Making the Most of Your Wardrobe with a Changing Body

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Since high school, my body has gone from a size 16 and 200 pound body to a size 10/12 and 150 pound body, and bounced up to a size 20 and 235 pound body.  Currently, I’m hovering around a size 18 and about my high school weight.  I’ve been on the path to developing a healthy and fit body, whatever that size may be. (Above: the same two dresses, two size different sizes… and not a whole lot of difference.)

This means that over the last 10 years, my closet has gone through some dramatic overhauls– ones that I’d like to prevent happening in my future.  It’s hard for me to practice what I preach of buying quality, beautiful garments I’ll keep forever when I can’t fit into them 4 years later.

I’m not sure if this bouncing is drastic for most women, but I imagine when you consider aging and pregnancy, that it’s not unusual for women to go through some dramatic weight shifts over the course of their lives.  And like most women, I’m on a budget: I don’t have the time or money to replace my wardrobe entirely each time my body goes up or down a size.

Knits:

Knits are lovely. They’re easy to care for and are generally more forgiving fit wise than non-stretch fabrics can be.  In my experience, you can also get more size range out of a knit piece than a rayon or silk one.  My size Large Gap t-shirt may fitted at a size 16, become relaxed at a size 14, and loose on a size 12 body.  The stretch and ease makes it easier to accommodate subtle shifts in your body, without making you feel self-conscious. There are many wonderful knits that can dress up or down (like linen knits or ponte knits).  This helps keep your wardrobe look more polished while your body changes.

Shop: Trashy Diva Jenny Dress; eShakti knit tops; City Chic Ponte Knit pieces

Elastic Waists:

Not just for ya gramma!  It took me a while to accept elastic waists, and occasionally I still feel a bit dumpy or insecure in them.  WHICH IS RIDICULOUS. Overall, a bit of elastic can go a long ways for helping with fit.  I love a dress with a little slip of elastic in the waist, or a skirt with a back panel of elastic.  It creates ease and comfort when sitting, especially in more structured or stiff fabrics. It also makes it easier for skirts to transition between sizes– an elastic waistband with a fuller skirt can help you transition between sizes easily.

Shop: ASOS Curve Shirt Dress

Shape & Silhouette:

As much as I love a 1940s shape, it’s very fitted and defined.  If it’s too big or too small, it’s not quite as forgiving as a shirt dress, swing dress, or wrap dress.  A playful circle skirt can be worn at your natural waist and then shift to your hips (or vice versa) with a loss or gain in weight.

In general, I’m haven’t been a fan of wearing oversized pieces– it reminds me of high school Ashley who wore XL and XXL t-shirts to hide her body.  That being said, I’ve begun to love a loose button-up blouse because it has a little bit of Katherine Hepburn-esque ease and class, while giving me flexibility to create a better silhouette.

Shop: ASOS Curve Swing Dress; Modcloth Grand Tour Top

Belts & Layers:

If the weather permits, layers can be a great way to disguise a piece during a transitional period. A cardigan over a button-up top can hide a button that keeps popping open or that a shirt has become baggy and shows your bra (because face it: these things happen to ALL of us).  A pretty camisole can make a button-up blouse or dress wearable in a pinch when your bust outgrows the shirt.

Similarly, a belt, simple as it may be, can help hold up the skirt that has gotten a little too loose, or add definition to a swing dress.  It can pull together two voluminous pieces (like a circle skirt & blouse).

Shop: ASOS Belts;

These are the ways that I’ve been maneuvering through my weight loss while keeping my wardrobe feeling fresh and “put together.”  When I’ve picked up new pieces, I’ve purchased them with transition in mind: how can this be styled to fit a shrinking body (or if I slip up and gain a few pounds).

Whether you’ve gone through bodily changes due to pregnancy, illness, weight gain or loss, I’d love to hear how you’ve made your wardrobe work through the changes!

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Call her Ash, Ashe, or Ashley– she doesn’t mind! Already Pretty contributor Ashley began blogging in 2007 about fashion and style to fill a void in her life while living in the wintery tundra of Indiana. Her blog Dramatis Personae focuses on food, life & style.  As a plus-sized woman, she loves promoting fashion for all women and shops that want to make all ladies feel beautiful.

**Disclosure: Actions you take from the hyperlinks within this blog post may yield commissions for Dramatis Personae. See Already Pretty’s disclosure statement for more details.

  • http://musclemilkisnotaeuphemism.blogspot.com malevolent andrea

    A lot of A-line skirts also lend themselves to being worn at the waist when you’re heavier and further down on the hips if you lose a few pounds. Boyfriend style jeans are pretty accommodating to fluctuations in weight. (Too big can become “adorably slouchy” if you style them right. ;-) ) Then there are those garments that just look right through a range of sizes for reasons that are inexplicable. I have a woven, non-stretch pull-over-the-head tunic that fit and looked good when I weighed 15 pounds more and fits and looks good now. I don’t understand why, but guess the lesson is to try on things in your closet even if you don’t think they’re gonna work.

  • Molly

    It is very nice to hear someone else talk about making certain pieces work even if they don’t fit in the same way they used to. So many people online are telling me to donate everything that doesn’t fit my body perfectly, but with a tiny budget and a changing body, I can’t afford to completely change my wardrobe every time my body makes a change I don’t plan ahead for.

    I’m curious about the pieces of clothing that don’t serve changing sizes as well as the ones you mention. Do you anticipate physical changes and save some bras and jeans and your favorite unwearable clothes in your old size, in case you find yourself at that size again with a budget too small to buy new stuff? Or do you purge the things that no longer fit and replace all of these items if you find your body returning to a size you thought you had left behind? I suppose everybody’s individual answer would have to depend on budget and amount of available storage space, but I’m curious about the answer of someone who thinks of her body as prone to changes. We’re so afraid of being labelled “hoarders” these days, but some of us can’t afford to give things away as freely as others.

    • other Molly

      I’m an unrepentant and merciless donator, yet I definitely save my no-longer-fitting favorites:

      When I first gained weight due to illness, I resisted buying new, bigger clothes because I hated being sick and wanted it all to end ASAP. I was incredibly relieved when I finally allowed myself to start outfitting that body, as I both looked better from the outside and was less physically uncomfortable.

      Now I’m healthier and buying smaller clothes, and I’ve given away the larger ones that were just okay, but I’m saving the favorites because I remember that feeling. My body may change again for many reasons, from post-pregnancy to metabolic changes to relapse, and if that happens, I want to immediately have something nice to wear.

      I know my story’s particulars are illness-related, but I suspect that, if someone’s living as healthy a lifestyle as she can, it’s probably counterproductive to punish herself for (hypothetical future) weight gain by denying that lovely women some clothes that fit. You know?

    • http://www.mischiefmydear.com Ashe

      Molly, I definitely save pieces that may not fit, but that I love. I have a selection of 10 silk Trashy Diva dresses that are in tucked in the back of my closet. They’re a size 14, and I’m an 18, but since that’s my goal size, I keep the pieces that can’t be easily replaced, that are unique, or that I really love. (The same goes with some that may be a size or two larger – what if I get pregnant? Just gain weight? If something is amazing and I can’t part with it, I’ll store it just in case.)

      I try to limit how many pieces this is, and keep it for those that are unique and irreplaceable. Some pieces, like jeans, may not fit even if my body goes back to the same size, because they weight may fit differently and they just won’t fit. Those pieces I donate, or I try to sell at Buffalo Exchange.

  • http://boopnut39.blogspot.com/ Debbie

    I have gained weight due to health issues, aging and just loving food. I appreciate your piece and realized I am doing many of these things already! Still need to put the “losing” into practice!

  • Carolyn Woodworth

    In the past year, I have gone from 168 lbs. to 128 lbs. I am currently adding drawstrings to many of my favorite skirts, because I find that drawstrings are even more forgiving than elastic.

  • Anneesha

    Great article! And love the same dress in different sizes .. eShakti??

    • http://www.mischiefmydear.com Ashe

      It’s actually Trashy Diva, Anneesha! (Though eShakti does make very similar vintage-inspired pieces, and has a few in similar silhouettes!)

  • Sheri Jo

    This issue has been at the forefront of my life for a while now and your tips are whole-heartedly appreciated. I only wish I could have read this a year and half ago. In that time I’ve gone from 235 to 158 lbs.

    One thing I learned, and I know this one may sound obvious, but braided or other infinitely sizable skinny-ish belts have been indispensable. It wasn’t obvious to me at first because I don’t think I even owned a belt until my pants started to get baggy. When a belt gets too big, I just carefully shorten it or tuck it’s end and over and behind to create a tail.

    Another thing I learned was to love skirts. I was never-ever a skirt person before. I was so used to not looking or feeling comfortable in skirts, I didn’t even consider them a sartorial option. Suffice it to say, I am now a convert. Skirts have been an essential stabilizing force for my wardrobe. I can’t tell you how many pairs of pants I purchased and donated before having this epiphany.

    Acquiring thrifting and minor tailoring skills has been quite helpful too.

  • Deborah Lawton

    Because of health issues, I can swing between 4 sizes, gaining (or losing) a size overnight. I keep a capsule for each size, but have a lot of clothes that can move between sizes. Elastic waist skirts–YES! The fit issues of size changes in pants drive me crazy! Knit tops are great if the edema (water weight gain due to inflammation) decides to settle across my shoulders or boobs. Sweaters work between sizes. Layering helps a lot–If a sweater doesn’t button, I can wear a tank beneath (even if the tank is a bit tight, underneath the top layer it doesn’t show the tightness). I try to keep the colors of my size capsules complimentary, so I can mix and match to get size combos that fit my “today’s” figure problems.

  • http://denimdebutante.com Hayley

    This piece definitely speaks to me since I’m going through some weight gain right now. Thanks for the tips.

  • http://meladermpigmentreducingcomplex.org Jaci

    Weight ups and downs seem to be a part of every woman’s life :) I try to stick with a little bigger size of dress or top, that way I can belt it or leave it loose when my back-fat is visible….

  • Andrea

    I tend to do about 75% of my clothes shopping at thrift stores. When I gained weight due to bad eating and multiple sensitivities to foods I would get frustrated that nothing “fit right” and donate the clothes. Then when I began eating better and lost the weight again I donated all the bigger clothes and bought new things as a reward for hard work! I’m about one year in to being the same size and I’m now able to weed out things that don’t fit my style as much as I would like. Belted items of clothing definitely helped me during the transition though!

  • Annie

    This is so spot on. Only in the last couple years have I come to accept that, even with consistent healthy behavior (diet and exercise, etc), I bounce up and down 10 lbs at least once a year, if not more often. It doesn’t seem like much but it makes a huge difference in clothing fit. My strategies include pants with a LOT of spandex, dresses with full FULL skirts and waistlines at the ribcage (a place where I never gain weight), and, frankly, owning a lot of different sizes of pants. In weaker moments this enabled a bad fast-fashion habit, so this year I vowed to only buy second-hand (thrift, vintage, eBay…) clothes for a full year. :)
    I do wish more women talked about this. It’s often billed as an issue exclusively for larger women (since it’s assumed that they are trying to lose weight), but I frequently bounce from a 6 to an 8 to a 10, and I know others for whom this is natural as well.
    Thank you for a great post!

  • Carrie

    Thank goodness someone finally is talking about this. I swing from a 12-16 and have three wardrobes because of it. My best friend barely fluxuates 3lbs and can’t understand how I can have such a wide range. It’s great to hear so many other women have this swing in size. Thank you for publishing this.

    I find that a tailor helps me tremendously. I also keep one Rubbermaid each of my skinny and heavy size. If it doesn’t fit in the bin I can’t keep it. Then when I lose or gain a little I go back thru and try stuff on while weeding out the stuff I no longer love.

  • http://www.joyatri.com Joyatri

    How apropos! This issue has been on my mind recently. Due to health issues, my weight has fluctuated over the past 10 years and right now I’m dealing with most of my clothes being too big. So, these recommendations are handy for me right now. In addition to only wearing skirts recently, I’ve bought (at the thrift store, of course) some snug-fitting vests, which help pull in a top or dress that is too big.