As a stylist and entrepreneur, I'm always at work. Even when I'm not working, I'm observing the people around me, surveying stores, and well, eavesdropping.
I was in a high-end consignment store last week. A woman's whole batch of clothing had been rejected. She marched away from the buyer and demanded to speak to a manager.
Honestly, I was ready to roll my eyes. Go read online reviews for any consignment store. The consignors complain the prices are too low. The shoppers complain that the prices are too high. Rinse and repeat. I thought her complaints would be the same as everyone else's.
But this was different. The woman asked the manager why they refused to buy any plus-size clothes. The manager said there's no market for plus-size items in their stores.
Here in the US, the average woman's size is 16-18. In a country where most women are plus-sized, there's definitely a market. It's just under-served. How did the store manager even know there's not a market? He's refused to ever buy plus size clothing!
The woman left without buying or selling anything. On her way out, she shouted "You know big girls like nice stuff too!" And she was right. So, where's a fashion-loving gal supposed to shop when she isn't straight-sized? I'll tell you.
How is plus-size defined?
We can debate all day what numbers are really plus-sizes. Some people say it's anything over a size 14. Others will say it's over an 18. There's a whole group of women who are between straight and plus-size who are woefully under-served by the entire fashion industry. I call this being "cusp" sized, because you're right on the cusp of fitting into both departments. Yet, nothing fits in either one. It sucks. For the purpose of this particular blog post, I'm only including stores that carry at least a size 20.
And, we'll be exploring stores that aren't already well-known as plus-size retailers. For example, you won't find Torrid or Lane Bryant on this list. We're focusing on department stores and boutiques that cater to chic women who wear a size 18-24. This post is for successful women who need quality work wear.
20 stores for plus size women's work Clothing
#1 A Piece Apart
While most of their wares are too bohemian for conservative offices, some of the pants and tops are work-friendly. If you're on the petite side, you can probably get away with sporting some of the dresses too. Shop here if you want quality pieces you won't see on anyone else. And, if you happen to be visiting NYC, visit their boutique.
#2 Anna Scholz
Here you'll find gorgeous dresses and fun, trendy pieces rendered in quality materials. While their aesthetic is fairly bohemian, it can work for entrepreneurs and creatives. They are an exclusively plus-size brand.
#3 ASOS Curve
Online mega-retailer ASOS serves up some reliable plus-size work wear. Things tend to veer toward the trendy, cheap side though. It works best for those under 40.
The legendary department store offers plus-size clothing from high-end designers like Marina Rinaldi and Lafayette 148. They've also got affordable options from Vince Camuto, City Chic, and Sanctuary Curve.
#5 Curve Couture
Situated on Cedros Avenue in Solana Beach, Curve Couture is San Diego's best plus-size retailer. They also have an amazing accessory collection. Their company motto is "real fashion in real sizes". And they only carry sizes 8 and up. But, hey, if you wear a size 2 you can get some earrings or a scarf. (See how it feels?!) Kudos to Curve Couture for their irreverence and success.
Make sure to ready the customer reviews before making a purchase at Elloquii. Their quality is hit or miss. That said, you can score some solid plus-size work pieces at reasonable prices. Most of their items are under $100.
Are you into ethical fashion? You have to try Everlane. Like a lot of plus-size retailers, Everlane has great accessory collections. Their shoes and bags are highly rated.
If you're in a business casual environment, try Loft. Their wrap dresses, tops, and knit blazers are perfectly appropriate for a modern office. Loft is a great brand for apple-shaped women and those who are larger in the middle.
For those who love designer wares, Misook has you covered. Seriously, cover yourself in Misook and you will instantly feel like the boss babe you are. It's not cheap. But neither are you.
#10 M.M. LAFLEUR
For those of you in the C-Suite, I urge you to check out M.M. LAFLEUR. This NYC based company creates high-quality pieces that are truly timeless. Explore their high-end suiting and sheath dresses. You won't be disappointed.
If you work in a creative environment, consider Modcloth for plus-size dresses and tops. Many of their offerings are appropriate for a business casual or creative atmosphere. It's great for artsy entrepreneurs.
Since it's a department store, Nordstrom carries many different plus-size brands. For nice, reasonably-priced work wear, I love Tahari and Vince Camuto in particular.
#13 Nordstrom Rack
Of course, you can also visit the Rack and score great deals on Nordstrom's plus size clothes.
Tip: If you're in San Diego, the Carmel Mountain and La Jolla/ UTC locations have the best selection of work clothing.
PinkBlush is a maternity clothing retailer that specializes in romantic and extra-girly fashion for women who wear sizes XS-3X. They make fantastic sweaters, cardigans, and dresses. Most of these can be worn in a business casual environment.
#15 Sak's Fifth Avenue
For my ladies in the C-suite (this is a code word I'm using for "rich AF", can you tell?), get your rich butt over to Sak's. Pick up a Marina Rinaldi skirt. Throw an Akris Punto blazer in your bag. Grab an Oscar De La Renta dress while you're at it. You've earned it!
#16 simply. be.
It's very similar to Eloquii. I could just copy and paste that description here. But that's lazy! Also what if you skip that one, but read this one? Like Eloquii, simply.be. offers inexpensive work wear for a woman who wears a size 20 or larger.
Tip: Check the reviews because quality can be hit or miss.
Like every other millennial mom, I clock a lot of time at Target. Even if you're not in their target demo, don't sleep on this big-box retailer. They have amazing designers working for them. For plus sizes, Target offers several lines. Ava & Viv, Prologue, and Universal Thread are my favorites.
#18 OF/ MERCER
It's Another hip, online boutique offering high-quality work wear. If you don't want to look like everyone else, check them out. They serve the woman who wears a size 14W-20W.
#19 Off Fifth
It's Sak's cheaper, sluttier sister! She lets everyone in! Jokes aside, Off Fifth is the place to score premier designer duds at a steep discount.
This UK-based fast fashion retailer serves women who wear sizes 14-34. It's great for those of you who need "cusp sizing". Again, cusp sizing is what I call it when you're straddling the line between straight and plus-size departments.
The perfect store wouldn't have plus sizes
Let me just pat myself on the back for that magnificent click-bait headline. Of course, stores should carry all the sizes from 000 to 30. But they shouldn't separate out those above a certain size and give them a weird, exclusionary title. Even Melissa McCarthy agrees with me.
If I could snap my finger and create the perfect store, I would. All of my inventory would be available in petite, straight, plus, and long.
Is that top available in petite? Yes. Does this dress come in size 22? Yes. Do those jeans come in long? Yes. Can I get this blazer in a size 20 petite? Yes. I would be saying yes to people all day long! I wouldn't separate short clothing and size 20 clothing into a special department. And every item would be available in every size.
While there are a few independent retailers who already do this, I would love to see it become a standard practice in the industry. It would certainly be the standard in my perfect store.
And, I wouldn't alter the design of a garment for clients who wear larger sizes. Have you ever noticed how a straight-size top will have nice buttons and seaming at the waist, but the "same top" in plus has cheap buttons and no shape? Yeah, my store wouldn't pull that crap.
Even online, I wouldn't make my customers who wear a size 24 click over to another page for the same dress. I'm looking at you Loft! A size 2 would be on the same drop-down menu as a size 24.
Unfortunately, my perfect store doesn't yet exist. I'm glad we're getting there. Where do you love to shop for high-end work wear? Did I leave out your favorite? Sound off in the comments!
Shop stylist-approved plus-size WORK clothes
Want to hire a stylist?
Shopping is overwhelming even for women who are straight-sized. It's even more daunting when you wear a plus-size. I offer in-person styling services for women in San Diego and Orange County. Of course, I also style women virtually. As an online stylist that's provides a truly personal service, I can style you no matter where you live. Check out my virtual styling services here.
Just as there are one million ways to make a sandwich, there are one million ways to make an outfit. This contributes to "outfit overwhelm". Outfit overwhelm that feeling of dread some women experience when looking at their closet full of clothes and finding nothing to wear.
Fortunately, outfit formulas can make life easier. An outfit formula is similar to a recipe. We all know sandwiches usually contain two slices of bread and something in the middle. An outfit formula requires a top, a bottom, and shoes.
Take this concept a step further and prepare your outfits for the whole week ahead. I recommend doing this on Sundays. This level of wardrobe preparation will save you so much time, energy, and frustration. Over time, successfully implementing outfit formulas will help you craft a signature style.
Outfit Formula #1
Sleeveless Dress + Nude Shoes + Bold Earrings
Without even trying, you probably already have several "outfit formulas" in the mix. Look back through photos to see what you've been wearing recently. One of my go-to looks is a sleeveless dress, nude shoes, and bold earrings. You can make it as basic as "sleeveless dress" or as specific as "jewel-toned, solid color sleeveless dress".
Outfit Formula #2
Peplum Top + Skinny Jeans + Heels
Another one of my personal favorites, especially for photos and/or not shaving your legs is a peplum top + skinny jeans + heels. Again you can make this as specific as "light wash skinny jeans and patterned peplum top" or as broad as "skinny jeans and peplum top".
Outfit Formula #3
Button Down Shirt + Jeans + Heels
For my personal styling clients who have casual work environments, this is one of my favorite outfit formulas. Pro tip: keep a pair of sneakers in your car or tote bag. That way, if you need to take the kids to the park, a friend wants to go for a walk, or you must stop by the grocery store on your way home, you can do so comfortably. Wear a pair of studs or simple hoop earrings to keep it professional.
Outfit Formula #4
Blazer + Tank + Printed Shorts + Heels
For those of you with killer legs, this outfit formula is a surefire win. You can remove the blazer if you're making this a casual summer day look. Keep it on if you want to be dressy with your girls for a lunch date. Of course, the heels can also be swapped for sandals.
Outfit Formula #5
Blazer + Tank + Ankle Pants + Statement Necklace + Pointy Toe Shoes
Though I personally feel naked without them, not everyone can or wants to wear earrings. Statement necklaces are a great way to add personality to an otherwise boring, corporate work look. If you're in a creative environment you can make this look even more fun by wearing a printed blazer or a brightly colored heel.
Outfit Formula #6
Scarf + T-Shirt + Boyfriend Jeans
For weekend wardrobes and transitional weather, try adding a cute little scarf to basic jeans and tee ensemble. This accessory always gives personality and an air of "put-togetherness". As a bonus, you will be warm if you walk into an overly air-conditioned environment.
Outfit Formula #7
Utility Jacket + Basic Top + Jeans + Sneakers
Wearing a utility jacket completes your outfit and helps prevent sunburn. I am basically a vampire living near the beach, so I get a sunburn if my shoulders are exposed for more than 10 minutes. If you don't have a utility jacket, this outfit formula also works well with chambray button-downs.
Outfit Formula #8
Pencil Skirt + Pumps + Shell + Tweed Jacket
Work separates can be so versatile. I love pairing tweed jackets with pencil skirts and skinny jeans. A tweed jacket typically has a boxy shape, so it is important to pair it with something more streamlined on the bottom.
Do you have any favorite outfit formulas? Let me know here in the comments, or over on Instagram.
Did you know that you only have nine seconds to make a good first impression? Within nine seconds of seeing you, a person will decide if you're trustworthy, approachable, or intelligent. I don't tell you this to make you anxious. I want to empower you. Before you even say a word, you can send a message to your audience. This is especially important for those of you who may be giving presentations, promoting your projects on television, or delivering a TED talk. What you wear matters. I'm here to help you create an image that enhances your message rather than distract from it. Read on below for my practical advice when dressing for your next media appearance.
Research the Background
My note when outlining this blog said "Don't be a floating head!" This sums up my first suggestion well. Research the background. Are you going on a morning talk show where the background is all blue? Are you giving a speech in front of a black background? In either of those cases, you need to wear something that stands out from the background to avoid looking like a floating head on camera. An ensemble that is white, red, or yellow would work well in both of those instances.
Consider Your Audience
When you do a media appearance, or give a presentation, who is the primary audience? Are talking to kids? corporate clients? moms? teens? You want to wear something that communicates relatability while simultaneously positioning yourself as an expert. For example, if you're a creative speaking to room full of corporate clients, this might mean wearing something like a colorful dress, statement earrings, nude heels, and a cropped blazer. The colorful outfit expresses your artistic nature, while the blazer lends authority to your look.
Do a Flash Test
Whether it's a stage, a YouTube set, or a television studio, bright lights can make otherwise fine tops transparent. Do a flash test with your phone (and a trusted friend) to see how sheer your tops and bottom might be under harsh studio lighting. Unfortunately, wearing proper undergarments doesn't solve this problem. You need an outfit that is undoubtedly opaque.
Fit and Flatter Your Body
Always remember that no one can see the size on your tag. We all look better, slimmer, healthier, and happier in clothing that actually fits. Don't squeeze into a too-small size or hide yourself in a tent. If you can't breathe, or you could fit a whole other person in there, it's not the right outfit for you. If you want to take things a step further, visit my post on how to look thinner with clothes.
Don't Distract from Your Message
If you're speaking to a room full of business leaders about how to maximize profitability and all anyone wants to talk about afterwards is where you got your shoes, that can be a problem. When you consider your audience, your message, and your desired outcome, and align your outward presentation to match your intentions, you can avoid these distractions.
Outsource the Process
The most successful people in the world are great outsourcers. If shopping and getting dressed are not tasks you enjoy, consider hiring help. A personal stylist can help you create outfits with confidence. If you're in San Diego, I offer photo shoot styling, which is perfect for clients who need help getting dressed for a media appearance. Of course, I also offer virtual styling for clients outside of San Diego. Visit the Work With Me page to learn more.
I'm Jaquelyn Wahidi. I'm a personal fashion stylist, writer, and entrepreneur in San Diego. I help women organize their closets, define their style, and shop with intention. My style blog features practical fashion advice for women everywhere. Addicted to blazers since 2004.