Monday, September 12, 2016

A Deep Dive on Clothing

Do you want to take a deep dive on clothing? I do, because I've actually made some progress on solving the "what the heck should I wear?" problem lately and because this morning I read an essay on Vox by Emily Crockett about women's clothing sizes. It prompted a little Twitter rant. I'll embed it here, or you can click on one of the tweets to read the entire thread on Twitter:

Like I said in my rant, about a year and a half ago, I gained a few pounds and that tipped me from a size 12 to a size 14, and as Crockett notes in her essay, this is like falling off a fashion cliff. Or, at least teetering on the edge of one: I can often still find size 14s at my usual stores, but there are almost never size 16s. As hard as I find shopping now, I can tell it will get even harder if I gain more weight.

Now, I'd like to be back to my earlier weight. In fact, I would like to be about 5-10 pounds lighter than that earlier weight. But I also want to enjoy life. I want to live the healthiest life I will enjoy, and given the realities of how I'm experiencing perimenopause, that probably means I'm stuck as a size 14.

So that means figuring out how to solve this clothing problem. I've been thinking about how to solve this for awhile. I wrote about it way back in March. I've decided against hiring a stylist, at least for now. I can't justify the expense. But I also need to recognize that my specific challenges require spending more money than I might like on clothing. Actually, it really boils down to one specific challenge. I am busty, and the extra weight has made me even bustier: I've settled into a 38E. This means two things: (1) I am going to spend a lot of money on bras, and (2) Anything I wear on my top will be stretchy or customized. I have tried and tried and it is time to accept that this last bit of weight gain has made it impossible to buy any non-stretchy item for my top that fits properly off the rack. It was always a challenge to do so, but I'd found some brands that worked. I cannot find any brands that work anymore.

My bottom half is significantly easier to dress. I am lucky that I can still usually buy off the rack trousers that fit, and skirts are no harder than they ever were. It is a struggle to consistently find the cuts that flatter me and I am constantly searching for decent pockets... but these are not new problems.

Having acknowledged these facts, I have made a plan. I recently accepted a project that essentially guarantees I'll make enough money to stay in business through 2018, and therefore I'm going to stop hoarding money in my business account quite so aggresively and bring some extra profit over to my personal account to allow me to buy what I need to get without worrying about how much I am spending.

I am going to spend what I need to get the following items immediately:

  • One or two jackets (or structured cardigans) to wear when I need to dress up a notch. If I go with a structured cardigan, I don't need to customize, so I'm considering this one from MM LaFleur, a brand I've heard good things about. (I've considered doing a Bento Box from them, but their collection is a step too dressy for the laid back style required in my particular locale and industry. Looking like a lawyer would not be a good thing here.) For jackets, I either need to go to Nordstrom (or similar) and find one that fits across my chest and then get it tailored to fit everywhere else or order a bespoke one from Sumissura. I have no idea which will be cheaper, but I have a suspicion that I'll have to shop the plus size collection to get a jacket that fits around my chest, and I am generally unimpressed with plus size jackets. So we'll see. Also, I'm not super enthused about a shopping trip, which may tip the scales for the bespoke option.
  • One or two solid or business-friendly print dresses that I can wear with a jacket or nice cardigan. I've heard good things about Leota for dresses, so I'm considering ordering from them. Or checking them out at Nordstrom. Or both. I am also considering customizing this dress at eShakti. I'd need to change the neckline, but eShakti lets me do that.
  • If I can find one, I 'd love a nice business skirt in black or navy. However, I have been looking for something appropriate for quite some time, and haven't found it yet. There are lots of lawyer skirts, but see my comment above about how it would be a mistake for me to dress like a lawyer. So I'm looking for something that may not exist. I'll address this in the second part of my plan.
  • Some good tights. I'm looking for a new go-to brand of tights. I used to love tights from the Gap, but either they changed or I changed (or both) and now those no longer work. Suggestions welcome in the comments. I like a fairly opaque tight. 
  • Appropriately dressy (i.e., nice but not lawyer nice) black and possibly navy shoes to wear with skirts and dresses (and maybe also trousers). I want to be able to walk in my shoes without my feet hurting. I have these Taos shoes in red and they are perfect. I'd buy them in black, but they are out of my size. My need to buy black winter shoes in summer (because I was going to New Zealand, where it was winter) led me to discover how easy it is to buy shoes at Zappos, so I suspect I'll just do that.
And that's it. Once I get these things, the urgency will be off. Then, I can move to the next phase of my plan, which has exactly one step: find a good local tailor/seamstress who will make me truly bespoke clothes. I think this is likely to be the only way to solve my skirt problem. It will also provide a good way to solve future problems that crop up. Individual pieces will be expensive, but my hope is that they will be worth the extra cost because they will truly fit and be exactly what I want/need. Perhaps then I will spend less money buying the "almost but not quite right thing that will do because I need something to wear NOW" items.

OK, so that's the plan. And now I'll share what I have found that works well for me, a slightly overweight and definitely busty middle-aged woman. I share these things in case any of them also work for any of you.
  • I buy a lot of my "wear to existing clients" shirts at Eddie Bauer. The men in my field wear chinos and button down shirts. Or, to be honest, jeans and t-shirts. I am never going to like the button down shirt option for everyday. Bespoke is really the only way I can get ones that don't pull and gap and look trashy, and that is expensive. Plus, I don't think the style is flattering on me.  I find that Eddie Bauer polo shirts work great for me, and I have several different colors. Their Favorite V-neck T-shirts also work great. They are thick, in a flattering cut, and with a v-neck that flatters without showing too much cleavage. I can absolutely get away with wearing one of their t-shirts to work, particularly with a cardigan. 
  • Trousers are harder. Eddie Bauer bottoms do not fit me right. I used to have a favorite go-to style at the Gap, but they changed it. Then I found some nice Tommy Hilfiger ones, but those are gone now, too. Basically, when my pants wear out, I have one really crappy shopping trip where I try on a bunch of different pants. If I find something that looks good, I buy it in several colors and wear it until it fades or otherwise stops looking sharp.
  • I love eShakti (that is a referral link) for dresses and occasionally for skirts and tops. I find that I like things better if I add an extra inch to my bust measurement.
  • After many trials and disappointments, I have found a sports bra I love. To my surprise, it is not an underwire style, but it has an extra top clasp that makes it awesome. I am at the upper limit of its size range, though. Yet more incentive not to gain more weight.
  • I like the Corporette blog for providing ideas of brands to look at. That is where I found out about MM LaFleur and Leota. It also led me to Lo and Sons bags, and I love my bag from them. The style on Corporette tends more towards the lawyerly than will work for me "as is," but it does provide new ideas and leads that have helped. 
And that's my deep dive on clothing. Feel free to leave suggestions and ask questions in the comments. 


  1. Anonymous4:32 AM

    You might be interested in these blazers: (I haven't bought one yet, but I've been considering them and they looked great on a fashion blogger). Also, We Love Colors is another fashion blogger's favorite source for tights:

    1. Thanks for the tights recommendation!

      I have a cotton blazer from Nordstrom similar that one. It didn't wear well and is now OK for day to day use but not for when I need to be a little dressier. The fabric on this one looks a bit thicker, though, so maybe it would work out better.

    2. I came back to this post a day later to recommend We Love Colors for longevity and comfort. I wear the M/L size though, so keep that in mind!

      I originally got the recommendation from here:

  2. Ohhhh, this is probably what is happening to me. I really need to make that doctors appointment. Should not be starting this young. But I am definitely mirroring your perimenopause symptoms.

    1. My doctor said perimenopause can start mid-30s, and it often lasts more than 10 years. Wheeeee!

    2. I should be happy that it started when I was two years older than my (childless not by choice) aunt when she got POF. Mildly regretting not getting pregnant again even though we don't actually want a third child...

      Of course, I could just be having thyroid problems which is why I should make a doctor's appointment...

      Next week, I will make an appointment for a checkup next week when the first book chapter has been submitted.

  3. It's too bad they don't really have stores in the US, but I really love Bravissimo and Pepperberry,, because their dresses, tops, etc come in 3 different cup sizes. You can order from them, but I'm not sure what their return policy is like. Pretty much all of my bras come from them, and a large amount of my dresses / tops as well.
    When you find a seamstress, it might be worthwhile to give her a few ideas in terms of patterns. There's a large community of curvy women out there who sew :) is one example. And there are a lot of Indie pattern designers who design for larger busts: and are some of my favourites.

  4. I feel you! I recently went up a size, though most of my favorite stores are still an option. Check out Boden ( day dresses. They have a bunch that fall between casual and work wear, plus many of them have pockets. The fit varies from very fitted to relaxed, so there are options.

    1. Oh, yeah, I should check Boden on the dress front. UK brands often have more room for a bust.

    2. Boden was going to be my recommendation as well! I have loads of skirts from them that are pretty and very consistently sized, and they also sell some very cute tunics that I like to wear with leggings.

      And for tights, this sounds crazy, but Spanx. They have tights that are incredibly opaque and reversible (black/grey, black/navy) and they are indestructible. I once fell in a parking garage and skinned my knee--there was blood and everything--but tights were still perfect.

  5. As a busty sistah (I am 38 HH, but usually can't find that so go for 40H), I swear by Glamorise minimizer. Specifically this style:
    It is full coverage and looks perfect under clothes, no bunching up, very nice line.

    I buy cotton tops (XXL tall) from Eddy Bauer online and they are great quality and come in different colors, and you can find them with great V-necks and other types of neck openings flattering to busty women. Wear them with jeans when I teach. Paired up with simple slacks, they also work great under shrugs and cardigans (which I have been able to find at Lane Bryant), which are my main way of introducing a pop of color to an otherwise dark wardrobe. I can't remember the last time I owned a blazer; it's basically impossible to find one for busty women that doesn't make you look shaped like a tent.

    But maybe we should all be wearing these power blazers for instant gravitas:

    1. I wish I could afford the power blazers! They are a little out of my range.

      I like a blazer on me if it is tailored to really fit. Otherwise, it is no good AT ALL. Also, I need the style that nips in at the waist and usually one that hits at the hips.

  6. Perpetua9:31 AM

    No helpful suggestions, only sympathy and lament. I started having hot flashes at 40! Luckily they only come and ago a couple of times a year, but it sucks. And I gained the dreaded perimenopause weight. I work out a lot now, but I feel like it's only maintaining weight and I will never lose weight again. I also have issues buying clothes - and you know what drives me nuts? The truism that "fit and flare" is flattering for all body types. It looks totally dumpy on me. I would have an hourglass, except I have no waist (meaning a thick waist). Also WORD on the button down shirts for women with boobs. My boobs aren't even huge and the shirts my size strain at the buttons! I recently decided I never have to buy button/zipper pants again, for summer/casual clothes. I've moved on to drawstring/elastic waist, and I feel great about it.

    1. My biggest struggle with eShakti is visualizing what styles will look good on me. I have one skirt from them that fits beautifully but is not flattering unless paired very carefully with the right sort of top.

  7. I think an appt w/ a personal shopper at Nordstrom would be a good start.

    If that doesn't work, my FIL is a retired European tailor who sold his shop. He was sending his customers to a Vietnamese tailor. but was told that that tailor no longer takes alterations. The Vietnamese shop now does entirely custom work, at moderate prices, and is in San Diego! I can ask my FIL for the contact info.

    My friend in Poway can sew you up custom knit tops and dresses and skirts with pockets. She teaches sewing classes PT and has gone back to school to get a teaching credential. She is looking for custom clothing jobs she can fit around her schedule. I already sent you her contact info. She can also sew you structured knit cardigans. She's not a tailor, though; she can't make you blazers.

    I like Spanx tights. They are opaque and last a long time. Just go up a size so they are not so Spanx-like. ;-) I can find them at Nordstrom Rack at reasonable prices.

    1. Yes! I have your friends info and she was top of my list of people to contact when I'm ready to try to find custom things.

      Would love the tailor info.

      I've been reticent to try Nordstrom's personal stylists because Nordstrom is one of the stores I used to love and now struggle with. But maybe I just need to find the right new brands and a stylist could help with that. It would just be really depressing to make an appointment and then find nothing that really fits. I should just steel myself for that possible outcome and try.

    2. I had trouble when they chased a younger demographic and the fits became too tight under the arms and at the thighs/hips. They have changed the fits on some of their business clothing to fit me better. Try the Classiques Entier line. I was surprised that I went from a M to a L, but the fit, other than sleeve length, was very good.

  8. Ooooooh, I want that eShakti dress! For my regular office wear (my office is very casual; by wearing a skirt, I am on the dressier end), my go-to has been Macy's Everyday Values. I do well with whichever Tahari is included, and Calvin Klein. Different sizes in those two lines, of course.

    A lot of my daily wear also comes from LL Bean, and a little from Boden. I have a limited budget and even more limited time, so nearly all of my shopping is done online.

    I'd love to lose 20 pounds, but that is going to take a lot of work. And I don't have that time, either. So I'm trying to be as healthy as I can, and make the most of that.

  9. fizzchick10:26 PM

    I have a pair of these in black and quite like them:
    They're fairly comfortable as heeled shoes go for all day wear.

  10. Angela (@Aferg22)8:38 AM

    I feel your pain. I am a 16, and it is treacherous out there in the mall. I have found success at NY & Co. for pants. They have a good range of sizes and some of the styles fit very well. Of course, all of my pants are from 5 plus years ago, since shopping is so depressing that I rarely do it. I would like to try Stitch Fix, but I think it only goes to size 14- is that correct?

    1. When I tried it, I was still a 12, and I sent a lot of things back as cute, but too tight across the chest.

  11. Edie W12:35 PM

    I second NY & Co for pants. They have the bonus feature that most of their pants come in short/regular/long.

    I really like pairing a patterned skirt with a plain top for appealing professional but not too "corporate". This also has the appeal of de-emphasizing "bustiness" in my experience.

    I like Ann Taylor Loft a lot for this kind of professional-but-not-too-formal skirt. They go up to 16/18 for some of their styles (maybe a little less than half?) but the rest stop at 14.

  12. I have that eShakti dress! It is gorgeous and I love it, but have only worn it once. I spend far too much time up a ladder or crawling under things at work to want to wear a dress.

  13. I have been in the 14-16 range for most of my adult life. There was a period about 15 years ago when I went down to 10-12, and I slowly gained some of it back and then had two kids.

    I generally know how to dress myself now, and have learned enough sewing to hem pants and take them in at the waist (I'm very hourglass).

    But the realization that some of my favorite clothes are getting tight really sucks...because 16 is usually the largest size everywhere that I shop.

    My wardrobe needs an overhaul just because I haven't done it in a long time and I don't want to look like I belong in 2005, but I really don't have the energy for it right now.

  14. Ooooh I feel you. Some recommendations from your list (for reference: I'm 5'7", generally between sizes 16-18, like fashion but not mindlessly, and am not willing to sacrifice comfort for looks. I work in a town where flat knee-high brown boots are considered very dressy, so... my level of 'formal' is low.

    Tights: highly, highly recommending Land's End tights. Size up AT LEAST one size (I wear size 16 in their pants, and buy 2X tights). I have a pair that recently got a hole in them - they got bought 3 years ago, and worn minimum once a week in fall/winter since then. They're opaque, resistant, not shiny, and go up high under the bust (which is a plus for me, since it means that it's not cutting my stomach uncomfortably in half when I sit down, but if that's something that bothers you, judge accordingly). Best tights ever, for me.

    For blazers, this sounds weird, but JCrew does a 'schoolboy' blazer in black wool that I love. I have the size 16, bought on sale for about 150$ 3 years ago, and I tend to leave it at the office and toss it over a dress or a pant/tank outfit at least 3-4 times a week, year-round. After 3 years, it still looks pretty great. If you're in the US, returns and shipping are easier than in Canada, so it might be worth keeping an eye on their sales.

  15. Have you ever been to Christopher & Banks? I found some great options there when I was post-partum and headed back to work and nothing fit (size 16). I'm not busty but still have the gap problem, FYI, so I think women's shirts just aren't designed for larger size women.

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