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The Vine: August 30, 2013

Submitted by on August 30, 2013 – 10:42 AM32 Comments


I'm a mid-30s woman living in a state with a full four seasons. I'm hourglassy, with a defined waist and small boobs, and a pretty big caboose.

My least favorite feature — 18+ inch upper arms. So — average size L on top, except for the arms, and the bottom half is an 18 pant. After years and years of fighting with the size disparity between my top and bottom halves, I had a revelation of sorts: I don't HAVE to wear pants. In the last year and a half, I've adopted wearing dresses pretty much all the time and love the change. I have about 15 summer dresses with no sleeves, straps, even strapless which all work great and look cute. Yay dresses!

My problem right now is winter. We've had mildish ones the last couple of years, and I never had to really push on the wardrobe in this area, but the fact is, New England gets COLD. I have only a couple dresses with sleeves. It's pretty repetitive, even if they are in a range of colors. I also have a few cardigans which I wear over some of the summery dresses to
make them more fall and spring appropriate, but…

Nation, here's what I need: 3/4- or-longer-sleeved dresses with big sleeves, in natural fibers. Cotton, ramie, wool, linen, even rayon, bring it the heck on. My favorite store is Loft, with a little Nordstrom here and there, but the Internet and my credit card are long-standing friends.

Dislike: Sorry Talbots, I'm too bootylicious for you. Sorry Lane Bryant, we're acquaintances, not friends. Shut up, animal prints. Polyester need not apply, and latex makes me red and itchy. I also don't rock any kind of prairie or peasant look; I work in an office, not on a farm.

Throwing one back over the fence — if you're reading this description and it sounds like your body, run, don't walk, and find some Not Your Daughter's Jeans, because they are some serious awesomeness.

Thank you!

Size 16-ish

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  • Maria says:

    Lots more options on this site if you are open to elbow-length sleeves, but I wonder if they will have some more longer sleeved options once Labor Day is past. They're in NY so I guess yes.

  • Bess says:

    With the caveat that they're still in Summer mode right now, might be worth a try. They do a variety of materials and styles, and from the one dress I've ordered, the custom sizing is pretty good and worth the $7.50 for those who aren't a single straight size. You'll probably need to check back in a little bit for the Fall/Winter stuff.

    The prices are a little higher than I would generally pay, but the quality of the dress I got was good. You can also get a $25 gift code for signing up for their mailing list, and they have seasonal sales all the time, too.

    As a former dress-in-winter wearer, I also highly suggest some cute tights in a variety of colors – tights keep your legs surprisingly warm!

  • Faye says:

    I second the Boden suggestion. They are big on sleeves and are dressapalooza, with lots of natural fibres. Being a favourite of middle-aged middle-class British ladies (its definitely easy to avoid the frumpy stuff though) their customer base is excellent at detailed reviewing so that really helps on choosing what to buy on sizing. Plus they have an excellent return policy. I would recommend signing up for the mailing list as the catalogue comes with a 15% or more discount code and there's regular offers over email.

  • Jennifer says:! They're a little pricey, but their dresses are really, really gorgeous and well made.

    Less expensive and more disposable is Prices are great, but the taste factor can be questionable and they're not going to be pieces that will last a long time. But I have found one or two really great dresses there in the past.

  • Halo says:

    I'm also plus sized and wear dresses almost exclusively. Land's End has nice fall and winter dresses in plus and it's pretty affordable. I have found more blends than 100% natural fibers, but they seem to wear well and hey, I enjoy ponte. YMMV. LE clothing runs large, so size down.

  • Janna says:

    Maybe Kiyonna might have something to your taste? I know some of their dresses have less-fitted sleeves.

  • Jennifer says:

    And hey! I just got an email about Igigi's Labor Day sale — use the code LABORDAY13 for an extra 30% off.


    You'll probably want a 16…they run large, but have a ton of elbow length sleeve dresses just made for vavoom figures. Unfortunately, mostly rayons, so don't meet your natural fibre desires. A bit spendy, but VERY well made & durable.

  • jennie says: has gorgeous dresses. I wish online shopping from Canada was easier.

  • Judy says:

    Sadly (sadly!!) they're not generally natural fiber fans, but it's not polyester usually. is my dress go to. You'd be at the bottom end of their sizes, but everything I've gotten from them is stunning and high quality. Designed and produced in San Francisco. Lots of 3/4 sleeve options usually.

  • Margaret says:

    I second eShakti. They've furnished almost my entire wardrobe right now. They can be hit or miss sometimes, but 90% of what I've bought from them I love. Get your measurements done by a tailor, because they will know how to measure you for clothing better than a friend would.

    And tights are CLUTCH for winter dress wearing. If you can find a high denier (70+) you would be amazed how warm they actually keep your legs. And layering two pairs of thinner tights is also shockingly warm.

  • Otter says:

    Woman Within has a bunch of dresses. I usually do their flared skirt+polo shirt, but it looks like there's some good candidates.

  • Beth says:

    I love eShakti too – and most of my wardrobe comes from there or Land's End. Be careful with the sleeves at eShakti though; don't try to just order a size because their sleeves are almost always too tight for me. Spend the extra money (or wait until they are running a free customization special) and go for your actual measurements.

    I get hot a lot (I teach, which seems to involve lots of arm waving) so I tend to just buy sleeveless dress then wear cardigans over them in the winter.

  • Crystal says:

    Girl, get thee to with the quickness, especially if you love retro. Their plus size section is pretty boss.

  • alicat says:

    Cherry Velvet has loads of cotton dresses and many of them have sleeves. Most are A-line which is great for hourglassy girls. Sized from XS to 3X. Awesome prints. Love them.

    Cherry Velvet

    Their sister company Diane Kennedy does bamboo blended with lycra fabrics, if that works for you.

    Diane Kennedy

  • attica says:

    I just bought a winter dress at Navabi. Good selection in trendy togs. Most of the stuff is over $100, but it's free shipping (from Germany!). I budget so I can buy from them; I never don't get tons and tons of compliments from the stuff I've bought there.

    They could use more dresses with pockets, but if you're not as insistent upon that as I am (i.e. dealbreaker), you can find a bunch of super cute stuff.

  • Kim says:

    [high-fives you with one of my big ol' Ham Arms]

    If you're near a Macy's, they carry the INC line that offers both standard and plus sizes. Some of the plus-sizes are a crapshoot of hideousness, but my favorite wool-angora blend sweater dress of all time came from there. (And then one of the cats climbed it and tore it, hanging right there in the closet, and then I wept hot tears of rage, but that's another story.)

    I've also had good luck with–British plus sizes. Again, some careful weeding is required, but the Jeffery & Paula line has some excellent sweater dresses.

  • Jaleh says:

    Try Eshakti. They let you customize length of skirt and type of sleeve you want on most dresses.

  • Eli says:

    Fifth-ing or sixth-ing eshakti – I love their dresses so much that I've used re-mailers to get them because they don't ship to Australia. And plus size clothes in Australia are sometimes dire and clothes are kinda expensive anyway.

    I will second ASOS – with a caveat that I have never been able to order something and just have it work. It's either been too big (like several inches beyond the measurements they provide) or like my most recent dress – it fits but the underarms of the dress extend to below my bra's band. That's going back!

    And I love Modcloth, though I've not yet purchased anything with sleeves.

  • Marie says:

    Yes to and Especially the Amelie dress from Boden – I have it in multiple colors.

  • Allie says:

    I heart Torrid, but I find they're not as prevalent in New England as they are in the NJ/PA/DE area. Still, if you can find one in driving distance, check them out. They're the only place that makes things that I feel comfortable in. They sometimes do that thing where they assume that bigger=bigger boobs, but I've found that's nowhere near as bad as other mall plus-size stores like Lane Bryant.

  • Anne says:

    Natural cotton fabrics, garments made in the USA. Lots of sleeveless now, but a couple with sleeves.

  • Laurie says:

    I went on a total dress kick this year for the same reason – I can get 'em in various looks and still be somewhat flattering, much more so than pants ever do for me.

    Surprisingly, Old Navy has been my best source – affordable, lots of natural fibres (they've got a ton of 100% cotton and 100% rayon dresses) and different looks. You need to wade through the lists, some are not as flattering as others, but I now have a pile of dresses (and skirts) I can wear in the summer and then combine with a sweater or blazer overtop when the winter comes. (I'm in Canada. we know winter. ;) )

  • Jennifer M. says:

    I am a big fan of the dresses at Lots of different types of fabric, but because it is geared towards travelers, lots of wrinkle resistant options if you are lazy like me when it comes to ironing.

    It may be on the synthetic side a bit (and maybe skews a bit older), but try

    Based on the comments, I personally am excited to try eShakti

  • Amy says:

    Thermal undergarment-lets can help you extend seasons a bit. I very frequently wear black long underwear under skirts, especially when I'm wearing calf to knee-high boots. If someone gets a peek, they're solid black, but much warmer than tights, I find. (I also hate tights, but that's my own thing.) Some makers also make short-sleeved and cami versions of thermal tops.

  • Lucy says:

    Another vote here for Boden. Lots of choice, some cute patterns and lots of natural fibres. I also really like that *everything* is available for a broad range of sizes (and heights), although you should definitely take heed of the very helpful and detailed customer reviews.

    I would say from long experience that Autumn/Winter is their strong suit, although I personally think they got a bit carried away with bird patterns this season. It's like Portlandia in catalogue form.

  • Prudence M says:

    Oh yay! Original requestor here and I'm excited to try out all these suggestions.

    One addition since I originally asked this question — if you haven't tried fleece tights and you're a dresses-in-winter girl, GO NOW.

  • RJ says:

    Interested in borrowing rather than buying? Check out It's like Netflix for clothes. For sizes 10 and up, you pay a monthly fee. (From $35 for 1 garment at a time, up to $159 for 10 garments at a time.) You fill up a virtual closet with garments they offer from many of the brands already recommended like Igigi, Kiyonna, Anna Scholz, Asos Curve, etc., and they ship out what's available to you. Keep them as long as you like, or send them back ASAP to get another garment shipped to you. No extra shipping charges, no need to launder / dry clean the clothes – they take care of that for you. If something doesn't fit, stick it back in the shipping bag and send it right back to them.

    Everything I've gotten from them has looked absolutely brand new. I'm on the 2 garments at a time plan ($59 a month), and I usually rotate through about 8 garments a month – two work day outfits, one of which I usually re-wear to church on Sunday.

    They offer a free thirty-day trial of the 3 garments-at-a-time plan. You can browse the whole collection if you set up an account with an email address – no need to subscribe at that point. Oh and they get new items in every 10 days. They also have a pretty active facebook community where you get to see a lot of pictures of the garments on "real" women.

    In case you can't tell, I love this service! I've gotten to try so many new, unique (and expensive! one of those Anna Scholz dresses retails for over $300) things that I wouldn't want or be able to add to my own closet permanently.

  • Cora says:

    I read your entry and thought, "Wait a minute… did I write in?" I have much the same body type, except a bigger rack; which, yay for Tomato Nation for leading lurking me to decent bras.

    Anyway, I live in Chicago, so I know the cold. I also do the dress thing; but in winter, my go-to outfit is a long, straight elastic-waist knit skirt (I have black, maroon, gray and navy) with a turtleneck. (And woolies underneath). It's warm, it's comfortable, it looks professional, the turtleneck covers the elastic waistband, you can throw a black suit jacket over it for extra business in the look. The skirts are all from Avenue, which, yeah, not always the greatest quality; but these are all a cotton-wool blend you can throw in the washer and dryer with no worries; they've lasted for years now. I made sure to get turtlenecks in like colors so I can dress in the dark — winter mornings, you know — and still look professional.

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