Dear Kathi,

I have a special challenge finding clothes that work for my body. I am in my 70s and have curvature of the spine inherited from my mother. Additionally, I‘ve always had a tough time finding clothes that fit my short and petite size XL frame. My chest is larger than my bottom half and I can’t find dresses that fit both on my top half and bottom half. I need to find a black dress that I can wear for a few upcoming formal occasions. It would also be nice if it could be used for evening dinner dates. Any tips would be greatly appreciated.

Miss Smith > Del Mar

Miss Smith,

It sounds like your petite apple frame has a few special challenges. Never fear, every figure has its own challenges, even the “beanpoles” of the world! Let’s start with the basic elements you should search for in your new black dress. The ideal cut will have a v-neck to elongate the torso and de-emphasize a heavy chest area.

V-necks are ideal for all “apple” body shapes. Try to buy 3/4 length sleeves to draw the eye down to the waist area and cover any upper arm problems. 3/4 length sleeves are always the most forgiving and better than a longer sleeve that ends at generally women’s largest area, the hips. Choose a hemline below the knee, but not to the floor, for day-to-night versatility.

Regarding your back, try to find a neckline that has a collar to draw the eye up from the curved area. Interesting details like embroidery or lace trim on or near the neckline will also help detract the eye from the largest part of your back. If you can find a back with sheer coverage, this will also de-emphasize the problem back area. The finer the fabric, the less bulk added to your back.

Separates are always a good fall back for body types with challenges. You probably already alter most “off the rack” clothes and alterations are easier and more affordable with separate pieces. The waistline on a skirt can be adjusted with less difficulty than a dress waistline. A skirt, blouse, jacket combo will also provide greater versatility when you need to create a less formal look for dinner events.

A lightweight fabric will take you through all seasons. Use a wrap or cover up in the cooler months and wear your dress solo during the summer months. Spend your money on the best fabric and tailoring that you can afford. Don’t worry about stretching your budget when you find the black dress that meets all of your requirements. A great black dress is an essential element and a worthwhile investment for your wardrobe. The little black dress will serve you well as the cornerstone of your evening wear for years to come.

Thanks for writing and don’t hesitate to write with any other specific questions.

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San Diego Professional Organizer