WANTED: My waistline. It hasn’t been seen since approximately May 2002, when my baby-carrying belly popped. One gift of motherhood is that I haven’t had much time to mourn my shape’s disappearance. Recently, though, I had a body panic attack: I had two events to attend, and I no great outfits for them. I needed a dress, bad. I needed my waist even more.
Then a fairy godmother arrived in my email in-box: Kimberly Garrett of Plush Fashion Styling, to be exact. Formerly part of the celeb dressing team at Polo Ralph Lauren, she’s helped style Blake Lively, Julianne Moore and Debra Messing; she’s also worked with the wardrobe designers on Gossip Girl and Sex and the City 2. Turns out she now specializes in working with New York City moms, and she was up for lending me—non-celeb me!—her expertise for events. Free. Was I interested?
Two words: HELL yeah.
We met in person at MaxMara on New York City’s Madison Avenue. Kimberly looked just as chic as I’d expected, and she’s nice, too, so I instantly felt comfortable. Then she started grabbing dresses off the racks. I looked on, horrified, especially when she picked a turquoise blue wrap dress. A bright color?! A dress that was going to cling to my body?! What was she thinking?
I tried on dress after dress: OK, not bad, no way. Then I slipped on the turquoise blue one. Wait, could it be? My waist! Found! I couldn’t believe my eyes. It wasn’t like I’d suddenly morphed into Gisele or anything, but the dress gave me shape that even Spanx hadn’t. “When you go against your usual type’ of clothes, you may be pleasantly surprised by how something makes you look and feel,” Kimberly said.
Given that I wasn’t going to be able to haul her along on shopping trips for the rest of my life, I asked for her best advice. “Once in a while, bring your most honest friend when you shop!” she said. “That may not necessarily be your best friend, but the one who’s going to tell you the truth about how things fit. Also, get past size-phobia! Some clothing runs small. Don’t feel bad about trying on stuff that’s one or two sizes up from what you usually wear.”
Here, top tips for the most flattering ways to dress a non-slim body (and, wait for it, one amazing Spanx pick).
Go for clothes that hug your curves 1 of 11"Some clients get freaked out about clothes that conform to their shapes," says Kimberly. (AHEM.) "They're actually great for creating curves!" Try wrap dresses and ones with wide belts; for blazers, seek out jackets that nip at the waist, which give the illusion of a smaller waistline.
Look for: A stylish wrap dress, like this one from Talbots.
Photo credit: Talbots
Choose the right fabrics 2 of 11"Fabrics that have a little structure, like a silk crepe, crisp linen or stiff cottons, are really flattering," says Kimberly. In other words, they're good at disguising lumps and bumps. Jersey cotton doesn't do women with full-ish figures any favors, so steer clear.
Look for: Clothes with fabric that's a bit stiff, like this luxe silk crepe blouse from J.Crew.
Photo credit: J.Crew
Know the best length 3 of 11The most flattering dresses and skirts fall a few inches above the knee or (for dressy events and work) graze the bottom. If the hem is on the shorter side, place four fingers horizontally at the top of your knee — that's typically a super-flattering length.
Look for: A skirt that falls at the right spot, like this pencil style from Ann Taylor.
Photo credit: Ann Taylor
Think slimming sleeves 4 of 11"I like a three-fourth sleeve in general, whether a blouse comes that way or long sleeves are rolled up," says Kimberly. "Most of us have thin wrists and forearms — call attention to them!" This definitely helps you avoid the sausage-arm effect. "If you're wearing a sleeveless dress and want some upper-arm coverage," continues Kimberly, "drape a pretty scarf around your shoulders."
Look for: Tops with three-fourth sleeves like this cardigan from Nordstrom.
Photo credit: Nordstrom
Remember: Black isn’t the only skinny color 5 of 11"A lot of women think that black is most slimming. Yes, it can be, but so are navy, dark purple and chocolate brown," says Kimberly. "They have the same slimming effect black does but they can be much more complementary on fair skin."
Look for: Not black, like this navy dress by Lilly Pulitzer.
Photo credit: Bloomingdales
Find flattering necklines 6 of 11"Ones that are open are universally flattering on all women," says Kimberly. "They draw the eye inward and upward, giving you the illusion of being taller and thinner." V-necks and scoop necks are perfect; flashing collarbone is always sexy. Who doesn't have a buff collarbone?
Look for: A v-neck top, like this cotton top from Anthropologie.
Photo credit: Anthropologie
Let Spanx suck it in for you 7 of 11"A well-made camisole can hold you in, define your waist, smooth out your silhouette and lift you in all the right places," says Kimberly. "I'm very open with how I feel about Spanx! They make everyone look better." God. Bless. Spanx.
Look for: Spanx magic, like this Hide & Sleek cami.
Photo credit: Spanx
See a pattern here? Good! 8 of 11"Don't be afraid of patterns! Just pay attention to whether their size makes you look slimmer or wider," says Kimberly. "Polka dots, for example, are most flattering when the circles are small. Big dots on your hips or chest isn't a good look for most women! If you're doing stripes, go for vertical ones — they make you seem taller and slimmer."
Look for: Clothes with small patterns, like this top by Susan Graver.
Pick sexy jewelry 9 of 11The right bling can elongate your arms. When you're dressing up for an event, "I suggest just a prominent ring and a few delicate dangling bracelets," says Kimberly. "The idea is to wear ones that don't cut your arm off and give the illusion of length."
Look for: Skinny pretty bangles, like these by Nyla Star.
Photo credit: Jess Levey for Josh Strauss Weddings
Go for shoes that give you lotsa leg 10 of 11
And get yourself some good jeans! 11 of 11"I love boot-cut jeans on most women — the width at the bottom makes thighs appear thinner," notes Kimberly. (The same goes for shorts — ones that flare out a bit are more flattering than straight-fit ones.) Also, think dark-wash: "Jeans with bleaching on the hips and thighs can draw attention to what women consider their problem areas," says Kimberly. Word about skinny jeans: "I see a lot of women wear them with fitted tops. It's tricky because you can end up looking like you're in a unitard — a scary thought for most of us! Flatter by wearing skinny jeans with a blousy top, or boot-cut jeans with a more fitted top".
Look for: Boot-cuts, like these by Style & Co.
Photo credit: Jess Levey for Josh Strauss Weddings