Reader S. emailed me this question:
I love wearing dresses because they are easy and usually comfortable. I have chronic Lyme disease, which means that some days by belly starts at one point and inflates or deflates to another. It also means that during relapses, I’m in incredible pain. So, I have adopted a style wardrobe that is comprised of J.Jill (because Eileen Fisher is out the the budget), eclectic “world” tunics, drapey tops, and some pieces from Free People. I want to wear more dresses because sometimes flowy pants just bore me. Jeans are way out of the question right now, too. What types of dress shapes and materials should I look for? I am working on the insides, any thoughts for dresses on the outside?
A former colleague of mine had chronic Lyme disease, and I know she struggled with body fluctuations and pain. I told S. how sorry I was to hear of her illness, though it sounds like she’s made some peace with it. Many bodies fluctuate in shape and size, but if your body is constantly changing shape AND you’re dealing with pain and illness it can create feelings of betrayal and disconnection. For some, putting energy toward dressing feels wasteful, and it certainly can be. But for those like S. who feel the urge to adjust personal style to trying body conditions, there are definitely work-arounds.
In terms of dresses, the first style that comes to mind is swing, which is basically an A-line shape that starts at the shoulders. (I own a Karen Kane one, outfit post here.) This will give the midsection lots of room, and if the style feels too loose you can bring in the volume a bit with a blazer or jacket. Some might point you to empire waist dresses which would also give you room and midsection comfort, but many of us look little-girly or pregnant in that style. You can also try for dresses that are stretchy but have some ruching or detailing in the front – this one looks fab – though depending on the style those can add volume, too. Twist fronts and cascades are in the same family, and can give some shape to the dress without being super clingy and revealing.
Princess seams combined with a lack of hard waistband are another option. A dress that is shaped gently with this style of side-seaming can be a good fit for a fluctuating body and is less voluminous than the other two styles. It is the least forgiving of hour-to-hour changes, though, and depending on the cut may show off your shape. But if you add jacket or blazer that may draw attention away from your midsection.
I’m reluctant to make strong recommendations for materials since I know that pain is a spectrum and sometimes comes with fiber sensitivities. I imagine that super-thin jersey knits are far too clingy, but heavy cotton knits, ponte, heavier rayon or poly fabrics could potentially work. Stiff twills and wools aren’t the greatest options, but most of these dress styles are made from more fluid fabrics anyway.
Poking around a bit, I found great options for all three categories at:
Top image courtesy ASOS
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Originally posted 2015-03-05 10:55:20.