Dress Guide for Plus Size Women

It’s no secret that clothes shopping can be tricky for plus-sized women. Many stores don’t stock plus-sizes at all, and if they do, that section is often very small with not a lot of options. And while plus-sized online boutiques exist, as well as specialty stores, it doesn’t change the fact that the entire process is often more complicated than it is for other women. One of the best ways you can simplify this process and ensure you get the clothes you want is by knowing what you want and what works for you before you even begin shopping.

If you simply walk into the plus section of a clothing or department store looking for a dress, your options will likely be limited, leaving you to select from a small number of choices, none of which would be your first pick if there were simply more dresses to choose from. But similarly, it can be hard to browse the countless options on the Internet without a basic idea of what you like and what works for your natural shape, especially since you can’t try things on like you could in person.

To help you navigate this situation, we've put together this guide to plus-sized boutique dresses, including what types of dresses are out there and how to dress for your body type. With this information safely tucked into your back pocket, you’ll be better equipped to narrow down what you want and what you like, leading you to the perfect dresses for you — no matter the occasion.

Your Guide to Plus-Sized Dresses

Ready to pop open your Internet browser or head to your local mall? Here are some tips to get you pointed in the proper direction.

1. Define Your Body Type

Before you even begin browsing dresses and thinking about which styles you like best, it is often helpful to first have a solid grasp of your own body and natural shape. If you’ve never taken the time to determine your body type, this is an excellent first step and can give you a terrific point of reference as you consider the merits of one dress versus another.

Let’s break down the most commonly recognized body types here and talk about what defines them.

  • The Hourglass: Hourglass-shaped bodies are those where the hips and shoulders are the same widths, with a defined waist in between.
  • The Pear: If you tend to carry weight in your hips, making this part of your body wider than your waist and shoulders, then you have a pear-shaped body. You may also hear this type referred to as the triangle-shape.
  • The Inverted Triangle: This body type features shoulders that are wider than the hips, creating the illusion of a triangle that tapers down towards the waist and hips.
  • The Rectangle: These bodies are highly proportionate and are marked by shoulders, hips and a waist that are all the same width, creating a straight shape with few natural curves.
  • The Apple: Also known as circles or ovals, apple-shaped bodies are those where the shoulders and hips are the same sizes without a defined waist in between. With this body type, you may tend to carry weight around the waist or the hips.

Take a good look at these different body types and ask yourself which one sounds the most like you. If a quick glance in the mirror doesn’t help you answer this question, there’s nothing wrong with breaking out the measuring tape and finding out for sure.

Why is it helpful to know this information? Learning your own proportions can help guide you towards the right style of dress. For example, do you have an apple-shaped body? You might feel most comfortable and confident in a dress that creates a bit more waist definition. Do you have a rectangle-shaped body? Perhaps you might love a dress that creates more curves around your body.

2. Pick a Basic Dress Style

Now that you know a little bit more about yourself and your natural shape, let’s take a look at some of the most common dress styles out there. None of these styles are inherently better or worse than others, but all are designed to emphasize or de-emphasize certain parts of your body. Ask yourself which of these might be right for you, as well as which ones you love the look of, and you’ll be well on your way to narrowing down your options.

  • The A-line Dress: It’s hard to find something more classic and universally loved as the A-line dress. This style typically features a fitted bodice that flares out into a triangle shape from the waist down to the bottom of the skirt. Dresses like these are almost universally flattering no matter what your body type is, although if you choose an A-line dress, you’ll want to select one made of a fabric that’s sturdy enough to hold the dress’s shape.
  • The Peplum Dress: The peplum dress features a narrow and form-fitted silhouette, except for a ruffle-like detailing that flares out from the bottom of the waist. This flare just below the natural waist makes the waist appear smaller and more defined than it actually is while simultaneously minimizing the hips, making these types of dresses excellent choices for both apple-shaped and rectangular women.
  • The Empire-Waist Dress: The major difference between empire-waists and other dresses is the location of the waistline in the dress. Most dresses place the tapered waist at your natural waist, just above your hips. Empire-waists, however, are gathered just below the bust before falling freely all the way to the hemline. The design helps emphasize the upper body and draws attention away from the hips and waist, making these dresses a terrific choice for rectangle, triangle or apple shapes. Our South Port Maxi Dress is the perfect example of an empire-waist dress.
  • The Sheath Dress: Sheath dresses are notable because they don’t have a defined waistline at all. Instead, the dress falls straight from the shoulders to the hem. These dresses tend to skim the body, but are not closely form-fitting and instead form a fairly straight silhouette. Sheath dresses are often flattering on rectangle and inverted-triangle body types, where the shoulders are wider than or equal to the width of the waist.
  • The Fit-and-Flare Dress: The fit-and-flare style is very similar to an A-line dress in the way it gathers at the waist before flaring out at the hips to create an hourglass silhouette no matter what your natural body type is. These dresses are almost universally flattering, so no matter what your body type is, this is one dress we think anyone can go for. Our Vintage Inspired Dress is a beautiful example of this category.
  • The Off-the-Shoulder Dress: Off-the-shoulder dresses are very self-explanatory. They may feature any type of waistline, skirt or sleeves, but their defining feature is the neckline, which falls off the sides of the shoulder. Often, this style is used to highlight the shoulders or bust while balancing out the waistline, making this a great choice for rectangle shapes looking to create curves and apple shapes looking to draw the eye upward.
  • The Corset Dress: No matter what body type you have, corset dresses are another style that everyone will look great in. These dresses hug the waist, creating curves if you have a more athletic shape or emphasizing curves that are already there while simultaneously highlighting waist definition. This is one style that rarely goes wrong.

There are plenty more styles that we haven’t mentioned, but these represent some of the most common ones you’ll encounter. In addition, it’s important to realize that these styles can often be mixed and matched with one another. For example, an A-line dress might feature an off-the-shoulder style. This means that even within the categories of sheath dresses or corset dresses, for example, there is enormous variety and still plenty of room for personalization and picking something that’s just right for you. The best place to start, however, is by narrowing down a basic style.

3. Consider the Features

So you’ve decided you want to go with an A-line dress, for example. Now what? The first thing you’ll probably notice is that the sheer number of A-line dresses in the world is overwhelming, and no two are exactly the same. To narrow your choices and hone in on the best dress, think about the additional features of your dress. Let’s look at a few here.

  • Length: Are you looking for a mini dress? A midi dress? Or are you looking to let your skirt down and go for a full maxi dress? All of these are very different looks that are appropriate for different occasions, and that might look and feel great to different women.
  • Neckline: There are so many different necklines designs in the world, and all of them have the power to radically transform the character of a dress. Will you choose a crew neck? Scoop? Halter? V-neck? Sweetheart? Boat neck? Experiment with which necklines you like best and think about which features you’d like to emphasize as you make your decision. V-necks tend to work especially well for many plus-sized women, but in the right dress, any neckline can work.
  • Sleeves: To choose a dress with sleeves or a dress without? This choice may come down to weather and the season you plan to wear the dress in, but it’s also worth thinking about how the presence of sleeves, either short or long, can change the feel of a dress.
  • Color: Have you ever heard the advice that if you’re trying to look slimmer, you should stick to neutrals? While we love a classy neutral dress, we think that whether or not a dress is slimming has far more to do with the dress’s cut and shape than its color. We say, choose whatever color you like and makes you feel great while also being appropriate for the occasion at hand. Be sure to consider color preferences as you hunt for the right dresses for you.

4. Try out Different Fabrics

Dresses are made from every fabric imaginable, and not all of them work universally well for everyone. Some people might dislike velvet while others love it, and some people might like the lightness of cotton while others prefer the smoothness of silk. While you can choose any fabric, a general trend is that flowy, draping fabrics work better for plus-sized women. Stiff fabrics that stand up by themselves, on the other hand, may not be as universally appealing.

5. What’s the Occasion?

If you’re dress-shopping just for the sake of dress shopping and don’t have a specific occasion in mind at which you’ll wear this dress, then you may not need to worry about this step. But if you’re dress-shopping for a particular event, then this step will be critical. Will you wear this dress to a wedding? Are you looking for something to wear when you’re on summer vacation with the extended family? Maybe you’re looking for something to wear to a work party. All of these are very different occasions that require different dresses in different styles.

Even if you don’t have a specific occasion in mind, it can still be helpful to think of where you might wear a dress. For example, let’s imagine you’re browsing the racks and you find a dress that you like. Always stop to ask yourself, “What type of occasion would I wear this dress to?” If you can’t think of a single occasion when the dress would be appropriate, it may be best to pass until you find something that makes you say, “This would be perfect for a date, or a girl’s day out.”

6. Always Think About the Undergarments

As you consider a dress and think about whether or not to purchase it, always remember to take into account the undergarments you’ll wear underneath it. Specifically, you’ll want to think about the bra and any shapewear you may prefer to wear.

  • The Bra: Depending on the neckline or the straps, sleeves or lack thereof, you may need to give special attention to the bra you choose to wear under your dress. Anytime you think about buying a dress, ask yourself if you have a bra that will work with it and if you don’t, ask yourself if you’re willing to go out shopping for one before you wear the dress.
  • The Shapewear: Not every plus-sized girl feels the need to wear shapewear, and if you don’t, then there’s nothing wrong with that. It is good to ask yourself this question before shopping as shapewear can often give you the confidence to wear a dress that you might otherwise not want to try. As you shop for dresses, always make sure to think about whether or not you plan to add any shapewear underneath.

Shop Plus-Sized Women’s Boutique Dresses

Are you ready to take this information and put it to the test by finding yourself the perfect dress for whatever occasion you have coming up? Then we invite you to browse out curvy boutique dresses here at My Sister’s Closet. And once you’ve finished dress shopping, don’t forget that we have a full section of plus-sized women’s clothing including pants, sweaters, skirts and tops, all for great prices. Best of all? We also offer free shipping on all orders over $50.

Start your shopping by browsing our plus-sized dress section today.