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Short, Fat and Mobile: Packing Fashion for Plus Size Petite Women Who Travel Light

Lesley has been an online writer for over ten years. She has a degree in law and spends her free time writing about gardening and fashion.

Learn how to travel light without sacrificing style.

Learn how to travel light without sacrificing style.

How I Learned to Travel Light

As a new bride, I got used to my husband coming home on Friday and saying ‘Lets go away for the weekend.’ There was never any warning. His philosophy with travel, then and now, has always been simple. As long as he has his passport and his credit card, he’ll go anywhere, anytime. If there is something he needs, he does without, buys it or rents it.

I can’t do that. My husband, like many men, can just walk into a store and find his size. I am five feet tall and plus size, making me a plus size petite. Yes, I know, that’s not what petite means. It wasn’t my idea to use that term for people who are a little shorter than normal. Blame the fashion industry, but that’s what we’re called. If you’re fat, you’re plus size. If you're short and fat, you’re plus size petite.

Fast forward fifteen years. No longer a young bride, I’m an IT consultant and I travel a lot. Sitting next to me is a thirty something blond with painful feet. She’s saying, ‘How do you manage with so little luggage, you always seem to be wearing something different, and it always looks good.’ She didn’t add, ‘plus you're fat and I’m not. How come your wardrobe is better than mine?’

The simple answer? Necessity and lots of practice. I travel light and my wardrobe is well organised for the simple reason that I find suitcases too large and too heavy to manage. Experience has taught me that you can never know what's going to happen, but by being as prepared as you can, you'll enjoy unexpected events and invitations a great deal more. If you travel for business, you'll also make a better impression on your client, or prospective client.

This tunic, with its deep neck and crease proof fabric, is ideal for a travel wardrobe. The shaped hemline makes it ideal for the plus size figure and helps to make legs look longer.

This tunic, with its deep neck and crease proof fabric, is ideal for a travel wardrobe. The shaped hemline makes it ideal for the plus size figure and helps to make legs look longer.

Plus Size and Petite

Let’s imagine you’re going way on a short trip. It might be a weekend away with the family, it might be romantic, or it might be a short business trip. As a plus size petite you can’t rely on finding clothes that will fit you at your destination. No matter what sort of event you have to attend, you need to be prepared and you need to feel confident, whether you’re making a first impression on strangers or meeting with old friends.

On my very first trip abroad as a consultant I traveled from my home in the UK to the USA to install some software and train the staff who would use it. I expected to stay for 5 days and ended up staying for fourteen. My hosts were delightful, as were the people I worked with. They invited me to their homes, took me to restaurants and museums and even held a barbecue so I could get the genuine American ‘experience’. At the end of my two weeks there was a formal dinner. On other trips, to other countries, that experience was repeated. One time I was visiting a client who invited me to his daughter’s wedding, on another trip I visited friends who then asked my husband and I along to a formal dinner. I learned to be prepared. It gives you the confidence to relax and enjoy unexpected experiences. It lets you be you.

What to Wear When Traveling

If you’re going away you have to travel. Whether it’s by air, sea, road or rail some clothes are more practical than others. Most packing experts say you should wear your heaviest coat as it will take up too much room in your suitcase. That’s true, but unless you’re walking, you’ll get very hot and bothered. Take a layered approach.

For travel, I always wear a wrap, not a coat. No matter how many layers I wear beneath the wrap, it always fits. It’s also useful as a blanket in the car, train plane or boat. (Yes, airlines supply them, but I like to know where my blanket has been) I’ve wrapped babies in my wrap, used it as a bandage in emergencies and an extra blanket when I reached my destination. You’ll find wool wraps lightweight, comfortable and available in some gorgeous colors. My personal favorite wrap is made from Alpaca, super soft, lightweight and lovely and warm! Some wraps can be very thin, yet still warm. I often throw a couple of smaller ones into the suitcase if I have room, as long as they are in useful colors.

In terms of style, wraps go with everything, you can even wear them with an evening dress. To keep them wrapped, you’ll need a brooch or pin. There's nothing worse than setting off on a journey to find your wrap constantly falling off. Choose a good quality brooch with a strong pin and check that it's all secure before setting off. I'm wearing a wrap as I write this. It's shorter than the more poncho like wrap I'd wear for travel, but it's trimmed with pompoms. Who said fashion couldn't be fun?

Comfort is the main requirement when traveling. You will almost certainly expand and it’s not just your feet that will swell. Wear pants with an elasticated waist made from a crease-proof fabric. Add a matching top, and if you expect to be cold, a light matching jacket as well. Throw your wrap over the top, and wear comfortable shoes with cushioned soles. If you are traveling by air there will be a lot of standing about queuing. Never, ever, wear new shoes to travel in. And make sure you practice getting in and out of the shoes if you’re traveling by air.

This is Liz, a beautiful plus size model who is around 5'2" and hence classed as 'plus size petite'. The one color dress makes her look taller,  jersey fabric can be dressed up or down, takes up very little room and doesn't crease. Ideal!

This is Liz, a beautiful plus size model who is around 5'2" and hence classed as 'plus size petite'. The one color dress makes her look taller, jersey fabric can be dressed up or down, takes up very little room and doesn't crease. Ideal!

Don't Be Afraid to Wear Black

  • If your wardrobe consists mostly of black, and that's the case for a lot of us plus size petites, then think of it in a positive way. At least you have a lot of items that match!
  • Everyone can wear black, and it's never out of place. Add something, a scarf, a necklace, pretty earrings, a pin, that will make it all your own.

Fabrics for Travel

Lightweight, crease resistant materials are ideal. Most of my travel clothes are made from the fabric described as ‘slinky’ a sort of thin ribbed jersey which doesn’t seem to crease no matter what you do to it. (Ive rolled a jacket in a ball and had my daughter sit on it for a 500 mile journey and it still didn't crease)

The other major plus to this fabric is that it stretches, so it’s comfortable to wear and when you wash it, it dries very very quickly, another must for a good travel wardrobe.

Never use new clothes in your travel wardrobe. Try them out first. When I first discovered slinky fabric I went a little mad and bought lots, including a set of pants and top in white. I reasoned these would be a great addition to my travel wardrobe. A white top is great for business meetings and white pants go with everything.

Unfortunately, I found the white slinky much thinner and more transparent than the other colors. The top was only useful under a jacket and the pants weren’t terribly useful at all. Sadly I didn’t try them and only found out how revealing these were when I decided to wear them on a business trip. Fortunately, I spotted the problem in the mirror and was able to correct it, but my choice of clothing on that trip was seriously limited. Please learn from my mistake!

I have a number of slinky tops I use when traveling, but I always try to buy a simple T-shirt, preferably a long one with a V-neck, in the same color to increase my options. Cotton T’s are cooler to wear than slinky fabric and are ideal if you overheat easily. All my tops have V-necks or deep scoops. This helps create the visual illusion of length and will make you look both taller and slimmer.

Color Choice—Remember the Objective!

It’s important to plan your travel wardrobe so that the colors you take will work well together. Two individual ‘sets’ or capsules make a surprising number of outfits, and if you add in a couple of print tops that match both, you’ll have no problem with choice.

Neutral colors are ideal. Black, brown, navy, gray, dark green and taupe should be in every wardrobe. Some make excellent combinations - black and brown can go together, as can black and gray. Gray and taupe can make an interesting combination and almost everything goes with deep dark green, just look at flowers! Navy blue is a classic which is never out of place. Don't pair navy with black, people think you made a mistake. If you wear dark green and beige you may look like you're wearing camouflage.

When you’re short, wearing one color from top to toe makes you look taller. When you’re fat, wearing darker colors makes you look slimmer, hence dark colors from top to toe are a safe bet for the plus sized petite.

Does that sound boring to you? It's not.

Listen to what people say to you. If it’s ‘what a lovely dress’ they are admiring your clothes. That's not my objective when I dress. I prefer ‘Wow, you look great, or ‘hey, you’re looking well.’ it means they’re looking at me, and the clothes have done their job of making me look good, not the other way round. Let the clothes gloss over your less perfect features and emphasize the best ones. Then add the accessories, the jewelry, scarves, the hair style and makeup which express the real you.

Don’t be afraid to wear black. It’s only boring if you let it be boring. Wear black and you can go anywhere, from the office to a grand ball, even to a funeral. When you wear black you have choices. It’s not perfect, it’s not the way I want the world to be, but it is the way it is.

If this sounds as though I'm saying short fat people should only wear dark colors, let me make it clear that I'm not. I spend a lot of my life in bright colors, quite often bright red. This is about a travel wardrobe. There are more options for combination when you use neutral colors. For client meetings, neutral colors help you look like you mean business.

What's Your Favorite 'Neutral'

The Importance of a Good Bra

  • If you only have time to buy one new thing before you go, buy a new bra. A bra that fits and supports where it should will always make you look slimmer. Most of us don't replace our bras often enough.
  • If you don't have time to get a new one, give your bras a 'tune up' Tighten the straps and check how they look below the items you plan to take.
This picture, from, shows how business like a one color outfit can be.

This picture, from, shows how business like a one color outfit can be.


A/B/Z Colors:

A travel wardrobe should be carefully capsuled and as you know the ideal color scheme comes from three colors rather than two. Two look good, three look amazing, as long as they are the right three! Hence, a collection of clothes in one color and another collection in another (A and B) with accessories in a third color (Z). I chose Z instead of C because the best choice is often a print, and to show that you don’t need a full capsule in the third color.

For example: on my recent holiday I had a capsule in jade green and another in navy blue, my ‘Z’ was a multi-colored wrap in yellow, navy and jade (sounds awful, but it worked). You could do the same black and beige capsules and a red wrap, or red scarf, or maybe fuschia, or a brilliant turquoise.

  1. One top—color A
  2. One pair pants—color A
  3. One long skirt—color A
  4. One sparkle top—color A
  5. One big shirt—color A
  6. One light jacket—color A
  7. One top/shirt—color A and B print
  8. One pair pants—color B
  9. One top—color B
  10. One long skirt—color B
  11. One light jacket—color B
  12. One wrap—color Z
  13. Shoes that are comfortable and neutral
  14. Business heels that are neutral

Also, a versatile bag. I have a medium sized bag which can be used as a clutch, but also has a chain handle and that’s the one I used most when traveling.

If you can’t find a bag like that, choose one shoulder bag and one clutch bag.



  • Match the metal in the earrings to your watch, or buy some with mixed metals like those shown in the picture. Make sure these are in scale with your face, tiny studs can look silly. Knot earrings are a good bet for business wear.
  • Earring converters can turn clips into earrings for pierced ears and vice versa. Clip on earrings make interesting shoe decorations.
  • Sparkling earrings help transform your outfit from day to evening. Long earrings are good for very formal occasions. Stick to short earrings if in doubt. Never wear anything sparkling for business except your smile.


  • Make sure the size is right. Nothing makes you look fat faster than a tight necklace. 'Normal' size seems to be around 16 inches. That's OK for a slim teenager, but most women need something larger. Check out item 7 on the right. A very, very pretty necklace which would look great, but what about the size. 15 inches! Be careful when you buy. It's easy to be fooled about length even in a store. When you shop on line, read the description carefully and know what you need.
  • A chain extender can be a quick, easy way to fix the problem. Measure your neck, find out what fits and stick to it. If you need more than two chain extenders, that is not the necklace for you, no matter how good it looks.
  • Personally, I like 20. If you can only take one necklace with you, take a single or double strand of pearls.

Others to include:

  • One metal necklace to match watch and earrings.
  • One long chain necklace or pendant.
  • One pin for your jacket. Useful in meetings, this can express your interests and help to start a conversation. Show your individuality.
  • One large brooch for your wrap.

Add to this your normal makeup kit, including a darker eye shadow and brighter lipstick for the evening. Hair kit, underwear, and sleepwear. Be sure to pack a relatively new, effective bra. A good bra can make you look two sizes thinner.

How Should a Bra Look?

Since you wear a bra beneath your clothes, it should be invisible. Completely.

Business Meeting with a Client

You make a business like impression by wearing clothes with a sharp contrast. A standard business suit consists of a dark jacket and pants (I never wear skirts when traveling) with a white or cream blouse. The neck of the blouse should be low enough to expose your throat, but not low enough to expose anything else. Wear a loose necklace and add a small pin to your jacket. If you are a pear shape, heavier in the hip department, put the pin on the shoulder of your jacket, not on the lapel, to bring the eye outward.

I like to wear what I call a waterfall jacket because the lack of horizontal lines is flattering to a fuller figure. Blouses which button can come undone, so avoid them. If you have a plus size but gorgeous figure, business meetings are not the place to show it off. You want clients to listen, not spend all their time looking. Don’t create an extra horizontal line by tucking your blouse into your pants, just make sure that the fabric of your blouse isn’t see-through. You should not be able to see the pants under the top.

My personal preference is to wear a matching top and pants with a contrasting jacket. If you can’t find anything suitable, wear top, pants and jacket in the same color and add an expensive looking multi-colored scarf to add some color.

Dinner at a Restaurant

It’s always nice to have a change of clothes. If you have time, take a shower. If not, wash your face, brush your teeth and refresh your makeup. Wear a top and pants in the same color, but not the same outfit as you just wore to the office. (Color B instead of A) This is where an asymmetric tunic can come in useful, check the links section for places to buy one, but if what you have is a long V-neck T-tunic, gather it up at one side and secure it with a small pin to give your outfit some style, draw eyes out to the side and make your legs look longer. Add a long necklace and some more colorful earrings. Jewelry takes up very little space in your luggage, but will make a big difference to your look. Throw on the wrap and carry your clutch bag. You'll be surprised how different you look. Stick to neutral for the clothes, but be more adventurous for the wrap. A navy top and pants can go anywhere, add a navy jacket and you're all business, but with a pale blue wool wrap, you'll look more feminine for after hours.

Lunch with Friends

If your trip away allows you to visit friends, you need less formal clothes. Pants and a print top under a larger shirt which matches the pants should be fine. Carry a shoulder bag with a brightly colored contrasting scarf tied to the handle so it looks like its on your shoulder. Oval shaped earrings help to elongate a round face, round earrings look better on a long face, soft feminine earrings will help soften a square face.

Cocktail Party

Your darkest pair of pants, a top with some sparkle and a string of pearls. Add sparkling earrings and make sure your face is made up for the evening. Slightly heavier eye shadow and a brighter lipstick will make all the difference. Top with your wrap and carry your clutch bag.

An Informal Barbecue

Pants and a print top. No jacket. Carry your wrap if you feel you need something. Wear simple metal earrings and a necklace to show that you did put some thought into what to wear. No sparkle. Take a shoulder bag so you can have both hands free.

A Dinner Dance

This is one of the trickiest of events because it really means you can’t wear pants. I’ve a number of long skirts with elasticated waists that travel well and match my tops and jackets. Match one with a top in the same color so it looks like you are wearing a dress. Add pearls, sparkling earrings and your evening face, the wrap and clutch bag as before.

Shoes are quite crucial to all these events. You might want to travel in trainers. You can't go to a dinner dance in them. Ideally, you want strappy sandals or at least something with a small heel. Wear your business heels and add a pair of clip earrings as decoration if you feel they need something more.

Final Thoughts

This is not an exhaustive list of what to pack for a trip, and it's not my intention to set rules. I believe that plus size petite women should have the same fun with clothes as all women, more if possible. If you love orange and lime, go for it, but let me end with this thought.

People judge us because of our size. It used to be said that a woman had to be twice as good at her job as a man to succeed. I believe that short fat women have to try twice as hard to look good in order to avoid being written off as simply fat, and nothing else.

No matter what people say, surveys show appearance is important. Juries prefer to believe witnesses they find attractive. Employers prefer to hire people they find attractive, and people want to interact with people they find attractive. It's not the way the world is supposed to be. We're not supposed to judge people on the way they look, but for the moment at least, it's a fact.

It's not always easy for short fat women to look their best. Most plus sized clothes are made for tall women. There isn't the choice of style or color most of us would want. Personally I don't usually want to blend in to the background and if people find a fat woman in a red dress a little too much for them, I say it's their problem rather than mine, however there are times in all our lives when the image game is one we have to play. Times we need to look our best, times we need to play by the rules.

These are my ideas on how to look good when travelling. I'd love to have your ideas too, so please add a comment and if you find the information in this article useful, and even if you don't, I'd love to know!

Where to Find Clothes


JaneR on December 06, 2019:

But wait - in the topmost photograph, apart from the horizontal-line sweater - the color is all wrong. When you have a large bust, highlighting with both line and color is not good. As I said before, otherwise, the woman looks fabulous.

JaneR on December 06, 2019:

In the topmost photograph, that sweater just needs to have a jewel neckline. The horizontal line definitely is problematic. Otherwise, she looks fabulous. We have large bust do not need to put them "out there."-

JaneR on December 06, 2019:

Very nicely written. I agree that photographs in the clothing would be extremely helpful.

Lesley Charalambides (author) from New Hampshire on August 12, 2018:

Thanks - that's good to hear.

Lesley Charalambides (author) from New Hampshire on August 12, 2018:

I have to agree with you about black leggings, great travel clothes. I only use long skirts when I need to and if I do, I don't bother with hose - you are so right, it's just not worth it. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

Lesley Charalambides (author) from New Hampshire on August 12, 2018:

Thanks, that's good to hear! on August 11, 2018:

Very informative and enlightening

WitchyD on July 14, 2018:

The packing list is really good, but I personally skip the skirts. Because a skirt + travel = additional hose, shoes, etc., and I don't want to bother. I am also a huge fan of black leggings (thick or ponte ones!) for travel because they can be dressed up or down and serve as good in-flight pants (they're also easy to wash in your room). For business travel, it does get harder if you have dressy evening events, and I still haven't solved that one! It usually requires a larger bag.

Karhy on January 25, 2018:

Your article was very informative and helpful.

I would love it if you would post some photos of the clothing you put together for your capsule packing. A picture is very helpful for me.

Thank you,

Shirt and fst on August 21, 2017:

Thank you. This info has been very helpful. on July 05, 2016:

Thank you. This information was so useful.

Lesley Charalambides (author) from New Hampshire on October 02, 2014:

I'm really glad you found the information useful. If you've any suggestions for how I could update or improve the hub, please let me know.

Susan Caplan McCarthy from Massachusetts, USA on October 01, 2014:

Fantastic information ... no matter what clothing I have with me I always feel as if I'm not prepared to segue between different activities or events. You really cover this topic in depth, from colors to coordinating items to accessories. Thank you!

Kathryn Grace from San Francisco on August 30, 2014:

These are excellent suggestions. Thank you! I especially like the suggestion to place the brooch on the shoulder if pear shaped. Now if only I could find a petite-plus-size clothier who sold only Fair Trade and organic garments!

Lesley Charalambides (author) from New Hampshire on December 31, 2013:

Vanessa, I used to have the same problem and I do sympathise, it's not easy, especially if your travel is international. Most of my business clothes were pant suits bought from the suppliers I mentioned in the links, I'd buy a set of top, pants and jacket in a dark color, (black or navy blue are always a good choice) then I'd add another top in the same color, another in ivory another in white. One structured jacket and two soft jackets plus a wrap, earrings and a couple of silk scarves could, I found, get me through quite a long business trip. Thanks a lot of taking the time to comment.

Vanessa on December 31, 2013:

Delightful article. As a short fat businesswoman who travels a lot, I found this useful, however in my job it's business suits, so I often find myself having to bring multiple sets of suits.