Changing Body Sizes Is Normal

Halfway through the pandemic, I took a deep breath and opened the door to my closet, a small walk-in that takes up the slope-roofed corner of our bedroom. It’s no fancy “dressing room,” but it feels like a luxury with its fresh coat of yellow paint and two whole rails for my dress collection.

I’m hardly a fashionista, but the dresses I’ve collected over the past decade are from stores across the U.S. and U.K, and they are largely representative of my identity. They’re bright and fun and comfortable, with sequins and funky prints. Most importantly, they have pockets, and I love them more than almost anything else I own.

But I wasn’t there to fawn over my collection. I was there to ruthlessly cull it.

“I had to come to terms with no longer fitting into my treasured dresses and make a larger change to my wardrobe.”

Over the past three years, I’ve put on enough weight to size myself out of my wardrobe, slowly at first, then all at once. Eventually, I had to come to terms with no longer fitting into my treasured dresses and make a larger change to my wardrobe.

My therapist suggested setting aside the dresses that didn’t fit rather than donating them right away. This way, I wouldn’t have to face the double hurdle of both trying them all on and accepting their full loss. Easing that burden did help me push through my anxiety and complete the task, but once I’d managed to pull aside all the pieces that no longer fit, I was faced with another problem: buying new clothes to fit my new body.

Accepting my new body shape was both an emotional hurdle and a stylistic one. But I also had to figure out how much of my wardrobe I could afford to replace. I couldn’t simply buy a handful of new dresses from ethical brands, but I didn’t want to collect a bunch of fast fashion either. And what if my body changed again? That was also a possibility.

I decided to start slowly, adding one piece at a time and promising myself that I would return anything that didn’t work so that I could buy something different. It’s taken nearly a year and a lot of trial and error, but I finally have enough clothes that fit me for every day of the week (a renewed concern, now that things are opening up). I also have a system for adding new pieces thoughtfully, without spending too much or resorting too often to fast fashion.

Here’s what I wish I’d known when I was starting out on this journey.

5 Simple Steps For Updating Your Wardrobe

1. You don’t have to break the bank

When you’re facing a complete wardrobe overhaul, it can be difficult not to see dollar signs spinning around your head like stars around a bonked cartoon, but it really doesn’t have to be that expensive. Shop secondhand stores—ideally local, but there are plenty of great online options if your nearby stores are too limited. You can also organize a clothing swap with friends or ask your local Buy Nothing group for any items people are looking to pass on. Or, if you’re crafty, why not sew your own clothes from secondhand and sustainable fabrics?

2. Shop for versatile pieces that work together

Think about what you have that still fits and select pieces that complement those items. If you have a skirt that works, add a few new tops. If you’re low on bottoms, buy a pair of black jeans or a versatile skirt.

“Think about what you have that still fits and select pieces that complement those items.”

I started with dresses since they don’t require any other pieces but can be styled with different shoes and outerwear. I also tried to focus on shapes that work with tights in the winter as well as bare-legged in the summer. When it came to separates, one of the best items I bought was a pair of wide-leg black linen pants that feel like pajamas but go with everything—they got me through the heat dome in style.

If you’re starting completely from scratch, apply the same capsule wardrobe logic to your new purchases, making sure you can mix and match tops and bottoms to create a variety of outfits.

3. Don’t forget joy

It can be hard to love your look when you don’t recognize your new body in the mirror—for me, my shape has changed, and all my cute waist-highlighting dresses no longer fit. But that doesn’t mean I can’t tap into the same love of color and bold patterns that I’ve always had.

If I must buy a new swimsuit, why not this fun pink and orange number or a whimsical gecko print? And, lucky for me, it’s even easier to find dresses in fun patterns and bright colors these days than it was when I started my collection in my 20s.

Shoes and accessories are another great way to tap into your fashion sense. I like to browse handmade earrings on Etsy and “shop” my own shoe collection to revive pairs I’ve forgotten I owned. Wearing high heels, even if it’s just around the house, reminds me that I do still have it in me to pull together a look (even if I’ll slide back into my slippers within the hour).

4. Don’t forget what’s underneath!

“Buying clothes to accommodate a new body size won’t hit the mark on comfort or style without an upgrade to old, now-too-small underwear.”

This point took me longer to realize than I’d like to admit. But buying clothes to accommodate a new body size won’t hit the mark on comfort or style without an upgrade to old, now-too-small underwear. It can feel frivolous to buy a few new pairs of undies or a handful of new bras—certainly it can get expensive—but you’re worth it! I can’t tell you how much happier I am now that my underwear fit properly (if that makes me an old lady, so be it). Pact has great sales, and their undergarments are super comfortable.

5. Remember that change is the only constant

This goes for bodies and, more generally, for life in general. You might go back to your previous size eventually, or you might continue on your current trajectory. Either way, an item or two from a store like Universal Standard can help soothe your anxiety about buying something you may not fit into in a couple of months. The brand offers a free size swap on all of its Fit Liberty pieces if you change sizes within the first year. (This is especially helpful if you’re struggling, as I am, to believe your recent size change is “permanent.”)

“Change is normal, and your body’s worth is not determined by its size.”

Whether you’re one of the 61 percent of Americans whose weight shifted during the pandemic or your size has changed due to weight loss or some other circumstance, updating your wardrobe can be challenging emotionally as well as financially and logistically. It can be difficult to face a dramatic bodily change or the loss of certain clothing items, especially if your identity is tied to your appearance or fashion sense.

This is why my number one piece of advice is always to be compassionate with yourself. Change is normal, and your body’s worth is not determined by its size. You deserve comfortable, sustainable, and cute clothing, no matter what size you wear.

And hey, you know what? So do I.

Anne H. Putnam lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and their cat and writes about body image, relationships, and anything else that requires an awkward amount of vulnerability. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram.