May 29, 2012

Plus Sized Work Attire Options

Dear Allie:
I am getting back into the workforce after five years as a SAHM. I’m really excited, but am having a hard time finding nice work clothes. I am a size 18, 5’5” and an apple and all I seem to find are lowcut dresses and polyester pants. Do you know where I can find suits and work clothes like dresses and blouses for my size?

Why are all plus sized suits made out of polyester? Where can I find a suit that is equal in quality and price to J. Crew but goes above a size 16?

I was recently promoted and my new position requires me to travel on business several times a month. For such trips, I will need to wear a suit while at the office I can usually get away with casual pants or even nice jeans. While I have a great wardrobe of business casual pieces, it is proving difficult to find more corporate of attire for my size (I vary between a 20 and 22). Do you know of any retailers who specialize in suiting and corporate attire for plus-sized women?

Hi Allie, I need to improve my look at work. We’re allowed to wear anything we want but I don’t want to look like a slob any more and think if I look good I may be more likely to get a raise or promotion. I’m 5’7”, a size 20 with a large bust and don’t even know where to start looking for nicer work clothes. HELP!

I am not sure why the world thinks women over a size 12 don’t hold professional jobs. They must think that with the poor selection of career wear for plus-sized women. While quality suits and stylish business casual clothing does exist, it’s hard to find. Below I feature some brands who realize that just because you wear a larger size doesn’t mean you wish to sacrifice style, quality, or professionalism.

If you’re plus sized, I’m sure you already know about Lane Bryant, Avenue, Ashley Stewart, One Stop Plus/Woman Within/Roamans/Jessica London, and other retailers who specialize in plus size fashion. Below are some suggestions on brands I know who aren’t the typical shops, and who provide quality, well-crafted and stylish career wear in plus sizes

I know, I know, Nordstrom again? Thing is, they offer a great selection of quality brands and style for plus sizes. MICHAEL Michael Kors, Rachel Palley, Calvin Klein, Karen Kane, Eileen Fisher, Tahari Woman, Vince Camuto, Kenneth Cole… all these brands and more are offered in plus sizes at Nordstrom stores and online.

Unlike many other department stores who think a woman in a size 22 dress wants a muumuu or a flowing polyester pantsuit, Nordstrom buyers find brands and pieces that are in the same vein of style as the rest of the store. Great colors, fun silhouettes, lots of options. Nordstrom has free shipping and free returns, will perform alterations onsite, and have personal shoppers that can help you secure a professional wardrobe for your job.

Macy’s is another department store who offers a fantastic selection of brands and styles for plus sizes. Alfani, Calvin Klein, Lauren by Ralph Lauren, Jones New York, and then their in-house brand INC International Concepts are great resources for great plus size office wear. Like Nordstrom, Macy’s provides a good amount of real estate in most of their stores for plus-sized fashion.

Macy’s always has promotions for discounts and shipping deals. Macy’s has a great return and exchange policy, where you can return by mail or at any nearby store.

Talbots Woman comes in sizes 12-24 regular and 12-22 petite. Each season they offer several styles of suit separates so you can mix and match for the perfect career look. Talbots also specializes in business casual looks, with tailored trousers, well-crafted skirts, polished knits and sweaters and even shoes and accessories.

While many retailers hide their plus size department in a dusty corner or keep it only online, Talbots often has separate stores just for their Woman line, or else it gets plenty of real estate in their mixed-size store. Talbots is phenomenal with customer service, seeking out sizes at other locations, taking returns in-store, and giving you honest feedback and offering suggestions at the fitting room. When I was a size 18, Talbots was my go-to store, where I knew I would find quality, style, and a supportive staff.

Jones New York
While Jones New York is a department store staple, they also have their own online boutique that has a large selection of career wear in extended sizes. Since you have to return by mail (they offer a pre-paid shipping label), it’s good to try out JNY in a store to know how it fits, and then go online to find a larger selection.

Kiyonna knows how to dress a woman. They make well-made pieces that are stylish and flattering to a plus-sized figure. No muumuus and garish prints here, Kiyonna offers beautiful dresses, and also a beautiful selection of separates. While their bottoms are very basic, they are well-made and classic. Some of their tops can run on the sexy side, but many are great pieces for business casual environments or fabulous shells under suits. Their return policy is pretty standard but I hear their sizing is quite consistent so once you know how you fit in Kiyonna you won’t have to make as many returns and exchanges.

Ann Taylor
If you enter an Ann Taylor store, you may think they don’t care about anyone over a size 12. However online they go up to size 18 and XXL on the majority of their pieces. I also find Ann Taylor runs a bit large and many of my readers have agreed that their size 18 can often fit a size 20 woman.

Ann Taylor regularly has promotions for free shipping and percentages off select items – it’s smart to sign up for their emails or follow them on Facebook or Twitter so you stay updated. Their online selection can sell out pretty quickly when they have such sales, so shop early. While Ann Taylor doesn’t offer free returns, they do accept returns even of larger sizes in any store. And if you have to do a return, check out their sale rack where I have regularly seen larger sizes from other women who have made returns.

Lands’ End
Lands’ End may not be the retailer you would think for career wear, but they do have a pretty great selection of workwear staples. While their summer selection is more geared towards shorts and dresses, they always have a good selection of blazers and coordinating bottoms and come the cooler months have an even greater selection of suiting and work-appropriate pieces.

Lands’ End often has promotions for discounts and free shipping so sign up for their emails to get the latest news. Lands’ End also accepts returns at Sears stores which makes shopping with them even more convenient.

Eddie Bauer
Like Lands’ End, Eddie Bauer mainly focuses on casual weekend fashion. However, like Lands’ End they have a few stand-out pieces each season for career wear. Eddie Bauer often focuses on easy-care pieces, and you’re likely to find wrinkle-free suiting, no-iron button-front shirts, and machine washable trousers and dresses. Eddie Bauer offers free exchanges and accepts returns by mail (they will provide a pre-paid shipping label or you can send by your own method) or in store.

I’m quick to head to Overstock to find a toaster oven or an area rug, but I have now learned to go to this site for fashion. Popular brands like Tahari, Kasper, Calvin Klein, and Ann Klein are featured by Overstock, and at nicer prices than at the department store. While some of the styles offered on Overstock are a bit strange, you can also find some gems – often pieces being sold right now at your nearby Belk or Macy’s. Overstock has customer reviews, ridiculously cheap shipping, and a reasonable return policy.

TJ Maxx
While most of my local discount big box retailers will have some plus size fashion, it’s usually a small section, messy, and full of strange pieces I wouldn’t be caught dead in. Not so for TJ Maxx, who usually carries higher-end brands than similar stores, and they usually have a larger and better organized plus size department.

Where do you find stylish and well-made plus size career wear? I’d love to know your suggestions!

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  1. KellyOlsakovsky5/29/12, 4:35 PM

    I've honestly been a little disappointed in the TJ Maxx/Marshall's/Ross selection in my area. I don't know if it's just the market, but I don't find a lot here in northeast Houston. I didn't realize Ann Taylor went to an 18 on the website though - thanks for that heads-up.  

  2. Some other thoughts for career wear and suiting: Eloquii and iGigi.  Eloquii is the Limiteds plus line, so the clothes are cute and on trend, but their suiting is basic.  iGigi has less suiting--only a few, really--but some great dresses that can be paired with blazers.

  3. Alllie,

    As a plus size, may I put in a plug for Lands End? Actually, you are showing the dress I bought from them, in the color I selected - the dark green. I am overjoyed with the dress. Smooth, comfortable fabric and the dress even makes me look good. That's a tall order. I am used to wearing jeans at work so having to dress up for meetings all over the state and for doing trainings locally is not easy for me. I am comfortable and confident about my skills and knowledge. I am uneasy about my appearance so a comfortable, attractive, professional looking dress is a huge plus.

    Thanks for showing off my dress!


  4. We have a store here in Omaha, NE called "1/2 of 1/2 (Name Brand Clothing)".  They have 18 locations in Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Tennessee, Texas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.  I find plus-sized designer clothes for cheap (Michael Kors, Alfani, Talbots, Tahari, Lauren by Ralph Lauren, etc.).  It is a clearance center for many department stores and catalogs so you have to check things out carefully before you buy, but most things are perfect.  And at 1/2 of 1/2 price it can't be beat!  Those who have a location nearby should check it out.

  5. Macy's & sometimes Nordstrom can also be good for plus-petite sizes (which can be freakishly difficult to find!), including name brands like Calvin Klein & Ralph Lauren, who don't seem to sell plus-petite sizes at any other stores or online.

  6.  Wow, I wish we had one of those in the DC area!  Awesome!

  7.  I have heard mixed reviews about Eloquii so thank you for the recommendation.  And I can't believe I forgot IGIGI! 

  8.  Yeah, TJ Maxx really seems to vary based upon location - one will have an amazing selection and another 10 miles down the road will suck.  Same with the other big boxes, but if you find a good one it's worth the trek!

  9. There is also a relatively new entry into the game, Eloquii.  They are a sister store to the limited, and you can find them online. They have great sales and discounts (so it's good to get on their email list). In my opinion they can be a nice option instead of Avenue or Lane Bryant.

  10. Cynthia Washburn5/29/12, 5:27 PM

    Wow - they don't have one here, but they have a few up around Dallas. I will definitely being hitting one when I go visit my sister in a few weeks. 

  11. Cynthia Washburn5/29/12, 5:30 PM

    When I used to be a plus size, I had decent luck with JCPenney for pants and dresses, as well as Liz Claiborne and Dress Barn Woman for dresses. Dillards also has a really nice plus size department with more upscale clothing and usually a bigger selection than Macy's - including a pretty good formal wear department. 

  12. Well, usually my "know it all former LaneBryant/Nordstrom manager opinion" would have stores to add to this but I think you did a great job!  I get most of my clothes at Macy's, Lane Bryant and TJ Maxx.  I would like to add that I've been around the block and then some with lingerie and the best is Lane Bryant Cacique.  Make sure you're in the right size and use a lingerie bag and no heat and these bras will last you a very long time.  If you find one that you LOVE and I love the back smoothing bra, buy several of them and rotate them.  They will last longer!  If you need help with the fit.  Go to the Nordstrom website and use their guidelines.  Lane Bryant doesnt do a great job with fitting properly.  The band should be snug at first!!!  It will stretch, dont worry and the underwire should come all the way and under your underarm. 
    Sorry to go on and on about bra fitting, but it's a passion of mine!  If you can go into Nordstrom and get a free fitting.

  13. I know the price point is a bit higher but as a cross-over (missy/women's) size 14/16 I've had great luck with Doncaster.  It is sold exclusively by trunk shows and at a few studio locations across the country.  Sizes 2 -18 and 12W - 24W.  Women's options are cut slightly differently from Missy's but same basic lines.  I find these are my GO-TO pieces that mix with almost everything else in my closet.  Added bonus, the quality is tremendous so they last forever so the cost per wear is next to nothing.  I rarely keep my Talbots purchases more than a couple of years, I've got Doncaster pieces that have been in there for 10 years and still look fantastic.  A change of buttons, add some updated jewelry and presto - its current!  Love love love this line!

  14. I've been impressed recently with Dress Barn. I know - polyester city, right? But a couple years ago they were acquired by a different company, I forget the details, and since then they've had a lot of cute things in my local store. Half of it is more casual but they also always have a few nice suits and work dresses as well as business-appropriate tops and separates. I know that they have plus size stores as well as mixed sizes in some of their stores. 

  15. Lord & Taylor has a nice selection of work-worthy Women's sized clothing.  They carry the major brands that Macy's does but also have a store line. 

    Different stores will carry different sets of sizes depending on their neighborhood.  It can be worthwhile to visit stores at different shopping areas or to inquire of a sales person about which stores will have the best selections of your size range.  

  16. You're not the first one to tell me that Dress Barn has changed for the better. I really must check them out!

  17. I'm a 14/16/18 depending on item and brand.  I get a lot of my basic pants at JCPenney, some of my tops there, and splurge on other tops elsewhere.  I also find it helpful to have at least 4 pairs of good fitting pants in an appropriate weather weight (black, brown, navy, grey in winter; and black, another dark color, light grey, and khaki in summer) and I mix and match with blouses and blazers.

    I also like a retailer called Christopher Banks.  They have a few stores here and there but are largely on-line.After eschewing makeup and matching jewelery for years, it really does make an outfit look more professional, and Allison, you've reinforced those choices !

  18. When I was a larger size, Talbots was a good source of clothing, especially slacks. I found that the standard plus size store, LB, didn't have many options for me that we're professional enough - their suiting didn't hold up well. Also, check to see if you have a Jones New York outlet nearby, I have one about 1.5 hours away and their no-wrinkle women's shirts are wonderful!

    The sad thing is that if you lose weight you have to find a new set of stores to shop in. It sounds like bragging to whine about it, but it really takes more time to find new stores than to shop the old standards you know will satisfy you.

  19. As a size 18/20 professional in my late 30's, I find it to be challenging to find good items that are also appropriate for my company dress code.  I do love Talbots and Nordstrom...and I have found that Eddie Bauer dress pants are fantastic. 

    One point that I cannot emphasize enough is that having a great tailor is a must!  As an apple shape, I buy pants that fit me in the waist and then take them straight to my tailor and have them altered to fit my hips/backside.

  20. "I am not sure why the world thinks women over a size 12 don’t hold professional jobs. They must think that with the poor selection of career wear for plus-sized women." Amen, sister! Great post!

  21. Stephanie McNulty5/31/12, 12:02 PM

    I think you did a great job in this post..all of the sites you mentioned are sights I love!

    I am another fan of Eloquii. I know some haven't had good luck with them but I am a believer! I've ordered from them three times in the last two months and everything I purchased was good quality and office appropriate.

    Another blogger turned me on to Ideeli which is also wonderful for designer plus size clothing. This is one of those membership sites where the selection changes day to day (it's free to sign obligation) Every other Wednesday they have a "Plus Size Perfection" sale which features various plus size designers. Some clothing is more casual/going out but some is work appropriate. Some brands they have featured in the past include Jones New York, Alfani, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren and Rachel Palley. My first Ideeli purchase was a Rachel Palley dress that was normally $250 but I got it for $60!

    In addition to the every other Wednesday plus size sale they have plus size sales at other times and if you're a size 12-14-16 you can probably find something every day in one of their sales that works for you. They also have shoes and housewares...I had a really great experience on their site.

    Thanks for the great post and blog! You're wonderful! =)

  22. Oooh thanks for the Ideeli suggestion!

  23. I'm not always the best judge of the plus-size market, since I straddle "straight" and "plus" sizes, but I'm a big fan of Eloquii's dresses. The skirts and blazers run too big for my 14/16 size, but the dresses are perfect for this short-waisted, big busted, and hippy gal! I own three already.


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