Monday, April 28, 2014

Best business casual clothes for normal weight women

Answer:  The obesification of America has left physically fit professional women with drastically diminishing options when it comes to their professional wardrobes, but I'll show one of my favorite workarounds in this post in the hopes of giving my peers a coping strategy.

But first, let me describe the problem fully so that the need for a specific solution becomes more evident.

Thirty years ago when I was just beginning my acquisition of a professional wardrobe, the size difference between the very smallest and the very largest American female clothes shopper probably amounted to about 50 pounds.  I had no trouble finding clothing that fit in those years.

However, with the coming of the Obesity Age, that smallest-to-largest spread increased to, what?  At least 100 and perhaps it could be more accurately stated as 200 pounds!  That had two effects on the market:

  1. Manufacturers changed the dimensional ratios of clothing to account for the excess weight now carried by the average woman.
  2. The difference between successive sizes increased to account for the greater spread.

Both of those market responses are evident in these example dressing room photos:

No, that's not a store mannequin - that's your friendly neighborhood blogger.  As bad as this photo looks, it was actually much worse to start with - I had to Photoshop it to tone down the grossly revealing effects so that it would be fit for posting.  I'm 50 years old - I can't go around with my rack hanging out like that.  That's ridiculous.  
OK, so it's obviously inappropriately tight across the chest even while fitting well through the torso, waist, arms and shoulders.  But look what happens when I go just one size up:
It's a tent.  It looks like I stole a man-shirt out of my husband's side of the closet.  And this is just one size up.  
I'm sure many readers are muttering, "If that's your biggest problem in life, you have nothing to complain about" and it's true that there are many worse challenges a person could face.

However, I and women like me still have to deal with this.  Those of us in the conservative, educated professions are expected to be appropriately tailored:  traditional shirts with collars and a well-put-together deportment.  I work in a male-dominated profession, so it's even more important that my presentation be unassailable in every way, including appearance - I can't go around looking like either a slob or a Barbie doll caricature, especially as a middle-aged woman.  For the past several years, I've been operating with only three appropriate shirts.  Three business meetings with the same parties and my entire wardrobe is exhausted.  I sometimes have this imaginary dialog in my head whereby one of my clients asks, "What the hell?!  Do we not pay you enough to properly dress yourself??" And I reply, "Yes you do, but there's virtually nothing available for me to buy."

Retailers don't make this process any easier because each and every one of them engages in flagrant deception when it comes to their wares.  They all sell tent-like clothing for the masses, but you can't confirm that until you actually waste your time by walking into the stores and inspecting more closely.
Whether casual or dressy, all of the shirts that they sell are pinned in the back to take up excess fabric.  What from the front  looks like it might fit a normal-weight woman is actually a tent in disguise.   

Yes, this particular mannequin is anorexic.  But even if the mannequin were filled out to the size of a 130 lb. woman, this shirt would still be tent-like.  
Much of the time, the retailers aren't even subtle about this practice.  Some of them use big file binder clips instead of discrete pins.
You can't even find relief if you try to go for a traditional conservative knit instead of a tailored shirt.  They're all tents regardless of style.  
Complicating the shopping challenge further is the fact that the euphemisms have reversed in a rather confusing manner.  Thirty years ago, the word "curvy" was a polite way of saying that a woman had a bit of extra weight on her.  These days it means exactly the opposite - a woman is "curvy" if she is still in possession of a waistline that has not been filled in with excess fat to the point where she becomes straight-bodied.
A waistline that must be accounted for in the fit of the clothing.  I am the 21st century's definition of curvy, apparently.  These are the pants I was wearing in the ill-fitting shirt photos above.  They fit fairly well.  Loose but reasonably proportioned. 
Anyway, keep those annoying perversities in mind if you're a woman facing this predicament while shopping for yourself: what looks at first glance to be made for normal-weight women may actually be made for overweight women, and what looks like it might be referencing overweight women might actually be made for normal-weight women.  Duh.

And now for one of my favorite workarounds:
Go ahead and get the traditional tailored shirt, capitulating to the fact that it's never going to fit through the bust while simultaneously fitting through the ribs, waist, hips, arms, and shoulders, because they just don't make shirts like that any longer.  Those years are gone.

Focus on achieving the proper dimensions through the rib cage, waist, and arms so that the fit looks neat and clean.  But then underlayer the shirt with a coordinating sleeveless so that it looks like you want to leave the front of the tailored shirt open, rather than it being a situation whereby you have to leave the front of the shirt open because it is so ill-fitting.

Make sure that the sleeveless is a silk or a very thin polyester so that it won't add sloppy bulk beneath the tailored outer layer.  The sleeveless should have one color in it that matches the outer shirt so that the combination appears stylistically legitimate.

I'm essentially using a shirt to act more like a light jacket or blazer here.  It's a bit unusual, but I think it works.    
If anyone else has any good workarounds in this same vein, I'd love to hear from you, either through the Comments section below or via - at - gmail.  Thanks and good luck.
Coincidentally, about three hours after I wrote this post, someone shared this meme on Facebook.  I had to pass it on.

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