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Reader Mail: How to Keep a Working Wardrobe While Losing Weight

working wardrobe losing weightWe’re still behind on reader mail (sorry, ladies!) and catching up…  Today’s question is about keeping a working wardrobe while losing weight.

I was recently laid off from a somewhat conservative field. I’ve very overweight and have been using my unemployed time to try to lose some weight. I’ve lost 15 pounds and my dress clothes no longer fit.

I’m still very overweight and I estimate that I need to lose about 10 more pounds before I can fit into the size 18 at Ann Taylor or the Tahari sets at Macys and Filene’s Basement. I’m estimating that it’ll take me 6-8 weeks to lose that additional weight. In the meantime, I’m trying to network, going to industry events, and I want to be prepared for any last minute interviews or other events. Even 5 pounds can make a difference in the way clothing fits and since I don’t know how long I will be unemployed, I’m trying to avoid having to buy new dress clothes every few weeks.

Can you suggest a few unemployed-budget pieces for the “women of size” or do you have other suggestions on pieces that might fit even as my body shrinks? I really don’t want to spend $450 at Talbots for a suit that I will only wear once or twice for a couple hours, but being heavy, I am very aware of the fact that I need to look a little more polished than the average person.

First off, congratulations on losing some weight.  It’s so satisfying to get your weight loss in motion — keep the momentum going!  (This author lost about 35 pounds a few years ago through Weight Watchers, so we know how you feel.)  In general, it’s hard to keep a working wardrobe while you’re losing weight — nothing fits anymore!  We always knew it was time to buy new pants when they could be removed without unfastening them, and wound up buying a lot of clothes on sale at Banana, Gap, and department stores.

For your situation — where you don’t necessarily need to worry about daily outfits that fit, or about “repeating” the same outfit too many times — we would recommend investing in a few dresses that look professional because they will last you for a several sizes.  (In fact, we might suggest trying it on with a pair of Spanx — this will account for at least 5 pounds of weight — and as you lose the weight, stop wearing the Spanx with the dress.)  A basic black shift dress or A-line dress can be worn with one of your older suit jackets, or even just a wrap or a colorful scarf or some jewelry for an event.  A cardigan is also appropriate to throw on top of the dress.  We’d go for basic shifts and shirt dresses, such as the one above (available up to size 24W at Nordstrom’s for $138): Donna Ricco Shirred Faux Wrap Dress (Plus), or the sheath dress available at Travel Smith for $84. This kind of outfit is entirely appropriate for lunch with friends (new and old), alumni events, as well as industry events.  (If you’re worried about bumping into network-ees at the supermarket, our advice is the same for you as for anyone — nice casuals such as jeans or khakis — or, for your situation, perhaps casual dresses such as this boatneck dress from Land’s End.)

In terms of suits for actual interviews, our advice is thus:  go to a store with a great return policy, like Nordstrom’s, and invest in a great suit that makes you feel confident and smart and beautiful and professional.  Keep the tags on the suit, and try it on frequently (let’s say once every two weeks).  If you get that interview, it will be worth the investment — and you can always sell it on eBay or at a consignment store if you find  you no longer have use for the clothes.  If you pass through the size without getting the interview, no harm, no foul — back to Nordstrom’s to return the suit and get another in a lower size.  You might want to check out our suggestions and the comments from readers in our post on finding great suits if you’re larger.

Finally, you didn’t ask our advice on this, but we’ll give it to you anyway — once you’re two sizes away from your old clothes and they can’t be recycled into newer outfits, pack them up and put them away.  Take them off the hangers, get them out of eyesight — make it a chore to get at them.  (Or, give them away entirely.)  That way, if you gain any weight there’s a stopper in place.

Congrats again — hope this was helpful to you.  Readers, anything to add?

Comments

  1. Anonymous :

    For networking and social events, I’d recommend getting a few inexpensive wrap dresses. When you lose more weight, just cinch the dress tighter or add a cardigan and belt, like this (but cheaper): http://www.net-a-porter.com/product/40498

    I’ve also been losing a lot of weight recently and my wrap dresses are the only clothes that fit and still look pretty good even though I’m down a few sizes.

  2. I recommend getting a few inexpensive wrap dresses for the non-interview events. I’ve lost a lot of weight recently and my wrap dresses are the only clothes I have that still look good even though I’m a few sizes smaller than when I first bought them.

    The great thing about wrap dresses is that if you lose weight, you just cinch the dress tighter. You can also add a cardigan and belt to the outfit as well, like this (but cheaper): http://www.net-a-porter.com/product/40498

  3. Here’s an idea: consider taking items to a tailor to be taken in while you’re losing weight. I’m not suggesting that a tailor could make a pair of size 14 pants into a size 4, but it could possibly take them down a size. This could extend the use of clothes for not that much of a cost. Personally, I’ve never done this but if anyone has, they may be able to say if this idea is feasible.

  4. Congrats!
    I dropped two pants sizes a few months ago and a good tailor can still take them in so they’re still wearable. It cost me ~$12 a pair.
    Jackets are more difficult and expensive to tailor, but if you have good pants you can always wear a cardigan or a blouse.

  5. I agree with all the earlier comments about tailoring – my father lost 70 pounds a few years ago, and our trusty tailor was able to keep him in suit pants and jackets without breaking the bank. They’ll tell you when they can’t make it work anymore; I say that’s a good point to buy a new suit, and expect to have it tailored later.

  6. I’m having a similar problem. Congrats on the weight loss by the way! I confess I’ve been buying a lot of things at Target. The Merona line is pretty nice for work, dirt cheap especially if on sale, and although they are not great for the long term (the fabric is pretty cheap) you don’t need them to last very long.
    I have gotten many compliments, and with the right heels and accessories they can be casual or business. The Isaac Mizrahi stuff is often very cute and of the moment. One caveat- always try it on first.
    For formal scheduled interviews I chose my least favorite black suit and had it tailored. It was worth it. When I hit my goal weight I can always have it taken in again.
    Best of luck!

  7. Anonymous :

    Weight loss advice: I too lost a lot on Weight Watchers. Taking advantage of this time off is important and if you hit a snag in your weight loss I recommend WW.

    Clothing advice: 1) besides wrap dresses, think about investing in a versatile wide belt which can sinch other types of dresses; 2) a lot of online retailers let you return the goods in the store (Banana, Lands End, Target) and this saves on return shipping, so you can order your current size and the next size down, then return the bigger size when you lose weight (this way you always have something in your closet in case you land an interview); 3) Cheaper business casual stuff: www.spiegel.com; 4) look up ratings for tailors in your area on www.citysearch.com or www.yelp. com – a good tailor is hard to find.

    Good luck and congrats on your weight loss!

  8. This is probably what you DON’T want to hear, but don’t get rid of your nice clothes in your big sizes until you’ve been at your low weight for several years or they are out of style. I lost 30lbs, and then slowly slowly gained it back over 3 years. I had gotten rid of everything. Not only was it depressing, not an incentive to lose weight again as I’d anticipated, it was expensive and frustrating. Keep those classic clothes in your current sizes somewhere hidden away just in case.

  9. Congrats on the weight loss! Just my 2 cents– consider getting some classic lightweight sweaters on clearance this summer. You can wear them with spanx or camis underneath, then as you lose more weight you can wear them over button-downs. I feel like sweaters are more forgiving in fit than tailored shirts, but it’s an easy way to look polished at networking events, esp if you layer them with a cute blazer.

  10. RE: tailoring– go to a good tailor! They can usually alter things by a couple sizes-worth, but be prepared to pay for it. It’s definitely worth doing for the things you don’t want to “lose”, but if you can find a new simple black skirt for less than the, say $30-50 that it may cost to tailor it, take that into account. The more complicated the fabric and the seams, the more expensive. Generally you can just ask a tailor how much it would cost and make the decision on the spot.

    Hope this helps!

  11. Congrats on your weight loss! I have been losing weight too, and I feel your pain. Here are my suggestions:

    – always have a pair of black pants (buy new ones or tailor existing ones) and a black skirt, to match up with other items
    – keep in mind that skirts can be more forgiving – if you buy an A-line skirt that hits you right at the waist, as you lose weight it will just start to hang a little lower but still look nice, whereas pants might start to look baggy
    – spend your money on quality shoes, a good bag and large (not flashy, but substantial enough so that it doesn’t get lost on your frame) jewelry that you can wear throughout your weight loss journey; scarves are coming back and can help you pull together an outfit too

    For me, in NYC, tailoring at the few good places I know is so expensive that I rarely do it – I’d rather keep the clothes in case I need them again someday. If you do, though, keep in mind that tailoring a skirt is much simpler and likely cheaper than tailoring pants. Another reason to wear skirts while you are losing weight.

  12. As background, I’ve also been losing weight — 25 lbs so far, about 30 to go. Been stuck for a while (plateau) and hoping to get back to losing. And though I’m employed, I took a 50% paycut last year, leaving a law firm (just before the bloodbaths started) to join the gov’t. So cash is tight and I’m going through clothes quickly.

    Since you have some time on your hands and are probably tight on cash, check out consignment shops, thrift shops, yardsales and Craigslist. You never know what you might find. I got a pile of clothes in excellent condition (through Craigslist) from a woman who had lost 50+ lbs. This had been her transition wardrobe. Later, I found a classic black suit at a yardsale for $15 — Jones New York, in excellent shape, the woman had gained weight and couldn’t wear it. Similarly, I have three gorgeous suits I’m about to sell. Wore each once and then lost the weight. One is my classic interview suit. You could also post a “wanted” on Craigslist and see what happens. Yes, these options involve digging through a lot of unsuitable stuff for the few gems. But the savings can be very, very worthwhile.

    Side note: IMO, ebay is very risky for clothes unless you know the brand well. I know how Ann Taylor and Talbots clothes fit me, for example, so I have bought a few pieces and done really well. But never, ever with something I’m not familiar with.

  13. KW, what are some of the places in NY you’d recommend for tailoring? I’m perpetually looking for a good NYC tailor.

  14. As someone who lost 130 lbs before and during the first year of law school, I totally understand how you feel. None of my professional clothes fit even before school started. I had to buy a cheap suit just to go to orientation. Luckily, I hit my stopping size before interview season, and I was able to get a few suits then. The worst is when you start to realize that even your shoes and underwear don’t fit anymore. It can be quite expensive. I totally agree with what others have said about wrap dresses and tailors. Sheath dresses are also forgiving, as you can have them cinched in the waist as you lose. I would definitely make sure to have at least one structured jacket reasonably close to your size though, even if you get it on sale at an outlet mall or something.

    Also, despite what one poster said above, I totally agree with the idea of purging your old wardrobe. I used to hang onto stuff, but it became untenable and you really feel a sense of accomplishment. I’m not currently at my all-time low, and there are some size 2s that don’t fit me anymore, but I’ve still be hovering around a 4 since I hit my goals. Just be sure, when you get to where you want to be, you buy clothes that fit well but not too snugly, because you want to have room to naturally fluctuate a couple pounds.

    Good luck! I know you’ll be successful. Being unemployed is an excellent time to establish new habits. :)

  15. Congrats on dropping those pounds!

    Dress Barn Woman stores (sizes 14-24) carry surprisingly good quality suiting at amazing prices. http://www.dressbarn.com/flashHome.jsp?page=womanLookbook.

    If you haven’t been in a Dress Barn or Dress Barn Woman store lately, you will be surprised at the value. Their private label designs are by Kenneth Cole, Michael Kors and Jones New York – not Saks or Bloomingdales, for sure, but if you’re looking for polish on a budget, it’s a good place to start.

  16. This is a year late but it was highlighted in a recent post. I would recommend checking out the Fatshionista community on LiveJournal, for women size 12 and up. There are extensive sales posts by members every Friday and often have professional clothing. It does take a bit of hunting because most of the stuff is relatively casual but posts are identified by size, brands and type of clothing in the header so it’s easy to skip the posts that definitely have no relevance. Also, it’s a great way to sell the clothes you’ve grown out of!

  17. Congrats! I’m trying to get my BMI down a notch to average, myself.
    What I think will be cheap and most useful is, just sew in the sides of your thinner clothing a bit. That way, when you lose more weight, take in another 1/2 inch, for example. and when you gain back any weight, if you have a bad month, you can unstitch. I’d use the longer stitches (basting vs true sewing).
    And remember a belt, just in case!
    That’s what I plan to do with my few professional pieces; well, actually, just the pants and maybe the tops, because suit jackets are lined, and need good shapes. But yeah, once you get thinner, pants can easily be sewed smaller, using a machine or by hand. You don’t even have to sew the entire length, just the waist and maybe the hips, depending on the weight loss.

    And I say, for every 15 pounds or 2 sizes you lose, treat yourself to a new suit or dress. That way, you have an incentive to keep that weight, because you do not want to waste your new clothing! And it’s something to look forward to when you stop yourself from reaching for the chips.

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  22. Three pieces of advice:
    1. Do not invest in shoes. It is likely your shoe size will change as you lose weight, especially if you lose a substantial amount of weight.
    2. Try consignment shops for budget friendly items. I’ve found many blazers, etc. at consignment shops for a couple bucks.
    3. Do not throw all your old clothes out, especially since budget is an issue. Unfortunately, you may gain some/all of the weight back. Wait a year or more, after you’ve been at goal weight, so you can better gage what your body’s “right” size is.

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