Alms yellow sweater coat

Beatrice Johnston:
Age: 39
Occupation: Raw-food consultant

"I hate the cold. I go everywhere with a sweater," says Johnston, who calls this cocoon-like cardigan (Alms, $637) "my nesting place. I can wrap myself in it like a blanket, and my hips and butt don't matter." Fluidity on top demands stricter bottoms; these jeans (Riders by Lee, $20) won't gap at the waist—an issue for most pear-shaped women. Mega-textured knits, like this circle scarf (Wai), are best worn in small doses, not as an entire coat. Tee, J.Crew, $52. Belt, Lana Marks. Cuff, Cara Croninger. Ring, Melinda Maria. Boots, Madewell.

If you're bottom-heavy…
  • Draping is good: The long, flowing shape hides wide thighs.
  • Bat-wing sleeves and a chunky scarf draw attention from the lower body to the upper body.
  • Bootcut pants or flares balance hips.

French Connection blue sweatercoat

Debra Roberts
Age: 51
Yoga teacher in training

The fit-and-flare sweater-coat (French Connection, $258) gives Roberts an hourglass silhouette, while layered sleeves and a plaid shirt (Gap, $50) add oomph on top, where she needs it. A belt (Longchamp) worn slightly below the waist emphasizes the hips, and slim bootcut corduroys (J.Crew, $80) supply a little swagger. Roberts's verdict: "Cowgirl yet chic." Earrings, Irene Neuwirth. Necklace and bracelet, J.Crew. Ring, Kara by Kara Ross. Boots, Coach.

If you're small on top…
  • Dense, intricate knits add style and presence. You can afford the extra bulk.
  • A shirt with a breast pocket and a pattern instantly makes you seem bustier.
  • Using a belt to demarcate where top meets bottom is a quick route to curvy.

Eileen Fisher sweater coat


Bonnie St. John
Age: 44
Occupation: Writer (latest book: Live Your Joy)

At 52, St. John worried that she'd be swamped by a sweater-coat, but this silver-flecked knit (Eileen Fisher, $238) is "sheer, loosely woven…it floats!" So does this ebullient survivor: A skiing medalist in the 1984 Paralympics (her leg was amputated when she was 5), St. John is matter-of-fact about her prosthetic and loves the contrast between its "mechanical look" and her sequined skirt (Sir Alistair Rai, $630). Thanks to her adjustable ankle, St John says these glamorous heels (Talbots) are the highest she's worn. "I feel so tall!" she says. Inside and out, St. John has stature. Shells, Eileen Fisher, $168 (cream) and $138 (black). Earrings, Ann Taylor. Necklace, Costello Tagliapietra. Bracelet, available at Jennifer Miller.

If you're short…
  • Delicate knits won't overwhelm you.
  • To-the-knee hem and bracelet-length sleeves avoid that droopy "bathrobe" look.
  • No-closure style lets a coat hang straight down, so the body looks longer.
  • Necklaces add more height by emphasizing the vertical line.

3.1 Phillip Lim sweater coat

Lori Dernavich
Age: 41
Occupation: Employee performance adviser

"Women today are rewriting the business dress code—more separates, fewer traditional suits," says Dernavich. Knits are part of this shift toward informality: A superbly cut purple sweater-coat (3.1 Phillip Lim, $625) has as much authority as a tailored jacket—and you could also wear it with jeans. At 511, Dernavich needn't stick to a single palette; she can pull off several distinct colors and textures at once, like this pale fitted top and bold graphic-print skirt (Zero + Maria Cornejo, $398 and $416). Beads, Joan Rivers. Belt, Kara Ross. Ring, Paige Novick. Watch, David Yurman. Shoes, Nine West.

If you're lanky…
  • Tailored shapes look better than extravagant knits, especially spread out over a rangy frame.
  • Bisecting the body with separates makes you seem less towering.
  • Adding in a print interrupts the head-to-toe axis, toning down your height.

Magaschoni sweater coat

Plus Size
Melissa King
Age: 32
Occupation: Mother

King has a crush on this cuddly yet polished knit wool coat (Magaschoni, $698). The fit is important: easy but not baggy (tentlike garments make larger figures look bigger). Similarly, the A-line dress (Christopher Fischer Cashmere, $325) skims rather than clings and carves her waist with a built-in sash. Glittery jewelry near the face (necklace, available at Jennifer Miller) takes the focus away from problem areas—a trick King learned from her mother: "She always asks me, 'Where's the sparkle?'" Watch, Cartier. Ring, Dean Davidson at Supplements NY. Tights, Falke.

If you're bigger…
  • You need structure. Think knits with fairly defined shoulders, narrower arms, controlled volume.
  • Belts and sashes keep your figure from looking boxy.
  • Related tones, rather than huge color contrasts, create a sleeker line.

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