Plus-Size Panache

Spring offers fashions that are perfect for every body

By Colette Bouchez
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Charlotte Grayson, MD

If frustrations over style and fit have left you vowing not to shop for clothes until you hit your goal weight, listen up: Experts say this is the season to cut loose and let your inner fashionista come out!

Indeed, women size 14 and up have never had more exciting, fashionable choices.

"Plus-size clothes have taken a very modern and very stylish turn," says Sam Saboura, one of the fashion forces behind Extreme Makeover and author of Real Style: Style Secrets for Real Women with Real Bodies. "There is a look that can flatter almost every plus-size shape, and this season we are seeing more of those styles than ever before." What's more, there are lots more places to find all these great new clothes. In addition to well-known plus-size outlets like Jessica London, Catherine's, and Avenue, many shops that traditionally cater to the skinny have taken note of the fuller figure.

Stores like Old Navy, Lands' End, L.L. Bean, Kohl's, and T.J. Maxx are packing their racks with plus-size styles. Even Victoria's Secret is now offering its super-sexy jeans in sizes up to 16, with tops up to size extra-large (18-20).

What to Wear Now

One of the hottest trends for spring is what stylists call "rich girl Bohemian" -- an updated hippie look that can be fashion heaven for a plus-sized woman.

"The bohemian look, with its long flowing skirts, is perfect for the plus-size woman," Saboura tells WebMD. "It gives you lots of room, and it's a great alternative to wearing pants or shorts in the summer. The look is causal but chic, offers great coverage, and it's very fashionable."

To flatter your figure even more, says Sharon Haver, director of, skip skirts in stiff fabrics like denim or twill. Instead, opt for soft, billowy chiffons or knits, pairing them with a close-fitting (but not tight) knit top.

"Many women think they need a big, flowing top to cover their body, but that can make you look bigger," says Haver. "Slimmer tops, as long as they fit properly, can be more flattering."

However, if your top half is larger than your bottom, Haver advises switching the proportions: Wear a loose-fitting embroidered "bohemian" top over a slim-cut long skirt, Capri pant, or boot-cut jean.

Another trendy seasonal look: A cropped jacket in a splashy summer-resort print.

"It's a quick way to update your look and any woman can wear it," says June Saltzman, HSN's vice president of fashion merchandizing. "Toss it on over a simple black or navy sheath, or over Capri pants, a pair of denim jeans -- it just works with everything."

But when choosing a print, stay away from oversized florals, which can make a plus-size woman look larger. Also avoid very dainty prints, which look out of balance.

"Think of your body in terms of proportions and your clothing as corrective tools," says Saboura. "You always want to correct and balance your body whenever you can." Perhaps no item of clothing can do that better than the poncho, the season's hottest retro look. But while at first glance, the poncho seems like the perfect way to hide all our chocolate sins, be careful! Choosing the wrong style can leave you looking like you shopped at an upholstery sale instead of a fashion mall.

What should you avoid?

"If your shoulders are broad and wide, and your top large, do not wear a boat neck or wide neck poncho," says Saboura. "Instead, look for a low deep V. The idea is always to bring the eye away from the sides and to the center of the body."

Also stay away from oversized ponchos with wide billowy sides, or those made of stiff fabrics. Stick to knit or chiffon styles that fall close to the body, hit just below the hip, and allow your curves to peek out from underneath, Saboura says.

If you don't feel comfortable in shorts, lucky you: this is the season when Capris take over! These super-flattering, narrow-legged pants go anywhere shorts can go, and they look and feel a lot more comfortable. Pair them with canvas espadrilles with a medium to high wedge heel for a slim and stylish look.

"It shows enough leg to look summery, and with a bit of a heel or wedge your legs will look longer so you will look leaner," says Haver.

Another way to beat the heat and still look good: The ultra-feminine knee-grazing full skirt.

"This style is wonderful for the plus-size woman because it adds fullness around the knees, which helps balance the hips," says Carolyn Strauss, a former plus-size model who now designs the Carolyn Strauss Collection for the Home Shopping Network (HSN). "The overall look is slimming, and the print fabrics and small ruffles at the hem keep the look fresh and very new."

To get the most from your full-skirted look, Strauss says, remember the proportion rule: "The fuller the skirt, the slimmer the top."

One sleek summer look for both tops and swimsuits is the halter, and all our experts agree that it can look great on a plus-size figure. The key is making sure it's cut full enough to cover the fleshy areas under the arms. "When it fits right a halter makes your shoulders look wider, your cleavage more prominent, your hips smaller -- what's not to love?" says Strauss.

When it comes to summer slacks, our experts vote for the boot-cut. Saboura says plus-size women can also look great in lower-waisted styles, which elongate the torso for a leaner look.

For a dressier look in pants, Strauss and Saboura say, loose, flowing palazzos are a hot fashion statement that looks great on plus-size women.

Accessorize Your Life

If you're in between sizes, or don't want to commit to a new wardrobe just yet, a few wisely chosen accessories can update your look.

This is the season of the embellished handbag -- and when you pair one with embellished shoes in a bright color, plus a coordinating scarf and/or jewelry, last year's outfit suddenly looks of-the-moment.

"One of the most flattering plus-size looks ever is to wear a dark solid color on the body -- like black, chocolate brown, or navy -- and then splash up a storm with one or two bright seasonal accessory colors," says Saboura.

What colors are hot right now? Any shade of turquoise, pink, or coral. And summer brights like lime green and banana yellow will be on the scene just in time for those Fourth of July picnics, Salzman says.

Getting the Fit That Flatters

Along with the plus-size style revolution, there's a fit evolution going on as well. Together, these trends are making shopping for plus-size garments easier than ever.

Among the newest fit initiatives is "Intellifit" -- a kind of electronic tailor that's housed in a high-tech glass tower. You step inside, fully dressed, and the system uses harmless radio waves to take precise measurements at key points on your body. The information is translated into size and style recommendations suited for your body type.

Intellifit was tested recently at stores like Macy's, Lane Bryant, and David's Bridal shops, where customers reportedly went wild for the device. Soon, it should be appearing in a number of malls and stores nationwide.

If you have access to a phone and a computer, you don't even have to leave your house to find the perfect fit, thanks to the Home Shopping Network's new sizing system. Instead of relying on measurement charts that lump different styles into pre-determined size categories, HSN measures every single garment in every size and posts those measurements on its web site. In addition to bust, hip, and waist measurements, HSN also provides the garment's length and "sweep" (for items like jackets and skirts).

According to Saltzman, this "takes much of the guesswork out of wondering how an item fits."

Another fit feature at HSN is the "virtual model." Enter your measurements online, and presto -- the program creates a virtual model of your body. By clicking on various outfits, Saltzman says, you can dress your model -- even spin it around -- to see how the garment will look on your body type.

Similar virtual model systems are available online at Lands' End and L.L. Bean.

Published April 22, 2005.

SOURCES: Sharon Haver, founder and director, June Saltzman, vice president of fashion merchandising, Home Shopping Network. Sam Saboura, fashion team, Extreme Makeover; author, Real Style: Style Secrets for Real Women with Real Bodies. Carolyn Strauss, plus-size model; designer, The Carolyn Strauss Collection.

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