All You Need is a Plan

Confession: this e-mail has been in my in box since October. OCTOBER! Good lord.

I am in my fifties, a plus size 18-20, (down from 24), trying to lose more weight. I teach high school English. I hate to shop. I’m on a limited budget. Most of my current wardrobe consists of hand-me-downs from my sister-in-law, which is very nice for my pocket book, but….she is 5’8″ tall, with long legs. I am 5’3″ with short legs. She is a natural redhead. I am a dishwater blonde.

And I hate to shop.

Did I mention I hate to shop?

Please tell me an easy way to update my look, without spending an arm and a leg, or having to spend days roaming the mall. Thanks!


Jan e-mailed me so long ago that by now she’s probably a size four, but I thought her question was interesting because she’s having a dilemma that most of us will face at some point: she is moving from one size to another, and while she wants to look her best at THIS size, she doesn’t necessarily want to buy a whole new wardrobe when her goal is to be a DIFFERENT size in the foreseeable future.

Plus, there’s that whole thing about hating to shop.

So what’s a girl to do?

Start by remembering Stacy and Clinton’s sage advice: dress the body you have RIGHT NOW. Don’t continue to wear too-big clothes after a weight loss, and don’t squoosh yourself into things that are too small after a gain. New mommies are particularly guilty of this latter sin; you KNOW you’re going to be that size again some day, but you need some pants to wear RIGHT NOW, so if you just suck in and stand straight and don’t eat anything, MAYBE, just MAYBE you can wear THESE pants for an hour or so . . . .

Don’t do it. Just don’t. Get yourself some clothes that fit; you don’t need three closets worth, particularly if this is a transitional weight or size, but you DO need things that fit the body you have RIGHT NOW. Because I swear to you, if your clothes fit you, they will flatter you, and that will make you feel pretty, and THAT will inspire you to keep doing things that make you feel pretty.

Because Jan’s body is changing AND she hates to shop, she needs a strategy, something better than Walk Around The Mall Until Her Head Explodes (admit it, you’ve shopped like that. So have I).

Step one: Take Inventory
Start by shopping your closet; get rid of EVERYTHING (yes, I mean everything) that either doesn’t fit or isn’t flattering. Not sure what fits or flatters? Ask a friend hang out with you while you try things on, someone whose opinion you trust. Have her help you assess if what clothes really look great on you. Separate pieces into Just Right, Needs Tailoring, and Give Away. Take things that need to be altered to the tailor; when you’ve lost weight, some pieces can be taken in. But think carefully about this, and do it only with things you really love and want to wear.

In Jan’s case, she should look carefully at her sister-in-law’s hand-me-downs. While it is lovely of the sister-in-law to think of Jan, some of what is being passed along may not be appropriate, either in size or style, for Jan. Pants and skirts can be hemmed, of course, but if Jan ends up feeling too much like she’s wearing someone else’s clothes, then she might want to suggest that her sister-in-law pass her things on to someone else.

While Jan is cleaning out her closet, she needs to make a list of what she HAS, and then a second list of what she NEEDS. She should think about basics: dark colored skirt (black or brown), dark trousers (black or brown), jeans (that FIT), great everyday jacket. She needs blouses, or sweaters and tees, that fit properly (no gaping across the chest or stomach, no bagging down to her knees). I would also suggest a terrific dress, something she could wear both to work and out to dinner or to church. Maybe a shirt dress! Practical and sexy.

Then Jan should take a little rest, because next comes the actual shopping.

Step Two: Browse the Web
Now that Jan has cleaned out her closet, she’s ready to shop. But that doesn’t mean she should head to the mall all willy nilly; she needs a PLAN. Jan should start by browsing the Internet. She should look at the web sites of stores she can actually GO to, rather than places that do online sales only. Because Jan has been losing weight (yay Jan!) she may not be the size she thinks she is, so she WILL need to try things on. But rather than just showing up at a store and bombing around hoping to find something, Jan can start by looking at the store’s web site, to see what they are offering. Lane Bryant and Old Navy both carry plus sizes at prices that won’t break the bank; Lane Bryant actually groups tops and bottoms into an “Essentials” category, which is helpful if you’re trying to fill in gaps in your closet. Plus they offer terrific online deals from time to time; keep your eye on Want Not, where the very pretty Mir delivers the codes.

A store’s web site can be useful because it will give you a sense of what they have to offer; Jan can browse at Lane Bryant without ever leaving home, and if she doesn’t see a single thing she likes, she hasn’t wasted a trip to the mall. But let’s assume she DOES see something that catches her eye–it’s time to head for the dressing room . . . .

Step Three: Try Things On
You thought I was going to say GET OUT YOUR VISA AND ORDER SOMETHING! But no! Remember how I said that Jan should look at the web sites of stores near her? That’s because I think she needs to go to the store and try things on. When your weight is in transition, you need to keep in mind that your SIZE will change as well. Pregnant women are all too familiar with this; one day, those yoga pants fit just fine, and the next day, you can’t pull them past your knees. Don’t get too attached to the number; focus instead on the fit, and be prepared to take more than one size into the dressing room with you. Start with the size you think you are, then grab the size above and the size below. Sizes are not necessarily consistent from one store to another, or even from one style to another in the same store (I am able to wear three different sizes of pants at J. Crew, depending solely on the cut). Some places, like Old Navy, will even have small variations between individual pieces of clothing (one pair of size 16 jeans may NOT fit while another pair of the EXACT SAME JEANS, also in size 16, WILL). Be prepared to try LOTS of things on and NOT to be discouraged. Take a friend, if it helps. Take snacks, and water. Take your time. Make sure things fit and that you really like them.

Jan doesn’t need to buy a million things, or spend thousands of dollars, or slog around the mall all day. She needs to carefully choose pieces that fit her and look great on her; ideally she will end up with things that mix and match and can be worn in different ways. As she continues to lose weight, she can have pants and skirts and blouses taken in; she can replace tees and tanks. A few carefully chosen accessories will change the look of basic pieces. She can shop for a really cool handbag or some great shoes–both will fit no matter how her size changes.

Having clothes that are the right size and shape for your body–the body you have right now, today, not the one you had ten years ago or the one you’re hoping to have when you wean the baby–makes getting dressed easier and more fun. A nice pair of pants, a sweater that flatters your curves, a beautiful necklace, and you’re all set to go.


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