The Best Workwear For Size 16 (and 18, and 16P, and 16WP, and 14W…)

The Best Workwear For Size 16 | Corporette2018 Update: We still stand by this advice on the best workwear for size 16, but you may also want to check out our more recent post on where to find stylish plus-size suits for work.

We haven’t talked explicitly about the best workwear for cusp sizes in far too long, ladies — if you’re a size 16 or 18, what are your favorite stores and brands? Given the fact that the average American woman is now a size 16 and 5’4″, this is particularly a difficult question because with those stats you may fit in regular sizes (e.g., 12, 14, 16, 18), plus sizes (e.g., 10W, 12W, 14W, or 16W), petite regular sizes (such as 14P, 16P, 18P) or that rare bird, petite plus sizes (12WP, 14WP, or 16WP) — this is why women in this size range are called “inbetweeners!” But a lot of “regular” stores only carry sizes up to size 12 — and a lot of “plus” stores only start at 18W. Add to that the fact that most stores carry very few of those sizes on the shelves, and you may be stuck in a never-ending cycle of online shopping and returning stuff, as several readers noted in our post on how to return items bought online. SO. Let’s discuss, ladies: What’s the best workwear if you’re a size 16? If you’re an “average” size and right on the cusp of plus sizes, which brands or stores have you found to be the best for you? What styles of clothes work best for your body type? What brands run small; which run big?  

Psst: If you are interested in plus size workwear, please sign up for CorporettePlus, our newsletter! Signing up helps us gauge interest in the project, and we promise not to blast your email more than once a week at most. (Right now it’s more like once a month.)

Some of the brands I know of include:

“Regular” Workwear Brands in Sizes 16-18 (aka “Misses” Sizes)

(I realize “regular” brands is a flawed term, but I mean to distinguish a size 16 vs a 16W — if anyone has any suggestions for something other than “regular” or “misses” sizes I’ll take it.)

Petite Workwear in Sizes 14P, 16P, 18P

Workwear for Plus-Size Petites (12WP-44WP)

Smaller Plus-Sized Workwear (10W-16W)

Picture via Fotolia / Syda Productions

The best workwear for size 16, and 16P, and 16W, and 16WP -- cusp sizes and inbetweeners

the best workwear for size 16



  1. Sydney Bristow :

    I’m hovering between a 16 and 18 right now. Boden is my favorite, although sometimes more than I want to spend.

    I stick with Calvin Klein pencil skirts. Most of my cardigans are Eddie Bauer or Halogen (goes up to XXL or separately has plus size options). Tops come from a variety of sources including Boden, NY&Company, Modamix, and Old Navy.

    I think I’m going to reach out to Nordstrom about their search function. They have some items up to an 18 in regular sizes and you can filter results by size, but they combine 16-18 (XL-XXL) in one category. Then I always get a lot of responses that include brands that run really small and the description says that size XL = size 12. It’s not very helpful and would be more useful to me to be able to see size 18 or XXL on its own since most brands that include that size don’t run really small.

  2. I’m surprised you didn’t mention Eileen Fisher. Her misses sizes run generous so I as a 16W-18W can fit her XL or even L size just fine.

    Environmentally conscious, easy to mix and match, all hand washable, investment dressing. What’s not to like?

    • I’d heard of Eileen Fisher, but never checked out what she made. Do you really wear it to work? It all looks very comfy, but few pieces I would actually consider “workwear.” Maybe the styling just makes it seem more casual than it actually is?

      • Yes, I wear almost exclusively EF for work. I’m a senior executive in a traditional finance firm.

        The way the EF website models the clothing is very oversized but if you buy smaller you get a more standard fit. I wear her ponte skirts almost daily, along with one of her sleeveless tops, topped with one of her more structured cardigans or soft jackets, which I have collected over time. This winter I have been obsessed with her wool crepe separates, part of what she calls the Icon collection. I wear the Icon shell with the Icon skirt more than once a week (no one notices) with different jackets or toppers.

    • Knew I was forgetting a major one, thank you!

    • Anonymous :

      I really wanted to switch to EF as post-maternity wear but was really concerned that it would look like pajamas / loungewear.

      In my mind, when I am semi-retired in Phoenix or Miami but teach a law class as an adjunct, I wear this to teach and then go to a gallery after.

      I do think that it requires fabulous jewelry to make it not pajamas.


        this would be a pretty typical work look for me sans the scarf. It doesn’t look like pajamas.

        • Anonymous :

          “Silk Cotton Interlock Pencil Skirt”

          Is the material very thick? The fabric sounds like what I wear around the house. Is it like St. John (expensive but stretchy, doesn’t pill or get obvious picks in it)?

          I like a good seasonless wool outfit b/c it feels like a grownup fabric and doesn’t get ratty (the rattiness alone is why I am just hating sweaters — they all seem to fuzz sooner or later and just read too casual).

          Bt I also imprint weirdly on clothes. EF and Chicos are always what I think of as menopause wear (like when I get thick in the middle and can’t rock any sort of defined waist). St. John is menopause wear that I can’t afford. Maybe I’ve never seen anyone chic and realized that they were wearing EF (which sounds lovely in theory but I haven’t been able to pull the trigger).

          • I have a silk cotton interlock jacket in two colors and I like it. It’s not quite as heavy as St. John but definitely not flimsy. The jackets have kept their structure and I wear them like I would wear a blazer to a meeting. (not a cardigan)

      • I have this exact outfit and wear it all the time (sans scarf):

    • mamiejane :

      For the price, I have to say I have found the sizing on EF to be a little bit inconsistent. I have one long cardigan that I love and was looking for a second one but found the sleeves to be weirdly narrow.

    • I have a wool eileen fisher dress that I got at a thrift shop, and I love it, but it’s super short on me so I can’t really wear it to work. Boo.

      Being a TALL 16-18 is difficult. I rely heavily on Boden.

      • I don’t know if you will see this, but can you wear it with opaque tights? Can you layer a slim pencil skirt under it?

        I’m also tall and these are a couple of my techniques.

  3. Another line is Marina Rinaldi, the larger sized Max Mara line. Sizing runs from about US 10 – US 20.

    Beautiful fabrics, well made, and her sheath dresses often have sleeves. I stalk them on sale.

    There’s no stand-alone US website yet, but Saks, Bloomingdale’s and Neiman Marcus carry it.

  4. thank you for compiling this list all in one spot, kat! As a 18WP, I appreciate having all these retailers in one spot and see a few I didn’t know about.

  5. Anonymous :

    Looking for advice on outsourcing cleaning help. My S.O. and I are thinking of hiring a cleaning lady, and we have zero experience with this. We both are very busy at work and don’t have the energy to maintain order in our 1BR condo. By midweek its a total disaster and it really affects both of our moods. It could definitely use a good cleaning, but I think the bigger issue is clutter/general messiness- things everywhere that need to be put away, sink full of dirty dishes, etc. Does anyone have experience with hiring a cleaning lady for a little apartment, and do you think one would actually help in this scenario?

    • Anonymous :

      I think you have to change the way you deal with clutter. I never put things away away so I used baskets, bins, and bowls everywhere. Know yourself!

    • A regular house cleaner will help you keep your surfaces sparkling, but you need to get a hold on your clutter issues first. Also keep in mind that if your cleaning person is spending a good deal of time picking up, that’s less time spent on the actual cleaning.

      What are your biggest trouble spots? My biggest tip is just getting into the habit of putting crap away. Have a place for everything. Don’t pile coats and clothes on your chairs; hang them up right away. Find your biggest trouble spots and address those first. (For the longest time, it was the amount of mail and paper coming into the house. Keeping a trash can by the door to throw away junk mail before it ever hits the main living areas helped a bunch.)

    • A cleaning service could help with the dishes, but would be less effective with paper/clothes clutter. They aren’t going to know what’s clean or dirty, what needs to be read, reviewed, or trashed. The best they can do there is compile it all in one place for you to go through. I read a post from a blogger once who said she has a rule that she never leaves a room without taking something with her (i.e. something that doesn’t belong in that room and needs to be put away or trashed). When I employ the ‘rule,’ it definitely makes a difference at my house. My husband and I are really messy, especially with paperwork and mail.

  6. mamiejane :

    Talbots is my go-t0 although sometimes I find things at Nordstrom and in the summer, I wear JJill dresses. Also, JJill tunics and ponte pants have been a go-to on casual days this winter. It’s so critical to find good petite plus sizes because regular plus sizes often have enormous arm-holes that make the clothing unwearable. I find that to be the case with Old Navy in particular.

    • Jill has a nice looking ponte knit pencil skirt that is unfortunately too short for me, but shorter ladies should check it out. No hemming!

      • Great skirt :

        I have to order the J Jill ponte pencil skirt in Tall — wish they carried Talls in the store!

    • Anonymous :

      My SIL is <5-4 and plus and wears by Talbots women's petites. They also have outlets (all sizes), which can help with the price.

    • I’m a tall-ish woman and Old Navy is a freaking nightmare. Shirts are simultaneously too short, yet have enormous arm holes.

    • mamiejane :

      I have the ponte skirt in black and it’s a go-to with long cardigans and interesting shells.

  7. (regular commenter – anon for this)
    I weighed myself this morning and came to the realization that in 10 years, I have gained 100 lbs (age range of that decade – early 20s to early 30s). I’m…. terrified. Realistically I’ve gone from a size 6 to a 12/14, which scares me a little less (as prior to being a 6, I was a 12), but still. I’m at a loss. I’ve tried WW, Diet To Go, no carb, etc. Nothing either works and/or lasts. I can come up with excuses – biglaw job for many years, moving to a new place, using food as comfort for life changes, but I don’t want excuses anymore. I need help. Please, please offer me helpful advice.

    • Saying you’re “terrified” to be a size 12/14 on a thread specifically geared towards cusp/plus sized, and petite cusp/plus sized women is pretty insensitive. I understand why you’re upset, that is a big change, but a “I want to lose weight to get out of the sizes that you women for this thread are already bigger than” is really, really not the message for this particular thread. Repost in coffee break, sure.

      • Really sorry that came out wrong, and re-reading it – it definitely came out wrong. I’m terrified I gained 100 lbs and don’t know how to stop gaining weight.

      • This. I just found this page today after Kat re-posted it. Can this thread be removed, please? It is incredibly offensive to be here on this page for finding clothes to flatter a size 16 body that someone is “terrified” about her current weight and size and advice for that. Corpor&tt& and the hive here promote a body-positive image and this thread and this poster does not seem to understand what that means.

    • Anonymous :

      I get it. It’s like you’re not in control of what is happening to you (and it should be something you can control, not like other things that go wrong, like hereditary kidney disease).

      I had something where I thought I was going crazy (like I gained a size in a month). I think it was just slipping towards menopause and my hormones going crazy. It happened a couple of times, so I was fine but my vanity was bruised (and my wallet — you can take clothes in but not easily let them out). And I had developed a serious gut, so not just larger, but a shape not to my liking.

      Hang in there! If you want to make changes, maybe try something new? For me, it was roller derby — gets out some frustrations, and my larger size is a feature (not a bug). And it’s FUN! It’s a new year — time for a new adventure.

      Totally agree that biglaw and delicious food to take the edge off do not help.

    • Anonymous :

      anytime that i have needed to drop weight, I limit my calories to 1200 and track my food. Make sure to keep your calories mostly protein and veggies. When you eat carbs try to eat fruits and limit cracker, chips, etc.

      I also exercise (walk) for 1 hour a day and drink at least 6 glasses of water.

      If you do that for a month straight, you WILL see progress. Tracking your weight daily is very motivating. Also take measurements because you will reduce in size without the scale moving sometimes.

      also, look for healthy living and weight loss motivation daily. I really like the skinny rules by bob harper,

    • I am a woman who has always struggled with her weight and also happen to be a physician. I claim not to be an expert in weight loss but have some suggestions that have helped me lose 150 lbs. I am a happy size 16w.

      1) practice some self care. Get outside into nature. Yoga. Take a bath and appreciate your toes, knees, hands. Your body is an amazing thing – realize what it does for you every day, regardless of your size. Too often we are so critical of ourselves and our bodies until we see true illness and disability.

      2) write down everything you eat. Every sip, bite, munch, etc. people often complain this takes too long or is a problem with their high pressure lifestyle and job/family commitments. Being honest and non jusgemental with yourself about what you are putting into your body is a great place to start. With the right app, it takes literally seconds.

      3) journal for three days, maybe a week. Look for patterns. My pattern is that every day at 3pm I get tired and want sugar. I pack a pear, some blue cheese, and a few wheat thins to “treat” myself and get me through that time. Worst case, I get a granola bar from the dr’s lounge and make a note of it. No big deal. I can make a different choice tomorrow.

      4) set a realistic weight goal for yourself based on your age, current calorie intake, and activity level.

      Be kind to yourself and be healthy.

    • Wow, I’ve also gone from a 6 to 12 in the last few years… but that size change was based on only gaining 25 lbs. This is why it sucks to be short! Or maybe I just gain weight in weird places? Either way, it’s wreaking havoc on my clothing budget and losing weight becomes less appealing when it means I’ll just have to replace even more clothing.

    • Nudibranch :

      Get your thyroid checked. Ask your doctor about insulin resistance.

      Also, the Myfitnesspal app worked well for me.

    • Think about what motivates you and incorporate that into your fitness plan. For me, that is (1) money and (2) people. I hate to waste money so I register for pilates classes at a place that charges you if you cancel less than 2 hours in advance or are a no show. When it’s 30 minutes before class and I really don’t feel like going, the fact that I’m losing money is enough of a motivation to go. On the other hand, the pay once for unlimited classes at a gym isn’t an immediate enough consequence, so I won’t go. I also won’t exercise alone because it is so stinking boring. I make plans to run with a friend in advance (when I’m feeling all motivated) and then when the day rolls around and I really don’t want to go, I feel too bad to cancel on the friend. Even if you don’t see weight loss, there’s something to be said for maintaining your weight and being healthier in general.

    • This applies if you’ve ruled out medical issues:
      Most people actually have zero idea what a portion size is. Our ability to eyeball 1/2 vs. 1 cup of rice, 4 oz vs. 6 oz of meat, 8 vs 12 oz of orange juice, etc. is usually way off. So, even if you’re diligently logging your food on MyFitnessPal or SparkPeople, you could be completely off as to what you’re actually consuming. Food scales and measuring cups can be extremely useful.

      For me personally, the only way to cut weight is the replace 1-2 meals with high-protein, high-fiber, low-carb, low-sugar shakes I make myself. I measure everything that goes in, guaranteeing my calorie estimates are 100% correct for those 1-2 meals/day. I then try to eat real, whole, food for the other meal(s).

      I’ve been considering getting a DEXA scan to determine my actual calorie requirements. I suspect mine may be rather low compared to the average for my age group. Might be something for you to consider.

      And, strength train. Muscle at rest burns more calories and helps your overall shape.

      • anonjustfor today :

        Eight years ago, I had weight loss surgery. It’s not for everyone, but I have never regretted it for a single second. I paid out of pocket, because I didn’t meet the insurance qualifications (not 100 lbs overweight, yet, and no co-morbidities, yet). I was so sick of obsessing and struggling and yo-yo dieting. I understand there are risks, but my surgery went incredibly smoothly and I missed less than a week of work. I have to eat very carefully now. Call it the “easy way out,” as many do, but it was the best thing I ever did for myself.

    • AlexisFaye :

      Look up muscle for life. Get a gym membership. Lift very heavy weights 3 to 5 times a week.

      I am “skinny” but realized last week I’m really “skinny fat.” 4-6 cardio sessions a week wasn’t doing it for me. There’s nothing wrong with wanting better health, and I’m really a fan of this guy’s writing, detailed workout plans, etc. I don’t have to think about it.

  8. Thanks for this post, Kat! I’m a 16/18 and have been wearing Ann Taylor suits a lot, but recently I went back to LOFT after a long time of not being into their stuff, and I really like some of their tops and dresses (size 18 or XL usually works but sometimes is weirdly cut). Also, try J Crew Factory! Their wool skirts go up to size 20 and are great for a more casual day at the office. Warning though, their suit is very low-quality.

  9. I am having so much trouble figuring out how to approach plus size clothing. I am new to it needing it and can’t find a niche between 16-18, plus, and plus petite. I have a tummy, so it seems I need plus size pants, but then they are disproportionately large through my legs and look sloppy. I’m an attorney and need to look put together, especially for court, depositions, and marketing. How do you know whether to go for 16-18; plus, or plus petite?

    • It’s really tough, and you just have to keep trying tons of things on until you find a cut that works for you. For example, I can’t wear Talbots at all, because their regular 16 is too tight but their 16W is cut too big, and their 14W is still cut too weird for me even though it pulls in the chest. Bizarrely, their 14W petite fits me well, except the arms are too short. Ann Taylor size 18 (or 16 on lighter days) fits me really well in cut and length, so that’s my go-to.

    • I agree with Tetra that simple trial and error is a big part of finding what fits, but also, a lot of plus size women — myself included — rely heavily on tailoring. I’m pear-shaped, so if I want a great court-appropriate shift dress that will fit my hips and derriere, I need to get the top taken in significantly in the waist, bust, and arm holes. Also, for whatever it’s worth, I don’t trust brands to stick with reliable across the board sizing. If ordering online I just order big, figure I’ll need to have it tailored, and am pleasantly surprised if it works without tailoring. Good luck to you, Anon.

    • I’ve come to peace with dressing my body also after a lot of trial and error… though I’ve basically given up on trying to look professional in certain items: pants, pencil skirts, flowy open sweaters – they just don’t work for me.

      What I did was make a rule that I wouldn’t keep anything (new) that wasn’t perfect. By which I mean, if I tried something on and thought “well maybe with different underwear” or “i guess a cardigan would cover…” NOPE, it’s out. This means a ton of returning things. I’m also pretty cheap and I hate paying for shipping/returns, so I find myself doing a lot of Amazon Prime or Macys/Nordstrom/whatever online + returning to the store. I’ve found some silhouettes that work for me (while I can’t wear pencil skirts, I love a sheath dress) and some brands that I can almost guarantee will flatter me. And I stalk those for sales.

      • I’ve gotten to the point where I’ll just order as many sizes as I think I need to get what I want. So sometimes I’ll order a straight-size 16, a 16w and a 16wp, and then also order a 14w and a straight-size 18 for good measure. I return a TON of stuff. If retailers don’t like it, they should standardize sizing and construction.

      • This is a wonderful suggestion… now that I think about it, almost every time I buy something I think about the other piece of clothing I’ll also need to buy to go with it. Duh! Thank you :)

  10. Because I’m 5’10”, I’ve had trouble finding pants that were long enough and fit well. Since the birth of my son, my size has been hovering around a 16-18, and I’m having a terrible time finding pants that fit both my width and my length. Are there any resources for long length plus sizes? My husband commented the other day that my work pants look like they’ve seen better days, and as much as I dread the hunt for new ones, it’s definitely time to replace them. Any ideas where I can look for plus size pants that have at least a 34 inch inseam?

    • boutique option :

      Not sure where you’re based, but if in NYC try Lee Lee’s Valise, a small Brooklyn store. My tall (also 5’10”) NY based sister has great luck there.

    • Squiggles :

      Try Old Navy. They do have some basic dress pants in various colours and many have short, regular and tall options!

      I tend to head there because it is easier on my budget – pricewise especially if you can get extra discounts. As well, here they have free returns . Where I am, I only have a few options and my main one changed their “mission statement” and finding work wear is pretty much nil. But I am only in the office 3 days a week and am not client serving.

    • Sydney Bristow :

      Not work pants, but I just tried Melissa McCarthy Seven7 jeans and they were way too long for 5’5″ me. The listing says that the inseam is 34″. They were at least 5″ too long on me. Perhaps some of her other items have long enough inseams for you.

    • I’m the same size / height as you. I get most of my pants at the VanHeusen outlet. Not sure if this is dressy enough for your line of work, but their tall size fits me well – even with clogs (2.5″ heel). And they are cheap. They don’t wash as well as more expensive brands, but this hasn’t bothered me too much. I also like that the hem has about an inch and a half of extra fabric so if you need to let them out more it’s easily done. Well…. as easy as hemming pants gets, I guess.

  11. Ok, who has tried Universal Standard? I’m a 24W/3x, in court every day, and while a lot of Universal Standard’s clothes are probably too casual for work, a few pieces could certainly get mixed in. Also, you know, weekends are a thing (allegedly). Would love to hear some reviews from you ladies on their quality of construction, fit and materials.

    • I ordered a jacket with an integrated vest and sent it back. They fit for a particular body shape and that’s not mine. It was a super cute idea though, and they were cool about returns. I don’t love all the polyester/spandex/rayon stuff that is widely available in plus size clothing, and US is definitely there, but a lot of people don’t mind it.

  12. Jones New York has been my go to for suits and dress pans. I think I cried a little when Coldwater Creek went out of business. With my Jones dress pants and cardigan sets from CC I was pretty set for most days.

    • Coldwater Creek Former & Now Current Lover :

      CC is back in business; their catalogues just started showing up in my mailbox. Look on line!

      Hopes this helps.

  13. I honestly have no idea what size I really am because it varies so much between brands and even lines at brands. I’ll be swimming in one brand’s 16w and another brand’s 18w doesn’t get past my knees. Talbots is my go-to, because if it doesn’t fit in one size line it usually fits in another. I love how many options there are for “bridge” sizes. I also sometimes have luck at Lands End. P.S., I hardly ever have luck at Lane Bryant. I swear their size 16w is more like another brand’s straight-size 12.

    Sizing drives me crazy. I have clothes in sizes 12 to 22 in my closet – in petite lengths, regular lengths, long lengths, straight size, plus sizes, etc. I hold on to anything I find that really fits because it’s so tough. I have to try on probably 3x the amount of clothing my straight-size and true plus-size friends do. So, for all you other “in-betweeners” out there – I feel your pain.

  14. As an hourglass size 14 to 18 (wheee!) my super picks are:

    Talbots – knit tops, blouses (even button downs), curvy cut trousers.
    Pendleton – blazers and trousers (less curve-fitting than Talbots), occasional dresses.
    NYDJ for trousers/casual Friday jeans.
    6pm for discounted Pendleton and NYDJ.
    Occasional Land’s End and Banana Republic, when the style suits me.
    J. Jill ponte skirts are some kind of magic. I have three.

    I’m super persnickety and pick based on what looks good on me, an hourglass – blazers and dresses with some waist definition, softer fabric blouses that drape over the curves.

    Boden’s quality can’t be beat. But their proportions are often off for petites (too long, v necklines VERY low) and their larger sizes are not available in petites – their petite range only goes up to 14. Their short sleeve and 3/4 sleeve tops work well and I often can’t resist their dresses.

  15. The key thing is that you need to know your measurements. Because a BR size 16 does NOT equal a Talbots size 16, and so on.

  16. MM La Fleur :

    I’m a cusp and have been thinking about getting a jardigen. I heard they were going to increase their range. Will that include the jardigans? If not, how are the supposed to fit? Do they allow for a large bust?

    • Anonymous :

      I briefly had a black jardigan from MM. LaFleur in size XL. I am a 40DDD and the drape of the jardigan on my chest was really awful and made my entire upper body look boxy and heavy. It was super warm – I ended up re-selling it on eBay.

  17. I found Ann Taylor suits to fit me best when I was a size 14-16 post-partum.

  18. Any suggestions for a chambray shirt…I am between an XL and an XXL…XL to tight to button all the way down but an XXL too “sloppy” looking…Have tried Old Navy, Talbots (didn’t like their fabric in a 16W or 1x..cannot remember…Gap strangely enough has not had basic chambray shirts in awhile. Any links/suggestions appreciated. Will also put in a good word for TeriJon for dresses…they carry plus size and the fabric/styles/craftsmanship are beautiful. Got a stunning dress there for our son’s wedding…it was pricey (to me) but I LOVED my dress.

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Thank you for commenting. On the off chance that your comment goes to moderation, note that a moderation message will only appear if you enter an email address. If you have any questions please check out our commenting policy.