Published On: Thu, Mar 14th, 2019

Ask The Kit: I’m a size 18. What should I wear?

I’m a size 18 and, like most women I know, I want to look stylish without making it a full-time job. I am not sure what I should be wearing to flatter my figure and I get nervous about shopping because I am not up on all the recent trends enough to know about what is fashionable that will work for someone at my size, and there aren’t a lot of examples to look to. I just want to look good in my clothes, but I feel like I don’t know the rules.” — Tina, Toronto

You’re right: You can’t often turn your head and see a woman who looks like you, posing on a billboard in an aspirational outfit. That experience is mostly reserved for preteen girls with the figures of a Daddy Longlegs spiders. The good news is that the once-depressingly low rate of inclusiveness in fashion is improving, day by day. Gorgeous women like Ashley Graham are walking high-fashion runways (she’s walked for everyone from Michael Kors to Prabal Gurung in recent seasons) and retailers like J. Crew are finally starting to use women with diverse body types as fit models on their sites. There is still a very long way to go, but it’s a start.

Aldo mules, $  85,
Aldo mules, $ 85,  (Courtesy of Aldo)

One shining star we can turn our attention to is actor Chrissy Metz, the magnetic and multi-talented co-lead in This is Us, who has been lighting up every recent red carpet. I turned to her stylist of two years Penny Lovell, who has orchestrated some of Metz’s best looks. (British-born Lovell is a major player in Hollywood and works with other A-listers like Anne Hathaway and Rose Byrne.)

Lovell didn’t miss a beat before explaining why she likes working with Metz. “Because she’s awesome!” she said with a laugh. She added that Metz represents a group who is “very under-represented in fashion, which is something that I feel strongly about correcting.”

In the past year alone, Lovell has noticed an influx of high-quality options for women of all sizes. High-end retailer 11 Honoré, for example, recently launched designer collections up to size 20. “Designers are realizing that there’s so much more to be done in this area that’s previously been very underserved,” says Lovell.

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When I asked Lovell about the rules you inquired about, she bristled. “Rules are rubbish,” she said. “Clothing should express who you are as a person in some way. I think that this idea that there are rules for people who are a larger size, like that you shouldn’t show parts of your body, is a misconception. Women have been often taught to hold ourselves to some kind of impossible standard when it comes to our body, but we should actually just enjoy our bodies, and then dress according to what makes us feel comfortable.”

This is an opinion I wholeheartedly agree with. The energy we spend trying to squeeze into a limiting mould of what’s acceptable to others is often wasted.

And yet, I wish you could merely yell “I love my body!” into the heavens and your closet would fill with high-quality and well-tailored clothes, but that app hasn’t been invented yet. Finding comfortable clothes that make you feel confident takes thoughtful work, so I asked Lovell about the steps she takes when setting her clients up with a working wardrobe. “One of the first things I do is ask them where they want to go with fashion,” she explains. She asks them about their favourite colours, whether they feel confident in prints or solids; she asks them about their favourite physical features. “Focus on the things that, in this moment in time, you feel good about. Sometimes you have to reprogram yourself to figure out what you really want, as opposed to what you’ve been told you should want.”

Lovell, for example, realized that Metz wanted to try a bolder look. She loved bright colours, like red, so when Metz was prepping for the last Golden Globes, they decided to work with Canadian-born New York-based designer Tanya Taylor on a floor-length crimson dress that was designed to stop people in their tracks. “We talked about a look that was very visual and strong, and I think that we achieved that,” says Lovell.

You can’t likely get a gown commissioned to carry you through your next important meeting, but you can harness the most common stylist trick in the book. “Get a good tailor!” says Lovell, who swears that even the person who does alterations at your local dry-cleaner will transform your wardrobe. “Pretty much everything that all my clients wear is tailored — Chrissy included.” Adjusting the hem of a pant or the length of a sleeve often makes all the difference to the finesse of a final outfit. “In larger sizes of clothing, the grading can be off, so the sleeves or pant legs end up being too long.” (Grading is the technical term for the fact that one sample pattern is adapted to become a multitude of different sizes, and if clothes aren’t carefully designed for fuller figures, then the proportions can get whacky.) “Simply bringing up a sleeve can do wonders to the overall fit,” says Lovell.

In fact, she is so dedicated to tailoring that she swears we should all be altering our go-to denim. “Jeans are such a difficult fit, but getting it right is a great investment when you consider cost per wear,” explains Lovell. “I’m a size 8 and I always tailor my jeans because I find a lot of jeans are made with really thin legs, so, personally, I buy them a bit bigger and then take the waist in a little bit. It’s a very simple alteration and it makes for a great pair of pants.”

After discussing the merits of good tailoring — which can’t be overstated — Lovell chimed in with a challenge that I’ll leave you with. “Be bold,” exclaimed Lovell. “Why not? We actually have that phrase framed in our office: ‘Why not?’ Fashion is just fun way to express yourself once you get into that mindset.”

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Shop the advice

These stylish pieces are designed to flatter full figures

Levis jacket, $ 70,

Tanya Taylor dress, $ 705,

Biko necklace, $ 155,

Aldo mules, $ 85,

Nico Giani, $ 560,

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Ask The Kit: I’m a size 18. What should I wear?