How to Dress for Weight Fluctuations

In my last post, I wrote about body image and how it affects both shopping and style.  I shared my thoughts on that topic, as well as some insights from members of my private Facebook group.   I’ve already received some very wise and thought-provoking comments from readers – and you’re welcome to share more, but today I’d like to move on to a related topic.

Sometimes our body image challenges arise as a result of actual weight gain, which leads us to feel less than fab about the way we look.  In other instances, we may fluctuate in weight due to health issues, changing metabolism, seasonal shifts, or other reasons.  When our weight goes up and down by a few pounds or more, or if we experience bloating from digestive distress, crazy hormones, or whatever, figuring out what to wear can become difficult.  This has been the case for me as of late for many of the reasons I mentioned above.  Again, I turned to the collective wisdom of the Facebook group for answers.  In today’s post, I share what group members had to say about how to best dress for weight fluctuations.

dressing for weight fluctuations

Bloating & weight shifts can make it challenging to get dressed. 

Insights and Advice

A few group members shared their personal stories of weight fluctuations and how they’ve dealt with them emotionally as well as sartorially.  Here are some of my favorite such comments:

  • I’m actually having this problem; in the last year, I’ve been constantly fluctuating between 5-7 pounds. It’s not all roses and rainbows, but I’m trying not to beat myself up and take it as it is, as a curious aspect of my metabolism and not a failure. It’s not something I can control, so I try to see it philosophically. Of course it’s difficult, though, and some days I’d just like to snap my fingers and shed the extra pounds. Weirdly enough, I’m not having many problems clothing wise, apart from trousers being too snug/tight in the waist area, which frustrates me endlessly since trousers are a sore topic for me. I love them, but they don’t love my lower body shape. I don’t know if there’s a perfect recipe for not feeling bad about my weight fluctuations when a bad mood strikes, but knowing it’s not something I can control or something to be ashamed of – just an aspect of me – helps greatly, and sometimes cheers me up right out of a bad mood!  So some advice would be: Ponte trousers with elasticated waist are my best friends, eating healthy makes me feel less bloated, not weighing myself every day helps me to feel less anxious about my weight.
  • My weight fluctuates a lot. In fact, I was recently 20 pounds heavier than I had been a year ago. My size varies from a size 6 pant to a 14 depending on my weight, body fat percentage, and workout dedication. How do I deal with it? I have some jeans and slacks in a storage closet. I have told myself many times that I am not going to get back up to a 14 and have gotten rid of things, but now I often hold on to good quality classic items, as it is so hard for me to find tall things that fit properly. Thankfully, my weight fluctuations are less as I get older and seem to be less compulsive. But when I am heavier, I refuse to wear tight uncomfortable clothing. It’s demoralizing and feels like I’m punishing myself. Until about two years ago, I would only buy “fat” clothes in a thrift store, rationalizing that I would not be that size for long (again, punishing myself). I also quit doing that. Now, whatever size I need, it has to fit my style words and my lifestyle and be of good quality. I do, however, always buy neutral bottoms and rely on accessories more than I used to. That helps, as my top and topper sizes changes less drastically. And using the same sweaters, scarves, and other things that I love bolsters my confidence, even when I am heavier.I like asymmetric tops when I’m heavier, too. I find pure J. Jill slim pants in tall (which are knit) very comfortable for home and they are nice enough to wear out, unlike yoga pants. They are especially comfortable with a tunic top.
  • I, too, have a range of about 8-10 pounds that I go through (if I’m honest!) at least once, if not twice, a year. After some great eating on trips away and family/friends gatherings, I’m at the top now. So the past couple days, I shopped my closet and found things that fit and that I liked and felt good in (mostly pants). They’re two sizes bigger than “my fighting weight” – size 8 versus 4. Was I glad I’ve kept them (some for many years)? Yes. Do I feel bad about myself? Not too bad really. I actually love the outfits I’ve put together over the past few days, created in part with some recently purchased Eileen Fisher flowy tops and toppers combined with the “big” pants. My only discomfort and sadness is that I feel like a dough boy even in a one-piece bathing suit. My thighs are dimply and jiggly. All the extra weight goes there. I’m embarrassed to be out on the beach without a cover up . . . We live by the beach and go there with our wee grandsons. But I’m an optimist and action-oriented, so I’m on the path to reclaim my thinner, MORE FIT body. Not a psychic crisis. But without reading this post (while also reading your second book, Debbie), I might not have taken the time or had the guidance from group to put together these outfits that make me feel well-dressed and attractive in the meantime!
  • I guess it all depends on each person’s body type.My body type is a column when I’m thin, and a rectangle full of flabby rolls around the belly when I gain some weight (which happens really easily, around 11-15 pounds in a couple of months). My middle zone gets round but my hips and my chest are still straight. This goes against the most common female shape, so many dresses and bottoms are not made for me. I accept it and try to adapt my outfits accordingly. As a general rule, I look for flattering fits for both my thin and my round version (and I think I’m finding them). Both are so different, so why should I dress them in the same way? My thinner version looks good in skinny jeans. My bigger version also does, but the waist zone is a problem, so I always keep some straight or skinny pants with a wider waist.  My thinner version looks good in straight or fitted tops, but never stretching fabrics or tight fittings. My bigger version needs straight tops but in a bigger size, or flowy tops so my thin legs are more evident and my belly and (non-existent) waist are not. I also wear straight short dresses with leggings, which works in most of my body versions.  I wear palazzo/flowy pants and maxi-skirts when I’m thinner, but not so often when I’m heavier, as they would give me a really baggy and voluminous look when paired with the wider tops I then need.  I love pencil skirts when I’m thinner, but they don’t love me when I’m not, always because of the round waist. So I replace them with A-line or bell-shaped short or midi skirts, or straight elastic maxi-skirts with a really gentle waistline that’s not so structured.  I’ve recently noticed that I should never wear tight belts. They don’t create visual curves on my body as they’re supposed to, but rolls instead. I prefer structured fits for dresses and bottoms when I’m thinner, and forget the idea of even pretending I have something like a waist when I’m not.

Specific Clothing Advice

Here are some concrete suggestions that have worked for members of the group when they have either gained weight or dealt with bloating and water retention.   Many of these tips center on pants, as those are often the hardest garments to fit when our weight changes, but you will also find some great advice for other types of garments as well.

  • What about Ponte pants in a relaxed cut? They’d be suitable for business and have a decent amount of stretch.
  • For summer, linen pants with a combination elastic/drawstring waist are perfect. They look great long, rolled up, Capri length, or as shorts. The elastic is in the back so no one knows, but the comfort is excellent no matter what I weigh.
  • Some pull-on tapered pants might work. They are looser in the thighs, but look smarter. You can get them at various price points, too.
  • I have a couple of tank dresses for summer which work well if I feel bloated. They’re totally non-binding anywhere. Then I add a nice necklace or earrings and I’m good to go. I have no answer really for pants, other than to wear my stretchy yoga pants.
  • My weight can fluctuate by 3 or 4 pounds, which does make a difference. I have a few “go-to” outfits that I feel are comfortable yet stylish enough that I don’t feel bad. Those are not usually the days I would wear jeans, as they dig in at the abdomen. Ihave a couple of forgiving trousers in a light Ponte fabric or stretch cotton and wear a looser but fitted top that skims my body but isn’t clingy. Utilizing visual tricks like vertical lines or a pattern also helps to disguise bloating.
  • I have major illness-related weight fluctuations, eight pounds in the last nine days, for example. Structured knits are great. They flex with you, but you can still get a trim fit. Elastic waist skirts and Eileen Fisher knit pants are great. Wearing a loose, floaty topper is also helpful. And of course, just knowing that it is the way it is can be helpful.
  • Instead of elastic, I use drawstring or drop waist skirts with zippers that I can unzip a bit, worn with a long loose topper.
  • I have very few structured pants. Almost all of mine are pull-on styles. My problem is a chronically dislocating sacro-iliac joint in my pelvis. Anything that binds in the wrong spot can cause a dislocation, which causes immediate and intense pain. I’m very nervous in anything too structured in the waist.I also need pockets to give my hands a place to rest when I teach. So, I have difficulty finding what I need. 
  • I struggle with this myself. I’ve learned to enjoy stretchier pants (jeggings can be okay!) and stretchy skirts. I try to get low-rise pants whenever I can because I have fewer reflux problems with them. Also, many people can probably get away with generally looser-fit clothes if they want to wear them.  I have trouble with it because I’m extra-busty, so it tends to make me look “tenty” and unbalanced. A style blogger whose loose-fitting style I really like is Style Bee. Also, pay attention to where your weight goes and makes you uncomfortable when you gain weight. Since I have reflux too, having my stomach area constricted is just the worst-feeling, but it could be different for other people. Belle from Capitol Hill Style advises: “When I gain weight, I wear more wrap dresses, more A-line skirts, and more wide leg pants. If you gain weight in the torso, try a draped or gathered blouse. Another great option is a flowy peasant blouse. A straight-fitting blazer trims your figure by creating a new, slim silhouette. And don’t forget the shift dress for providing a bit of extra room.”
  • Do you wear leggings with short dresses? They are a lot more comfortable than jeans/trousers, and look very stylish. I have long legs, so leggings are a great solution for me, or long loose-fitting tunics.
  • Have you tried using an in-store stylist at a big department store? If you are specific about your needs, it could save searching the racks for styles and brands (and running back to get different sizes).
  • I buy a lot of pull-on waist items. Most stores carry them now. I have some pieces by Ann Taylor and Michael Kors, as well as some cheaper brands. I just bought most of them 6 months ago for my new job, including pull-on maxis and short skorts. I love the performance-style skirts that pull on. I just got one on sale for under $30 that is as cute as Lululemon but is from Kohls. I feel better if my clothes fit even if I have to keep some bigger sizes and some smaller sizes. I even have one go-to pair of pants for those “chubby days.”
  • I will only wear pull-on waists and nothing tight. I hate having tight clothes around my waist and I have for my whole life. At some point, I decided I’m not going to be uncomfortable, and I don’t own any pants or skirts that aren’t pull-on.
  • They are making t-shirts now that are looser at the waist instead of fitted through the entire torso. They’re great for days when the tummy isn’t co-operating.
  • I like A-line shaped tops and skirts. Swing tops fit into this category also. They are closer-fitting at the shoulders and bust and then open out below the bust line to a loose wide hem. They hang with side hems lower than the center front and back, which has the effect of gliding over any bumps around the waist and hips. They also suit a narrower frame.A-line tops are also not constricting to wear, and when you sit down, you can drape them smoothly over your tummy instead of them pulling in tight and forming rolls. Add a cardigan or open-front coat to slim the sides even more with two vertical panels of fabric. Empire-line dresses do the same thing. They come in maxi lengths or above the knee and they are stylish, flattering, and comfortable. The last thing you want when feeling bloated is fabric cutting you in half. A-line skirts exaggerate the difference in size between the width of the hem, and the width of the leg below it, so they slim your legs down. Also, don’t fall into the trap of thinking a men’s t-shirt will be more oversized and comfy, as men’s tees are not flared at the waist and usually pull in at the exact wrong place, accentuating any tummy or hip bumps you may have.
  • I recommend pull-on waist pants and tunic tops. They worked before I lost 21 pounds and several inches and still work now. Also, in the summer I wore and still love loose linen pants with pull-on or drawstring waists. They are so nice and cool. However, if I wear loose pants, I do like a more fitted top, but it doesn’t have to be form-fitting, just pulled in somewhere. Today, when I went to beach church, I wore loose natural linen-colored loose pants (I was barefoot and turned up the pants a few turns) and a navy top, lightweight but with long sleeves that can be pulled up and a deep scoop neckline front and back. It pulled in around my hips but was loose around what used to be my problem stomach area.
  • I also like things with pattern, ruching, and ragged, “shark-bite,” or asymmetrical hems. It’s all about distracting from my fat middle!
  • I wear maxi-dresses for the most part, as they are flowy and cool in the summer and they are feminine. If I feel bloated or like I’ve gained a few pounds, the maxi-dress can cover things up. Otherwise, high-waisted leggings with a tunic or long dress work well. There’s no “muffin top” with a high-waisted pair of leggings. 
  • I wear oversize and longer jackets (denim or camo) when I’m feeling bloated, as opposed to my more cropped styles. I also wear longer, looser fit shirts. I generally feel I need to hide a bit at those times.
  • Most of my tops are on the looser side, so that isn’t a problem. My jeans have some stretch in them, so that helps. On really bad days, I have a couple of loose dresses that are perfect. I know ahead of time that there are a few things I just can’t wear if I’m bloated, so I don’t even try to.
  • I like wrap dresses when I feel a bit bloated, as they are adjustable in the waist. Some maxi-dresses work for me as well, or a tunic plus leggings combination.
  • If I put on even 4 pounds, I’m a new pants size since I carry all my weight in my hips. I guess the plus side is that most of my tops will always fit within a much larger range. I typically fluctuate by about 5 or 6 pounds through the year, though it was much more after dealing with a cardiac issue a few years ago. I allow myself to keep two pair of work pants in each size and one pair of jeans. This is usually about three sizes. Typically, skirts just get worn a little more high-waisted, so I only have them in one size. Letting myself wear clothes that fit is a big one; nothing is going to make me feel more unattractive than spilling over a waistband!
  • I normally don’t fluctuate too much but when I FEEL bloated, I like chiffon pants with an elastic waist. They are breezy and trendy for summer and super in style right now. You can wear them with a tank and a wrap, cardigan, or jacket and look pulled together.
  • If I feel bloated and gross on the weekends, you’ll catch me at home lounging in my exercise clothes, especially one pair of black pants that have a blue stripe. The fabric is just amazing on that pair! If I have to go out and about, I try and aim for a floaty top and either my super stretchy skinny jeans (counterintuitive, I know, but trust me on this one) or a summery dress. For work, Ponte knit pants are pretty amazing and comfortable.
  • You might look into jeans labeled as jeggings. I don’t like the true legging version, but there are some that are more of an in-between that have a lot of stretch while still being structured.
  • I have the same issues (heath and a previous eating disorder) and my size can fluctuate overnight. I have and maintain a few core items in different sizes (black dress pants, white blouses, etc.). By doing it that way, I eliminated my “fat clothes” and found I was in a much better place emotionally by wearing my favorite clothes in a larger size rather than a separate set of negatively designated clothes. It also made it easier to keep to my version of a capsule wardrobe.
  • I have many garments in three different sizes. It wasn’t a conscious act, but it just ended up that way. It definitely helps me to feel “normal” because I’m in essentially the same clothes.
  • Yes, bloating. Ick. I just dress around it. The bloating doesn’t really set in until evening, so I am in yoga wear or a nighty and robe by then. If I’m having issues during the day, I rely on old faithfuls: fit and flare dress, peplums, and stretchy skinny jeans. Mostly, I don’t wear any pants that don’t have a 2% spandex waistband and I can do yoga in them if I had to. P.S. I still love my body and refuse to give up salt, my one vice.
  • I have shift dresses for “blah” days. They work in both winter and summer and there is a bit of room for added weight. Stretchy jeans are always a winner for me.

Specific Brand Recommendations

Although some brands were mentioned above, here are some more specific suggestions for brands and styles that work well for weight shifts. You will see some references to tall sizes, as select tips were directed toward me and I need talls in pants.  I included these comments, as I’m sure there are other tall women out there who struggle to find comfortable, good-fitting pants.  Most of the brands who carry tall sizes also offer regular sizes, as well as petite and plus sizes, too.

  • I have a limited selection of jeans and slacks, but it does work! I usually wear Eileen Fisher organic stretch denim jeans (I have ankle length ones in washed indigo and white). There is plenty of “give” in the waistband to accommodate any bloat or discomfort. I don’t normally wear my skinny jeans tight or skinny. They just have an appearance of a closer fit on me. I also have a pair of Eileen Fisher crepe knit ankle pants and a pair of the viscose slouchy pants. It’s too hot to wear the jeans much right now, but they do work for me if I need to wear them. I cannot stand anything tight or binding when the heat index is 115 and above! Right now, I have a few linen dresses that I wear with the Jockey skimmie shorts and sandals. It has taken me several years to actually figure out what works for me. I don’t have a lot of them (they can be a bit pricey), but I do love and wear what I have.
  • I find Eileen Fisher is a really good brand for what you’re looking for…pants that are comfortable but look a bit “smarter.”
  • Do you do ankle length? I recently learned that the Eileen Fisher pants don’t just come in ankle length; they come in a full-length and also a wide leg. Maybe tapering the full-length down to a long-enough ankle length would work? Ankle pants may be your new best friend. They’re very trendy and it sounds like the regular length pants will hit you right in the correct spot to be ankle-length. I love slim-fitting ankle pants and will cry when they go out of style.
  • I’ve heard good things about L.L. Bean. Try them if you have a shop near you where you can try things on.
  • The company Boden carries petite, regular, and tall versions of most of their styles and often has linen pants with elastic waists.
  • You might want to check out the drawstring linen pants at Chadwicks. They have a Tall inseam of 35″ that might work for you. I don’t know your inseam.
  • Believe it or not, Denim & Co by QVC is my go-to denim and casual pants. They’re soft, comfortable, pretty consistent in sizing (although their vanity sizing is extreme), and as durable as any other pants I’ve ever tried. And they come in talls!If you order some, I’d try your size and one down, heck maybe two down as well. You’ll have to pay for a return, but once you know your size, about 95% of the pants fit the same. There are some outliers, but the comments can help you determine those.

Health-Related Suggestions

In addition to the clothing suggestions mentioned above, a number of group members also offered some advice for health-related issues that are often associated with bloating. I am including these tips here as well in case some of you might be able to benefit from them.

  • One thing that made a HUGE difference with my digestive issues was taking herbal bitters before my meals. I find them to be far more effective than digestive enzymes. I use an herbal blend with 9 or 10 herbal varieties and use 1-1.5 ml. from a dropper. I used to regularly bloat up like I was in my second trimester, but that rarely happens anymore, usually when I knowingly go off track and eat something I know will cause a reaction (e.g. deep-fried food). Apparently, they kick-start the whole digestion process end-to-end (meaning, involving all the digestive organs). It took a little while, but they work and I wouldn’t be without them now!  You mix them with a little water and knock it back like a shot. The bitters stimulate the part of your tongue that recognizes bitterness and sends the signal. They are bitter, for sure, but shouldn’t burn your mouth or throat. I use an organic brand called Canadian Bitters, but I’ve read good things about a US brand called Urban Moonshine (made in Vermont). Swedish Bitters are also made by a few different companies. I believe there are recipes out there to make your own, but I’ll leave that to other folk.
  • I use a prebiotic fiber called “Heather’s Tummy Fiber” (goofy name) specifically for IBS. I only use about 1/2 to 1 tsp. a day and it can be mixed with any soft food or a liquid. I mix it with yogurt,oatmeal, scrambled eggs, etc., and it is completely tasteless. It does really help. Given my diet, I thought I was getting plenty of fiber, but apparently that can actually be problematic for someone with IBS.  The fiber is available in bulk and in travel packaging. Her site – while somewhat overwhelming – has a wealth of information for IBS support (she apparently struggled with it for many years).  Just another resource that might be useful.
  • just started to take probiotics daily and these make me feel good in my digestion. I haven’t analyzed how it affects my weight, though. I don’t weigh myself much, as it can get obsessive.
  • The low FODMAP diet helped me with bloating and gas, but not with the constipation. It’s worth a try for those with IBS and other digestive issues. I highly recommend the Monash app to help you identify which foods are low FODMAP (it’s a bit pricey for an app but worth it).
  • I eat homemade bone broth, and I find that it tends to help my IBS issues. There’s no real recipe for it, just bones, apple cider vinegar (a tablespoon or so), salt and pepper, bay leaf, celery, carrot, garlic, and onion – BAM! I use beef knuckle bones mostly, from the farmers’ market (or at least grass-fed). You can also use chicken feet, chicken carcasses, fish carcasses, lamb bones, and whatever you can scavenge up! I buy the knuckles specifically for bone broth. My most recent batch was fresh knuckle bones, an old (frozen) knuckle bone, and then two whole fish carcasses (tilapia). We also threw in some ginger, and then finished it with a squirt of lemon. Best batch ever! Putting collagen in your smoothies can also be helpful (and it’s pretty much tasteless, too).
  • A bloated stomach is a symptom of anxiety. I’m a thin person and I suffer from this condition. It is crucial that I own some clothing that fits loose across my stomach and abdomen so that I’m not in pain during these episodes. I also use stress management and relaxation and have learned how to relax my stomach and allow it to stick out so that I can recover from the bloating.
  • I remember my acupuncturist saying that the stomach reacts to stress big time, something to do with how we are digesting life. Anyway, I get acupuncture a few times a month for re-balancing. I highly recommend it!
  • Some people (including me) retain a lot of water if we eat a diet that is high in salt (over 2000 mg per day). The water weight gain and bloat along with IBS bloat is downright miserable and I’m so sorry that so many of us are dealing with this. Anxiety also plays a big role in stomach bloat.

Your Thoughts?

There was a wealth of information presented above, but I’m sure some of you still have some other tips to add that were not covered here.  Feel free to share any suggestions you have, either for dressing for weight fluctuations or managing bloating and digestive distress.   I welcome your insights!

Over the weekend, I used the “KonMari Method” in my closet.  It took me longer than the last time (see my post from my first KonMari stint here), mostly because I had to try more things on to determine what fits at the moment given the bloating and weight gain.  I will share my process and what I chose to keep and let go of later this week.   I definitely feel like I’m in a better place with my wardrobe now, so it was well worth the effort I made!   It’s a great feeling to look in my closet and only see things that fit me and either

6 thoughts on “How to Dress for Weight Fluctuations

  1. L.L.Bean has khakis that, although they seem vanity-sized, have two pieces of elastic sewn into the waistbands and accommodate quite a bit of size fluctuation in that part of the body. They are not visibly elastic-waist pants, last years, and to me, look nice.
    Shirts that can be worn in or out help me vary my look and comfort depending on if I am a bit bloated or not, as do dresses that are looser.

    • Thanks for sharing this great resource, Helen. I like the idea of a hidden elastic waist. It would be great for those bloated days or the “time of the month” for those who are still dealing with that. Versatile shirts are good to have, too, as many tops can really only be worn one way or another.

  2. One thing that really helped me–finally!–during a 2-3 month period of very bad bloating was, simply, accepting it and not fighting it any longer. Once I’d made my peace with the fact that that was how things were going to be for a while, I was so much happier. I did buy some J.Jill Wearever loose pants, tops, and cardis for a trip to Europe. They weren’t my favorite clothes, but they allowed me to look somewhat pulled together and be comfortable. I have since learned to camouflage my now infrequent bloats with light but longer jackets and a solid core of dark top and bottom. It seems to do the trick.

    • I appreciate your sharing this, Renee. Acceptance is SO important with things we can’t do anything about. I have been having very bad bloating for a few months now and getting mad about it hasn’t helped it to go away. I do feel better when I wear clothes that work with my body instead of against it. Maybe I should check into those J. Jill Wearever items. I like the idea of the dark column of color with a longer, light colored jacket, too. I hope your bloating issues have subsided now, but at least you have clothes to wear should it occur again.

  3. I’m not that keen on pull-on pants. They always seem to sag a little on me and I end up wearing a belt with them, if they have belt loops, so I stick to pants with waistbands. I have black pants in a couple of cuts and sizes. They’re easy to substitute if I’m up a few pounds. It’s easier for me to be motivated to watch my diet if I’m feeling good about myself, and feeling like I’m looking good is essential to that for me.

    I have found that where I put on weight has changed. Pre menopause it went straight to my hips and thighs. Now it lands on my waist. Since I like pants with waistbands it does mean I’ve acquired a new set of pants.

    • I’m often not a fan of pull-on pants, either, Ginger, although I have found a few pairs that have worked well for me (most recent a pair from Athleta). I like your idea of having black pants in a couple of cuts and sizes for easy substitution. I totally agree that it’s easier to watch our weight if we’re not wearing uncomfortably tight clothes. Those just make us feel bad… I have heard about weight shifting after menopause. For me, I still put on weight first in my hips and thighs, but now I also gain it in my mid-section as well. We’ll see how it might change in coming years, though.

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