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New work wardrobe for the Big Girl | Manolo for the Big Girl

New work wardrobe for the Big Girl

An internet friend, “J,” wrote with a career emergency plea!

HELP! I am deeply in need of the sage advice of you and your fabulous readers. After a year of unemployment and temping following graduate school, I just found a great job in my field, and I have next week free to go shopping.  Fantastic, yes? But I haven’t set foot in a store that wasn’t Goodwill or Marshall’s in the past year, I was overseas for two years before that, and (not that shopping for flattering clothes has ever been particularly easy) I no longer know where I’ll stand a good chance of fairly readily finding clothes I like at a reasonable price (I’ll spend for something great, but I’m not trying to blow my entire first paycheck in advance, so items in the $50-75 range are where I’m trying to aim). 

 

I also will be working in Washington, DC and I’m not entirely sure how much I need step up my expectations of what is appropriate work wear.  I’m in a largish non-profit organization, so it’s not corporate/government suit-the-whole-suit-and-nothing-but-the-suit style, but I have very little in my wardrobe right now that I’m confident is appropriate, to say nothing of superfantastic.

 

As for what I know works for me:  I’m tallish (5’9”), carry more weight around my middle, but have a bit of waist definition.  Pants are very difficult – if I buy them to fit my hips and thighs I can barely breathe, if I purchase pants that allow me to partake in oxygen, they bag around my hips and thighs.  I love skirts – A-line and circle skirts hemmed at or below the knee do the best job of balancing out my broad shoulders and not-insubstantial bust (38D last time I was fitted, and yes, a new fitting and new bras are definitely on my list).  I like strong colors – most shades of blue suit me well, I just love red, and black is my major neutral – and I’m learning not to be shy of prints.  I do not play well with 99% of bows, ruffles, and frills – “cute” and “sweet” don’t sit well on me, which makes it challenging to avoid looking staid. 

 

Here’s where we enter the realm of miracle working: my below-navel pooch and love handles are the spots I want most to disguise, so any bottoms in clingy fabrics are right out since shirts long enough to mask that area make my torso look miles long, and I am just not the kind of woman who can wear a foundation garment all day.  I also have a very strong preference for fabrics that are mostly natural fibers.  My pants and skirts are generally sized 14-16, my shirts,16-18. 

 

If you or your readers could offer me some suggestions on the essential pieces in a versatile-yet-fabulous working wardrobe that’s not a budget-buster, and what stores and/or brands are good bets (internet is not the best option at this point, unfortunately, given the tight time frame) for acquiring enough of them not to be underdressed in my first week of work, I would be deeply grateful!

Francesca says: Get thee straight to Talbots Woman and walk immediately to the sale rack!

They have conservative-but-feminine clothing, some of which may have flowery prints but none have lace or frills, at least none that Francesca has ever seen.

DC does not have a Talbots Woman store, but you can find them in Chevy Chase and N. Bethesda.

There is also a Saks Fifth Avenue on Wisconsin Street in DC; call them at 202-363-2059 to find out whether they have a “Salon Z” or other plus-size section, and if so whether they have a sales rack. Even on sale the clothes may be out of your budget, but you are having a wardrobe emergency and may need to bite a bullet or two.

Finally, there are locations of Avenue stores within driving distance of you in both Maryland and Virginia (go to www.avenue.com and click on “store locator” at the bottom). Avenue is known for their casual clothes, but they also sell some very nice tops that could work for you if your office does not require suits, and the price is right. Here is a page showing some outfits that might work in a “business casual” environment, depending on how much it is a no-suit-required place.

Now, for some general advice:

 Francesca, too, has the major love handles and it is not easy to hide them. She recommends:

a) Spring sweaters which you can close up top and allow to hang open and loose starting from just below the breasts. If you can buy a matching shell it will do wonders.

b) Princess seams, as always — but these only go so far to hide the love handles.

Ultimately the best thing to do is stand up tall and remember that no one cares that you have love handles as much as you do! They are too busy caring about their OWN love handles! (or poochie tummy, or lumpy-squishy arms, or tiny boobs, or ugly feet, or bad hair, or crooked teeth, or whatever — all the things you never noticed about them because you are too busy worrying about your love handles!)
Congratulations on the new job, and happy shopping!

xoxo,

Francesca

31 Responses to “New work wardrobe for the Big Girl”

  1. Mimi Stratton April 9, 2008 at 8:20 am #

    Welcome to Washington!
    There’s a Talbots Woman on King Street in Old Town Alexandria.
    There’s an Avenue in Bailey’s Crossroads, Rt 7 (same street as King Street, only west!)
    No flip-flops to the White House! xoxo

  2. stillnadine April 9, 2008 at 8:33 am #

    Buy a good pair of black pants and have them tailored, if they do not fit perfectly. Talbot’s “Dina” pant is washable and comes in assorted fits but they may not be long enough for you. Alas, they are not on sale but well-fitting, black pants is the first key item for your new wardrobe.

    Francesca is right about sweater sets, not just because they hide “flaws” gracefully but because they can do triple duty: as a set, as a cartigan over a shirt or tee, and the shell as a vest over shirt/tee.

    Buy a few wrinkle-resistant shirts to wear with your new pants and sweater set and you’ll be set for a while. A stand out necklace (which you can find cheap at Target, etc.) that draws the eye to your beautiful smile and your powerful brain.

    I know this sounds very boring but I suggest you stick with the basics and layer on the superfantastics as you go. Mazel Tov on the new job.

  3. Lucy April 9, 2008 at 9:46 am #

    Congrats!

    I agree with all of the others. I love the wrinkle-resistant shirts from Nordstrom but you can offer find them for around $30 at Nordstrom Rack. I also love them for slacks, cardigans, shoes, etc. Bras are great too- just get fitted at a regular Nordstrom first. Also, Macy’s and Lord & Taylor have great sales racks if you’re willing to wade through some of the junk.

    Finally, as much as I hate the place, check out the Right Fit pants at Lane Bryant. They now have nicer-looking slacks in different cuts that could work for you. Before you go, sign up for their email alerts- they send out tons of coupons.

    Good luck!

  4. CJ April 9, 2008 at 11:29 am #

    You will be above and beyond most business casual workplaces with a wardrobe of black bottoms and classy tops. If after the first few days you see a lot of Khaki casual you could slip that in. I found Washington (in the short time I was there on the hill) to be more casual than I anticipated. I’d suggest 2 pairs of great black slacks, a black A line skirt (or more if that’s what you plan to wear most of the summer), A satin-y / shiny button down top with princess seams (in a pattern or solid), a twin set in a coordinating color, traditional seamed button downs in white and a color you love that goes with the twinset, and one or two solid jersey type tops. (I’d go with a v neck with some fun detail but you know what works for you). This way if you’re willing to wear the pants/ skirts 2x a week you’ve got the bottoms covered. Then you’ve got a twinset top together, the shell as a vest over the white button down, the solid shirt on it’s own, the satin shirt on it’s own, and both with the cardigan over them, and both jersey type tops. That’s 8 tops, and 16 outfits with the skirt or the pants. You could at least go a month like that. Even longer if you already have a sweater or top that works. A great resource for planning a wardrobe: http://wardrobeoxygen.com/2005/06/staples-for-every-womans-wardrobe.html other wardrobe oxygen posts are also good for the DC gal!

  5. Dancetomato April 9, 2008 at 11:49 am #

    I have two scenarios:

    1. You have no car and must metro. In this case get thee to Pentagon City Mall on the Blue line. They do not have Talbots Woman there, but they do have regular Talbots if you can wear a 16 misses vs. a 16 womans. They also have a so-so Lane Bryant and, not forgetting that superfantasticness is not limited to clothes, Sephora. There’s Macy’s too. Get a mani-pedi at Modern Nails across from Lane Bryant.

    On the MD side, you can Metro to White Flint Mall, I believe (or at least to Strathmore Hall which is a 5-10 min walk from the mall) which has a Talbot Woman.

    2. You have a car and can get to the mecca of shopping–Tysons Corner in McLean, VA. They have Talbots Woman, Lord & Taylor (whose women’s dept I love), a really good Lane Bryant, and, of course, Sephora. Among many many many other stores. J. Jill is there, though they recently removed their women’s sizes from the store and they are very over-priced, and Coldwater Creek, where if you hunt, you can sometimes find things that are not for your grandmother. DO NOT MISS Laila Rowe, which is a cracktastic accessories store that is like Claire’s for adults. Look carefully and you will find some superfantastic jewelry at prices less than a Subway sub. Old Navy is there for some basics, but sadly not in plus sizes in stores anymore.

    For you, you will find a personal mecca at Tysons: The oh so creatively named Tall Girl Shop. There may be gems there that a beautiful tall career woman like yourself cannot live without.

    http://www.shoptysons.com

    NB: I do not work for or at Tysons. I just spend huge portions of my paychecks there.

  6. Patia April 9, 2008 at 12:09 pm #

    I highly recommend matte jersey fabric. It is excellent for all but the most extreme of temperatures, hangs beautifully, looks classy and is easy to wash and wear. It also travels great — no wrinkles!

  7. demjen209 April 9, 2008 at 2:40 pm #

    There are another couple options if you don’t have access to a car (and living on a new non-profit salary, my bet would be that you don’t have one, just like me):
    1) my favorite mall is the Wheaton Mall. Take the red line to Wheaton, go up the world’s longest escalator, and hike across a parking lot, and you’re there. They’ve got Target, Lane Bryant, JCPenney (lots of good career basics lately), Deb Plus Size (you actually can find good stuff there amongst the teeny bopper crap), and Macy’s (though I’ve never had much luck in the woman’s section at this Macy’s).
    2) the brand spanking new Target and Lane Bryant at the Columbia Heights metro stop. I’ve heard good things.
    3) Huge Macy’s with a good woman’s section at Metro Center – very convenient if your office is downtown.

  8. Megan April 9, 2008 at 2:58 pm #

    I am in the same boat with transiting out of grad school in the working world here in DC. I completely second the trip to Pentagon City if you are limited by the metro you can also go to Filene’s Basement which can be hit and miss.

    If you have a car or rent one for the day from Zipcar I would recommend a trip out to the Potomac Mills Outlet mall. They have both a Saks Off 5th and a Nordstrom Rack and it is not to far from Tysons Corner that you could hit the outlet mall in the morning and then Tysons in the afternoon. It would be a long day but you would get the most out of your Zipcar rental.

    As for clothes I would recommend going for classic basics and then build up from there. Just remember it gets crazy humid here in the summer and most people I know were comfortable shoes on the metro and then change when they get to work.

    Good Luck!

  9. Leah April 9, 2008 at 3:05 pm #

    A new friend of mine recently moved from DC (hence her being a new friend) and has a CLOSET FULL of blazers. I know we’re going into the warm months, but most buildings will have AC (and most building managers will crank it), plus blazers will be uber cheap right now.

    Good luck in your new job, and congrats! Welcome to the soul-saving, bank-account-wrenching world of not-for-profit!

  10. Alyssa April 9, 2008 at 3:34 pm #

    Can’t tell you about DC, but as a juggylicious gal myself (42DD), I echo the comments about cardigans being your friend. I also like short, fitted jackets that button under the rack (cover up the lumpy bits in the middle, but form fits so it shows you have a figure.) I know some are not for the empire, but I like a surplice (crossover) empire bodice in a knit or jersey. It doesn’t make me look pregnant, looks nice on the girls and skims the iffy bits. Macy’s is great for basics if you check out their sale rack (and let’s face it, there’s a sale every week), and I also use Old Navy for things that go underneath. Plus, from time to time, you can find some great bargains (I have a pair of adorable corduroy swing coats that cost me $10 in XXL – size 20 – that I pair with nice slacks.) I wear a 20-22, if that helps any..

    One more tip: let’s face it, if you’re juggylicious, no one noticed your lumpy bits anyway. :)

  11. Chris April 9, 2008 at 3:58 pm #

    Welcome to DC!!! For off price shopping Nordstrom Rack in Gaithersburg, MD and Potomac Mills; a Talbots outlet in Springfield, VA; Syms has several locations; the Saks outlet in Potomac Mills is better than then one in Leesburg; there is a Neiman Marcus outlet in Arundel Mills Mall and; Filene’s, Marshalls and TJ Maxx have various locations. Also watch the Post for coupons for Bloomingdales, Lord and Taylor and Macys.

  12. Preggo April 9, 2008 at 7:24 pm #

    I second the Talbots outlet in Springfield.

    Also, the Loehman’s on Rt. 50 (just inside of 495 in Virginia) is wonderful!

  13. Jeni April 9, 2008 at 7:28 pm #

    I’ll third Potomac Mills, there is bound to be something there for you. I think they have a LB outlet. Like all outlets it can be pretty hit and miss. I’ve been in and walked out with a bunch of stuff and then other times left with nothing. I may be worth checking out for you standard dress pants, skirt and button up shirts.

    I believe someone else mentioned the LB “right fit” pants. I found them a life saver, no more pants the fit my thighs and hips and gap at the waist! I have found some great pieces at LB in the past, but you have to waid through the ruffles and lace and weird stuff they love to put out.

    Talbot’s is a good store, though even there sale rack can be a little pricey. I have found some great stuff at Avenue, but like LB, you have to wait through some of the odd stuff they sell.

    Congratulations on the job!

    Jeni

  14. mharvey816 April 9, 2008 at 8:58 pm #

    There is also a Talbots Woman store in Fair Oaks Mall, Fairfax VA and wonder of wonders, a Talbots Outlet store (with a decently stocked Woman section) in Springfield, VA.

  15. Kate April 9, 2008 at 9:54 pm #

    Ann Taylor Loft carries sizes through 18, and seems to be a favorite of female non-profit and think-tank employees in the District. They have a store in Dupont Circle.

  16. Siobhan April 9, 2008 at 9:58 pm #

    There is a Talbots in DC which carries a small range of womens sizes, it’s on Connecticut Ave near Farragut North Metro. Filenes Basement is across the road, and Dress Barn/DB Woman is two blocks away.

    Ann Taylor and Ann Taylor Loft are options but the Loft store in Dupont Circle only stocks up to 14, and the other store downtwon only stocks up 16 – can’t have fat chicks in these stores clearly. There clothes aren’t the most generously cut, and their knits and shirts tend to be clingly so beware.

  17. GeekGirl April 9, 2008 at 10:41 pm #

    Hey…we’re having a fatshion clothing swap in the DC area the weekend of May 3-4. You can email me at michellemacbrooks at mac dot com if you want more information. There was lots of work appropriate clothing at the last swap and I know that I’m getting rid of ALL of my business clothing as I am back in the university environment!

  18. sara a. April 10, 2008 at 12:07 am #

    Welcome to DC!

    As one large lady to another, don’t even bother shopping in the district proper, there are many more plus-sized stores in the malls in Maryland and Virginia.You’re best bet are malls… The ones I’m familiar with are in MD
    Wheaton Mall has a Lane Bryant, Target, Old Navy, and JC Penney’s… They also have stuff which is fun to poke through… I mostly go for the Target and Penney’s

    Montgomery Mall has the Torrid in the area as well as Nordstrom’s, Macy’s, Sears, Old Navy and some stores my skinny friends like.

    For high-end shopping there is Chevy Chase and Georgetown, in Chevy Chase there’s Saks Fifth Avenue for great bra fittings and a Lord & Taylors for bra buying.

    In terms of DC’s work dress culture, Summer is really casual because you are basically wearing anything that will allow you to survive. There’s a lot of summer dress + cardigan. The colder it gets, the more formal it gets because people are dressing for maximum warmth. I tend to see a lot of suits and you have to have a good coat. DC, like Manhattan has a coat culture, except it’s more about color and texture. Just use your best judgment and you’ll be fine.

  19. JRho April 10, 2008 at 7:41 am #

    I want to add another vote for both Pentagon City Mall and Tyson’s Corner. Tyson’s Corner has an L.L.Bean which I have found great for long sleeve shirts that are both work and summer weather appropriate. They layer well under sweater, blazers, etc. for cooler weather as well.

    I have had luck at New York and Co. for pants. I know there’s one in Tyson’s Corner, but I don’t remember about Pentagon City.

  20. sara jane April 10, 2008 at 1:20 pm #

    When you are done with your current mall necessitating urgencies, take a look at catalog/online shopping – Lands End has great plus size conservative clothes, especially nice twinsets and check out Eddie Bauer also.

  21. Roberta April 10, 2008 at 7:39 pm #

    Don’t be afraid to buy on sale and make sure it fits the widest part and look for hems that can be take out. Find the nearest cleaners and then have alterations done. It will make all the difference in the world whether you lose a few inches or decide to gain just a few. At 5ft9, always, always look for jacket sleeves that can be let down a bit and cuffs on the pants that can be let down or. Congrats on the new job and keep your head up. If you don’t feel so confident play like you are someone who is and keep the smile bright!

  22. Eilish April 11, 2008 at 1:44 am #

    As a general rule, add superfantasticness with some of the great accessories this season. Especially if you are at a business casual office, you can get away with some really funky necklaces or earrings paired with more conservative seperates. Target and Avenue have a ton of fun stuff and it’s really reasonable most of the time.

  23. Bronwyn April 14, 2008 at 12:36 am #

    I have the same sort of problem with trousers – the answer is the menswear department. Men’s jeans & men’s slacks fit just fine except for length (but I’m only 5’6″). At my thinnest (~145lb) I can get away with a size 16 from the boys’ department, about 1/2 the price of men’s and just right in length. A nice casual pair of men’s pleat-front linen slacks looks quite dressy on a woman, and they structure the things in such a way that it’s dead easy to take them in and out at the waist as you grow or shrink.

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