Denim Fit and Find Guide: Plus Size

        Lifestyle | Denim
A store's racks of jeans can bring on a sense of dread in any woman.
A store's racks of jeans can bring on a sense of dread in any woman.
Runstudio/Photodisc/Getty Images

Ask any woman to try on a pair of jeans, and her reaction will probably look something like this: hope, then wariness, and finally dread. With the exception, perhaps, of lingerie, and unless you look like a model, jeans are the most difficult item of clothing to look and feel great in.

It's difficult for women who fit into traditional "misses" sizes, for whom most jeans are designed. It's even more so for women who wear plus sizes, typically size 14 through 32 or beyond. The plus size body is just like the misses body, only bigger.

Few women fit the hourglass format most designers have in mind, and plus size women have the same issues with proportions as their smaller counterparts. This is perhaps the greatest single obstacle to an easy time in the dressing room: When the waist, hips and thighs aren't in hourglass proportions, your average jeans, plus size or otherwise, just don't fit right. They're tight in the wrong places, loose in the wrong places and uncomfortable all over, and they can make a larger body seem larger, shorter and just plain less attractive than it really is.

Not too long ago, plus size clothing lines were few and far between -- a few specialty stores carried clothing not at all on trend, department stores had tiny "plus size" sections buried somewhere near the elevator, and no high-end designers went near the larger woman in their lines.

Now, you do a Google search for "plus size" and you find dozens of places to find clothes in sizes from 14 to 32, with some that go up to 44. "America's Next Top Model" has featured plus-size contestants. Designer Mark Fast sent plus-size models down the runway in couture during London's 2010 Fashion Week [source: Daily Mail]. Michael Kors has a plus-size line carried at major department stores like Macy's and Nordstrom. And plus-size jeans are available in the trendiest styles and as wide a fit range as misses-size jeans.

The days of elastic-waisted mom jeans as the only plus-size option are over. But that doesn't mean it's easy to find a great-fitting pair. In this article, we'll find out what makes jeans flattering for a plus-size woman, what makes a comfortable fit, and where to find the widest selections of larger-size denim.

So, when it comes to plus-size jeans, what exactly should we be looking for?

Plus Fit

A good pair of jeans will lengthen your legs and hug your curves.
A good pair of jeans will lengthen your legs and hug your curves.
Dan Hallman/Stockbyte/Getty Images

A great pair of jeans should do two main things: fit and flatter. If your jeans are killing you, they don't fit -- and they probably don't flatter, either.

There is such a thing as too comfortable, though, when it comes to denim. Denim isn't loungewear; it leaves the house. A perfect pair of jeans hugs your curves, holds you in and makes your legs look longer, butt higher and thighs leaner. Ideally, good jeans make you want to strut.

Specifically, plus-size jeans fit and flatter if they:

  • Sit at the waist; low-rise jeans tend to muffin-top everyone above a fashion-model size.
  • Are snug in the waist so they don't gape in the back or slide halfway down your butt when you sit down. But they're not tight. If you ooze out over the waistline, size up. Taking in is easier than taking out.
  • Are comfy in the butt and thighs, so you can move and sit easily. But they're not baggy -- baggy jeans make curvy women look larger than they really are. Jeans should skim your curves, not squeeze them or hide them.

These straightforward fit guidelines, while fairly essential in a plus-size fit, are really just the foundation. As most women know, there are some handy tricks that can lengthen and slim. Some of the most effective ones are:

  • Color: The simplest way to slim is to go dark. The darker the jeans, the thinner I'll look in them. Black is your friend. So is dark wash.
  • Fading: Some strategic fading, specifically a light, vertical fade down the center of the thighs, can make your legs looks longer. Avoid "whiskering" at the hips or any horizontal fading, which makes people look wider.
  • Contouring: Well-placed seams between the waist and the hips can accentuate curves and make the waist look smaller. Curving or diagonal seams work best.
  • Balance: For real women, the final word in looking great has to be "balance." In jeans, that typically centers on the leg opening, which should balance out the hips, thighs and butt. The wider the bottom of the leg, the smaller you look at the top. Bootcut is good for balancing; flared or wide is even better.

Knowing what to look for is a necessary first step in finding some jeans that don't make you cry. The next step is knowing where to look for these denim antidepressants.

Plus Shopping

Plus-sized shopping has exploded online. With free shipping and returns, you can even hedge your bets and order multiple pairs.
Plus-sized shopping has exploded online. With free shipping and returns, you can even hedge your bets and order multiple pairs.
Bambu Productions/Taxi/Getty Images

Plus-size shopping ain't what it used to be. In your quest for a well-fitting pair of plus-size jeans, there are quite a few places to check out, including:

  • Specialty stores: One of the best places to find a wide selection of plus-size jeans is, predictably, a store where every pair of jeans is plus-size. Some all-plus-size stores include Lane Bryant, CJ Banks, Ashley Stewart, Avenue and Igigi. All of these also have online presences in addition to brick-and-mortar stores.
  • Full-range stores: Practically every clothing store at the mall now has plus ("women's") sizes, although sometimes they're only online. You can always shop plus at department stores, such as Macy's, Saks Fifth Avenue, JC Penny, Nordstrom and Dillard's. Mall stores like J. Crew, J. Jill, Land's End and Talbots also have plus sizes, either in-store or online, and catalog companies like Spiegel and Newport News have plus fashion.
  • Online stores: Perhaps the biggest explosion in the plus-size shopping world (or the whole shopping world in general) is the online plus-size specialty store. Web sites like Alight, Roamans, OneStopPlus and Torrid carry only plus-size clothing, in styles ranging from trendy to classic to conservative. (And with all the free shipping promotions out there, you can order 10 pairs of jeans and just pay to return the ones that don't work -- or go to a store like Zappos that has free returns and don't pay any shipping charges at all. Yep, Zappos carries plus-size apparel.)

Once you've found your favorite jeans and it's time to pair them with a top, keep the flattering tricks in mind and complete the look: A billowy top, long inseam and high heels will make your butt look smaller and your legs look longer in that denim.

For more information on plus-sizes, denim and related topics, look over the links on the next page.

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More Great Links

Sources

  • Body Shapes: Golden Rules to Dressing Your Body Shape. The Chic Fashionista.http://www.thechicfashionista.com/body-shapes-2.html
  • Tyree, Alicia and Connie Wang. "Our Plus Size Fashion Resource." Refinery 29.http://www.refinery29.com/our-plus-size-fashion-resource.php
  • The Ultimate Jeans Guide: Plus Size. InStyle.http://www.instyle.com/instyle/package/general/photos/0,,20185638_20185349_20427529,00.html
  • Why It's So hard For You. Zafu.http://www.zafu.com/zafu/jeansGuideDownload.do?method=JGD_PAGE2