Ask Allie: Capsule Wardrobe for a Fluctuating Figure

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I’m going through a divorce and at the same time my only son has left for college [thousands of miles away]. I know I am self-medicating with food and I need to do something about it but in the meantime my clothes don’t fit. I don’t want to spend a lot of money because A. I don’t have it and B. I don’t plan to be this size for long but squeezing myself into too small clothes is doing nothing for my confidence. Any ideas on a capsule that can get me through this rough patch? I’m 48, average height, and right now a size 14 though usually I am an 8.

I don’t know if it’s just me, but a pair of too-tight jeans just make me want to raid the fridge. Having some flattering and well-fitting clothes will not only make you look better but likely feel better. Not only that, having a few garments that fit and are versatile will reduce stress over getting dressed, giving you energy to focus on caring for yourself.

What to wear when you temporarily gain weight: A Capsule wardrobe for the fluctuating figure

There are some fabrics that are more forgiving and budget friendly than others. During this time, ponte knit and matte jersey are your friends. Found everywhere from Target to the fanciest boutique in town, these fabrics have stretch, don’t cling, and can dress up and down with ease. Ponte is so heavy of a fabric it will smooth the figure while giving a nice drape. Matte jersey can dress up beautifully but be washed in the machine and doesn’t wrinkle.

Dresses are also your friend during this time, for they are more likely to adjust to your changing size without sacrificing your style. In this capsule I put two dresses that are extremely versatile and flattering to a softer or curvier figure. A wrap dress in matte jersey whittles the waist, flatters curves, and turns you into a bombshell. I purposefully chose a rich color in place of black so people will notice the color before anything else. This dress can be worn to work, but also can dress up for an after-work event, a wedding, or if you choose to do so, a date. The second dress is of ponte knit so it won’t cling; a fit and flare style highlights the smallest part of your torso and gives you an hourglass shape. A dress like this is just as versatile as the wrap dress but a bit more conservative. For work wear on its own, or pair with a cardigan or blazer; it can be worn with pumps, booties, or flats.

It’s worth it to purchase a simple skirt and classic-cut trousers in your current size, and if necessary tailor for a great fit. I recently purchased these pants from LOFT and found the price very nice for work-ready attire. Not only that, the pants are machine washable, reducing the money and time spent on dry cleaning. These pants from Old Navy are also machine washable and a classic fit.  A skirt in a heavyweight knit like ponte will look appropriate at the office, dress down with flats and a tee for the weekend, and also work with your changing size. This one from Target is a nice price and receives great reviews.  For Casual Friday and the weekends, it's smart to buy one pair of jeans, a simple dark wash, free of trendy details that fit comfortably.  While my beloved NYDJ ‘Hayden' jeans are pricey, you can often find them on sale at 6pm, and these jeans by Style&co are a nice alternative.

The best way to save money and feel comfortable is to forego wearing crisp button-front shirts, perfectly tailored wool dresses, and classic suiting and go for items with stretch. A v-neck cardigan with a longer line keeps you warm on crisp autumn days and dresses up a knit to make it office appropriate. As with the wrap dress, choose a cheery color that adds interest to your closet staples. A blazer is often necessary in Corporate America, but is also a great way to dress up denim for drinks with friends or weekend brunch. Choosing a blazer in ponte knit not only coordinates with the other ponte pieces in your wardrobe, but offers stretchy comfort. For this item, choosing a neutral will make the piece look more expensive and be more versatile; pair with fun printed and colored tops and simple dark or denim bottoms.

Finally, take care of the underpinnings. Though it may sound like torture right now, you need to be fitted for a bra. Our busts change with weight loss and gain as well as age; a well-fitting bra can make you look 10 pounds thinner, years younger, and have your entire wardrobe fit better. Speaking of underpinnings, consider purchasing a new pair of very opaque, well-made tights. Black tights with black shoes will elongate your frame and look modern with knit dresses and skirts; invest in a new pair that doesn’t sag or segment. I’m a fan of the Spanx Tight End tights which last me multiple seasons and can handle being machine washed on gentle in a lingerie bag. Little details like well-fitting underpinnings can make all the difference in how you look, but more importantly, how you feel.

I can’t stress this enough – it’s okay to wear the same pants two or three times in a week, to wear the same dress to every wedding, to only own two pairs of shoes. Style comes from quality, not quantity. Buy few items, but choose colors that make you happy and fabrics that are kind to your body. Keep it simple and add personality with accessories already in your wardrobe. Clothing can seem very important, but it’s really only important in that it covers you and lets you get through the day. You have far more important things in life to care about, first and foremost you. Buy what makes you comfortable, feel good, and give you the time to focus on what’s important. Sending you vibes of strength and love.

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  1. This may sound crazy, but I’ve also found in this type of situation that Walmart’s brand Time & Tru is an excellent emergency go-to for jeans . For $20 you have something that can work with for the next few months and has a nice look, shape, and style …. not to mention more comfortable:) I found when paired with a nicer shirt and cute boots nobody knows the difference between the $20 jeans and the $100 jeans. And since they’re not a staple piece I’m investing in for the long term, if they die in six months so be it.

  2. I recently lost 4 dress sizes and then gained back two. I agree with her recommendation of wrap dresses. I wear mine with a Commando slip underneath (serves as a cami and a slip!).

  3. Been there, done that on the fluctuation. Your helpful post led me to Lands End and I ordered three dresses (fit and flare, with and without sleeves) for two upcoming trips; Maui in late Oct and Tahiti (30th anniversary) in February. I’m trying to find items now for the Tahiti cruise that I can also use in Hawaii. Hawaii is mostly shorts and t shirts and swimsuits and a few nice dresses for nicer restaurants. A cruise is much more “casual elegant” with dressier versions of my usual summer clothes… hence the cute dresses I got on sale. Any tips on packing for a warm weather cruise?

  4. You’re so on point with this shiz. In the end, you’ve gotta have outfits you’re 100% comfortable in — and indeed, it’s possible that ALL you need are outfits you’re 100% comfortable in! My addition to this list for my own wardrobe is along very similar lines to the wrap dress, which takes a curvier physique and plays it for it’s bombshell qualities: I like having a few stretchy, scoop neck, square neck, or deep v-neck tops. Even if I’m just retaining water on my period, I want to be able to pair one of those with a swing skirt or wide leg jeans/trousers for a fit-and-flare look. BOOM! Instantly, the bigger boobs/hips are an asset! I read Mindy Kaling in a Vogue interview recently say “When I’m at my thinnest, I tend to wear things that don’t show off my body. But when I’m bigger, I’ll go body-con, which comes from a place of ‘This is my perimeter, in case you were wondering if I was actually much bigger.’” 🙂

  5. All great advice, but I especially love the last paragraph. I think so many people get hung up on having a huge variety of clothing when, in reality, most people wouldn’t notice (or even care!) if you repeat an article of clothing often. Thanks for a great post!

  6. I too want to thank you for this post. Most of my adult life, I was a size 12 and then when I turned 42, I became a size 14. During some long stressful times, I went down to as much as an 10 and even an 8, but for the most part I remained a 14. Now that I’m closer to age 60, a size 14 does not fit as well as it used to due to my shoulders and bustline increasing beyond belief, and it bothers me…alot. But, with your suggestions, I should be able to make them fit at least to the point that they are comfortable, if nothing else.

  7. Thank you for this post! I’m starting a new job in a couple weeks and I’m also on the edge of going up a size and I’ve been wondering how best to approach wardrobe changes. I’m hoping with my new job I’ll have way more time than I currently do to work out, but in the meantime I am unhappy with my wardrobe and I want more comfortable and flattering clothes. This advice is exactly what I needed!

  8. Thank you for this, I’m in that early part of pregnancy, where I’m not fitting into my normal clothes, but not quite ready for maternity prime time. It will work well for post baby too. Thanks!

  9. Love your posts lately! I don’t fluctuate much, but I’m curvy in the true sense of the word (fits my waist=doesn’t fit my bust and vice versa) and this post describes my entire wardrobe. At some point you just have to wear what makes you comfy and happy–I thrifted all my button downs and non-ponte blazers a year ago and never looked back. Soft, loose cardigans, stretch dresses with flattering details, tights (I like Hue tights!) and awesome boots. I would add black and white v neck t-shirts to this–you can wear them under blazers and cardigans, with work pants and jeans, they match everything, they’re flattering and generally cheap.

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