Posts Categorized: style

Reader Request: Dress Shapes for Bodies in Flux

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Reader S. emailed me this question:

I love wearing dresses because they are easy and usually comfortable. I have chronic Lyme disease, which means that some days by belly starts at one point and inflates or deflates to another. It also means that during relapses, I’m in incredible pain. So, I have adopted a style wardrobe that is comprised of J.Jill (because Eileen Fisher is out the the budget), eclectic “world” tunics, drapey tops, and some pieces from Free People. I want to wear more dresses because sometimes flowy pants just bore me. Jeans are way out of the question right now, too. What types of dress shapes and materials should I look for? I am working on the insides, any thoughts for dresses on the outside?

A former colleague of mine had chronic Lyme disease, and I know she struggled with body fluctuations and pain. I told S. how sorry I was to hear of her illness, though it sounds like she’s made some peace with it. Many bodies fluctuate in shape and size, but if your body is constantly changing shape AND you’re dealing with pain and illness it can create feelings of betrayal and disconnection. For some, putting energy toward dressing feels wasteful, and it certainly can be. But for those like S. who feel the urge to adjust personal style to trying body conditions, there are definitely work-arounds.

In terms of dresses, the first style that comes to mind is swing, which is basically an A-line shape that starts at the shoulders. (I own a Karen Kane one, outfit post here.) This will give the midsection lots of room, and if the style feels too loose you can bring in the volume a bit with a blazer or jacket. Some might point you to empire waist dresses which would also give you room and midsection comfort, but many of us look little-girly or pregnant in that style. You can also try for dresses that are stretchy but have some ruching or detailing in the front – this one looks fab – though depending on the style those can add volume, too. Twist fronts and cascades are in the same family, and can give some shape to the dress without being super clingy and revealing.

dress shapes for weight change

one | two | three

Princess seams are another option. Since this style of dress lacks a hard, defined waistline it can be a good fit for a fluctuating body and is less voluminous than the other two styles. It is the least forgiving of hour-to-hour changes, though, and depending on the cut may show off your shape. But if you add jacket or blazer that may draw attention away from your midsection.

I’m reluctant to make strong recommendations for materials since I know that pain is a spectrum and sometimes comes with fiber sensitivities. I imagine that super-thin jersey knits are far too clingy, but heavy cotton knits, ponte, heavier rayon or poly fabrics could potentially work. Stiff twills and wools aren’t the greatest options, but most of these dress styles are made from more fluid fabrics anyway.

Poking around a bit, I found great options for all three categories at:

Would LOVE to hear from any of you that are dealing with weight and shape shifts on a regular basis. What styles and shapes of dresses work for you? Any fiber recommendations or shopping resource suggestions?

Top image courtesy ASOS

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Lessons From the Dressing Room: Try On EVERYTHING

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I’ve been thrifting since I was 13. Back then, I didn’t have a defined style and didn’t know much about my body so if I saw something that looked cool, I’d try it on. And I learned over time that clothing sizes are totally arbitrary, and sometimes a piece that says it’s three sizes too small or big will fit perfectly.

I’ve been shopping mall stores since high school. Early on I just went for the styles I saw my friends and peers wearing, but eventually I branched out. I played it safe for a while, but eventually started hauling unusual styles and cuts into the fitting room with me. Which yielded lots of duds and the occasional gem. I learned that some things look funky on the rack, and others may be designed far outside my comfort zone, but I’ll never really know how they look until I get them onto my actual body.

I’ve been shopping online since about six seconds after Zappos launched. The arbitrary sizing issue actually worked against me in this realm, especially initially when online clothing vendors were working out the kinks and didn’t always list garment measurements. But through gobs of trial and error, I learned how certain brands cut and fit, which materials felt best, which shapes and style suited me.

And now? Now I can look at a dress online and tell if the Designated Boob Room is too big, if the collar is gonna bug me, if the waistline is too low. (Usually.) Now I can grab a blouse from a thrift store rack and gauge whether or not it will fit, even if I can’t be 100% certain it will look good. Now I know which styles work for my figure, so when I’m out shopping I reach for styles that I’m not sure will work for my figure. And I learn.

The surface lesson here is simple: Try it on. Whatever it is, if you like it try it on. Trying on is free and you will occasionally find a brand or style that is unexpectedly amazing. When it comes to online shopping, stick to vendors that offer free shipping and returns at first so you can play around with sizing and cuts at low risk and with relatively little hassle. Be bold, make educated guesses, try on EVERYTHING. Because when you stick to what you know forever, you run the risk of stagnation. And because an understanding of your figure and its specific shape will help you make more informed shopping choices. And because every so often, you’ll unearth a style that you thought would look horrendous on you, but ends up making you feel like a goddess.

The deeper lesson here is this: You can learn some things about your body by looking at it in the mirror, using it for exercise or sex, listening to its needs and wants. But you can learn other things about your body by seeing how it interacts with clothes. You can learn about how your specific curves work and relate to each other, and which garments show them off or tone them down. You can learn where your waist is, whether you want to highlight it, and how to create illusions that move it up or down on your torso. You can learn what feels comfortable to you in fibers, structures, and designs and please your body by wearing comfortable clothes as often as you can. You can learn about your unique proportions, your distinct scale, you can learn about your body as it relates to itself instead of as it relates to the bodies of others. You can move away from generalities like big, petite, and curvy to hone in on a set of highly specific facts that apply to your body only.

Try on everything. See what you learn.

Image courtesy Orin Zebest

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This Week I Love …

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Yummie by Heather Thomson leggings.

Every winter I’m asked for quality legging recommendations, and every year I sheepishly admit that I just buy new pairs from Old Navy every couple of years and wear them until they get embarrassingly see-through or pilly. BUT NO MORE! I believe the Yummie by Heather Thomson brand could be the answer.

I ordered my first pair when my beloved sparkly Hue leggings began to wear thin, and they were the Jade style. Got ‘em on super sale – I think I paid $20, which is great since they’re pretty darned expensive at full price – and was immediately smitten. The material was thin and stretchy, but fully opaque and very comfortable. The metallic finish was mottled and subtle, which was just what I’d been hoping for. And they’re high-waisted. Hallelujah!

I vastly prefer leggings that are cotton or mostly cotton, so next I ordered the Rachel Compact Cotton style. 88% cotton ain’t bad. I had ordered size large in the Jade style, and they fit well but a bit loosely, so I went with a medium for the Rachels. SO impressed, friends. I will say that they have a very, very slight sheen since there’s 12% spandex in the mix, but they are comfortable, well-made, warm, and durable.

Yes, they are technically “shaping” leggings. But let me tell you, if you order up a size, they just fit like comfy, high-waisted, non-shaping leggings. You can get sizes XS to XL Nordstrom and 6pm, but the Yummie home page carries several styles in 1X – 3X and Amazon carries several styles in plus sizes, too.

Anyone else tried this brand? Thoughts? If you’re on the hunt for comfy, high-waisted leggings, could these work for you?

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