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Finding Clothes That Fit a Woman's Body

10 secrets to looking your best at any size or shape

Two women holding dresses

Getty Images, Getty Images

Let's not skirt the problem here, ladies. Dressing well requires talking frankly about why our shape and clothes can't get along. We're at a body empowerment point beyond picking on our weight. As a fashion and beauty editor, I've dressed stars, supermodels and thousands of everyday women ages 50-plus on my photo shoots. Know that we're all perfectly imperfect body-wise, and that's finally fine. But to look good in what we wear requires a tough-love look in the mirror — not to judge, but to analyze. Sometimes we do have to use words like flab, bulge and sag because owning them can make you dress better, no matter your size. Here are 10 of the most common fit problems and common-sense DIY fixes, using celeb photos for inspiration:

1. Clothes are stylish but not body-enhancing

Most of us throw on our clothes or shop for new ones without thought. Time out. Stop and evaluate your body's unique structure and how it looks now. That means factoring in the absolutely normal aging effects of gravity, hormonal or lifestyle weight changes and where those pounds have settled. Look in a full-length mirror and ask yourself: 

  • Where am I widest/biggest — shoulders, bust, butt, hips and/or thighs, calves? This is my major must-fit-well-here zone.
  • Where am I narrow, toned or trim — waist, arms, neck and/or legs? These are my show-off spots.
  • Turn sideways. Where do I project outward most? Breasts, butt and/or belly? This is my fashion stress point.
  • Where am I soft or saggy? Bust, midriff, thighs, butt and/or upper arms? This is where clothes can firm me up.

2. Big bust is stealing your style

Oprah Winfrey, Wendy Williams and Salma Hayek wearing dresses that complement their boobs

Getty Images (3), Mike Marsland/Mike Marsland/WireImage; Robin Marchant; Stefania M. D'Alessandro

From left: Oprah Winfrey, Wendy Williams and Salma Hayek

If you're short, and/or have a short torso those “girls” steal the entire midriff space. It's why you have a top-heavy “all boobs” look and why buttons gape and your waist vanishes. A full-coverage molded or contoured bra is the fit-changer here. (I’ve said it before — just do it already!) You need to gain inches of torso space and the only way to do that is with a bra that lifts your breasts up and off the midriff and controls the shape by redirecting them front and center in a natural-looking rounded way. Tucking in tops, wearing belts and fitted sweaters, dresses and blouses will become not just possible, but easy. If you're busty and tall or have a long torso, the same tips work. Prefer loose layered tops or tunics? The bra still provides a firmer base so roomy tops look less tent-y.

3. Rolls are ruining your look

Loretta Devine and Lauren Graham with tops that complement their skin rolls

Getty Images (2), Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic; Amanda Edwards

From left: Loretta Devine and Lauren Graham

If you can pinch way more than an inch at your middle, body hugging clothes like turtlenecks, T-shirts and jersey or knit dresses can ripple and bulge. “Love handles” come in every size and shape, so don't blame the scale. The must-have fit ingredient is a microfiber camisole, aka cami. These silky layering pieces in a nylon/spandex blend work like makeup primers for the body, providing a “slippery” base so clothes glide over bumps and bulges for a smoother fit. They also fill in low necklines just enough to be PC and make sheer or super-lightweight blouses wearable. Black is a must but get white and beige, too, to wear under lighter colors.

4. Belly bulge is getting in the way

Glenn Close and Goldie Hawn with outfits that complement a belly bulge

Getty Images (2), Walter McBride/WireImage; Rodin Eckenroth

From left: Glenn Close and Goldie Hawn

If you're 50 and people are asking when's your “due date,” make low-dose control panties — waist-high briefs or girl shorts — your everyday undies. Look for a 20 percent spandex blend and cotton lining where it counts. Then dress strategically by emphasizing your show-off spot. If you have fabulous legs (or even OK ones), leggings, slim jeans or narrow pants under a longer untucked top or a long structured jacket are a “uniform” that can't miss. Legs not your best feature? Show forearms, wrists, ankles or whatever you love most.

5. Your shape has escaped

Lynda Carter, Debbie Allen and Kim Cattrall with outfits that complement their shape.

Getty Images (3), Ethan Miller; Leon Bennett/WireImage; Michael Loccisano

From left: Lynda Carter, Debbie Allen and Kim Cattrall

Some post-menopausal women say their bust, waist and hips have morphed into one round or boxy unit. All you need is a tailored jacket with a nipped-in waist and falling anywhere from below hip to top of thighs to re-create that S curve and restore your style chops. Look for contour jackets in stretch boosted blends like polyester/viscose/spandex. This means get your do-nothing-for-you boyfriend blazers to a tailor ASAP. In a hurry? Add a belt over any jacket or long sweater worn with pants or a pencil skirt to revive and define your body — stat.

6. Upper arms look wide and wiggly ... even in sleeves

Maggie Wagner, Kymberly Haskins and Michaela Watkins with dresses that complement their arms

Getty Images (3), Paul Archuleta; Michael Bezjian; John Lamparski/WireImage

From left: Maggie Wagner, Kymberly Haskins and Michaela Watkins

Designers went wild with a variety of new sleeve looks but not every style works for all. If your arms are full and wide right off the shoulder (imagine a turkey drumstick), avoid short and cap sleeves that end where the issue is and magnify it. Loose underarm skin looks trim and toned in any fitted, three-quarter or long sleeve. Wider sleeves that are elbow length or longer, such as bell or bishop's styles, offer roomier upper-arm camouflage with a stylish twist. All women have show-off forearms — it's why we roll shirt sleeves, stack bracelets and still wear watches.

7. Wide thighs make you want to live in black pull-on pants forever

Tina Knowles, Beverly Johnson and Marcia Gay Harden with clothes that complement their thighs

Getty Images (3), Rodin Eckenroth; Paul Archuleta; Steve Granitz/WireImage

From left: Tina Knowles, Beverly Johnson and Marcia Gay Harden 

Women with fuller thighs are in luck since fashion is trending up with voluminous bottoms from pants to midi skirts. Black pants are super-chic, but skip the elastic waist. It adds excess fabric in the wrong spots. Look for pants or jeans with a constructed waistband and zipper. You want them to start out fitted at the waist and hip before flaring or flowing to balance width at the thighs. Choose cropped wide pants or jeans (to show trim ankles) or go full-length long in straight, flared or fullest slouchy styles. Pair them with eye-catching tops that reveal your shape

8. Top and bottom are different sizes so fit is tough

Sherri Shepherd, Diane Keaton and Tichina Arnold with outfits that match their top and bottom

Getty Images (3), Rachel Luna; Franco Origlia; Paul Archuleta

From left: Sherri Shepherd, Diane Keaton and Tichina Arnold

If you have a fuller body from the waist down, opt for a fit-and-flare dress or a fitted top and full A-line or midi skirt that play exactly to your proportions. On the flip side, if you have a generously proportioned upper body and a slim bottom, look for fitted pencil skirts and slim ankle pants topped with tunics or untucked blouses that wrap or drape.  The idea is to make the most of what you have and play down the rest.

9. A bodacious derriere is throwing everything off

Kris Jenner, Garcelle Beauvais and Lorraine Toussaint in various outfits

Getty Images (3), Jeff Kravitz; Presley Ann; Jesse Grant

From left: Kris Jenner, Garcelle Beauvais and Lorraine Toussaint

Ample, rounded derrieres are fabulous and fashionable but can make a uniform fit front and back difficult and optically shorten your legs. Look for longer jackets or cardigans and longer sweaters that cover your behind. Choose jumpsuits to make a sleek silhouette or stretchy jeans with a slightly lower rise in front, a higher rise in back. And of course, learn to do the half-tuck with tops — tucking in the front portion of your shirt only.

10. Chunky muscular calves are creating closet havoc

Monica Bellucci, Ina Garten and Mariska Hargitay showing muscular calves

Getty Images (3), Edward Berthelot; Michael Loccisano; Roy Rochlin

From left: Monica Bellucci, Ina Garten and Mariska Hargitay 

Tight calf-compressing anything — from leggings to slim jeans and knee-high boots — makes you uncomfortable and your legs swell. Ankle-cropped wide-leg pants worn with flats are the easiest fit solution.  When it comes to skirts and dresses, the wider the hemline and the sturdier the shoe heel (block, wedge and small platforms get a green light here), the leggier you'll look. Stick to hemlines just around the knee or just below. For chilly climates, match opaque dark tights to shoes to slim your legs to a more uniform shape, or simply redirect the focus up top with a diverting neckline or statement necklace.    

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