Reader Request: Professional Style for Figures With Larger Hips

profession clothes pear shape

Reader Karin sent me this request via email:

I am a 43 year old woman returning to work after 10 years out raising children. I am looking to return to mid-level corporate management, so a fairly traditional atmosphere. I am a chubby pear. Bust size 12, waist size 14, hips size 16/18. The full skirts, tighter shirts combinations that are generally flattering on my figure look a little bit too “1950s Picnic,” for a corporate office. I just look dumpy in the sheath dresses and trouser/blouse combos that seem so of the moment.

An interesting conundrum, no? The styles that flatter Karin’s figure in traditional ways don’t look quite as professional as she’d like. But if she were to prioritize typical dress code expectations over figure-flattery, she might not look or feel her best either. She’s focusing on both figure balance and relative sartorial conservatism, so that’s how I’ll couch my advice. But it’s worth noting that women with pronounced hips can and should wear pencil skirts if they want to, even if said skirts emphasize their hips. Hips happen. Observers can deal with it. And, as always, none of my figure flattery advice posts should be considered gospel, including this one, and I fully expect you to read them with a grain of salt. Style “rules” are merely guidelines, no matter who is dispensing them. I trust you to use your judgment. And I trust you to take what applies to you, discard the rest, and assume positive intent.

Now, assuming creating balance and downplaying hips are both goals, here are a few tips:

Track down some a-line skirts

I couldn’t say why, but most available skirts and dresses seem to be slim pencils or pleated fulls. Which is bonkers since a-line shapes work beautifully for so many women. AND lots of vendors are mislabeling skirts as a-line when they’re really full – a true a-line creates the shape of a capital letter A, widening gradually from waistband to hem without pleats or gathers. The Calvin Klein skirt above is the right shape, and done up in suiting style fabrics that will work with blouses and/or blazers in corporate environments. It’s also available in sizes 14W – 24W here. But any skirt in that shape will glide over hips without clinging, yet look more professional than its full, pleated cousins. A-line dresses (like this one) are even harder to find, but also work well.

Mind your fibers

So I just kinda ragged on full skirts, I know, but it’s worth noting that a full skirt made from tropical wool will be far more office-friendly than one made of cotton poplin. It might still feel too casual or young for the boardroom, but could be fine for desk days. This tip also runs in the opposite direction: Casual materials like ponte can be made to feel more formal when done up in pencil skirt and blazer shapes, and since ponte has thickness and flexibility, it can be a great option for women with curves.

Opt for simple trousers

Flat front, pocket-free, mid-rise versions are fantastic, but top-entry pockets will do in a pinch. I agree with Angie that you should be sure to buy trousers that fit where you are largest (likely hips) and have them tailored elsewhere (waist and possibly legs depending on your build). Also that slight boot cuts and wide-legs will work best, worn with heels if elongating your legs is a priority. Straight leg styles can also work and look marvelously modern. If you feel like this style emphasizes your hips, pair them with bright or printed tops to focus visual attention upward. Speaking of which …

Add a little visual volume up top

Balancing a larger bottom half sometimes means adding some visual volume to your top half. I’m not talking chunky sweaters or oversized blouses as much as jackets with defined shoulders, ruffle-detail tops, and even statement necklaces. Nothing drastic, just detailing that makes your top half look subtly bigger, draws the eye upward, or both.

Look to office-wear brands

I’m thinking Calvin Klein, Jones New York, and Anne Klein, all of which offer office-friendly staples in regular and plus sizes. Check Amazon for all three brands, too. I keep an eye on this trio since many of my clients need classic office-wear, and I feel like they all provide more figure-friendly designs than Ann Taylor, J.Crew, Banana Republic, and other mid-market suiting/work-wear brands. Skirts aren’t super short or super tight, and tops are classic but with thoughtful details. JNY does blazers and jackets a bit better than the other two. Also check Talbots for office-friendly staples in regular, plus, petite, and petite plus sizes.

And, of course, befriending your tailor is a good idea. When your waist is dramatically smaller than your hips, pants will seldom fit right off the rack, and you may need to have jackets and blazers altered to work with your curves.

Other ladies with hips, what are your tips for professional dressing? Any brands or styles to recommend? Do you try to visually balance your lower half? What advice would you give Karin?

Images courtesy Amazon

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Originally posted 2015-04-09 06:22:10.

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8 Responses to “Reader Request: Professional Style for Figures With Larger Hips”

  1. dazzlingbetty

    Longtime reader, firsttime poster. I have worked with a similarly shaped body (literally) for 20+ years without ever wearing a sheath dress! Typical work outfit: midweight fabric flat-front pants, a nice scoopneck t-shirt, and a fun printed cardigan paired with a scarf which adds volume on top and brings eyes up. Good separates are your friend. Straight skirts work well too (especially with some waist alteration). I find the key is to pay attention to fabric weight. Nothing too light, nothing too clingy. Scarves worn with confidence are your best friend, as are 4-5 really good neutral pants and/or skirts. And you didn’t ask but I’ll say: get work outfits together the night before, including undergarments, shoes, jewelry, and other accessories. Save your shreds of morning sanity for whatever else attempts to claim them. Have fun at work! You’ll look/do great.

  2. Rebecca Roueche

    Most people probably wouldn’t consider me as disproportionate, but I still feel like my hips/butt are quite a bit bigger than my bust and shoulders, so I can definitely relate! Sometimes I don’t care and my office doesn’t care, but I feel out of balance when I’m wearing, say, jeans and boots with a simple, light top. It looks bottom heavy.

    A blazer or cardigan goes a long way in making things look more balanced. You’re adding detail and “bulk” up top, and visually it evens things out a bit. Nothing wrong with having hips, but being asymmetrical bugs me to no end.

  3. Ginger

    I am a different size on top/bottom and it’s challenging. I think straight, a-line or slightly flared skirts are better than pencil skirts for Moms who haven’t spent hours at the gym lately.
    For someone just going back to work without a large wardrobe I think I’d get a couple of pairs of dark pants and see how it goes from there. It can take awhile to figure out what your best work style will be, no need to buy a lot of things initially and then not wear them.
    Check out Lands End for pants in extended sizes also. A lot of times their colors are available across their plus and regular size, which is helpful if you’re trying to build coordinated outfits.

  4. Hazel Stone

    That’s pretty much my exact shape, and I work for a management consultancy, so very, very corporate. I can’t be bothered to think too hard about work clothes on a day to day basis, so I’ve settled on a uniform. Dress + jacket + accessories.

    In a dress I look for:
    * sleeves, ideally 3/4 length
    * scoop or v neck,
    * slightly fitted at the waist (or under the bust),
    * knee length,
    * an *ahem* forgiving skirt, a-line or slightly flared
    * usually in jersey or similar fabric.
    Wrap dresses, or fake-wrap dresses work well.

    I buy them in bulk twice a year or so in the sales for usually about 50 to 70 euros each, and wear them until they start to ‘pill’ or sag.

    I usually go for neutrals that will pair with black, and I have a structured black jacket that I can wear with all of them. Some have jazzier colours or prints, and those I save for slightly less formal days. And I always have at least 3 black dresses in rotation for super conservative clients. If you choose the fabric carefully they can be machine washed, don’t need ironing and don’t crease when packed (I travel a lot and hate to iron). They’re also very comfortable as they don’t pinch or constrict anywhere. I do tend to wear very light compression ‘shaper’ underwear though, just to smooth out the jiggle. Not spanx, they’re too constricting.

    As Sally said, shop the office-wear brands.

    Accessories are really, really important, as the right ones add class and formality. I wear
    * a pearl necklace or something of a similar length and visual volume
    * a good watch i.e. not ‘fun’ or plastic, mine is a small 1920’s ladies watch
    * one ring
    * and small, simple stud earrings in gold or a gemstone (or semi-precious stone).

    I’ve noticed that the necklace is really important to the look. A friend of mine took a class in corporate dressing for women and the teacher said a necklace replaces a man’s tie, and covers the jugular with something hard looking. Odd I know, but I’ve found it works for me.

    Dress examples:
    http://www.planet.co.uk/planet/black-ity-buckle-dress/030036628.html?cgid=PL_clothing_Dresses&dwvar_030036628_color=0011

    http://www.planet.co.uk/planet/mint-printed-cap-sleeve-dress/030037059.html?cgid=PL_clothing_Dresses&dwvar_030037059_color=0337

    http://www.house-of-gerryweber.eu/en_GB/4049601795706.html?start=185&q=dress

    http://www.house-of-gerryweber.eu/en_GB/4055915384659.html?start=18&q=dress

    http://www.kaliko.co.uk/kaliko/animal-print-dress/060036223.html?dwvar_060036223_color=0350&cgid=ka_dr

    http://www.kaliko.co.uk/kaliko/abstract-print-dress/060036293.html?cgid=ka_dr&dwvar_060036293_color=0243

    http://www.kaliko.co.uk/kaliko/green-ponte-dress/060036399.html?cgid=ka_dr&dwvar_060036399_color=0170

    http://www.kaliko.co.uk/kaliko/belted-twist-neck-ponte-dress/060037980.html?dwvar_060037980_color=0300&cgid=ka_dr

  5. Laura

    I hope you enjoy your new working mom role!
    I have a similar shape and I’m about your age (and also a working mom). I like The Limited pants because some of their styles seem to have narrower waists and more hip room than other brands. Sometimes I get them on the cheap at T.J. Maxx and save my money for any additional tailoring that might be needed. The J.Jill Wearever smooth fit pencil skirts are also good and really can be dressed up plenty for the office, despite the more casual way they are shown in the stores and on the website. I don’t wear pencil skirts in general, but these are different–they don’t cling to the bum or hips the way others do. Bonus: washer/dryer friendly and no wrinkles.

  6. JB

    Depending on how conservative your office is, you can probably get away with tops that don’t have to be tucked in as long as they work with a blazer. A nice shell that is more fitted at the bust and more forgiving at the hip will create a flattering silhouette and not look sloppy.

  7. Hazel Stone

    Oh and check out corporette.com. It’s a fashion blog for women who work in the corporate world. When I transitioned from working as a s/w engineer for a US tech company to management consultancy I read it for months until I’d ‘got my eye in’ for corporate clothes.

  8. Amanda

    Similar shape here– I’m generally a 2/4 on top, but anywhere between a 6 and a 12 on bottom depending on the item and brand. I work in a relatively conservative business casual office, and I’ve also puzzled over how to make full skirts look more professional. I find a crisp cotton or silk button down shirt helps telegraph ‘business’ when tucked in a full skirt, especially if the skirt is in a neutral color and as Sal suggests, a suiting style fabric like wool or other suiting blend. Dark, non-shiny silk or silk-like poly blend full skirts have worked well for me too. Heels and/or pointed toe flats help things look more grown up, and I find that fitted blazers in a relatively short length work well with fuller skirts. As for pants, I have excellent luck with the Banana Republic Jackson fit and Ann Taylor curvy fit.