Since fit is so important and so tricky, I’m going to take a couple of weeks to talk through what to look for and how to make clothes fit better. What kind of clothes do you find most difficult to fit? I can tell where most of my fit difficulties lie, because I steer away from clothes that are difficult to fit and require an inordinate amount of effort. Taking an honest look at my clothes, I tend to gravitate towards tops and dresses, because I can find a fit that I like fairly easily. Trousers, skirts, and shoes are more difficult to find, so I have fewer of them. I wear my favorite jeans until friction reduces them to shreds. My shoes fall into two camps: worn thin or like new, because I wear my comfortable shoes all the time and uncomfortable (but oh so pretty) pairs very rarely.
Now, this isn’t to say that all tops and dresses fit me. Oh heck NO. I just have a better grasp of which tops and dresses look best on me and I can see possibilities while they are still on the hanger. But probably the main reason for fit issues is how my weight fluctuates. If I gain weight, I tend to gain around my stomach area, so jeans and skirts will fit me differently at different seasons, while my top half remains fairly consistent.
That’s why I’ve decided to split this fit discussion into a couple of different posts – Tops/Dresses this week and Trousers/Skirts next week. (If you have any specific requests about trousers and skirts, please let me know during the week, so I can address them next Saturday!) I may make accessories into a separate post as well, so this may be a three week miniseries. I should end this post on a cliffhanger, so you can’t wait to see what happens next!
These are the fit areas for tops, ranked by importance:
- Natural waist
Let’s break this down a little bit, because a list on its own doesn’t take us very far.
If your top or dress only fits you in place, it should be through the shoulders. Examples of styles that fit only at the shoulders: trapeze dresses, tunic tops, swing tops and dresses, smocks… the list goes on. Here are a few visual examples:
In a miniature heat wave, the fewer points of contact between me and my clothes, the better. A lightweight swing dress is one of my summer staples, not because it is cute, but because of how practical it is. (It can also be cute. Cute and practical – best of both worlds.)
How to tell if the shoulders fit:
- The back is not pulling and creating lines across the shoulderblades. If there are stretch lines across the shoulder blades, that is an easy way to see that a top is too tight.
- The neckline lays properly. Like the back of the shirt, the neckline shouldn’t be pulling into a different shape. I don’t my v-necks turning into u-necks. The opposite can also be a problem – I don’t want my neckline flopping around, falling off my shoulders, or gaping.
- The sleeve seams hit near your shoulder joints. If the seams hit well outside the shoulders, the top or dress will look oversized. Oversized tops are a very fashiony thing right now, so you will often find extra-wide shoulder seams for effect. Just know that a very oversized top will need to be balanced out with a slim cut on the bottom (skinny jeans, etc.)
The nice thing is that the most important area to fit is not the trickiest. If the shoulder seams hit your shoulders and the neckline is laying nicely (not pulling or flapping), you’re probably good for shoulders.
Closely following the importance of shoulder fit is chest fit. I have been very blessed in the chest department and my goal is always balance – not too tight, not too loose. That balance is a very tricky thing and still one that I have a hard time working with.
I’d be remiss in my duty if I didn’t mention bras at this point. I won’t go into detail, but if your bra doesn’t fit correctly, tops will not look right, even if they technically fit. If you are having a very difficult time finding tops and dresses, go get a fitting and find a couple of good bras. It will help. Trust me on this one. The clothes you already have will fit better and the clothes you try on will automatically look better.
The wrong chest fit is the main cause of the common shirt tragedy that is GAPPING. I gave up on buttondown shirts for a while, because if the shirt fit my shoulders, it did not fit my chest (and vice versa). Recently, I’ve come across a few buttondown topsthat were designed with curves in mind and actually fit. Color me shocked! The unicorn tops are out there – the ones that fit through the shoulders and the chest. Gapping is the main reason I’ve never been very into shirt dresses. I think they are adorable, but unless the dress fits perfectly at every point, the gaps will take over and run wild. I’m not giving up hope on a perfect shirt dress, but I’m not holding my breath on that one. (Mainly because if I hold my breath, the gapping gets worse.)
One note while we’re on finding a good fit through the chest – sleeve length is super important. Wherever sleeves end, they create a visual line across the torso. This holds true for the necklines and hemlines as well, which is why I tend to stay away from boatnecks and crewnecks, which create a solid line from shoulder to shoulder. A v-neck or a scoop neck breaks up that visual line and doesn’t draw as much attention to the width. If a sleeve hits at an unflattering point, but everything else on the top fits well, try rolling up the sleeves and pinning them in place. It can change the whole look.
We are getting into the bonus categories now – the Nice To Haves, rather than the Need To Haves. If a top fits through your shoulders, chest, AND natural waist without any alterations necessary, you’ve found yourself a unicorn. If it is within your budget, snag it.
Where is the natural waist? It is the narrowest point between the chest and the hips. For most women, it is near the base of the rib cage. I have a long torso, but a pretty high natural waist. I try to highlight my natural waist, because it gives the illusion that my legs are longer than they actually are. Every little bit helps when you have legs as short as mine. True story.
This black and white top has beautiful construction – every line and fold and twist leads the eye to the natural waist. This is one of those rare finds that fits everywhere – shoulders, chest, waist, and hips. As far as fit goes, this is my favorite shirt. I wish this shape came in every color and every print. I’d happily have five of this shirt.
Dresses are more likely to accentuate the waist. If you have a dress that doesn’t, there are simple ways to change that. Belting is a good option. (Here I reference every episode of What Not To Wear.)
This dress fits through the shoulders and then floats out from there. To add some more fit, all I had to do was add a thin belt. It made a big difference in how people perceived the dress – I got a lot more comments on the overall style (“What a cute dress!”),and with the dress unbelted, I got a more comments on the shiny fabric and how comfy the dress looked. All it needed was a little shape!
Ways to emphasize the waist:
- Choose a skirt or trousers that hits at the waist, then tuck in or knot the top. That can give a loose top some needed structure.
- Layer up – a jacket that buttons at the waist will give a structured hourglass effect.
- Belts – they do the trick. I’ll admit I’m not that into belts, but I’ll deal with that more next week.
- As far as alterations go, taking in the sides of a shirt is as about as easy as alterations get. Turn the shirt inside out, try it on, safety pin the sides, then use a sewing machine or hand sew the sides. Minimal tailoring skills required and the results are so rewarding.
If you have other questions about fit, write me and let me know and I’ll try to address them during this series!
I came across some of my old fashion sketches the other day, including this one, a copy of an antique fashion illustration:
The dress is beautiful, but it also makes me grateful that I don’t have to wear a corset every day! My clothing issues don’t include struggling for breath or having my spine rearranged. We’ve gained comfort and a whole new set of fashion issues, but it’s always good to approach the new fashion issues with gratitude. Clothing is a gift to mankind, but we as humans are very good at perceiving gifts as rights, and then turning rights into complaints. So if I ever start to complain about how clothes don’t fit right, please remind me that I could have much more challenging fashion problems.