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How to Dress Your Plus Size Body Shape in Vintage Clothing
Tired of trashing malls and chain stores to find something new and different? You don’t see anything tempting in the catalogs? Then try VINTAGE! Where almost EVERYTHING is unique! Let’s put it this way – you won’t meet at a party!
Maybe you think that because you’re tall you can’t wear vintage clothes. Yes you can! I’m tall, busty, broad-shouldered, and plus-sized, and my closet is full of great vintage clothes. Simply put: If a 300-pound drag queen can dress like Cher, you can be whoever you want. We’ll start with the basics. Imagine me holding your hand as we travel through Vintage Land!
Find YOUR unique vintage style
How have you always wanted to look? Like a wild rockabilly baby? A blonde sex bomb like Marilyn Monroe? A temptress like Bettie Page? A 20s flapper like Clara Bow? A broad-shouldered 40-something like Joan Crawford? A 60s Mod like Edie Sedgwick? Or a big-haired 80s Joan Collins? All of this is possible when you mix the right modern and vintage pieces.
Think about which era appeals to you the most and why. It’s the key to finding your vintage personality.
Some are drawn to the pearls, fringes and velvets of the 1920s. Others want the elegant look of the 1930s. Still others like the ultra-structured look of the 40s, or the “bombshell” look of the 50s. Others like Mod, hippie, in fact there are too many styles and eras to list here!
Don’t be afraid to dream! The only limit at the start is your imagination.
Getting Started: The Basics
First, take a good look at your figure and what you want focus on. It can be your bust, your legs, your booty or your face. You need to take your measurements everywhere: bust, waist, hips, shoulder to waist, waist to inseam, inseam, thigh width if you are going to buy pants.
Yeah, that part is probably scary. Many of us don’t want to know our measurements. We don’t care what dress size we make. I once had to take my measurements over the phone for a TV costume, and after each measurement I was screaming! (Fortunately, the costume designer was used to it.)
I also recommend measuring your absolute favorite pieces to see how to get your best fit. Not the ones you wore, but the ones you wear NOW. Some like it tight, like Mae West; some like it fluid. When it comes to defining your personal style, knowledge is power! And what is it about these pieces that you like? The colour? The cup? (Sweat doesn’t count!)
You can go to your local bookstore or look on the internet to look at photos of former movie stars. It used to be that Hollywood fan magazines encouraged women to identify with movie stars. But who can identify with Nicole Kidman? Or Charlize Theron? It will also give you ideas of styles and eras. Images of real eras and personalities are much more useful than those “How to Vintage” guides, which end up making everyone look the same!
Getting started: the basics, part two
Your body type
According to experts, there are between four and six body types for plus size women. I will choose the four most basic.
Your overall figure is curvy, your hips and bust are about the same width. Your waist is well defined and at least seven inches smaller than your bust or hips. You can have a round, full behind. Your thighs are full, but narrower than your lower hips, and your lower legs are shapely and proportionately slim.
2) The pear.
Your hips and thighs are wider than your shoulders and bust. You store most of your weight in your stomach, thighs and buttocks. Your hip may widen just below the waist, but it’s usually widest eight inches below your waist at the “low hip.” Kate Winslet, believe it or not, is a pear.
3) The rectangle. You are straight from top to bottom, with a slightly small bust and little to no waist definition. You may have a plump back and a slightly short neck, but you tend to have relatively thin arms and legs. Kim Cattrall is a Rectangle, but you would never know it.
4) Apple. You carry most of your weight in your bust, waist, and back, with relatively slim hips and legs. You tend to look a little heavy. Catherine Zeta-Jones is considered an Apple!
What body type are you?
Not all bodies look EXACTLY like the shapes described above, but pick the one that comes closest to you.
Okay, first of all, anyone of any shape can wear a kaftan or a muumuu, so that’s out of the way. These are not hard and fast rules, just suggestions.
Hourglass: go sexy! Like Marilyn, you can wear tight and fitted 50s cardigans, capri pants, pencil skirts and choppy dresses. Or like Jean Harlow, you can pull off those skintight, sexy ’30s dresses and slips (although you might have to wear Spanx underneath). You don’t have to wear stilletos, but any type of shoe that shows off your legs is a good idea. Mix in modern pieces like corset tops to show off your chest or shrugs to cover your arms if you’re self-conscious about them. You can wear almost any decade, except Mod can look “fake” on your figure, especially A-line dresses. And too many frills can look costume-like, unless you’re on the petite side.
Pear: Often you have shapely arms, so you can get away with camisoles and other sleeveless looks. Victorian and Edwardian long skirts (and their 70s counterparts) are great for your shape, as are vintage, high, low and mid-calf boots. Do you remember the beauty of Kate Winslet in her “Titanic” dresses? If you want to buy mid-century dresses, look for dresses that are longer, which will show off your top and skim the bottom. These will be easier to find in the 1950s and 1970s than in the 40s or 60s. Avoid fancy pockets on your skirts and dresses. Avoid ’70s “hip-hugger” jeans, too, but look for dreamy tops from the same decade. Unlike the Hourglass, you can work the 1960s A-line fit.
Rectangle: Your wardrobe needs curves, but clothes that work for the hourglass won’t work on your shape. Look for round skirts (not pencil skirts!), luxurious shoes, dresses with neck and shoulder interest (no ruffles, but more sophisticated details like darts, pleats and sequins). You have been made to wear 1920s beaded dresses wonderfully. Shawls and scarves also add flow and curve to your look. And you can really succeed Mod!
Apple: Depending on the dress, you too can wear Mod clothes (remember Stacy Turnblad in “Hairspray”?). Show off your legs in shorter dresses, flaunt your cleavage in modern surplice necklines with vintage mini skirts! You can also wear 50s beaded cardigans with modern flat front pants. As long as you avoid bulk around the waist and don’t hide in layers and layers of fabric, you can wear almost any decade.
Acquire your unique vintage wardrobe
Start with basic pieces, as you would with your contemporary wardrobe. If you love dresses, start there. Same with separations. Searching online is a better bet than most vintage stores, although you never know what you’ll find at your local thrift store!
Alas, as with contemporary clothing, a lot depends on your budget. There are spectacular plus size dresses from all eras, but many of them also have spectacular prices. I don’t sell expensive vintage clothes myself, but I don’t often come across a famous designer or a mint condition silk dress. Dior did not make plus sizes.
If you just MUST have that mink coat or that taffeta dress, if you have the money, buy it! You won’t regret it for a minute. I overspent once or twice, but that was on dresses that I love and wear quite often.
But if you’re on a tight budget, look for vintage winter clothes in the summer. Also limit the amount of vintage you buy. Vintage accessories are often at affordable prices, and you can achieve the look you want with the right vintage hat, shoes, bag and jewelry, for much less than this mink coat.
And don’t forget that part of the cost of your vintage wardrobe will be upkeep. Unlike today’s clothes, you can’t throw your Ceil Chapman in the washing machine. Much of it should be professionally cleaned or carefully hand washed.
And invest in yourself! If you want a high-maintenance look like a glamorous platinum blonde, that’s in your budget: the salon, the nail polish, etc. do more with your hair than ruffle it with your fingers.
The most important part of all!
Be confident! You are beautiful!
You can choose any look, as long as you are comfortable and confident in your clothes and accessories. It takes courage (or what they called in the 1930s, “moxie”) to pull off a look that makes sense to you. But the more you do it, the more you will like it. I promise!
Now go shopping! And remember, THE BIG STRIPE RULE!
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