I'm the most stylish among my friends. Growing up in Miami's tight-knit Cuban community, I was the girl everyone sought out for fashion advice, the one who transformed boring outfits into head-turning looks with the flick of a collar or the cinch of a belt. Of course, it surprised no one that I decided to pursue a career as a fashion stylist—though at 5'2" and 220 pounds, I'd need an elaborate pulley system and a can of Crisco to shimmy into the clothes I dress models in. Instead, I'm relegated to the plus-size racks, where trendy usually translates into "when's your due date" empire waists and cinch-sack drawstrings. It's not easy being chic, but it's an epic struggle when you're a big girl.
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Case in point: Not long ago, while interning at a fashion trade publication, I scored a last-minute invitation to an industry cocktail party. I was giddy with anticipation—I can't believe I get to mingle with Marc Jacobs! But my joy quickly turned to dread when I realized that I was wearing boyfriend jeans and an oversize blazer, hardly appropriate for this Stoli-and-stilettos mixer. As I stood in the fashion closet, scanning the sparkly numbers that would barely make it up my thigh, I frantically weighed my options. There wasn't enough time to run home and change, and dashing over to the nearby Banana Republic was out of the question—their XLs are typically available only online. With literally nothing to wear, I bagged the event and spent much of the evening sulking on my couch.
I've struggled with weight—and how to camouflage it—my whole life. The skinniest I've ever been was in high school, when I weighed 150 pounds and subsisted on nothing but undressed salads. I long ago made peace with the fact that I'll never look good in a slinky dress or pleated paper-bag-waist pants, even if Coco Chanel herself came back from the dead to hand-stitch them for me. So I stick to cuts that always flatter—even in a size 18—like wrap dresses and pencil skirts. Then I'll style up dowdy items with high-end accessories, like the staggeringly awesome Louboutins I scored for Christmas or the YSL bag I recently got on sale. Big girls love accessories—they always fit, no size tags required.
My most persistent, most daunting wardrobe challenge is finding that perfect, all-occasion pair of slimming, lengthening, ass-hugging jeans. Let's face it, it's a maddening task for girls even half my size, but I go through at least a few pairs of jeans every year, routinely wearing holes in the area where my thighs rub together. My requirements: no muffin top, butt crack, or camel toe. That's a tricky set of demands considering that most jeans for the size-14-and-up set are either woefully ill-fitting or designed like industrial coveralls—solely to hide the body, style be damned. I suspect that's why so many big girls squeeze into sizes far too small for their ample builds. At least sausages have shape, right?
Still, I won't settle when it comes to jeans and insist on buying only those pairs that make me feel comfortable, sexy, and confident. They must work for my body. Which is why I've spent untold hours in countless fitting rooms squeezing into hundreds of pairs of relaxed fits, boot-cuts, straight-legs, and low-rises.
Ladies, I've road tested them all.