En español | We used to be told we should be supermodel slim. Fast forward to 2021. Size 14/16 and beyond is now the new normal. Designers, specialty sites and retailers are embracing size inclusivity and plus-size models are commonplace. Full disclosure: I'm not a plus size. But as a fashion and beauty editor I've dressed thousands of women of every size for photo shoots. We used to use plenty of Spanx on set, but I learned a lot about how women age 50-plus feel about their bodies and weight.
It's not easy to cancel decades of scale anxiety, diets and clothing struggles and embrace body positivity, but now is finally the time for a style-for-all attitude. Here's how to get yours going.
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PHOTO BY: Lane Bryant; Catherines; Target
1. Treat your shape to body-friendly basics
Women with generous bodies really benefit from the more relaxed fit of lifestyle clothes. For stress-free dressing your best bet is to build a core of easy-fit tops with dropped shoulders and dolman sleeves, wide necklines like boats, scoops and Vs, long tunic tees, and elastic waist pants, skirts and dresses. These are usually S–XXL in regular sizes or 1X to 5X+ in plus sizes. Choose styles described as oversize, relaxed, loose, airy or flowy, like the Lane Bryant Dolman Notch-Neck Babydoll Tee in Night Sky ($40, lanebryant.com), Catherines Breezy Crinkle Wide Leg Pants in Mariner Navy or Black ($55, catherines.com) or Ava & Viv Women's Plus Size Essential Relaxed Scoop Neck T-Shirt in Black, Brass or Purple ($9, target.com). No zippers, buttons or fit issues to deal with.
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PHOTO BY: Target; Dia & Co; Lands' End
2. Embrace your personal measurements
Think of your measurements as your secret recipe. Use a tape measure to determine your bust, waist and hip size in inches. Size charts are now a major feature on most sites so match your inches to those of any retailer or brand when shopping online. Know where your shape needs the extra roominess. Let's say you're a size 14/16. The difference between buying the Who What Wear Women's Puff Short Sleeve Dress in Black/White Gingham Check ($34, target.com) in a 1X, or the same dress in a regular size XL comes down to two extra inches at the bust, three inches at the waist and about five inches at the hips. You might want to try both. Size charts for different brands, stores and sites tend to vary. For example, Warp + Weft Mia High-Rise Flared Jeans ($98, shopdia.com) in 1X (14-16) are 36.5–38 inches at the waist, 46–47.5 inches at the hip, while the Lands’ End Plus Size High Rise Straight Leg Ankle Blue Jeans in Juneberry Blue ($52, landsend.com) in size 1X are 36.5–37.5 inches at the waist, 44.5 inches at the hip. See what I mean?
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PHOTO BY: Dia & Co (2); Eloquii
3. Explore knits for curve-friendly work clothes
Work and dress-up clothes like jackets and dresses can sometimes seem stiff or stuffy in generous sizes. Take any oversize old, tailored items to a good tailor for a nip and tuck to fit them more personally to your precise figure. However, if you're shopping “new” don't ignore knits. Thicker stretch knits and ponte knits make jackets, pants and dresses more compatible with generous curves. Look for polished dresses like the M.M.LaFleur for Dia & Co Katie Dress in Light Grey ($79, shop.dia.com) and Eloquii Button Front Collared Dress Knit Work in Pinecone ($100, eloquii.com) and jackets like the M.M.LaFleur for Dia & Co Saint Ambroeus Blazer in Ivory or Azure Blue ($69, shop.dia.com) for sophistication with no extra baggage or bulges. In case you're wondering, a cropped jacket or a long curved one are the styles to choose — skip the boxy boyfriend styles. They're not your body's best friend anymore.
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PHOTO BY: Stephane Cardinale - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images; Paras Griffin/Getty Images; Jemal Countess/FilmMagic
4. Respect your personal proportions
Perhaps you've gained some weight since last year. OK, maybe more than a few pounds. Figure out where your “extra” tends to settle and amplify. Are you a top-heavy gainer? A bottom-heavy one? Or do you simply go allover bodacious? You'll be shopping and dressing to accommodate your extra weight whether it be at the breasts, waist, hips, thighs and/or derriere. Remember: Every generous body is different from the next and that includes you. You may even be a plus size on bottom but a regular size on top or vice versa, or able to wear regular extended 14+ and L and XL sizes without going total plus.
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PHOTO BY: Lane Bryant; River Island; Torrid
5. Do you carry your weight mostly on top?
Gift your body with a few beautiful support bras, like the Soma Stunning Support Smooth Balconette Bra in Divine Leopard Mini Nude ($64, soma.com, not pictured) so your breasts are up and off your midriff. (Your breasts should “sit” just about midway between your elbow and shoulder.) You'll gain extra torso inches and separation between bust and belly. Make V-neckline dresses like the River Island Plus Brown Animal Print Wrap Midi Dress ($86, riverisland.com/us) and surplice tops like the Lane Bryant Crossover Ruched Side Top in Black ($16-19, lanebryant.com) your go-to look. These styles and those with raised empire necklines like the Torrid Vintage Indigo Floral Gauze Lace-Up Babydoll Blouse in Floral-Blue ($37, torrid.com) create the effect of a longer neck and torso and define your middle for a svelte and lifted look.
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PHOTO BY: Dia and Co; Target (2)
6. Do you carry your weight below the waist?
Embrace your proportions by choosing fit-and-flare dresses and A-line skirts like the Dia & Co Adorned Noris V-Neck Midi Dress in Yellow ($65, shop.dia.com) or White Mark Plus Size Tasmin Flare Midi Skirts in Burgundy ($33, target.com). They give full thighs, hips, rear and legs space with style. If you have the confidence to wear bare legs and go sleeveless at 50 try swingy pull-on dresses like the Ava & Viv Women's Plus Size Sleeveless Knit Swing Dress in Violet, Pink or Yellow ($15, target.com) with that same flattering A-shape.
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PHOTO BY: ASOS; VENUS; Torrid
7. Do you have hourglass curves?
If your top and bottom are both super-curvy and you have a waist — emphasize it. Add belts like the Eloquii Wide Waist Bow Belt ($60, eloquii.com, not pictured) to loose dresses and tunics for a silhouette that mimics your own. Also choose dresses, pants, tops and jumpsuits with self-tie belts or a defined waist like the Venus Plus Size Twill Button Front Blazer in White ($45, venus.com), Asos Design Curve Tailored Tie Waist Tapered Ankle Grazer Pants in Navy ($44, asos.com/us/asos-curve) and Torrid Tea Length Shirt Dress in Challis Black Floral ($60, torrid.com). Consider yourself lucky!
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PHOTO BY: Lane Bryant (2); River Island; Catherines
8. Do you have a straight shape and no waist?
If you're straight up and down from shoulder to hip with no indentation at the middle, let your clothes champion your shape. Any top or dress with shirring and draping or a peplum whittles your middle and softly sculpts in curves. Look for peplum blouses with a shirred waist, like the Lane Bryant Smocked Peplum Button-Down Top in Chambray ($60, lanebryant.com) and Lane Bryant Long-Sleeve Dip-Dye Peasant Top in Coral Blush ($60, lanebryant.com) and tunic tees with draping, like the Jessica London Side-Tie Tee in Black, Vivid Blue or Ivory ($30, catherines.com). Make flare and bootcut jeans and pants like the River Island Plus Black Mid Rise Flared Jeans ($78, riverisland.com/us) your look instead of skinnies, wide-leg or straight styles. They provide yet another solution to embracing full thighs and calves.
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PHOTO BY: Ashley Stewart; Lane Bryant; Catherines
9. Dress to elongate your body
Weight is a horizontal thing. Our height, leg and arm length don't vary no matter how much we gain or lose. Extra pounds stretch our bodies horizontally, adding width and volume. You get a more flattering overall look by creating the illusion of a longer, taller silhouette. One way to do this is to dress tonally in one color head to toe. Another solution is to emphasize vertical lines with stripes like the Ashley Stewart Stripe Cold Shoulder Slit Blouse in Black White ($28, ashleystewart.com) and Lane Bryant Asymmetrical Pull-On Midi Skirt in Multi Stripe ($60, lanebryant.com) or a downward chevron print like the Catherines Violet Twist-Knot Fit & Flare Dress in Purple Stripe ($70, catherines.com).
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PHOTO BY: Lane Bryant; Lands' End; Spanx
10. Choose pants and jeans that skim not squeeze
Even body positivity can go too far when you have a bodacious bod. There's a point where skinny jeans and leggings give away too much information. If you have always loved the idea of showing your shape, try stretchy straight-leg jeans like the Lane Bryant Signature Fit Knit Denim Boyfriend Jean ($70, lanebryant.com). Or opt for elastic waist flat-front pants with stretch like the Lands’ End Women's Plus Size Starfish Mid Rise Slim Leg Elastic Waist Pull On Pants in Charcoal Heather ($25–$45, landsend.com) and Spanx The Perfect Pant in Slim Straight ($138, spanx.com), which comes in sizes 1X, 2X and 3X in addition to L and XL. They're not as clingy as leggings but give the same trim elongated base under tunics and long tops. FYI: Plus-size jeans and pants are not designed the same as regular sizes. There's more room in the rise, rear, crotch and legs to make room for belly, hips, derriere and thighs.
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PHOTO BY: River Island; Dia & Co; Ashley Stewart
11. Try making more of a fashion statement
Plenty of women hide their bigger bodies in clothes that are nondescript and boring. No need to go the traditional “dress-slim” route to camouflage or suppress curves. Contemporary fashion-forward plus-size sites and brands like Dia & Co, Ashley Stewart, River Island and Venus make flaunting whatever you have stylish. Tops are the easiest way to go. Look for flowy tunics in eye-catching prints, curvaceous knit tunics with subtle peek-a-boo slits and cold shoulder tees and off-shoulder tops like the Ashley Stewart Geo Sheer Cold Shoulder Slit Top ($31, ashleystewart.com), See Rose Go the Peek-a-boo Tunic in Burgundy ($78, shop.dia.com) and River Island Plus Brown Ruffled Bardot Top ($67, riverisland.com/us) to turn your fling with fashion into a love affair.
Lois Joy Johnson is a beauty and style editor who focuses on women 50 and older. She was the beauty and style editor at Ladies’ Home Journal and a founding editor of More magazine. She has written three books: The Makeup Wakeup, The Wardrobe Wakeup and The Woman's Wakeup.