Denise Alden was inspired to open a plus-size clothing shop because of one word: beauty.

Or, as she explains, “the lack of diverse images of beauty in the world. Beauty encompasses so much … and yet we’re subjected to images that all look exactly alike. That, and I figured I couldn’t be the only fabulous babe who wanted clothes to match her personality.”

Alden, who had no previous retail experience, opened Bombshell Boutique in 2012. The store, on St. Paul’s Grand Avenue, carries casual wear and work wear from lines such as Kiyonna, IGIGI, Zen Knits and Moif C, as well as dressier options.

With shops like Alden’s, along with more and more online options, women who wear sizes 16 and up now have access to more imaginative designs. But that doesn’t mean that getting the right fit — and the right look — is easy. We asked Alden to share her expertise and offer some tips for dressing a fuller figure fashionably.

Q: Why is it so difficult for full-figured women to find clothes that fit?

A: When plus-size clothes are simply “graded up” instead of being cut and fit on a larger fit model, you’re going to have fit issues. Clothes that are simply cut larger may have armholes that gape down to your waist and a garment that pulls across the bust. Unfortunately, you can’t know right off the bat how clothes were made, but price may be an indicator.

Q: Is there a fabric that seems to work best for plus-sized figures?

A: Knits are usually a good bet. They’re more forgiving and conform to the figure. Be careful, though. A closet full of knits can look awfully casual. It’s challenging to find apparel in lush, woven fabrics that fit, but it’s possible.

Q: How do you recommend wearing prints and patterns?

A: Scale is everything with prints and patterns. If you’re petite, smaller prints will look better than an overwhelmingly large print that will swallow you up. If you’re larger or statuesque, larger patterns will look great on you. A trick with patterns and prints is to choose the least dominant color and deploy it for your accessories.

Q: What trendy styles work well on fuller figures?

A: I think I’m going to get blasted on this one, but I love peplums. Everyone thinks peplums accentuate the hips, but I’d argue that they define the waist and help create a classic kind of feminine silhouette.

Q: Do you have any advice on accessories?

A: Scale and proportion come into play with accessories, too. A tiny bag on a larger woman looks askew, as does an enormous tote on a petite woman.

Q: What advice would you give to a fashion-minded plus-sized woman who feels frustrated by her limited options?

A: Find manufacturers and brands that you want to support. Options are limited, in part, because plus-size women don’t spend money as readily as their straight-sized counterparts. Of course, I don’t recommend buying clothing just because it’s plus-sized, but manufacturers can’t continue to make clothing that plus-sized women won’t buy because they don’t want to invest in their wardrobes at a certain weight.

Sally McGraw is the Minneapolis-based author of Already Pretty (, a daily blog about the intersection of style and body image.