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Octavia Spencer and Tadashi Shoji, Red Carpet BFFs

First the bad news: most of these lovely gowns from Tadashi Shoji were customized for Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer and aren’t available off the rack. Those that are, the lace wrap dress for example, aren’t available in plus sizes. Drag, I know.

That being said, Tadashi consistently offers evening wear with the same distinctive house DNA in plus sizes and later in the week I’ll feature a handful of dresses that, like Mo’nique’s Oscar dress from last year, are available off-the-rack and in big girl sizes, so never fear.

I haven’t seen The Help because I find the whole Benevolent White Person genre tiresome and at least borderline offensive. Also I hate the smell of popcorn, so I almost never go to the movies.

Still, I am thrilled any time a comic actress actually wins an Oscar and I’m doubly thrilled that this plus-sized Southern jewel has taken a play from the Audrey Hepburn playbook and aligned herself with one designer for almost all her red carpet events.

For Hepburn it was Givenchy and for Spencer it’s Tadashi Shoji.

I’ve always thought Tadashi Shoji is doing now what Valentino did back when Mr Garavani was still the big boss; making beautiful clothes that looked beautiful on the female form. Neither Tadashi nor Valentino reinvented the wheel, but why bother? Let Gareth Pugh make a cocktail gown out of machine gun parts and walrus hair. Not all designers have to be directional, there’s nothing wrong with pretty and elegant.

There’s also nothing wrong with wearing a dress that isn’t strapless, especially because I can barely utter the phrase “strapless skin-tight mermaid gown” without putting myself in a fashion coma.

Ms Spencer is 5’2″ (which means she’s probably really about five foot nothin’) and yet keeping the color simple and the hair and makeup clean, her stylist does an admirable job making sure she doesn’t drown in a sea of evening gown. Usually.

(a rare misstep, but barely. It’s just a bit too much dress and hair for the petite Alabaman, though I love the color)

I also love that she’s wearing sleeves so stylishly.

Too often you see a shrug or a wrap plopped on top of an outfit and it just screams “Hi, I don’t want to show my arm fat” but with Tadashi, the sleeve is proportioned so precisely to the waist (because the right sleeve length can emphasize or minimize your waist/bust/hips in very exciting ways if you bother to pay attention to it) that you don’t even think of the Fat Arm Shame.

What do you think of Octavia Spencer’s outfits? If just one could hang in your closet, what would it be?

Five Great Linen Pieces: Part 2, Some Weddings and a Funeral

Every year about this time I buy two dresses; one to wear to weddings, and another to wear to funerals. Southerners love weddings but we LIVE for funerals, and we tend to go to both with startling frequency, especially in the summer which is when all the best people kick off. At a recent memorial service of a wonderful and deeply missed lady, not only did all the friends and family attend, but so did her husband’s dentist, barber and maybe the daughter’s former pediatrician. Plus I got to wear a mantilla. That doesn’t really have anything to do with the story, but it’s not often an Episcopalian girl gets to wear a mantilla, so I just thought I’d share.

Between making deviled eggs and writing condolence letters –on proper stationery, if you please–  if you’re going to a funeral, or desperately wondering WHAT you’re going to do now that Wedgwood has discontinued the deviled egg plate you’ve been giving six times a year since 1997 (what? We’re an egg-loving people.) if you’re going to a wedding, the one thing you DON’T have time to do is worry about what you’re going to wear.

Linen Sheath Dresses

(click image for link)

Yes, it’s the same dress.  Weddings — like funerals– are about being appropriately dressed, so while I understand wanting to look capital F Fabulous all the time, when it comes to events that are typically religious ceremonies, it’s better to be understated.  Oh, a word to the wise: Linen is not an evening fabric so if you’ve got a wedding after dark, unless you plan on wearing some serious Liz Taylor jewels, you might be better served by finding another jacket.

How to wear it:

–pearls, of course. And gloves, if you’re That Kinda Girl (probably not for a funeral, unless you’re a Known Entity and loved for it)

–flawless, perfectly polished understated make-up.

–lovely shawl or delicate cardigan. For the sake of photos AND propriety, keep your upper arms covered.

–big brooch, or cameos. I love cameos and people never wear them anymore.

–with fabric shoes. I might be the last person on earth who cares about this, but weddings and funerals call for fabric shoes. Plain leather, no matter how fancy or expensive, isn’t formal enough. If you’re going to be outside, think twice before you wear stilettos lest you sink into that lovely sacred ground.

WAG the Togs PART II

Did someone ask for more Grand National photos?

First of all I think we need to applaud this girl.  Yes, it’s a bad dress without the benefit of being interesting BUT look at her bust.

Well wrangled, madam.

That is one masterfully wrangled rack.

As opposed to this:

the Grand National race...to her knees

MUCH better dress, totally ruined by the lack of a bra.  Here’s the deal:  I am not overly endowed in the chest department –I’m a respectable but not over-enthusiastic C– and what I do have doesn’t move much courtesy of  Plumcake family genetics. While standing up I don’t even pass the pencil test, so I totally understand the temptation to go sans boulderholder.

BUT I DON’T because I know nothing can ruin an outfit as fast as the wrong undergarments. Also, unless otherwise directed, hats should be worn down low over the eyebrow.


Okay, time for a little trip to truthville:  if you do this, you look like trash.  I know that’s an ugly thing to say and normally I’d try to beat around the bust (I meant to say bush, but it’s a funny slip so I’ll keep it) and be a little more subtle but seriously, nothing riles me more than big girls in ridiculous platter-o-boob corsets (this dovetails nicely with one of the many reasons I hate Renaissance festivals too, which in my experience might as well be called Uglye Girls Gettynge Their Tits Out Faire).  I mean couldn’t you just wear a t-shirt saying “Please value me for the one part of my body that’s socially acceptable?” it’d certainly be more comfortable, and not any less blatant.


nice bow

Not that it’s any better on slimmer girls, although with this one at least they’re well-contained. Also,  I don’t know who this woman is but I know where to find her.  I DO like her hat though.

Butterfly ring

Pasty women of England:  I have been from El Paso to Texarkana and places that aren’t even IN Texas and I can tell you after this exhaustive research: Orange is not a person color, and while I love hot pink and orange together IN THEORY, I’m not sure it really works when the orange in question is your skin.  On the other hand (see what I did there), I LOVE that awful butterfly ring, and would wear it in a heartbeat.

This? Not so much:

Ladies 4

A maribou shrug? Really? It’s like what the secretly gay quarterback (and they’re ALL secretly gay) would wear under his jersey for the big home game. And can we FINALLY get on board with the idea that most fascinators look stupid on women? Because they do. They’re like the square-tipped French manicures of hair.

Ruffled floozy

Oh. Oh honey. I…that’s…wow…ruffles.  And bleach.  And Orange. And…I don’t even have the strength. It’s like the coral reef died of peroxide poisoning and took up residence on your top.

could technically be worse

And finally I will leave you with an outfit I know some of you would love and wear (probably the same people who are going to yell at me about renn fests being full of ugly girls) and I’ll admit it: This could be a lot worse. Oh, I still think it’s bad, and her hair is tragiculous, but I don’t HATE the fascinator on her, and at least she’s mostly covered and not BRIGHT orange.

WAG the Togs (see what I did there?)

OMG YAY! It’s the Grand National!

People, there are very few things that make the small stone scarab that lives in place of my heart jump with absolute glee. Traveler weddings are one, The idea of the Archbishop of My Pants Canterbury in my monogrammed towel is another and the Grand National is the third.

One of the many many things I love about the British is they do trashy and ridiculous the way trashy and ridiculous ought to be done.

This year at Aintree the look is full-on WAG.  Fun fact: the summer I turned 20 I was, technically speaking, a WAG.  I was dating a wonderful Belgian soccer player who goes down in history as the only boy I ever really Done Wrong.  Since then, I’ve always had an affection for footballers’ Wives And Girlfriends, although the most exciting thing I ever got out of my short-lived career was a deep and heartfelt appreciation for  big nuts.

However, my affection didn’t extend to dressing like them –although this was before the days of true WAG excess– unlike these poor but colorful souls.

aintree 1 aintree 2
aintree 3bad yellow
aintree 5

aintree 7

Now I WILL give it up to the last big girl in the hot pink dress because she looks great considering she’s wearing The Cruelest Fabric and at least her dress fits her as opposed to Captain Redbra next to her.

I also have great affection for the girl with the Bad Magenta Hair because, as some friends and I were saying just the other day, we’ve ALL been the girl with BMH. Granted I was 14 and it was 1993, but she makes the most of it. I also think I might covet her shoes.

The girl in the polka dots with the Alice band? Not so much. By which I mean not at all. Listen, I get it and I’m excited that Beth Ditto got her own line at Evans, but WOW. That’s a lot happening in one…smock/dress (sm’ess?) and I feel like we ought to talk about the shoe situation.

I love a statement shoe as much as the next gal BUT if your ankles aren’t shall we say, delicately turned, and you’ve got fleshsome feet, maybe MAYBE a shoe with a multitude of straps that look like they’re about thirty seconds away from actually cutting off all blood to your little piggies (who have been through so much!) is not the best look for you.  Would a pair of orange skimmers have KILLED you?

Oh, and the girl in yellow. Blessherheart. I am so, SO behind her in theory. Black+brights = WIN.  It’s something you see more on the continent than you do here, but her best laid plans ganged TOTALLY freakin’ agley.  I don’t even have that much of a beef with the stretch vinyl go-go boots because she had VISION and while it didn’t really work for her, I appreciate vision.


The wrap. If you’re going to wear a wrap you’ve got to WEAR it. Don’t just sling it around yourself like the electric kool-aid acid blankey.  Either tie it –a hacking knot would’ve been nice– or pin it or do SOMETHING so it’ll stay in place.

Also, if you’re going to do BRIGHTS you’ve got to do hair and makeup to suit it. From neck down it’s HELLO I’M HERE CAN YOU SEE ME but chins up it’s blahsville. It creates an unbalanced look. Don’t ever let your clothes be more dramatic than your face. That doesn’t necessarily mean brighter or more painted, but it’s gotta balance.  Here’s a better version of the bumblebee chic:

aintree 6 good

Much better, all things considered. Plus I’d cut her for her hat.

The two pink girls I like. The tall gangly one especially –although I hope she’s wearing a slip–  because it’s loud, but it’s edited. She’s not wearing a statement dress AND a statement bag AND a statement hat AND a statement necklace AND AND AND.  She’s got the focus on just the dress and the hat, which suits her face.

The girl next to her…that’s a mess.

Listen, I hate to be heightist but some people are too short for big millinery and she? Is too short for that hat.  Plus, you can’t just put a race hat on willy nilly and expect it to work. You’ve got to get the hair out of your face, and think about your neck.  A big hat needs neck. For those of us not blessed with long necks, we’ve got to be super-careful with how we pick our accessories if we’re wearing a hat. Generally speaking, necklaces are a bad idea.  I usually just wear a pair of button-style earrings, usually pearls, to bring attention to the face and make the look polished, but not busy.

If she’d ditched the hat, gotten the hair out of her eyes, and just gone with the necklace (and found a bra that didn’t show) she would’ve been far better off.

Want to see more pictures and read some of the bitchiest copy this side of…me? Clickety click!

Prom Week: The Chic Shape

Yesterday we had a chat about how I’m generally of the mind that a girl ought to be able to wear what she wants (as long as it’s not vulgar) for her prom.  True, most hot prom dresses right now aren’t super flattering for a big girl, but come on, she’s got the rest of her life to worry about flattering dresses.

That being said there are a few handy guidelines about formal dressing that might help a young girl who IS invested in a more sophisticated look.

Back in January everyone got all het up about Cathy Horyn quoting an anonymous bitchy stylist who, when referring to Christina Hendricks’ Golden Globes dress said “You don’t put a big girl in a big dress.”  (there was also a kerfuffle about using a horizontally stretched photo of the Mad Men star. Horyn said it was an accident and I’ve had image files go bad on me often enough to believe her).

Christina Hendricks

Now, for as bitchy a comment as it was it’s also relatively true. Personally I think you could put Christina Hendricks (who isn’t big but has big, ahem, parts) in a literal potato sack and she’d look hot, so I don’t have much of a beef with her gown, but big girls are generally better served by sleeker silhouettes.  Does this mean demure? Of course not. It just means if you’ve got a big voluptuous romantic body you want to set it off to its best advantage with something that’s not explosively busy.

Here are some of my picks:

cobalt mermaidcobalt mermaid dress

(click images for links)

I know some folks don’t like the mermaid skirt for a big girl but I’ve seen it done wonderfully on women with broad shoulders. Hair up (a must) and a big necklace. It’s about as sophisticated as you’re going to get for prom.

teal gown

Does this dress just scream for a tiara? Oh I think it does.

sara ramirez dress

Sara Ramirez at the Golden Globes

A little red carpet inspired action That’ll skim the hips and the stomach (ideal if you choose not to submit to the Tyranny of Spanx).

pewter taffeta

This is a shape Sara Ramirez and Queen Latifah wear over and over and over again.  If you really want to give it some Latifah style, add an enormous brooch on the neckline offset to the side. Keep hair simple and makeup flawless. You’ll be a queen.

Tomorrow: it’s all about the jewelry!

In Defense of Bad Prom Dresses

I’m really a big softie when it comes to prom and prom dresses. Really any sort of formal event when you’re a kid.  See the thing is, for a lot of these girls –you know, perfectly normal sweet girls– senior prom is in all likelihood one of only two times they’ll really get to wear a ballgown, the other time being their wedding.

Give the kids a break.

As far as I’m concerned, prom is a time for complete sartorial excess. Make a mistake, look silly, wear cheap satin. You’re young, why not?

I vaguely regret my senior prom gown. It was a perfectly timeless red satin number with a boned basque bodice and box pleated ballgown skirt.

Always the pragmatist, I went classic knowing I’d probably have to wear it for recitals in college, which I did. After my move to Texas I altered it to cocktail length, removed the straps and a few of the pleats and got another couple uses out of it.  Now it lives somewhere in my grandparents’ closet. I haven’t had the heart to get rid of it.


I didn’t know as a 17 year-old kid in Virginia that my life would turn out to have a relatively high ballgown requirement. I figured it might, but I also figured I’d join the cast of Riverdance before moving to New Zealand, marrying Mark Cawardine and becoming a field ornithologist.

All of this is to say,  I firmly believe in the right for a girl to wear a lstupid prom dress.

The trend these days seems to be for hyper-ruched dresses with bubble hems or those horrible pick-ups:


or the same bodice ruching with a mermaid skirt, and Lord knows they’d probably want to wear it with  shiny spandex opera length gloves that flatter precisely no one in the universe.

And you know, fine. I don’t care. Would I wear it? No, but I’m not a 17 year-old girl whose entire world is about to change in a few weeks.

If I had to do it all over again –and thank God I don’t– knowing what I know now about how my life has turned out, I’d actually go for a big goofy dress on purpose.  Probably something like this blue one:


which clearly takes its inspiration from the Dolce and Gabbana shows from 2008.

dolcefall 2008

Why? Because it’s a sweet, fun dress to be worn by a (probably) sweet, fun girl for a (hopefully) sweet, fun event that pretty much marks the end of being a kid. Celebrating being young, gorgeous and carefree is what Prom is all about, Charlie Brown.

But seriously, don’t wear the spandex gloves.

From Francesca’s Inbox: Sales for Today and the Weekend

With Christmas just a week away (!) Francesca reminds you, when shopping online, to check shipping policies and speeds carefully to ensure delivery before Christmas.

SILHOUETTES will take 20% off your purchase if you buy 3 items or more, until midnight tonight (Eastern) with code SWB20. Main page here, winter sale here. (Offer does not apply to Clearance, Oulet, or gift cards.) Tip: If there are only 2 items you want, and it adds up to at least $75, then use code S9ZH1 for 15% off. Francesca does not know when this code expires.

MONIFC is having a shopping event in Houston tomorrow from 10-3, but you have to email them to get the location, at monif@monifc.com. Online store is here.

JUNONIA will take 30% off your order and give you free upgraded shipping with code 12159, until Sunday night at midnight Central time.

BEAUTY.COM will take $20 off orders of $100 or more until Sunday.

PERFUMANIA is having a buy one, get another item 50% off sale, on items included in that sale (click on the link to see). Francesca does not know how long that will continue. Also, for what it is worth, until the end of December or while supplies last, if you order anything at all they will give you a free gift of 1.75 fl. oz of the “23” men’s cologne by Michael Jordan.

DESIGNERSHOES.COM has two pieces of news: 1) Until  midnight on Sunday, all “on sale” shoes will get another 50% off with code HOLIDAY09.  2) Shipping outside the US? Until January 6, use code NOTUSA and get international shipping for free on orders of $400 or more.

FIGLEAVES will take 20% off your purchases from their Christmas Gift Guide through Sunday midnight (England time) with code GUIDE.

CHADWICKS will give you the following this weekend with code CHEER: 1) through Sunday at 2 pm (probably EST), a free upgrade to 2-day shipping, and 2) through Monday, buy one top get a second 50% off (with the code). Plus-size tops are here.

Happy shopping and happy weekend! xoxo

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