Trying to spice things up, try new things & feel good about myself while still in what feels like perennial flux – is very challenging.

    Thanks for the great post.

  • Mary

    You always hit the target with us, Sal!
    I am currently starting my own business, and the past couple weeks have been absolutely full of anxiety, nausea, jitteriness, and non-confidence. I’m sure when you left your full-time job and began doing your own thing instead, you felt much the same. I’ve been playing it safe with my clothes – only wearing the basics, the tried-and-true, not busting out the fancy sweater I got last month because I haven’t quite felt “on” enough to wear it. My new shop is pretty cold, and while setting things up, I have taken to wearing my dumpiest, warmest sweaters with thick socks, and jeans that won’t mind getting a little dirty.
    I think I have hit a turning point this week, for the better – time will tell – but I had noticed that during my lowest times, something that made me look and feel better was bright red lipstick.
    I am reminded of things I’ve heard about wartime Europe (and wartime US for that matter) – that while severe rationing was imposed and all resources possible should have been, by popular consensus, directed toward the war effort, women were loath to give up their lipstick. Even the smelly, cheap crap that ended up on the shelves at the time was sought after and worn with pride. Lipstick was something that made many women feel pretty, feminine, confident, and more themselves – especially while worries at home and abroad kept them awake at night.
    Not that my situation compares, but there’s definitely something about dressing oneself better that keeps one even-keeled.

  • M23

    oh & also not knowing places to shop in a new place can be challenging especially if you don’t like to online shop b/c you have a hard to fit figure. All of it is flux.

  • It’s funny, I think by body is at a relatively stable weight, but my confidence/assertiveness has increased, so I’m finding that I don’t want to stick to what I think I should wear rather than what I want to wear. But I’m also aware that confidence is a state of flux and what I think is amazing today I might feel is a mis-step in style tomorrow. It’s hard in that way to find that balance between taking risks/playing and finding ‘my style’.

  • My body is constantly in flux. I keep a variety of sizes and materials with different levels of stretch. I can gain or drop 5 pounds at the drop of a hat.. and on my petite shaped self – that’s a lot of flux for form fitting clothing. I do keep some structured pieces because that’s my preferred style, but I also keep loose and flowing for days where it’s not feasible to be all squished in.

    I thrift a bunch with specifically deployed splurges. Shoes are something that never change in terms of fit for me, so I buy good quality interesting shoes. Dresses are something that I can have leeway with in terms of fit. I’d never splurge on jeans or trousers.

    I think hardest of all is accepting my today-body. I don’t physically feel all that different, but the way a single outfit fits changes all the time. So comfort in my skin is affected by the comfort in my clothes. I’ve just made a deal with myself that it’s okay to change if I need.

  • Mar

    Thank you for the great post, Sal! Also, thanks everyone for their interesting thoughts! I’m definitely in a place of total flux right now. Body wise, I have started to ramp up my exercise level as I have some athletic goals I am after, which might result in some extra pounds coming off – perhaps up to a size smaller. Job wise, I am graduating in the next 2-3 months, and don’t have any idea yet what my job will be – whether I’ll have a laid back research job where my current dress style is fine, or whether I really need urgently more business-like clothes. And third, I’m 99% certain I will be relocating across the Atlantic for a couple of years starting this Spring to a totally different climate (Minnesota winter minus the hot summer). On top of that, I’ve felt my style change recently and I am no longer particularly happy in a number of my clothes. Ideally, I’d try to sell them or just donate, but because of the aforementioned, I am hesitant to plunk down money on new stuff, and have thought hard what to invest in. (I would relocate to a place with rather limited shopping options and variety for my budget, so I don’t think my wardrobe will change much then) So far, I’ve figured shoes are a safe bet and can help me now to alter the feel of my outfits, and clothes that are not very structured and can be dressed up or down depending on the accessories and shoes (I picked up a nice sweater dress). In the past, I’ve bought clothes that are too small in anticipation of losing weight, but then never doing it, and there is nothing more depressing than having a pair of jeans or a skirt in my closet that I can’t squeeze into. So I have resolved to only buy things that fit now, and would fit if I did lose weight (adding a belt, etc). With a couple of more structured items that I’ve been wanting for a while (bright patterned pants for example), I’ve resolved to wait a couple of more months to see where I am then job wise and body wise.

  • Molly

    Yes! From health to illness back to relative health, my body has changed in size (loss, then gain, then partial loss), shape (mostly in the belly), and sensitivity (same). Once I stopped clinging to my old wardrobe and started frequent thrifting, I got to experiment with items that fit both my comfort level and my burgeoning sense of style. That feeling of “play” meant I could enjoy clothes shopping again, and I’ve watched my choices morph and get closer and closer to what I think is the real “me,” style-wise.

    There’s always flux in one way or another, isn’t there? Body image, babies, illness, moves, aging–these all affect our bodies and, come to think of it, our minds as well. We’re always evolving internally and externally, so why make yourself miserable clinging to an old self? Get thee to your local thrift store, Target, or Neiman Marcus if that’s your bag; either way, go shopping!

    • Erika A

      I’ve also been on a similar illness to health journey with massive weight loss from being sick, gaining it all back and then some, and then losing enough weight to end up somewhere in the middle. I have also had to let go of a lot of my old clothes and fashion ideas. I may end up at that smallest weight again, but if I do, I will be fit and trim, rather than sick and flabby. Either way, those clothes will probably never fit again.

      I’m glad you’ve found both relative health (funny how that benchmark changes!!) and a sense of play. Discovering and exploring style can be so much fun. 🙂

  • My wardrobe flux has to do with not knowing exactly what my style is. Or, should I say, I like to experiment with different styles, which means that there are certainly moments when I feel like I have nothing to wear, because no style seems like it’s truly mine. In moments like those, I tend to wear the same clothes for a couple of weeks, and then regroup.

  • Eleanorjane

    Moving to another state? How about moving to another hemisphere? I’m moving from New Zealand to England in less than a week. I’m trying to cram all the things I’ll need (within reason) into a suitcase.

    It’s hard! And sad. And scary. I’m having to let go of most of my clothes… I don’t know whether it’s worth paying to ship my summer clothes over or if I should just buy new things there…

    I don’t reeeeeally know what the weather will be like, and temperature inside buildings and how people dress and what my new workplace (presuming I get one!) will be like…

    I don’t have any tips… we’ll see when I get there how good my clothing choices were.

  • Eleanorjane, I live in the UK, but have known some New Zealanders. I think NZ style is a bit more dress down (casual outdoors type lifestyle) than the UK but it depends hugely what you are doing- are you working in an office, studying etc and where you are living – country, small town, big city, as well as how you want to come across. I shouldn’t worry about it too much as clothing in discount stores, supermarkets and charity shops is pretty cheap (and cheaper than NZ I think) so if you can do laundry pretty easily its not a huge problem. Generic office wear for entry level staff would be tailored black trousers and a knit top or blouse – not exciting but easy enough to source. Jeans for a Friday/weekend with a tee shirt and fleece jacket. Indoors is heated so a coat for the winter, and some black shoes should be fine.

  • What a great topic! I’ve put on weight due to a variety of reasons over the past few years (stress, meds, and little exercise), and I’ve found that I do myself a favor if I sell or donate clothes that are more than two sizes too big or too small (I figure, why torture oneself?)

    Also, keep lots of tunic-length sweaters on hand, and buy jeans with lyrcra! More formal clothes are tougher – usually I just wear Spanx, or make sure I have a coat or cardigan on hand if the dress/skirt is a little snug! 🙂

  • Oh! Forgot to add – I live in San Diego, where we all wear layers of clothing all of the time, especially during the winter months. Right now it’s very chilly in the early morning and after sunset, but yesterday it got downright warm at noon! Another thing I wanted to add was that if you’re a fan of vintage clothing, drop-waist dresses (like the photo Sally shows) are perfect for little waistline changes!

  • Deborah Lawton

    FLUX? Yeah, I’ll say. Shifting from full time homeschooling mom of six to grad student who is looking for a part time job with illness issues that can result in weight swings of -+8 lbs within 24 hours whiles negotiating the interesting interior landscape of menopause…..yup, that describes flux. Thrift stores help with the clothing budget, but sometimes I find better deals at retailer’s closeout sales, particularly on clothes that are more “classic”-like pencil skirts. I also have 3 different sizes in my closet. Some days, I’ll fit one size, and the next day, I’m 2 sizes bigger. I try to have pieces in each size that are “favorites” so I can think: “Oh goody, today I can wear X.” That brain game really helps me deal with the difficulties. I even have different size shoes, because my feet swell. Accessories are great, but they can’t make up for sore feet and too tight pants.

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  • Liz Foose

    Love this post! I have to know where those dresses are from. My closet claims that it needs one as an addition to feel whole!

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