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If you’re a plus-size CEO, executive, or work in the corporate world, there’s an understood dress code to follow. It skews formal and above all, professional.
The only puzzle piece left for you to slot into place is how to find corporate wear that fits YOU.
At Next Level Wardrobe, our expert stylists have years of experience working with clients of many shapes, sizes, and ages. This includes clients ranging from size 00 to 24. We’ve gathered our team’s best tips and tricks for a quick and easy guide on plus size corporate wear.
But before we talk about your closet musts and where to shop, let’s cover the basics. After all, what defines plus sizing and how do you navigate it?
What is Plus Size?
For a “by the book” answer, in the US fashion industry, plus size refers to sizes above a straight-size 16.
Sounds simple right? Let’s add another layer.
Plus size also includes sizes of 14W and above. Sizes with a “W” after them denote “women’s” sizes, which is another term for plus size. The original idea of this sizing was to cut clothing to fit a fuller, more mature body.
It’s getting confusing, isn’t it?
If you’ve ever been baffled trying to figure out what your size is, there’s a reason for that.
Plus-size clothing (and all clothing for that matter) varies wildly. From store to store, from item to item, and even region to region. Why?
To really get into it we’d have to look at the history of sizing systems. But for the short version, there’s basically never been one standardized system for clothing sizes.
There was a time when people didn’t need a standard because they made their own clothes. Enter mass production. Manufacturers each made clothing according to a general pattern of what measurements they thought customers “should” have.
Then along came vanity sizing. Retailers realized customers preferred to see smaller numbers on the tags of their garments. So even though the average US body continues to grow, those numbers steadily get smaller.
How to Find Plus Size Corporate Wear That Fits?
You may be thinking, “If sizing is so hard to decode, how do I find items that actually fit?”
If you’re shopping for plus size corporate wear online, take your measurements (or have a friend take them for you). Then, go off each brand’s size chart for your best bet if you’re shopping online.
A video of an actual client fitting room we worked with recently.
But in general, we at Next Level Wardrobe believe that you should ignore what the tag says and try on everything. Check out the video of ALL the items + outfits that we put together for our plus size client recently. Over 100 items she tried on in two hours.
We know it takes time, but it’s the only way to know how and if pieces will fit.
Another tool to keep in mind is tailoring.
For so many people, alterations sound unnecessary or too much of a luxury. However, the reality is that most clothes don’t fit perfectly off the rack.
Having ill-fitting clothes leads to more wardrobe dissatisfaction, which leads to more unnecessary shopping.
By investing in a fit professional, you’re saving time and money in the long run.
3 Must-have Plus Size Corporate Clothing Pieces
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At last, it’s time to talk about how to dress professionally when you’re plus size. Here are the three must-have plus size corporate clothing pieces to have in your wardrobe and why:
Our recent client who is a partner at a law firm on the East Coast, size 14.
Nothing instantly elevates an outfit like a good blazer. On top of that, it’s required for most corporate workplaces. Seek out a black or navy blazer to start. These shades are formal and versatile. Later you can add other core-color options such as white, brown, or grey.
Many of our plus-size clients struggle to find options that are comfortable, particularly around the arms and bust. If this is you, look for stretch blends to give your blazer added flexibility.
Our recent client who is a partner at a law firm on the East Coast, size 14.
In the corporate world, trousers are the go-to practical yet sophisticated clothing choice. Again, turn to core colors.
In terms of fabrication, cotton is the gold standard. It’s professional, classic, and breathable.
If you’re a New York CEO looking to upgrade your style, consider a wool pair of trousers in winter. These will keep those below-freezing days at bay while still looking stylish.
While there are no rules when it comes to what silhouette you should choose, we have basic rules for fit. No gapping at the waistband and no pant legs dragging on the floor. Look for trousers that break just at the top of your shoe or at your ankle.
Complete your plus-size corporate wear power outfit with a blouse. Again, neutrals will never do you wrong, but this is an opportunity to experiment with color and texture.
If your wardrobe’s been skewing dark, try tonal colors like light blue. Or a heathered grey top for visual interest.
Once you’ve got the basics, you can add a pop of color that suits your personal brand and office environment.
How to Put Together Plus Size Corporate Attire Outfits
You’ve got your arsenal of plus size corporate wear go-tos. Now it’s time to build outfits.
Here is how to build plus-size corporate attire outfits:
1. Focus on core colors
We mentioned this earlier: core colors such as black, navy, brown, grey, and white are your building blocks. Why? Because they go with everything and always look top-notch.
The majority of your closet should consist of these colors.
The second largest section of your closet to tonal colors. These are shades of core colors that give your outfits subtle variety and visual interest.
The smallest percentage of your wardrobe goes to accent colors and patterns. Remember, we said accent. That means they should act as that occasional dash that gives an outfit oomph.
2. Invest in essentials
So many of our clients have too many clothes and don’t wear 90% of them. That means they haven’t invested in the true essentials that their closets need.
Part of the NLW style system is to value quality over quantity. Focus on what you actually need.
What suits your office dress code?
What matches the climate you live in?
What impression do you want to make with your outfits?
These questions identify what’s worth purchasing and what’s better left at the store.
3. Focus on fit
One more time for the people in the back: fit is everything.
It’s not enough to have clothes to only check the first two steps of the style system. You have to take the time to find the right fit.
Find those high-quality items in the right colors and make sure they fit even if that means hiring a tailor.
Where to Shop for Women’s Plus Size Corporate Clothing
One of the most common questions we get is, “Where do I even find quality women’s plus size corporate clothing? It seems like everything plus size is fast fashion.”
The world of luxury fashion—let alone sustainable fashion—has a long way to go in terms of including larger bodies.
Second of all, we have a few favorites to recommend. As personal stylists, it’s our job to comb through clothing sites and stores near our NYC and LA offices. Check out these places to shop for plus-size corporate wear:
This plus-size brand began after the founder, Shanna Goldstone worked with Melissa McCarthy on the launch of her own label. In doing research, Goldstone saw how little there was for larger women in terms of modern, well-tailored, classic clothing.
Pari Passu uses a unique fit system to take into account how different people carry their weight in different places. Using thousands of body scans of real plus-size women, they developed new new, realistic clothing patterns.
While not a lonestanding clothing brand, Nordstrom is one of our favorite department stores to find many plus options under one roof. They carry top-of-the-line labels in a range of sizes. If shopping online, we recommend using search filters to find just what you’re looking for.
11 Honoré is a relatively new, exciting label under the Dia & Co umbrella. It’s dedicated to offering high-end, contemporary silhouettes and styles for plus-size women.
They’ve got a wide range of workwear options including blazers, trousers, blouses, dresses, and skirts.
Oh, and if you’re looking for a night out look, they’ve got you covered.
Nic + Zoe is a woman-owned brand with something for everybody. They offer plus clothing along with petite and straight sizes. Additionally, they’re experts at combining those workhorse capsule pieces you need with fun accent options.
We especially love their knitwear, so if you’re looking for a sweater for the colder months, start here.
Before we leave you, here’s a round-up of some of our most frequently asked questions regarding corporate attire for plus size women.
My office requires button-downs but I always run into gapping because I have a larger chest. Suggestions?
Alterations. Alterations. Alterations.
Buy your shirt in a size up (aka, a size that comfortably fits your chest without pulling at the front) and have the rest taken in.
Shoes! What are the must-have shoes for my outfits?
Don’t worry, we weren’t going to leave you barefoot.
Keep it clean and timeless. This isn’t the time to test out new trends, sky-high stilettos, or an open-toe.
Loafers, flats, and low heels.
Opt for elevated fabrications including leather, suede, or quality vegan alternatives.
I’m going for a promotion in my current role, how do I think about my style for that situation?
Many of our women’s image consulting clients work with us because they’re going for a promotion and want to be taken seriously.
What we do is we help them dress for the job they want. We hone in on what they want their clothes to say about themselves and their brand.
Once you have a focused wardrobe, people take notice.
My office has never given us any guidance on a dress code, what do I do?
Don’t get lost in the sea of office dress codes. Opt for power casual.
This style is the mixing of formal and informal pieces to create the perfect middle ground.
Like a blazer partnered with jeans. Or a tee tucked into trousers and finished with dressy sneakers.
You’ll feel put-together without going over-the-top.
If you’re looking to add corporate wear to your wardrobe, check out our plus-size image consulting services. Team up with one of our style experts to revamp your closet and professional mindset.
Cassandra Sethi is a NYC Personal Stylist and Image Consultant. After working over 15 years in the Fashion Industry, most recently as a Senior Buyer for Equinox, she created her business, Next Level Wardrobe – a luxury personal shopping service for successful professionals.
Next Level Wardrobe has been featured in Wall Street Journal, Today and CNN. See here.