Privilege Blog

Can A Plus Size Woman Dress High WASP?

If finding clothes to support a High WASP style can be difficult for all of us, it is even more frustrating for those in plus sizes. High WASP clothing style is characterized by respect for the social context, clean lines, classic proportions, high quality materials, and subtle, original details. Plus size fashion? Not so much.

But Queen Victoria, who ushered in the era of the High WASP in America, was herself plus size. We cannot let an entire segment of the deserving populace go unserved. Those who wish to follow this aesthetic should be allowed to do so. However, I can say that all I wish, and if the resources are not available it’s an empty statement.

So I went hunting. Some general observations. First, the industry does not, very often, show plus size fashion on plus size people. No surprise there, I suppose. They don’t show standard fashion on standard people. But those in the standard segment have many, many retail outlets at which to translate photos of 5’10” women who weigh 110 pounds wearing photoshopped dresses into actual selves in actual dresses. Plus size? Not so much. Hard to find large quantities of plus size clothing assembled anywhere a High WASP would be happy shopping.

Second, I am puzzled as to why the industry assumes that plus size women prefer what appear to be, to High WASP eyes, undignified colors and patterns. We don’t wear bright lavender much, nor dusty rose in shiny fabrics. We don’t like large, irregular patterns with a lot of white space. Perhaps, as has been suggested, the assumption is that the plus size demographic has a culturally determined, and different, aesthetic.

Third, I am guessing that the rule for dignified clothing choices is universal. Your clothing should treat you well. The part of your body that most pleases you? Show it off. Have a defined waist line? Define it, then. A nice line to your legs? Underline them. I could be a little off base. But the high level principle of approaching style with affection for one’s being cannot be wholly wrong.

No matter. What does matter, if you suffer from the High WASP allergy to over-ornamentation, large prints, and colors not found in nature, is what you can find to wear. Let me quite humbly submit my suggestions. For casual wear, from Artsy Cousin, (in her urban, black-is-queen guise) to the Sturdy Gal, (quite happy in khakis and a soft t-shirt), to the Grande Dame (never in jeans without heels).

I include the item list because in this case, while you may understand the idea of High WASP style, actually implementing it is a problem. And what showing the list makes clear is that one may have to go to Europe to find what one is looking for. And even learn how to speak French. I’m still trying to figure out if any of these sites ship to the USA.

Moving on to the office. Did any of you watch Drop Dead Diva? I didn’t much like the show, writing was too sentimental for my astringent soul, but found the star’s clothing to be spot on. And have looked here for work wear in that vein.

The High WASP credo, “Good bag, good shoes, good look!” does not change when we enter the plus size realm. And that Brooks Brothers bag? $350. I haven’t seen it in real life, but it appears that The Brothers are right in there with Talbots for mid-range, well-designed bags this year.

And finally, dressing up plus size. I have only one thing to say. They don’t call her Queen for nothing.

A shade of lavender that might be found in many a well-proportioned English garden. Simple but rich ornamentation, not too geometric, not too anthropomorphic. (Really, Charlize, what were you thinking? No matter how svelte, how tall, how golden of skin, we do not wear rosettes that look like bosom targets. Don’t even get me started on Carla Bruni. My pique is not caused by any general fear of breasts, I promise. Dignity and respect for a bone fide social context has nothing to do with body type.)

And now to you. Perhaps you know more than I in this area. Please share, if you will. Goodwill and navy blue to all.

55 Responses

  1. "But Queen Victoria, who ushered in the era of the High WASP in America, was herself plus size"

    I do not think any re-writing of American history would logically believe that statement.

    That dignified queen may have been plus size but I do not think she wore silly lobster trousers, pink and green Lilly dresses better suited for infants, or no one actually…

    Perhaps I misunderstood what you wrote?

  2. with regard to our first posted comment, I did not see a single Lilly print shown, only classic feminine lines and tones. But I digress, I noticed that a few of the items you listed were English/British, interesting because the 'plus size' women here tend to dress well, while our American cousins tend to struggle. I think with most things, if you are tasteful, you will find tasteful clothes. But I do often wonder why plus sized clothes tend to offer as you say – undignified colors and patterns. Enjoyed this post, thank you.

  3. Anonymous, by the era of the High WASP, I am not referring to the "preppy" Lilly/lobster pants, etc. That's a separate phenomenon. The High WASP era began in the Age of Innocence, and ended, really, the year my father's mother died. And others. 1967. I am writing about the style, and the ethos, because some of it was of value, and I would like to see it endure. The High WASPs in my family wore Lilly in Florida, and lobster pants on the Cape. Not outside the holiday context.

  4. LPC – thanks for taking on this topic and thanks for validating much of my own impression of what is (and is not) available. Sometimes it helps to have an objective outsider confirm one's frustrations.

  5. One of my daughters has a muscle weakness and abnormally low metabolism that has contributed to her being overweight. She is not plus size at this point, but we struggle to find clothes that are sophisticated and/or funky and elegant. They are out there, but it's really difficult, so I can imagine how hard plus size WASP style must be as well. Good piece.

  6. I am not too sure what the parameters are that define Plus size…but at a size 12, a teensy bit over 5 feet and overweight, hypothyroid, 55 year old that I am…I feel that I fit into this catagory.
    I do agree with your comments, especially the fact that plain colors seem to be more flattering, minimalist detail, quality fabrics, I use belts a LOT! and black is my go to haven. I find that I need to shop longer, harder, and research more, before making any clothing purchase…it's a lot of work! Great shoes and bags are my favorite items to purchase, thank goodness for small mercies!

  7. I'm one who is not-quite plus sized but not a "skinny minnie" by any means (American sizes 8-12, depending on the store), and it is a challenge to find classy, well-fitting clothes in my size. The choices appear to be a large-size version of a style that looks best on the size 2 for which the style is truly designed, or to buy something designed for the larger woman (that isn't garish, just as you described) and have it altered.

    My weight has fluctuated do mostly to two medical conditions, but also due to lack of exercise on my part. When my weight is at the higher end I already feel badly enough about my body without having to resort to clothes that do nothing to make me look good.

    I have seen many plus-size women who are drop-dead gorgeous, so I certainly do not subscribe to the idea that you must be skinny to dress nicely. But, that's it…it is a challenge for me to dress up my curves due to the frustration of finding so little that compliments my shape.

    I understand why people of average financial means who are plus-size (or curvy or big-boned or anything that isn't stick-figure model-sized) opt for baggy jeans or sweats in America…we don't have a lot of choices. It's discouraging and depressing. And, while I do make an effort to look nice every day, I wish it didn't have to be an **effort.**

  8. I really don't understand people in the clothing industry. Why should bodies fit clothes and not clothes be made in different sizes and shapesto suit different bodies? I'll never get it. That's why I love Marina Rinaldi: style should not be the privilege of a specific body type.

    A personal anecdote on how crazy things can be: In the US I am a size 6-8 petite…but in Argentina my clothes are Large size, and finding clothes there is a pain in the neck. In a country which has second highest rate of women with eating disorders (after Japan), I believe this just makes the problem worse.

  9. I think what disturbs me a bit is the fact that sentences should have a noun and a verb. That is not only High Wasp, but good English.

  10. It seems someone is quite snarky when hidden by the cloak of anonymity!

    I am often disappointed by companies when they don't offer clothes in lots of sizes. I am not skinny but I am not plus size either and shopping for things like trousers is often followed by a stiff drink!

    I recently found a great seamstress so my clothes problems have all but disappeared! I get everything tailored now so even though clothes seem to be made to fit no one, I can still manage to pull a wardrobe together!

  11. I enjoyed this post a lot. Body size and body image is something you have to deal with head on as a designer and there are so many preconceptions about it. You are dead on about Drop Dead Diva too–I didn't care much for the story line but had a new found respect for the show when I saw her carrying a kelly green bag very much like my own :) She also wears great shoes and has nice suits.

  12. DocP, my pleasure. This was requested in the survey, and I am glad to do my best. I understand that seamstresses are very helpful. Anon, some people don't like the way I write. I tend to edit the word count down below some people's comfort level. I have tried writing in consistent, traditionally formed sentences, but it reminds me too much of writing data sheets. Not something I want to do again. See what I mean:)?

  13. Not only can a plus sized woman dress high wasp, she probably should.
    I'm hoping to get to a post later this week about red carpet looks for plus sized women inspired by Queen Latifah who rocked it on the red carpet. She really knows how to dress to flatter her figure.

  14. LPC: dignified response to the annoying anonymous poster and yes, a good tailor is a must b/c RTW really isn't.

  15. LPC- Have I menitoned today how much I love you and your blog? Not to get too mushy on you but I do.
    First: I am plus size and struggling with it daily. Thank you Lexapro for those last 40 lbs. I might have to order that military jacket today. Right now. Oh, yes.
    Secondly: bosom targets.
    Third: Anon. come a little closer and let me skewer you.

  16. As a plus size woman, who has recently decamped from High Wasp to Artsy Cousin, I have in the past found Talbots to be a god-send. Classic clothes, traditional colors for the most part. There have been occasional forays into questionable trends and crazy colors, but for the everyday wardrobe, they been a mainstay. Surely they are not designer clothes, but I have been happy with them. Oh, and they carry wide width shoes too.
    ~Madeline…not the same anononymous

  17. Queen – I am quite fond of you too:). Madeline, I didn't check Talbots. Good to know.

  18. I find Talbots as good as it gets for plus size classics. I occassionly find something at Coldwater Creek, but not often. For casual wear, I like Jones New York Woman and Lands End. Some of my favorite lines have been discontinued, as discussed below.

    From the website
    "It's been a tough year for plus size fashion. Dana Buchman's parent company (Liz Claiborne) sold Dana Buchman to Kohl's and needless to say what they carry at Kohl's is not going to be able to compare with what is sold at Saks."

    "Looking for plus size career wear? Ellen Tracy used to be the go to brand for quality, well tailored pieces suitable for work but Ellen Tracy's new owners recently discontinued the plus size line and even more recently the entire line was forced into bankruptcy

  19. Thank you for writing this piece about plus size High Wasp fashion. I'm in the UK and pleased (though surprised) to know that I may be in one of the best places for it.

    Dawn French co-owns this company that provides affordable clothing for plus-sized women:

  20. In pulling together examples for a post I did on sarong-inspired dresses, I was heartened to find a rather large number of plus size dresses (and custom options as well).

    But I think sarong dresses might be a bit too "free-spirited" for High WASP style.

    [I'm heavily lace-curtain Irish myself, so I'm guessing; growing up, though, none of the women I think of as WASP-y did sexxxxxy. And if not in the 70s, then when?]

  21. Pendelton's never lets me down for plus-size career wear. The styling is very traditional, the tailoring is impeccable, and the fabrics are gorgeous. L.L.Bean is, unfortunately, limiting their plus-size offerings, but they still have some well-made casual pieces. And Talbot's, which inexplicably offered plus-size flannel jackets without darts last year (!!), seems to be outfitting women, instead of paper dolls, this spring. Thank you so much for running this piece!

  22. You always write such lovely fashion posts! I have to agree that Queen Latifah looked fantastic at the Oscars. I also think Ina Garten has a nice simple style, though I'm not always a fan of the denim shirts she wears!

  23. Excellent post, LPC!! Queen Latifah looked marvelous at the Oscars.
    Just love the way you write! :)
    Hope you are having a wonderful week!

  24. Plus size women who want beautiful clothes: Marina Rinaldi. Really gorgeous, same company as Max Mara. Talbot's is the source for crisp, decent quality. Grande dame plusses should do as Marjorie Gubelmann (who IS a grande dame) and find a seriously skilled dressmaker.

    And I share the love for the Queen. She is magnificent.

  25. It's very hard to find clothing when you're a Plus Size Sturdy Gal. And yes, I abhor loud colors and shiny fabrics and busy prints.

    My solution to this is separates. I find the nicest, most well-cut and flattering pieces I can and create ensembles. Which is really nice because then you can mix and match, dress up or dress down, and you don't very often spend a fortune on one piece of clothing that can only be worn once in a blue moon.

    And Queen Latifah? Gives big girls the world over a very, very good name.

  26. An excellent treatise on the topic Miss LPC, and the Polyvore collages are very helpful in illustrating possibilities. While not plus-size myself I do know what a truly tough time one can have looking for classic, stylish clothing in anything other than sizes 2-14.

    Saks used to carry a few good pieces in their Salon Z shop, but I have nary a clue if this is still the case. And the comments mentioning Talbots and Pendleton are very good suggestions, if only we could offer more.

    Couldn't agree more about Queen Latifah, she just looked beautiful.

  27. Well, I think you've made it when you get the anonymous criticism. Nicely handled, LPC.

    I very much like the office set, I would wear most of those and I'm not technically plus sized.

  28. Hello

    I loved what The Queen wore.

    I love Lilly Pulitzer clobber. I think I could make some pieces work at the Office…maybe. You can't buy it in Australia, you have to source it online.

    Meanwhile years ago when I was 23 a friend who was 44 said to me "when you are my age FF you won't be able to buy cheap clothes, you'll have to go High End, because at my age we've got Figure Flaws and you'll need the cut of a designer piece".

    Damn Straight People. She was right.

  29. And another thing, I am so so BORED by snarky Anon Posters. Get an identity and ULR address please so we can visit YOUR blogs and leave comments for YOU. Honestly! The dreariness. Everyone knows that that level of sulky huffiness is aging-why bother?

  30. "Perhaps, as has been suggested, the assumption is that the plus size demographic has a culturally determined, and different, aesthetic."

    I think you hit the nail on the head. I am working on a blog about this topic so I won't pop off too much here but suffice it to say that obesity isn't associated with wealth and privilege.

    Forget Anon (who isn't man or woman enough to have a Blog Identity). Posts aren't textbook pages … who'd want that? E'nuff said.

  31. Privilege, looking at your collages I wonder what size does plus-size start? the examples in the collage looks normal to me. or is the ordinary high WASP slightly anorectic? (BMI lower than 20 at the age of 40?)

  32. Paula — you took the words right out of my mouth.

    Some of these women look heavier to me. But the woman on the left side of "At the Office" collage — the one in the grey Nordstrom dress — looks totally average-sized.

    In fact, I have a grey knee-length dress of that cut, and her proportions look the same as mine, except her weight is on a much taller frame. But the shape is about the same, and I am definitely not Plus Sized, certainly not in the U.S. definition.

  33. Thank you all for pitching in with additional resources. Much appreciated. Paula and Joyce, I agree. They rarely show clothes available in plus sizes on actual plus size models. Plus size is defined as anything from 12W on up, as I read the Internet resources. But that gray wool outfit is available, if not shown that way, up to size 3x, which translates to a 22-24.

  34. I'm not putting a noun and a verb in every sentence today, in protest! I might even misspell sumething.

    My plus sized mother adores Talbots, J Jill, Lands End and LL Bean. Of course, she is retired and they don't much care what you wear to the bridge club on the Cape.

  35. Oh, and Paula, yes, it's possible High WASPs invented anorexia. Not one of our proudest days, BTW. Patsy, if I could play bridge on the Cape I might not care much what I wore either, would be drunk with beauty.

  36. Love your fashion posts. Before reading this blog, I never understood my mother's fascination with NAVY or other "good colors" like oatmeal or taupe.

    I do wish more high-end designers would produce their items in larger sizes. Ah, to have owned a Chanel jacket. That is, before I gave up and became an Artsy Cousin. Although I have on khaki pants today. Without 3 huge bangles, I would have to move to the Sturdy girl camp today.

  37. What a great post!

    I became plus size a couple of years after graduating from college and it was simply impossible to find plus size clothes for work or for evening wear. This was partly due to the fact that there weren't many designers that correctly tailored their clothes for the plus size body. There was also a lack of media geared toward plus sizes that would help spread the word about new designers who finally understood the style and tailoring requirements of the plus size body.

    Thankfully, plus size blogs and online magazines have emerged over the years! I just launched my own blog where I discuss this very topic of Plus Size Power Dressing and Oscar-Worthy Plus Size Gowns! Let me know what you think! ;-),

  38. re "what is Plus size?" I've seen 12W- I think at Talbot's. Many of us might consider 12W if that top pant button is always tearing off, though it's a psychological leap most mature women are loathe to make. But they'd get a better fit. (And- the North American population is steadily growng larger.)

    Marina Rinaldi starts at 10W b/c the Italians consider this plus (!)

  39. I love this post LPC. Thanks! And I'm going to check out the links that everyone shared. I've gotten pretty good at shopping the clearance racks at the high end stores. I can usually find a few items that work with minimal alterations. My latest find was a pair of $8 pants that just needed a new zipper. Saks is a great place to look. I always find something there.

  40. Late to the discussion here but what a great post! I find that anything over a size 12 is now considered plus…grrr.

  41. Found this late as well. I wear a size 16 to 18 and find most of my things at Talbots, Soft Surroundings, and Polo. Items with flow – not straight trousers or man-styled shirts but tunics and wide-legged trousers work best, along with amazing jewelry. And shoes and bags are the designer things I CAN wear, so I wear those.

    It does make me a bit sad to see people who feel as if they have to explain why they're a plus size. It doesn't matter and nobody has to excuse their size. We're all different. :)

  42. Excellent blog, I'm looking for information on how to improve my health, so I would like to help me with advice on the subject, thanks!

  43. Such a thoughtful post and I love your style of writing – it is what keeps me coming back. I am a size 16 (today) who is sometimes a 14, who has not seen a 12 in years. I like Talbots & some of the other stores mentioned because I can get a true 16 (or an 18) without the heft of someone who is 20 lbs. heavier than I am. The cut on most women's sizes is way off with space for the breasts of Medea making me look even more matronly than I am.

  44. You know I am so sick of the lack of clothing out there for plus sized women! I am definitely plus sized, but I am lucky for the most part that I have a pretty straight body and waist to hip and chest definition. However this also screws up my clothing finding because my chest is the same size as my hips, and trying to find a jacket that fits me is like pulling teeth, as clothing seems to be made for women with pear shaped builds.

    I work for a very professional security company, so require well tailored professional suits. ALSO LIKE PULLING TEETH. If you go to the only store where I live that sells plus sized clothing, "addition elle" they don't even HAVE business suits. I asked the ladies there where their business formal wear was, and they led me to some square bag shaped things that were beige and black random blobby shaped suitISH looking clothing, and I said, do you have anything in black or a grey or beige pinstripe? They seemed confused, finally they told me they had NEVER had anything like that before. Why in the world is there no business wear for women like me? You know I keep saying I have to lose more weight, but this is enough to make me just want to start my own company and flip the bird to conforming to a standard!

  45. Anonymous, I hear you. I wrote this post at the direct request of several of my readers.

  46. Why is it that plus size clothing is always modeled by women who are no bigger than a size 12 or 14, which is by no means big. I think it's ridiculous to see a red baby doll nightie that is sold in sizes 1X-5X modeled on a size 12/14 model. Does that really give the plus sized woman or her husband any idea what this item of clothing might look like on a size 3X?

  47. Anon – Understood. Very frustrating. That's the overall practice. The models for non-plus size clothing are size 0s. I see some signs of change, but not quickly enough.

  48. Pingback: Plus Size One

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