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Holy Grail Top for All Big Bodies?

I’m not a clothes sharing sort of person. I will, on occasion, loan out a pair of shoes or an accessory –always documented and signed for– when a friend in need has a special event and I need to burn off a few hours of purgatory. I’ve even been known to let a job-hunting girlfriend borrow the Birkin for interviews.

The one exception is my best friend.

Although we are just about the same size and height, our looks couldn’t be more different:

She’s delicately featured with subtle coloring, cascading bambi-colored hair and an enviable sprinkling of freckles across her nose (I’m sadly sans angel kisses, and used to draw them on my face as a child with a Sharpie.) Her legs are long and trim, uninterrupted by waist, hips, or butt and it is a testament to the magnificence of her rack that she is the single most terrifying creature to have ever perched behind the wheel of a midsize sedan and yet her driving record is cleaner than a pig on Sunday.

I, on the other hand, have dramatic coloring, a nearly black Eton crop/pixie combo and a pear-shaped figure with all the dips and swells that body shape entails. Understandably, what suits one of us rarely works on the other. I look like a sack of wet feed in the sheaths she wear so well, and my beloved sternum-revealing necklines would get her arrested or at least gently escorted back to the nearest red light district.

It is with great interest, then, that we discovered how fantastic we both look in the Hazel Hi-Lo Peplum Top from Kiyonna.

I knew the neckline and emphasis on the waist would be heaven on me (not to mention the lalalanothingtoseehere effect of the peplum treatment over my stomach), but I wasn’t prepared for it to look just as amazing on my best pal.

I wear it styled in the traditional manner while she wears it with a camisole. The deep V is supposed to lie flat and is lined with some serious interfacing to make sure it stays that way, but on my busty friend they flip out to look like little lapels, which honestly is just as cute.

Kiyonna makes plus-size clothing the way they ought to be made: thoughtfully and with attention to detail in both construction and design. They’re also all made in America, so you can be smug at dinner parties, which is always fun.

Stay tuned for more reviews, and take a word of advice: if you’re going to take the Hazel top on vacation, buy two. I have a feeling the one I bought might not make its way into my suitcase ever again.

Maxi Dresses for the Racktacularly Blessed

It’s gotta be hard out there for the spectacularly busty, those quasi-blessed girls whose sweater puppies are sweater mastiffs.

I mean sure there are some benefits, my BFF can balance a bowl of cereal on hers with neither froot nor loop crashing to the ground, and I’m pretty sure she’s never had a traffic ticket in her life, even though I’ve ridden shotgun as she’s driven the wrong way up a one-way road, singing Blondie at the top of our 19 year-old lungs.

I’m not going to bore you with stuff you already know. I mean honestly, how many of my readers need to be told that those little center halter things or smocked tube tops are not the way to go? With that in mind, here are some styling tips on maxi dresses for the emphatically bosomed.

Spread the Love

And by love I mean visual interest.

If you’ve got big breasts, you already know how much attention they get.

I mean, if my humble starter set has made people walk into walls, I can only imagine what your deluxe editions do. You can’t make someone ignore them, but you can trick ‘em into looking somewhere else, too.

With maxi dresses, try something with a seriously eye-catching graphic close to the hem.

Anything that spreads out the attention over your body is going to make you look more proportionate.

This colorblocked maxi from JC Penney is a good example. With the slender model all the attention goes to the bottom of the dress, but on a busty girl, the boom boom on the bottom is going to be balanced with your natural top-heavy pow. Leave the giraffe wedges at home.

Go Big or Go Home

Strong structural elements like a major kimono sleeve or a well-draped asymmetrical shoulder can work to your advantage while little fripperies and those ubiquitous flaccid ruffles never do.

This dramatic black number would be best served on the confidently statuesque (the long necklace is a smart piece of accessorizing when it comes to a monochromatic maxi as it creates length and balances out the potentially overwhelming swaths of fabric) while the Charlize maxi from Kiyonna –honestly the best all-around example of the maxi I’ve found for pure wearability and glamor– would work  on any frame.

Remember, when you’ve got a serious sleeve and a plunging neckline, it’s perfectly fine to wear a cami. The weight of the sleeve will balance the look. A good sleeve is a busty girl’s best friend when it comes to proportionate dressing as it balances out the cleave even as it’s enhancing it.

 

Adjust the Volume

While not technically a maxi per se, the tiered prairie dress is close enough to count for our purposes. Many of us are taught not to wear anything that’s going to add volume because our bodies are big (and loud) enough.  Nonsense. Volume is just another tool. Learn to use it well it will serve you well in return.

Although I encourage you to judge prairie dresses on a case by case basis –the wrong tier placement for your body can be the difference between lovely and Laura Ingalls Staypuft– when done correctly, the tiered dress paired with a simply cut bodice can be an excellent choice for those who don’t fall on the Eva Gabor side of the Green Acres equation.

Adding volume at the bottom of the dress balances out any top heavy tendencies, just be sure to keep the frills up top to a minimum.

You want something clean and substantial with broad enough straps to give some structure and, of course, hide your intimate architecture. Look for something where the outer corners of the straps are set wider than your chest and a neatly-shirred bust to ensure your cups won’t spilleth over.

This tall tiered maxi from Simply Be (offered in three lengths) is a strong example. It’s not bust minimizing, but the overall proportion will look right.

Baffle ‘Em with Brilliance

You’re just going to have to trust me on this one, it’s the voice of experience over reason.

A family emergency called Hot Latin Boy and I out of town last week and while HLB was in the hospital attending to his equally hot younger brother (he’s fine –and I mean fine– now) I availed myself of a little retail therapy to sooth the savage breast and, in my exhausted state, tried on a maxi with a small, riotously busy all-over print reminiscent of the fabric my grandmother brought back from her time in South East Asia in the 60’s and 70’s.

Whenever I hit a dressing room, I make sure there’s at least one thing I’m just not even remotely sure will work. Usually I’m right and it goes back to the racks, but sometimes, as in the case of this psychedelic paisley in shades of orange and pink it’s a surprise home run.

While this dress from Macy’s might be problematic for the busty as it’s not especially bra friendly, it is a decent example of the sort of pattern I mean.

The print is so busy it could be one of those Magic Eye things, but it baffles the eye so thoroughly that the effect is to say “lalalanothingtoseehere” over nooks and crannies that might otherwise be accentuated. It made me look taller and more slender than I am and although I can’t find an example I like online, keep the print tight and the cut simple and you’ll be amazed how well it works.

 

 

 

Plus Size Maxi Dresses Under $50

Phew.

THAT, my friends, was a rough two days.

I’m fine, everything’s fine.

I’m sitting here in Plumcake Cottage making eyes at the leftover half of my Texas-shaped waffle (I’m a slow eater and everything west of Abilene got cold while I was working my way down from Texarkana), Hot Latin Boy is on the beach playing football and Dozer just scared the daylights out of the puka shell necklace-wearing maintenance guy who uses the empty house in front of ours as a tryst with a woman who is almost certainly Not His Wife.

So, as I said, everything is fine.

Everything was NOT fine yesterday, when a routine medical appointment in the states was preceded by your elegant hostess yakking her guts out on a winding mountain pass and an ill-timed fainting spell and succeeded by a Mexican military flashlight shining in my sleeping face at a routine stop where I had to explain to the Very Nice Men With Guns that no, HLB didn’t steal my car and roofie me up with the intention of selling me –possibly by the kilo– to the highest bidder, he was just driving me home.

Thus the blankie…
and the pillow…
and the fact that I wasn’t screaming even though I woke up in Mexico.

Much showing of bandages and kissycute iPhone selfies later, hilarity ensued HLB was freed and we finally got home, where I slept for the next 20 hours.

That brings us up to now.

So. Maxi dresses.

When I asked you what you wanted in a maxi dress post, many of you wanted something with sleeves under fifty dollars.

These don’t all have sleeves –don’t worry there will be more sleeves coming your way before I’m through– but all ring in under fifty bucks from designers who’ve provided me with some decent togs in the past.

HSN is a crapshoot.

Either they knock it out of the park or they…don’t. At all.

But when they’re good, they’re very very good and you get an extremely well-made garment for a ridiculous-in-the-good-way price. I first turned to them for their excellent costume jewelry, much of which is offered in extended sizes, and have had solid enough luck with them to return a few times a year.


(click on photos for links)

I cringed a little in the video for this dress when designer Antthony, in describing the slightly Grecian detailing of the dress talked about how big a fan he is of “Madam Gray” –he obviously meant Madame Grès who is responsible for the draped dress taking form in the 1940s– but it was probably just a slip of the tongue.

Regardless, possibly influenced by last summer’s retrospective “Madame Grès: Couture at Work” at the Musée Bourdelle, the Grès fingerprint is all over this dress. What Grès viewed as sculpture, Anttony understands as visual trickery.

The asymmetrical offset draping pulls in the eye and creates a smaller waist.

Unlike his austere counterpart, the draping on this dress is gentle. Though sleeveless, the straps are wide enough to wear a bra and the neckline isn’t perilously low, although a camisole –make sure it’s slightly blousoned to keep with the feel of the dress– works here as well.

One Antthony deserves another, and apples, I’m looking at you here.

Okay, look at the draping from the center of the bust down the front.

That’s one of those design elements that when you see it on a skinny girl or on the hanger you say Not Now Not Ever, right?
Except that waterfall is going to look amazing on you.

It’s going to start right between the girls –I believe those are molded cups, a nice touch– and go lalalalalalanothingtoseehere all over your stomach.

Be advised, sometimes it takes a little fiddling in the morning to get it to drape just so, but once you get it, you’ll be grand.

Pattern? You want pattern? How about this ikat print from Twiggy (yes that Twiggy) London?

Ikat is one of those prints I’m convinced works better on big girls than on straighties. Little wisps of things just don’t have the mass or the presence to really carry off a full length ikat print.

Since this pattern is already fuzzy it’s going to blur over things you might enjoy having blurred (and also hide stains if you’re clumsy) and –contrary to many prints– make you look taller. All of these dresses are available in multiple colors, but I like the earth tones of this one. It’s so much more chic and will transition nicely into the cooler months.

Finally we’ve got two from Liz Lange that are simple simple simple and perfect perfect perfect.

First the flutter sleeves.

Some variation on this theme is what I wear most of the days here at Plumcake Cottage. It’s dead easy, looks fantastic and can be styled this way or that for just slapping along the malecon watching the sunburned tourists take photos of our resident lazy sea lions or a dressy dinner of forced conviviality with new neighbors.

I’m not generally a fan of the flutter sleeve, but the neckline and shoulder are so widely set, the flutter sleeve works. Plus it’s not chiffon, so it’s more of a draped sleeve than a fluttery one.

Lastly, we’ve got a more evening-appropriate maxi that can be styled for day.

There’s something about a long sleeve maxi that I love. It’s just a little more formal, but still incredibly easy. These bracelet length sleeves do it for me big time, but what I really love is Lange’s signature inset waist. She takes a panel of material in the waist, sets it inside where the normal seams would traditionally go, adds a wide-to-narrow ruching element and drapes it down from there. End result? The Scarlett O’Hara treatment, no bedpost hugging required.

Plus Size Maxi Dresses for the Short Girl

We all know who can wear maxi dresses easily: the tall, the broad shouldered and minimally breasted, the pears, the hourglass…basically the same usual suspects who have an easier time of plus size dressing to begin with.

So let’s talk about the people for whom this is a more challenging silhouette. Short girls, I’m looking at you.

I don’t adore maxi dresses on short women. It’s just a tough look to pull off because when you’ve got a lot of a fabric but not a lot of height, the line between chic and circus tent is painfully thin.

That doesn’t mean you can’t wear them at all, it’s just that if you’re the featured centerfold in Squat n’ Busty Quarterly, finding the right maxi dress might present some difficulties. Don’t fret too much though. As I tell all my short and apple-shaped readers: you get miniskirts and tall boyfriends, let the tall girls have this one.

Also, if “flattering” is your stylistic be-all and end-all, you might as well get off the bus right now.

A hostess gown is never going to be your go-to when you want something that the makes desert bloom and the angels sing by virtue of your mere presence. Stick to your structured A-line frocks and all shall be well. Boring, but well.

Oh, a slight derailment:

Every time I dedicate a post to a particular body type, I get hordes of dissenters hellbent on disagreeing with me based on their personal experience and then I have to pretend I care.

Don’t make me pretend to care.

I’m not good at it and it makes the vein in my forehead do weird things. So let’s just all save ourselves some trouble. If I say XYZ might be best left to another body shape but you are convinced XYZ looks better on you than anything has ever looked on anyone there are a few options which I have listed here in order of probability. Pick one and run with it.

Option One:
You are an exception to the rule that was really only a suggestion in the first place. There are few hard and fast rules anyway, and even those have their exceptions. There’s no reason you shouldn’t be one of them.

Option Two: You do not look as good as you think you do. Before you get on your huffy bike, remember we’ve all been there. Unless you were born fully-formed and immaculately-clothed at age 37 out of Yves Saint Laurent’s forehead, you’ve doubtlessly got some badly-dressed skeleton in your closet that, at one time, was just the best thing ever. Do I need to bring up my gold lamé toreador outfit complete with black stretch satin capris and bugle bead trim? Personal style evolves.

Option Three: I am wrong. It’s happened. Not often, but it’s happened. Witness again the bugle beads.

With that out of the way, let’s venture bravely forward. Mind the low branches.

The lilliputian among us must approach ankle-length dresses with appropriate fear and trembling.

Done correctly you’ll look comfortable and glamorous. Done incorrectly you’ll look like a garden gnome who’s just joined a cult.

This garden gnome obeys the laws of proportion for a maxi dress. Long skirt = deep neckline.


What makes the maxi silhouette difficult for a shetland person is the proportion.

First there’s the old “Chest or Legs” chestnut: the successful outfit highlights one or the other, never both at once.

If you go long on the cleavage and short on the skirt, you run the risk of looking like your life’s work can be summed up in the phrase “ping pong trick”. Interesting on a business card, but sartorially-speaking not the ideal result.

Taking the chest or legs thing a bit further, another rule of proportion is to balance out a dramatically long skirt with an appropriately dramatic neckline.

Academically speaking this doesn’t necessarily mean the airing of the cleave –witness Hilary Swank’s business-in-the-front-party-in-the-back Guy Laroche gown from the 2005 Oscars– but as for what’s available on the retail market, you’re mostly going to get variations on the plunging V theme.

This, as you know, can be problematic for the exuberantly bosomed.

For the sake of propriety, not to mention office dress codes, a sternum-showing neckline is not the best choice to keep both Thelma AND Louise under wraps for long, but we’ll get to the seriously busty girls later this week.

If you’re a short girl dead set on wearing a maxi dress, avoid fussy patterns. You probably know this anyway, but for some reason otherwise sensible women are out and about wearing floor-sweeping dresses in patterns and colors I haven’t seen since Steven Hill bet me a week of milk money that I wouldn’t lick his pet toad.

Something like this colorblocked number from Avenue might serve you well.

The blocked stripes elongate the silhouette and give the illusion of a deeper V than the neckline actually allows. Plus, even though it’s still full length, it isn’t cut so voluminously as to overwhelm the wearer with random floating fripperies. Accessories here are minimal but significant: earrings, neat hair (long flowing dresses or long flowing hair, not both) and either a substantial bracelet if your arms are long enough not to enstumpen you or –my preference– a cocktail ring large enough to draw other, lesser cocktail rings into its orbit by gravitational pull.

If you’re dead set on an all-over pattern, try to go for something like this, also from Avenue.

The vertical stripes, though a bit of a cliche in short person dressing, still do what they’re supposed to do in creating a longer line while the criss-cross at the bust suggests the presence of a waist where once there was none. The dress is reportedly 56″ long so you could conceivably hem off the entire bottom pattern.

If you’re looking for something dressier and don’t mind baring arms, you could trot out the Eva from Igigi. The mono-shoulder seems to be an enduring trend so if you weren’t old enough to wear it in the days of disco, now’s your time. Also, it’s not camo but a rather lovely slightly orientalist floral.

From my experience with Igigi, admittedly several years ago, they are VERY generous on the vanity sizing so order smaller than you’d think. Also, be prepared to hem.

Okay gang, that’s my thousand words on plus size maxi dresses for short girls. Stay with me the rest of the week and if you’ve got thoughts or questions NOT covered by my derailment at the top of the post, stick ‘em in the comments.

Maxi Week: The Preamble

Happy Monday my little chickadees.

It’s true, while the fine people of France were celebrating their independence, your pal Plummy was celebrating the 33rd anniversary of her escape from the womb. I don’t exactly remember what it was like in there, but I figure it was a lot like The Poseidon Adventure, with my in utero self being played by the inimitable Miss Shelley Winters. God I miss Shelley Winters.

Sadly, my one true birthday wish –I wanted to shoot a piñata with a gun– went unfulfilled, but alas, ours is but a vale of tears and through no fault of my own, Dora lived to explore another day.

To celebrate Plumcakemas, Hot Latin Boy took me to a new Argentinian place whose premise seemed to be to throw meat at you until paid to stop. I wore a maxi dress and thought of you, my beloved readers.

Mine way a long grey number similar to this rayon/viscose blend from Remain, available for under $100 at Nordstrom.

The brown belt for my particular gray dress would’ve been a misstep.

Not a grave one, but I used a wide black silk belt from Josie Natori instead and was all the better for it.

I think it originally belonged to some ridiculously expensive bed jacket I got on clearance at Neiman’s. Anyway, the silk is glorious and as thick as my thumb and although the jacket itself is lost somewhere in storage, I regularly call upon the belt to class up an otherwise middle-of-the-road outfit.

I slipped on a brushed silk shawl from Lanvin –the color teeters between the matte greenish silver of the underside of an olive leaf and the blue silver of a steelhead trout (I can’t imagine cuddly Alber Elbaz had that precise combination in mind, but it worked), flat sandals and a pair of substantial sparkly earrings in various shades of steel and smoke. The whole look was effortless and comfortable, exactly what a maxi dress should be.

I believe I might’ve accidentally led some of you down the garden path where cardigans and shawls are concerned.

Although my personal preference is for shawls there’s nothing saying you can’t wear a cardigan with a maxi dress.

In the shoes for maxi dresses post When I suggested our dear reader exchange the cardi for a wrap, it was a question of formality –she was attending a wedding and shawls are a bit dressier– not some well-hidden passage of Leviticus damning to hell anyone who dared combine an ankle-length dress and button up sweater (although it makes about as much sense as half the other laws in there). So go ahead and wear them both. I’m almost positive you won’t get picketed.

So with that little teaser, you’ll have to stay tuned for the rest of the week when I will go to great lengths (see what I did there?) to address your concerns large and small.

Charming Shoppes no longer owns Lane Bryant, Catherine’s or Fashion Bug

Well, as you might’ve heard, Fashion Bug is closing.

Ascena bought out Charming Shoppes who controlled Lane Bryant, Catherine’s and Fashion Bug, and is bringing in the exterminator on more than 600 Fashion Bug stores.

I never shopped at Fashion Bug, and although I applaud their concept of having straight size and plus size clothes in the same room, I can’t say I’ll really shed a tear the way I did when Christian Lacroix shut down his atelier.

So now that Charming Shoppes is a subsidiary of Ascena, what happens next?

For a brief, flickering moment I had a thought that maybe this would be the rebirth of Lane Bryant. Fashion Bug’s gone and Catherine’s has always been dreadful –I remember having a modeling gig with them in 2001 or so and they put me in this terrible cobalt blue glitter-encrusted cocktail dress with matching bolero and a gold lame hat. There might’ve been bugle beads involved somewhere, but mercifully I’ve managed to suppress that memory– but for a few halcyon seasons, Lane Bryant was my everything. Could Ascena bring it all back?

Doubtful.

Ascena’s current flagship brands are Dressbarn, Maurices and Justice. According to Dr Google, Justice is some sort of tween retail establishment and Maurice’s sells cheap-and-cheerful (and frequently eye-searing) fashion in straight and plus sizes.

That leaves us with Dressbarn.

I’m not going to talk too much smack about Dressbarn, other than its terrible name, because I remember wandering in completely devastated after a hateful 13 year-old sales associate at Neiman Marcus interpreted “We will hold this fantastic St John’s lavender silk tulle party skirt for you for 24 hours” as “I’m going to put this back on the rack the second you head toward accessories because fat people don’t deserve nice things you horrendous cow” and left me without an Easter outfit. I don’t think I actually bought anything at the Barn but I do remember being pleasantly surprised at the construction of some of the dresses, which were on par with Jones New York and some of the better plus-size offerings from Calvin Klein.

I imagine we’ll see a bunch of Maurices and a smattering Dressbarns pop up where Fashion Bug used to be. Time will tell what this means for the Lane Bryant line, but since Ascena already employs designers responsible for this:

We should be afraid. We should be very afraid.

It’s a Look

but, to quote our dear friend Thombeau, is it for you?

This Monif C creation (truly, could it be anyone else?) reminds one a bit of the sadly fallen Galliano’s brilliant final Spring Couture show for Dior, itself a reference to the house’s 1953 Tulip Line collection. Except not.

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