I’m a size 16 – the new national “average” size of a woman. What it’s like to be a sexy size 16 is different for each individual woman. I’m grateful to have good health, friends, and a great career, but when it comes to my personal style, it can be a challenge.
The fashion industry is stacked against us “plus-size” girls. In addition to having trouble finding the right clothing to fit my curves, it’s another challenge to find unique pieces that don’t look boring or ridiculously trendy and still meet my budget.
So here’s how I’ve learned to cheat the fashion industry.
I grew up in the Midwestern suburbs of Ohio – not exactly the fashion capitol of the world. Back in the early ’90s, I was a weird, awkward band geek and pop culture fanatic, so I wore a lot of vintage trends and piecemeal outfits to match my imagination. I shopped at Hot Topic (when it was still relatively cool), but thrift stores were the best hunting ground.
In my teens and 20s, I was a goth-industrial chick inspired largely by music fashion. You’d be hard-pressed to find anything other than a sea of black in my closet – everything from band t-shirts to corsets to long witchy skirts to fishnets and military boots. After graduating from college, I continued that style but added a business angle, opting for pencil skirts, blouses, and blazers – something resembling the fashion sense of Moira Rose (Catherine O’Hara) from “Schitt’s Creek” – only 30 years younger.
Today, I live in Nashville, Tennessee. But I’m NOT a country girl. My ideal style could be described as a blend between Corporate Goth and flirty 80s New Wave – half fun and half functional. But now that I’m slowly creeping up on my 40s, I’m still in my 20s at heart and trying to balance personal style with professionalism – tying in femininity and an alternative flare without being overly playful or inappropriate.
But with ho-hum flowery prints, giant eye-sore ruffled tops, and square, tent-like fits out there in the retail stores, it seems harder than ever to find good quality clothing that flatters my shape and unique style.
So here’s how I make the most of what I’ve got.
14 Wardrobe Essentials
My current wardrobe consist of 14 essentials – from the right bra to sexy shoes. I hope these style staples help you on your sexy size 16 fashion journey too!
The Main Course
1. Flare Dress
One of my favorite wardrobe staples is the flare dress. I have three – a teal lace dress and two multicolored ones with neon pink accents. The shape of the flare dress, which cinches at the waist and flows outward below is a flattering go-to shape for most women, especially if you have an hourglass figure (even if you have a tummy). The shape subtly hides your bottom half, while focusing on your femininity, but I prefer a v-neckline instead of a high scoop neck whenever possible, drawing the eyes up. I’ve found that the best time to shop for these dresses is between March and May, just before (and after) Easter and the Prom. Shop early toward the end of the season to hit the clearance racks.
2. Maxi Dress
Find a long, ankle-length V-neck maxi dress (or a halter-neck dress) in plain black or a colorful spring or summertime print, and you’ll always have a go-to outfit you can wear, especially during sunny weather. Dress it up with jewelry and heels, or dress it down with sandals, sunglasses, and a wide-brimmed hat for an afternoon at the beach. If you can find one with pockets, even better! The flowy look of a maxi dress is a beautiful addition to almost any woman’s wardrobe.
Layers are essential to get you through the year (especially if you’re into modest fashion), and a great blouse (either short- or long-sleeved) will save you every time. When you feel like a zombie in the morning and don’t know what to wear, just slip on a blouse in a fun print (or a pretty color in a unique texture), cover with a shrug or a blazer and go! You can find reasonably priced blouses at pretty much any store year-round.
And this is where you can really get creative. I love leopard print, black and white stripes, or retro polka dots, and sometimes I search for blouses with little embellishments such as lace or a cool collar. I snagged a lacy leopard print blouse from Cyndi Lauper’s Touch of Cyn line on HSN when it went on clearance. Fierce.
If you choose a blouse with a pop of color, you can find a jewelry statement piece, a kitschy crossbody handbag (like these red lips on Etsy.com), or other accessories in the same color to make everything match well.
Target’s Who What Wear line of chic streetwear features many sophisticated styles for the modern business woman, including sexy yet professional striped and print blouses, blazers, and trousers. JcPenney’s Worthington brand also features cute tops and trousers for professional women. I usually opt for size L or XL. Stock up while you can!
Peck & Peck is my favorite brand when I’m looking for form-fitting, flattering pants and capris in various colors. In late spring, you can find these stretchable pants in bright colors like teal at Steinmart stores, and in late summer (during the back-to-school shopping season), you can find longer pants in grey or black.
What I love about these must-have pants is their durability and built-in shapewear. They don’t bulk up, and they give your lower half a sexy silhouette, showing off your curves but sucking in the “extra stuff” you may be trying to hide. While I usually wear size 16 in curvy-fit trousers or jeans, with Peck & Peck pants, I opt for a size 14. It sits better at my waist. I especially love the Peck & Peck Exclusively Ours Ava Ankle Pants (short length in black – $49.99).
5. Tank Top
One of my staple clothing items is a long, touchable soft cotton-based black tank top from Target. Each year, I find it on sale for around $10. I wear it underneath pretty much everything. (Get a few tops in various colors as backups.) They’re easy to layer, seamless, and ride below my hips, so I don’t have to worry about them riding up and showing skin.
6. Bolero Shrug
In my early 20s, I got a nautical star tattooed on my upper left bicep, thinking my arms would never change shape. Nearly two decades later, I still love my tattoo but want the option to hide it, especially at work. That’s why the shrug is my new best friend.
Not only is a shrug a classy, simple addition to any wardrobe – especially when paired with tank tops, short blouses, or dresses – but it also keeps your arms warm when the A/C is cranked in the office or at the movie theatre. I have several open cropped bolero shrugs of various colors, as well as buttoned-up cardigans in my collection. In addition to shrugs and cardigans, when I feel like lounging around or get a bit chilly, I wear goth-industrial hoodies from Lip Service.
Every professional woman should have at least one high-quality, modest black or grey blazer in her wardrobe. Throw it over a blouse or a dress, add trousers or a pencil skirt, and you’re ready for work. I love the 3/4-sleeve length blazers from JCPenney and Target. They’re relatively inexpensive, and you can find them in several colors and styles.
I have a few different versions in my closet – one is a loose-fit blazer that resembles a young man’s suit jacket from the ’80s with large fold-over cuffs, and another is a more formfitting blazer that ends just below my waist. I also have some one-of-a-kind blazers with accent pieces that I lucked out and found several years ago while thrifting. My favorite thrift store find is a fitted Betsey Johnson blazer lined with canvas straps and buckles.
8. Short Jacket
Whether you love vintage jean jackets, pleather, or leather jackets, a short jacket is a wardrobe essential. Find a jacket that suits your personality in a color and style you can pair with many of the items in your closet, because you’ll be able to wear this throughout most of the year. Don’t get anything bulky.
Opt instead for a flirty jacket that stops just at or above your waist, so you can wear a tank top, blouse, or a dress underneath and still show off your curves. I found a fitted military jacket in the juniors’ department at Macy’s on sale a few years ago, and I love it because it gives the illusion of a smaller size, while flattering my bust and waistline.
9. Cinched Trench Coat
Get a rainy day trench coat cinched at the waist for a feminine silhouette. I have two – a lovely pink one I found at a Nordstrom Rack outlet store, and a black one with a cute belt and silver buckles. They flare slightly below the waist into a skirt shape, which is very pretty, ending mid-thigh.
I wear a trench coat on rainy and windy days, or when I need a quick coverup. They’re also great with combat boots when I want to flashback to my teens.
10. The Right Bra
If you think you’re wearing the right bra size, you’re probably wrong. Go to any lingerie store (such as SOMA) at get fitted for the right bra size. I know this must seem silly. Why would an adult woman get fitted for a bra? Well, you’d be surprised! I was in my early 30s the first time I ever had a professional bra fitting, and I found out that I should’ve been wearing one whole cup size larger than I had been all these years!
Wow. And just like that, my bust size had increased as if by magic. But it wasn’t just wishful thinking. It was reality. The saleswoman said my larger cup size was in part because of my wider frame. (I had gone from size 10/12 in my 20s to a size 14/16, and it showed!) So, I got a simple, seamless wireless bra, and went on my clothes shopping journey from there!
Don’t deny it. Shapewear is your friend – especially when you’re feeling a bit bloated and trying to pull off a sexy date night cocktail dress. Try seamless, tagless slip shorts or undies in no slip, no grip material (such as nylon/spandex/cotton blends) that won’t roll or ride up, such as Jockey brand’s Skimmies, or the famous SPANX brand. Shapewear is your secret weapon.
Unless you work out or walk a lot, you may feel a bit nervous about showing off your gams without something to help cover up (and keep you warm). When wearing short dresses, I always opt for some soft cotton-based black leggings that land at my calves or ankles. Not only are they comfy, but they fit my curves perfectly and give me the confidence to wear dresses year-round without feeling paranoid about any spider veins showing. Leggings also make it possible to wear heels, wedges, or sandals, since they don’t cover your feet. That way, you can show off your new pedicure. Plus, if you like a retro look, leggings are like so ’80s. Rad!
13. Sexy Shoes
Topping off the perfect outfit doesn’t just mean adding a cute necklace or handbag. It also means paying attention to your footwear. For a unique mix of vintage and modern style, shop for Mary Jane flats, slip-ons, platforms, or heels from Hot Chocolate Design. While their shoe prices are a bit steep (at around $69.99 and up), if you can wait to get your perfect pair, there’s usually a 20% off sale during the holidays, with the best savings happening right around Black Friday.
For other shoes sweet enough to drool over (at a much higher price point), check out T.U.K. Footwear or Fluevog Shoes. Your new sexy shoes will lift your butt, making your legs look healthier and longer!
Since I usually don’t wear heels (except for special occasions), as a backup, I often opt instead for my Clarks Artisan leather sandals from the local outlet store. They slip on easily and are comfortable enough to wear all day without worrying about slipping or sweating, which tends to happen with knock-off synthetic brands. I always pay a bit more for shoes that breathe and are made from durable, quality materials, because I’m more likely to wear them, and they’ll last longer than synthetic shoes.
For accessories to top off my outfits, I wear bangles in various colors (such as white, pink, red, or blue); stylish prescription sunglasses and eye glasses (try the Warby Parker or Lisa Loeb lines, or Valley Eyewear); bold, geometric ‘80s New Wave-inspired handmade earrings and necklaces from international artists like Sweetiepips or Rose and Heart Gifts on Etsy.com; skinny belts; vintage buttons; scarves (such as the graphic pop culture prints from Society6.com); and various handbags that speak to my personality.
Where to Shop as a Sexy Size 16
If you are blessed with a big bust and curvy hips, browse Torrid, which sells trendy clothing for women in sizes 10 to 30, including cocktail dresses, jeans, lingerie, and footwear.
Don’t have time to shop for deals? Consider signing up for Stitch Fix, an online personal shopping service, popular with busy working women who want to stay on trend that now also offers a plus-size option in sizes 14W-24W, 1X-3X. Founder Katrina Lake was recently interviewed for the NPR podcast, “How I Built This” with Guy Raz.
For a vintage pin-up look, shop for dresses and other essentials by browsing Unique Vintage, Pinup Girl Clothing, Bettie Page Clothing, or similar stores that have everything including women’s sizes. Shop local vintage stores (my favorites in Nashville are Smack Clothing Co. and Pre- to Post-Modern), or shop for one-of-a-kind vintage clothes online on Etsy (try RETMOD or Kokorokoko.)
For vintage-inspired flats, slip-ons, platforms, or heels, shop Hot Chocolate Design. To top off your look, try a hairstyle from the book, “Vintage Hairstyling: Retro Styles with Step-by-Step Techniques” by Lauren Rennells ($36.95 on Amazon).
For the Kat Von D signature goth-rock look, beauty columnist Alle Connell suggests shopping online with Deandri – cute, but a bit too Wednesday Addams for me. As mentioned earlier, I’ve also always loved Lip Service. If you’re looking for unique, bold style and artwork, shop Frida Las Vegas. Otherwise, just hit the mall – Steinmart, Target, Kohl’s, Macy’s, JCPenney, or try H&M.
Now that you’ve learned how to shop and dress as a sexy size 16, it’s time to slay your demons, accept yourself as you are, and find true happiness!
Good luck, ladies!