Reader Karin sent me this request via email:
I am a 43 year old woman returning to work after 10 years out raising children. I am looking to return to mid-level corporate management, so a fairly traditional atmosphere. I am a chubby pear. Bust size 12, waist size 14, hips size 16/18. The full skirts, tighter shirts combinations that are generally flattering on my figure look a little bit too “1950s Picnic,” for a corporate office. I just look dumpy in the sheath dresses and trouser/blouse combos that seem so of the moment.
An interesting conundrum, no? The styles that flatter Karin’s figure in traditional ways don’t look quite as professional as she’d like. But if she were to prioritize typical dress code expectations over figure-flattery, she might not look or feel her best either. She’s focusing on both figure balance and relative sartorial conservatism, so that’s how I’ll couch my advice. But it’s worth noting that women with pronounced hips can and should wear pencil skirts if they want to, even if said skirts emphasize their hips. Hips happen. Observers can deal with it. And, as always, none of my figure flattery advice posts should be considered gospel, including this one, and I fully expect you to read them with a grain of salt. Style “rules” are merely guidelines, no matter who is dispensing them. I trust you to use your judgment. And I trust you to take what applies to you, discard the rest, and assume positive intent.
Now, assuming creating balance and downplaying hips are both goals, here are a few tips:
Track down some a-line skirts
I couldn’t say why, but most available skirts and dresses seem to be slim pencils or pleated fulls. Which is bonkers since a-line shapes work beautifully for so many women. AND lots of vendors are mislabeling skirts as a-line when they’re really full – a true a-line creates the shape of a capital letter A, widening gradually from waistband to hem without pleats or gathers. The Calvin Klein skirt above is the right shape, and done up in suiting style fabrics that will work with blouses and/or blazers in corporate environments. It’s also available in sizes 14W – 24W here. But any skirt in that shape will glide over hips without clinging, yet look more professional than its full, pleated cousins. A-line dresses (like this one) are even harder to find, but also work well.
Mind your fibers
So I just kinda ragged on full skirts, I know, but it’s worth noting that a full skirt made from tropical wool will be far more office-friendly than one made of cotton poplin. It might still feel too casual or young for the boardroom, but could be fine for desk days. This tip also runs in the opposite direction: Casual materials like ponte can be made to feel more formal when done up in pencil skirt and blazer shapes, and since ponte has thickness and flexibility, it can be a great option for women with curves.
Opt for simple trousers
Flat front, pocket-free, mid-rise versions are fantastic, but top-entry pockets will do in a pinch. I agree with Angie that you should be sure to buy trousers that fit where you are largest (likely hips) and have them tailored elsewhere (waist and possibly legs depending on your build). Also that slight boot cuts and wide-legs will work best, worn with heels if elongating your legs is a priority. Straight leg styles can also work and look marvelously modern. If you feel like this style emphasizes your hips, pair them with bright or printed tops to focus visual attention upward. Speaking of which …
Add a little visual volume up top
Balancing a larger bottom half sometimes means adding some visual volume to your top half. I’m not talking chunky sweaters or oversized blouses as much as jackets with defined shoulders, ruffle-detail tops, and even statement necklaces. Nothing drastic, just detailing that makes your top half look subtly bigger, draws the eye upward, or both.
Look to office-wear brands
I’m thinking Calvin Klein, Jones New York, and Anne Klein, all of which offer office-friendly staples in regular and plus sizes. Check Amazon for all three brands, too. I keep an eye on this trio since many of my clients need classic office-wear, and I feel like they all provide more figure-friendly designs than Ann Taylor, J.Crew, Banana Republic, and other mid-market suiting/work-wear brands. Skirts aren’t super short or super tight, and tops are classic but with thoughtful details. JNY does blazers and jackets a bit better than the other two. Also check Talbots for office-friendly staples in regular, plus, petite, and petite plus sizes.
And, of course, befriending your tailor is a good idea. When your waist is dramatically smaller than your hips, pants will seldom fit right off the rack, and you may need to have jackets and blazers altered to work with your curves.
Other ladies with hips, what are your tips for professional dressing? Any brands or styles to recommend? Do you try to visually balance your lower half? What advice would you give Karin?
Images courtesy Amazon
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