How I Finally Learned To Dress For My Body Shape

Caroline Wurtzel/Bustle

Bustle's "Help Me Get Dressed" series is dedicated to answering all your burning plus size style, shopping, and fashion questions. In this installment, Bustle's Contributing Fashion & Beauty Editor Olivia Muenter tackles the question of how to dress for your body shape.

When I was growing up, I watched What Not To Wear religiously. I loved the concept of the show (it's hard to resist a good makeover plot line, after all) and I loved the clothes. I took mental note of all the information about what was flattering on my body type and what wasn't, strategizing how to make the "most" of my body as if it was a hurdle I had overcome. Those proposed guidelines for how to dress dictated the way I shopped, my personal style, and how I thought about my body for a decade. Even before I was plus size, it was ingrained into me that I couldn't wear vertical stripes and that I had to draw people's eyes away from my stomach. And if nothing else, come hell or high water, I had to wear something that cinched in my waist. It probably took me a decade before I realized that none of these "rules" really matter at all.

As someone who posts on Instagram and writes about plus size fashion a lot these days, I often get asked about dressing specific body types: "What if I'm apple-shaped?" "What if I'm pear-shaped?" I probably can't list all the different fruit-based body shapes off the top of my head, but I do know that there are entirely too many of them. And also that they don't matter at all. This isn't to say that there aren't particular body types that do have trouble finding clothes that fit well (petite and tall plus size options are often hard to find, for example), but there is a difference between pant legs being too long or too short and thinking you can't wear a type of pants at all because it accentuates the "wrong" thing.

The key to being plus size and feeling comfortable in your personal style is dismantling the idea that anything is off limits because of the proportions of your body. Your weight can be distributed throughout your body in any way at all and you can still look good (and feel good) in any type of clothing. Despite what I thought for most of my life, you can indeed be above a size 12 and wear horizontal stripes without immediately bursting into flames.

But more than that, you are worthy of wearing whatever it is you want to wear. You are worthy of at the very least letting yourself try on these things you thought were "off-limits" for years. It's important you start there. The rest? It's really a matter of numbers.

It took me far, far too long to go buy a measuring tape and actually learn how to measure myself when I was thinking about buying something online. Take the guess work out of whether or not something will fit and take two minutes to measure yourself. There's a reason sizing charts list actual measurements and not whether a certain size fits pear, apple, or rectangle-shaped bodies.

While it's true that no one has the exact same body as you, odds are there are many more people that have similar measurements to you than you realize. For me, following people on Instagram that have similar body types to mine has been unbelievably helpful in my efforts to develop a more realistic (and positive) view of my own body. Looking for a place to start? Try following Kellie Brown if you're looking for someone who talks about being plus size and tall. Nadia Aboulhosn talks a lot about being plus size with a smaller chest, and Gabi Gregg talks about being plus size with a larger chest (she even has a swimsuit line specifically for those with bigger busts). There are even plus size influencers who talk about having bigger feet (shoutout to Caralyn Mirand) and finding shoes over a size 10. My point is that no matter what body part you're having difficulty dressing, there are influencers out there whose bodies look a lot like yours. And they're doing a damn good job dressing themselves and providing inspiration in the process.

Shopping as a plus size person is never going to be as easy as shopping as a straight size person. There are fewer options, fewer brick-and-mortar stores, and fewer brands. But there are options out there. There is inspiration. But none of that will be helpful until you burn down the idea that you aren't allowed to dress a certain way just because of the physical makeup of your body. Finding clothes and your personal style happens when you truly believe that you deserve to wear exactly what you want to wear. And finding your personal style? That's the fun part.