Q: I am 5' 5" and 200 pounds. I have been living in jeans and t-shirts for 18 years. I want to make a change but I don't know what looks good on me. I can't afford to buy a whole new wardrobe, so I would need to add it piece by piece. I also hate to iron, so I am always looking for 50/50 poly/cotton blend shirts. Is there any hope for me? - C

A: Dearest C - How loudly can I say, "I'VE BEEN THERE!!" In fact, until last year, I was a little heavier than you.  Then I found this, and lost 85 pounds. But before that, I spent 20 years working to flatter a plus size shape. I could write a book about what did and didn't work for me. And yes, there are PLENTY of options beyond jeans and t-shirts. In the interest of clear, concise blog posts, instead of a lengthy novel, I will dole this advice out in a series.  Today, I'll hit on which items I think are your best places to start. And I'll share a few helpful links with you of other resources for brilliant advice.

Now, everybody carries their weight differently.  I tended to carry mine somewhat evenly all over, but with a frustratingly larger portion around my hips. But a few general rules definitely apply to any woman trying to flatter a fuller frame. Let's look at those rules.

1. Highlight your smallest/narrowest area.

For me, that area was the high waist; above my belly button and below my bust.  The absolutely MOST flattering item I ever wore was a wrap dress. Such as this.
It perfectly highlighted the narrowest part of my body, the v-neckline lengthened and slimmed and brought attention up to my face. And below the waist ties, it skimmed and floated over my worst trouble spots. If I could recommend ANYTHING, it would be to immediately go out and invest in a couple matte jersey wrap dresses. As a nice bonus, they adjust with your weight. At my heaviest, I put a camisole under them and tied them a little more loosely. As I lost weight, I ditched the camisole and cinched them tighter.
(The matte jersey is also perfect because it's iron free!)

Try to get TRUE wrap dresses. Meaning, the dress opens fully, not a faux wrap dress that is sewn shut, has a v-neckline but the waist ties don't do much. These can sometimes work fine, but they don't have very much "adjustability."

Here are a couple other dress options that would also flatter in a similar way...
Don't be afraid of belts, as pictured below. They can do a lot to highlight, draw attention to where you want it, and lengthen. Just look how long she looks from the belt down! Longer = Leaner. Just don't cinch too tight. You want to avoid the tied-sausage look.
Our next guideline is...

2. Skim, don't squeeze.

And my next suggestion for you is a pair of wide-leg black trousers. Unfortunately, you'll probably have to iron these, but it'll be worth it! (Actually, take them out of the dryer when they're still a titch damp and hang them by the ankles.  The weight of the top of the pants will help them dry straight and you may be able to avoid the iron completely.)

Take a look at the trousers vs the leggings. It's the perfect illustration of why skim instead of squeeze is so flattering.
Even with the heels and the most flattering picture they could conjure, there's just no denying the drastic difference. The hips and thighs in the trousers looks SO much leaner. No squeezed sausage. 
Choose trousers that fall straight down from the widest part of your hips. If the waist gaps, have it tailored. That small adjustment is rather inexpensive.

The final guideline for the day is...

3. Too much volume amplifies, instead of camouflages.
Technically, both tops skim.  The black detail in A and print in B are both flattering.  But the extreme volume of the bottom blouse is overwhelming.  This is the same model and look how much wider she looks in the bottom picture?  They even had to pull back a bit in the photo.
So my final suggestion for the day is to look for tops with interesting detail to step up a notch from your t-shirts.  I loved jersey knit tops like the pink one, with an empire waist without too much pleating or gathering below (didn't want to look pregnant.)

We'll tackle some plus-size style myths in the next post.  And I'd like to direct you to Inside Out Style for some more great information on how to flatter your figure. Click the name back there and I've directed you straight to her section on plus-size fashion. Imogen is a fantastic image consultant out of Australia.
Sorry for being MIA this week.  I've been working on several Ask Image Interpreters posts and got sidetracked.  But here's a little inspiration for you to dress nice if you attend Sunday services tomorrow!

She has a very unique look and though I haven't seen her in many movies yet, I think she's a good actress.
Love the brown leather pencil skirt!!
Since beginning my weight loss journey several months ago, I have dropped bra sizes several times. I went from a *cough*hack*wow! look over there!" To a 40 C. Then 38 DD. Then 36 D. Now a 34 DD. I certainly don't mind the shrinking process and a couple weeks ago, it was once again time to get some smaller bras. 

Please don't get the idea that 34 DD means I'm some amazingly buxom pinup babe.  I'm normal size. Like most women in America, up until last year I had been wearing the wrong size bra; band sizes way too big and cup sizes way too small. But now I know better!
This is the bra that fit the best this time.
Calvin Klein Seductive Comfort Customized Lift
The straps are all elastic, silky, and extremely comfortable.  They never slip and are wider than they appear in the picture above. The picture below is accurate.  The nude above turned out to be too dark under my lightest white shirts so I got the ivory as well as the dark purple below.  The purple one has lace over the band which I've really ended up liking.  It keeps the band more snug.

Why 3 colors?  Click Bra Education in the category list at right for the full scoop!
Now, ever since I did all the research last year into how a bra should fit, I can easily go into Nordstrom Rack, TJ Maxx or other similar stores selling quality bras at a discount and find ones that fit.  But for you, dear readers, I continue to research who provides a proper fitting and who most certainly does not.  For this trip, I hit the University Mall in Provo, UT, beginning at Macy's.

Macy's was like getting a bra fitting at JFK airport.  Have you ever been through JFK?  It's filthy, there always seems to be popcorn on the floor, and nobody speaks English.  The sole saleswoman in sight was extremely intent on helping an older male customer so after waiting way too long, I just started grabbing bras.  I did finally get her to open a fitting room for me, and in a thick accent I could barely understand, she said, "You 36 C."  I could only assume she was employing her X-Ray vision powers because she never pulled out a tape measure.  And I'm not a 36 C, though I did try that size on just in case. 
The fitting room was filthy, even the walls, and inexplicably there was popcorn on the floor! After trying on about 15 bras I left and headed down the mall to Victoria's Secret.

Ah, Vicki.  I like your lingerie but your fitters are clueless. I had not yet had a fitting at VS so I walked in, asked for the best fitter they had, and was directed to a manager.  The saleswoman who greeted me was plenty nice but the manager gave me the stink eye up and down.  No, I'm not a size 2 and neither are you, sister. You might want to check the 'tude in front of a paying customer.
I told her I was here for a fitting and she asked what size I was.  I said I wasn't sure but my current 36 bands were too loose and the D cups were gaping a little.  She asked if they were VS brand, I said no, and still with the stink eye she pulled out her tape measure.  Over my clothes, she wrapped the tape low on my back (below my bra clasp), angled it up at my armpits, and then across my chest above my breasts.  "Well in OUR sizes you're a 38 B. My rooms are all full so just hang out."
I don't mind when company's spend a lot of time on their customers, but during my 25 minute wait, she took three girls in front of me who had arrived after me.  I finally walked over to a set of bras and over my clothes, tried on a 38 B.  On the tightest hooks It just hung there, barely touching me, and the B cups didn't cover half of my girlness. Same with 3 other styles. I laughed and walked out, feeling very Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. "You work on commission, right? Big mistake. Huge!"

My last stop was Nordstrom.  As always, they were a delight. I told Kate I'd been losing weight and my 36 bands were too tight, cups were gaping a little.  She led me to a lovely and refreshingly clean dressing room and pulled out her tape measure. 
One word about bra fittings, ladies.  Check your inhibitions at the door!  I took off my shirt and she measured me over my bra, which provided a much more accurate reading.  She measured firmly around the rib cage and slightly more loosely around the fullest part of my bust. I rejoiced that she did it correctly. Then she disappeared for a minute and came back with a huge armload of options.  I stripped down and, with her in the room, put on the first one.  It would have been stupid to have her walk in and out a million times. I just turned my back and got on with it. I knew what to look for in terms of fit, but I wanted to see what kind of feedback she would provide.  And she did great! Snugged up the straps just right and gave good suggestions for what to try style wise. We had a good chuckle about how too many women buy bright white bras.  According to Kate, in most other countries, white is a "fashion color" and not the standard color, which I thought was interesting.  The nude closest to your skin color is the best basic to buy.

$100 plus dollars and three bras later I walked out of Nordstrom happy as usual.  Mega kudos to Kate for a great fitting!  Thumbs down to Macy's and Victoria's Secret, at least the University Mall locations. Macy's won't be seeing me again but I might give VS another chance someday. We'll see.
Look what hit Nordstrom yesterday...
click the pic to be taken to Nordstrom
A zillion people are blogging about the royal wedding, and doing it better than me. But I do want to give it a mention because here's the thing... the sleeves!
Prince William and Princess Catherine exiting the abbey
Kate's gown was absolutely beautiful, very Grace Kelly but less poufy. By design, she makes very conservative clothing choices which I think is brilliant. She's not out to have everyone gawking over her wacky or overtly sexy clothes.
The dress was designed by Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen who also designed her sister Philippa's dress below.
Pippa and flower girls
My gorgeous niece Paige wore a wedding gown nearly identical to Philippa's dress, but with a higher v-neckline and covered in beautiful lace and beading.

One review I loved, by the usually spot-on Tom and Lorenzo, said, "It fits her like a glove. Love the neckline and the little sleeves. Sleeves, ladies! Today's wedding was all about sleeves! We didn't know this until we started writing about them, but apparently the brides of today are all crying for sleeves in the face of the constant onslaught of strapless wedding gowns thrown at them by the bridal industry. If there's one thing the Middleton gals might manage to pull off in terms of influence, it's that we'll likely be seeing way more sleeve options in next year's bridal collections."

Hear! Hear! All hail sleeves!!
In my world of modesty this is not a "new silhouette," as some reviews called it. We've always done sleeves. But we often have to resort to designers who only work within the realm of modest dresses, or alter sleeveless gowns, which can end up looking not so great. The selection is often a little meager. So the nice thing about having sleeves showcased so prominently on the world stage is hopefully other designers will be inspired. Which will make finding gowns with sleeves much easier and the options broader.
Kate evening gown
Kate also chose sleeves for her evening gown for the private reception that night. I love that she wore another long dress.  Today was her day to be the world's most famous bride and she lived the day well. It bugs me when women wear lovely gowns for the ceremony but then change into street-walker-worthy mini dresses to "party hard into the night."
I want to close with the above lovely smile between the two and a few excerpts from Dr. Richard Chartres', Bishop of London, sermon.  This man is obviously used to speaking in front of people, he was utterly charming and comfortable up there.  But he had the world's stage for a few minutes and he chose his words very well.  You can find the whole thing by clicking his name, it's not long, but here are my favorite parts.

Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” So said St Catherine of Siena whose festival day it is today. Marriage is intended to be a way in which man and woman help each other to become what God meant each one to be.

In a sense every wedding is a royal wedding with the bride and the groom as king and queen of creation, making a new life together so that life can flow through them into the future.

The more we go beyond ourselves in love, the more we become our true selves and our spiritual beauty is more fully revealed. It is of course very hard to wean ourselves away from self-centredness. And people can dream of doing such a thing but should the hope be fulfilled it is necessary a solemn decision is made that, whatever the difficulties, we are committed to the way of generous love.

Marriage should transform, as husband and wife make one another their work of art.

As the reality of God has faded from so many lives in the West, there has been a corresponding inflation of expectations that personal relations alone will supply meaning and happiness in life. This is to load our partner with too great a burden. We are all incomplete: we all need the love which is secure, rather than oppressive, we need mutual forgiveness, to thrive.

All the best to William and Kate. 
I hope their wedding was the first day of a long and very happy life together.