As a lifelong human female, my weight fluctuates. In college, I started out looking like a string bean, then I invested a good portion of my time in the fine art of macaroni and cheese cultivation and quickly outgrew my clothes. After a semester or two, I leveled off to a healthy-for-my-frame figure and kept that for several years. Then I moved to NYC, walked everywhere, worked 14 hours a day because that's what young'uns in NYC do, and lost a ton of weight. By 24, I was pregnant with my first son. I gained a good 70 pounds from that pregnancy, and while a lot of it fell off after his birth, some of it just never did. I was sort of OK with that because I was suddenly womanly looking and finally had the much-coveted boobs I'd heard would show up around puberty but never did.
Over the course of my adult life, I've continued having children and gaining a minimum of 50 pounds each time. By the third kid, I had D-cup boobs (and that's saying a lot from a girl who looked like a piece of plywood just a few years earlier), hips that had permanently widened to a size that the most hourglass-y of the Kardashian Klan would envy, and a booty that sort of came out of nowhere. Even though I loved my curves, I didn't know exactly how to dress them. I can't speak for everyone, but it seems like most folks develop their personal sense of style and learn what works and what doesn't work for their body types in their early 20s. It certainly was that way for me.
The general guidelines of which colors, cuts, and styles work for my body worked great — until they didn't anymore. Childbirth meant I had a totally new body, and I had to learn to dress it.
I learned quickly that the internet's best source of perennial style advice — and I say this for women of ALL sizes — is plus-size fashion bloggers. They're a fearless, take-no-prisoners bunch of women who have embraced their bodies at all sizes and shapes and encourage other women to do the same. I'm currently not wearing plus-size clothes, but I don't give a damn: The style lessons these women teach are far and beyond cookie-cutter fashion blogs where everyone looks exactly the same, with nearly identical outfits, only differentiated by the tags inside.
Here are a few of the best things these fabulous women have taught me that I hope to keep with me for my entire life (and pass onto my daughters, whatever size or shape they end up being):
Black is not the only figure-flattering color.
My friend and plus-size fashion blogger Misti, of MistiMichelle, was one of the first to show me that embracing color is not only flattering, but it makes you happy.
Isn't that the whole point of fashion: To feel confident and happy? Misti opened my eyes to a world of prints and corals even when I'm feeling my least confident. It's a genius tip that generally works.
Trends are often stupid, and you don't have to buy into all of them.
"Sure some trends are great," Misti says. "But really you should wear what makes YOU feel sexy, confident, and beautiful. If that means it's jeans and a T-shirt, do that."
Your own eyeballs > all other eyeballs out there.
This was a hard one for me to learn. I remember getting dressed as a semi-confident 19-year-old and going down a long list of people I needed to get sartorial approval from. Would my friends think my outfit was cute, would my parents approve of it, would a guy I was crushing on think I looked sexy? And so on.
All that was ridiculous. It took me about six years and a bunch of new curves just to say, "FUCK IT, I'm going to dress myself for myself."
Florals look good on everyone.
I recently saw this collection of artsy and only semi-covered images of mostly plus-size real American beauties (NSFW-ish). It was beautiful to me and quickly drove the everyone-is-hot-if-they-rock-it feeling home. In it, women with a wide range of skin tones are showcased, all looking BEAUTIFUL against a backdrop of purple flowers.
(Note to self: Buy purple floral outfits more often.)
Fat-shaming is the worst, so stop fearing it.
It just doesn't matter if your great-aunt thinks you have no business wearing a crop top: There's a time and a place for every style out there (read: crop tops probably aren't the best idea if you're going to a corporate office where you work as an accountant), but if you're heading to a summery party with your friends and bringing a pitcher of homemade sangria? Wear that crop top. Life is short.
Your clothes NEED to reflect your personality.
My friend Marie Denee, founder of TheCurvyFashionista, taught me this one in a single sentence. She told me, "If I am feeling vibrant and sassy, I should have clothes that match what I'm feeling. Give me yellow, hot pink, and various shades of the rainbow to reflect how I feel and for me to feel confident in!"
So yeah, there are some days I'm feeling like a demure navy shift dress. But other days, like today, I'm in a hot pink skirt because that's my mood and I'm embracing it.
Don't feel beholden to a certain designer.
Just because there's an "it" designer of the moment doesn't mean his/her cuts are right for you, and if the style doesn't work for your body in a way that makes you feel beautiful, what is even the point? "Not every designer is going to fit your curves, nor is every designer or retailer a fit for you," Marie says. "And they're not supposed to! Having options allows for us to choose and shop the various designers based on our needs, likes, tastes, and desires."
Bra fittings are so, so necessary.
I know this seems ridiculous, but if you have boobs of literally any size, they need to be fitted for a bra properly — this is so NOT just a big-boobs requirement. Most small lingerie stores do this, and the majority of major bra chains will do it, too. It's not as awkward as it sounds and usually only takes two to three minutes. When you're properly fitted, your boobs look their best beneath your clothing (and, yeah, that counts) and your shoulders, back, and ribs will feel way better, too. "I know my weight surely does fluctuate, and right now I am on the bigger side of things," says Marie. "This is also why we should get fitted for our bras twice a year!"
Animal prints can be a GOOD idea, so don't dismiss them.
I know that's so counterintuitive, but if you're feeling like a rawr-level gal, you should wear rawr-level clothes. "Leopard is a neutral to me, and I refuse to hide my body behind any drab, unflattering tent," says Patrice Grell Yursik of Afrobella. AMEN.
We need to stop getting attached to numbers.
Numbers on our scales go up and down on a daily basis and our dress sizes fluctuate seasonally at the very least, too. So what's the point of caring? If you're feeling confident and know you're healthy, you're doing it right. It's taken me a long time to let go of caring about that five to 10 pounds one way or the other (though it seems so trite now that I look back on it), but there's simply more to my life than the degree of muffin top I have to offer on any particular day. Misti, Marie, Patrice, and countless other plus-size bloggers taught me that and continue to back it up with words and images on a daily basis.