Weight Fluctuation: how to shop when your clothes no longer fit

Weight Fluctuation:  How to Shop When Your Clothes No Longer Fit

Today I’d like to talk about a tough subject – weight loss & gain.  It’s a thorny subject for all of us, but it gets even thornier when you realize your clothes no longer fit.  Weight fluctuation, whether it’s weight gain or loss, can feel almost like a second puberty — your body is ever-changing, and you don’t know what it’s doing!  Unless going to work naked is an option for you, you might benefit from these tips on shopping when you’ve recently lost or gained a significant amount of weight.

If you’ve lost…

You might feel…

You’re probably feeling excited about the results of your hard work.  You might also be struggling with identity issues when it comes to clothes.  How do you dress for your new shape?  What if you’ve lost a lot already, but are still losing or haven’t quite reached your goal weight?

Selecting clothes from a rack may be more challenging because you’re not used to the new smaller size or the way clothes hang on your new body.  Either you keep selecting clothes that are drowning you, or pick up clothes that are still too small, especially if you’re still losing toward a goal weight.

My friend Steve from the blog One Year’s Transformation talked about his feelings when he lost weight and realized it was time for new clothes:

“Having been through it a few times I have to say that it was a mixture of happiness and annoying. I was happy to have gone down another size and get closer to my final goal. But also annoyed because it was hard to sort through all of the clothes and try to find something that fit – also annoying because it gets expensive to replace all your clothes every few months. Overall I would say that each time I was happy to see myself get closer to my goal and find things off of the normal size rack. Moving forward towards my goal and seeing the sizes shrink was a good feeling.”

After a significant weight loss, you might still need a second to recognize yourself in the mirror, and when you aren’t looking at yourself, you may still retain the same thought patterns as when you weighed more, such as “I’m too big for that” or “that will never fit me.”  You may hold on to arbitrary rules that either you or the fashion industry “experts” have imposed, like “big girls can’t wear horizontal stripes” or “I can’t wear ___.”

Unfortunately, you may feel a little guilty after a significant weight loss, especially if your friends are complaining about their own weight loss struggles.  (Admit it:  you feel a little weird saying, “But all of my clothes are too BIG!” as your friends scoff at your dilemma. But you’re not trying to brag – that’s just the reality of your wardrobe!)

How to Deal


If your friends don’t exactly seem supportive, perhaps your friends don’t realize how hurtful their comments can be.  Coping with a new self image is hard enough without external negative influences.  If your friends don’t understand, seek out a new positive shopping buddy or go solo.  You’ll feel more empowered when the people around you celebrate with you rather than scoff at your accomplishments.

Purge Your Closet

Once you have reached a steady* weight, take your old “fat pants” to donate.  Who wants that reminder hanging in the closet like an old ghost?  Purge those bad feelings and remove the safety net that might psychologically allow you slip back into old habits.  Unless you plan to be in one of those before/after commercials where you fit your whole body into one pant leg or whatever (in which case I permit you to keep ONE pair of pants hidden away in an underground safe for the sole and express purpose of shooting that commercial), do yourself a favor and liberate those clothes!

*Due to the hit-and-miss nature of thrifting, donate only the clothes that cannot possibly fit but hang on to a couple that semi-fit until you’ve found clothes that truly fit.  Only donate once you have reached a steady weight and have not backslid for at least four to six months.  Don’t use this as an excuse not to donate, but just make sure you have clothes to wear before you pitch them all in the donation bin!


Build your wardrobe slowly.  If you’re not yet at your goal weight, don’t invest in a whole new wardrobe right away.  Still follow step #2 and donate all the really huge clothes, then thrift for some basic pieces to tide you over as you continue to lose weight.  When you reach your target, repeat:  donate old bigger clothes, thrift new smaller clothes.  Perhaps you decide you’ve reached a healthy weight and adjust your goals accordingly – start adding in more pieces once you’ve reached that steady weight.

Steve advises,

“I would say find a few things that work well, and mix well with others. When you buy things look for a limited number of things and wear those while you’re moving from size to size. I tended to purchase two pairs of pants in a size and 3 or 4 shirts and just use those. Remember that some things you can wear even if they are a little big.”

Go ahead and rock that oversize shirt, but make sure you pair it with some slim-fitting pants.  Vice versa applies as well:  pair voluminous skirts with close-fitting tops, or voluminous tops with a body-con skirt or slim straight-leg trousers.  Use the contrast principle to flatter you, whatever your shape or size.

If you are still losing weight, you may be selecting clothes that are small because you’re not yet used to your size.  This initial optimism (“I can fit into this smaller size now!”) can lead to disappointment or discouragement if the garment is too small.  Remember that every brand and garment fits differently, and be patient as you learn what clothes suit your new, changing body.

If you’ve gained…

You might feel…

You’re probably feeling discouraged that you can no longer wear your favorite clothes.  You are probably frustrated if it’s been a long yo-yo like struggle.  Maybe you have a few “fat pants” in the back of your closet that you could dig out now – especially if you’ve been through this song-and-dance before.  You might be experiencing a bit of body-loathing and envy, thanks in no small part to the media, unless you are one of the few who is actually trying to gain weight.  You too experience some challenge in shopping for clothes that fit & flatter your new shape, and potentially experience negative feelings when all the clothes you’ve brought into the dressing room are too small.  You may develop or carry ideas of what you should and should not wear due to weight gain.

How to Deal


Banish negative thoughts – these are not going to help you overcome the frustration.  In order to do this, you may need to cut back on the media consumption.  Stop reading snarky fashion blogs that make fun of the way people look.  Pay less attention to what you see on TV or in magazine ads.  When you catch yourself forming a negative thought about your body, stop and tell yourself at least 5 good things about you.  When you’re trying to slither into a pair of skinny jeans that won’t come past mid-thigh, don’t tell yourself, “You’re so fat.”  Instead, simply think, “These jeans don’t fit.”  Move on so you can find something that does fit – don’t dwell on it.  If you’ve slipped into some unhealthy habits or would like to lose a couple of pounds, start making changes to your lifestyle.  Beating yourself up mentally won’t help you zip up those jeans, but making conscious decisions to eat less junk food or begin a healthy exercise routine will.  If you find yourself throwing a pity party or having a dressing room meltdown, start making a list of actionable goals instead.

Purge Your Closet

Use this as an opportunity to evaluate your closet.  Donate any “skinny” clothes that no longer fit or flatter.  If you are working back towards a lower weight that used to be normal/healthy for you, use your discretion about how much to donate.  Working out may yield a leaner, more muscular body – some of the clothes that used to fit your skinny (but not toned) body might look different once you lose weight again.

Some clothes may simply be out of style or were never flattering in the first place:  a too-short dress will always be too short, for example.  Just as hanging on to your “fat pants” can give you a bad feeling every time you look at them, pushing your “skinny pants” away every time you open your closet will discourage you.  If you can’t bear to part, tuck them away in a storage bin and use your closet real estate only for the things that fit right now.


Go thrifting to find some clothes that fit you now, whether the weight gain is going to be long-term or not.  You have to be covered, so buy a few staples that will get the job done.  Thrift stores are perfect for this – since you’ll likely want to get rid of the clothes once you’ve lost the weight, the prices justify the end goal.  Think of it as renting clothes.

Pick forgiving silhouettes – it helps to know a bit about styles that look good on different body types.  For instance, I (Natalie) am kind of pear-shaped; when I gain weight, it goes to my hips and thighs.  I like A-line skirts or dresses because they are almost universally flattering and very forgiving, especially for my body type.  If my pants are a bit snug, I can throw on an A-line skirt and know I’ll look (and feel) great!

If you tend to gain weight in a certain area and you’re prone to yo-yoing (aren’t we all?) focus on buying clothes for this area.  If your top or bottom tends to stay relatively the same during weight fluctuations, you can focus on that area and avoid buying a completely new wardrobe every time you go up or down in size.

In both cases…

You need to retrain your eyes.  Be honest with yourself about what will fit, and you’ll have a better dressing room experience.  It takes time to readjust your visual sense of what will fit or look good on you.  The most important thing is not to beat yourself up.  The beauty of thrift stores is that there is a myriad of sizes and fits for ALL body types, and with such a variety of brands, no two garments will fit alike.  A large in one brand might fit like an XL in another, etc.  Vintage clothes have different sizing than modern, or may fit more snugly thanks to the super-strength girdles of yesteryear.  This is more often regarded as a curse, but it can also be a blessing.  You can blame the clothes or the misleading labels instead of your body.  You can laugh off all the ridiculous clothes and remember that someone probably donated those for a reason!

In any case, try everything on before you buy to guarantee fit and allow your visual sense can be recalculated.  If you have a bad day, laugh it off.  Size is really just a number (it can even be cut out if it truly bothers you.)  Fashion should be more about how the garment makes you feel, not the number sewn inside of it.  Blame it on the arbitrary sizing system that the fashion industry has developed.  I’ve never quite understood it:  a person who is a size 4 is not twice as big as someone who is a size 2, and a size 8 is not four times bigger than a size 2.  The real difference is only a few inches or pounds!

Develop healthy & realistic goals.  If you want to lose weight, make sure your goals are realistic in terms of time frame and within a healthy range for you.  Whether you are working to lose weight or simply keep the weight off, make sure you are maintaining healthy habits.  Every body is different, and what may be right for one person could be wrong for another.  Apply this to shopping in a similar way.  Don’t try to squeeze yourself into a size 0 if you’re not (and don’t torture yourself to become a size 0!)

Get to know the contributor

Ranger Steve is a certified teacher and park ranger living in Western Pennsylvania.  He currently chronicles the ups and downs of his one-year weight loss transformation at http://oneyearstransformation.wordpress.com/.  Read more about his shopping experiences or his latest series, Project Sexybeast.


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