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.

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.

Debunking the Rules of Plus Size Dressing!
Ashley’s monthly mission is to empower women by showing them how to embrace their curves and participate in trends they thought they were excluded from. Plus-sized girls do not have to shop at maternity stores— many do believe that, according to Ashley — and wear head-to-toe black at all times. We should note that our gorgeous model for this episode was LaTia, a loyal Thread viewer who did a fantastic job working each look.

Myth #1: Skinny jeans are for skinny girls
Reality: It’s all about proportion, fit and styling. Try this combo: Pair skinny jeans with a black t-shirt, layer on a drapey vest, and add a long statement necklace that draws the eye to down towards your waist. Add some high heels that elongate your legs and the result is a sexy, on-trend look.

Myth #2: Avoid form-fitting clothes
Reality: If you cover yourself up, you can actually look much larger than you are.  Do not hide your body. Instead embrace your shape by emphasizing the most flattering aspects. A form-fitting ruched dress in a bright color with a deep v-neck accents LaTia’s slim waist. Accessories like a great pair of earrings and heels add polish.

Myth #3: Avoid prints and patterns
Reality: Mixing prints in inventive ways is one of the season’s biggest trends. Plus-sized ladies can absolutely look great by keeping their prints in the same color range. If your floral skirt is navy and green, try a navy and white striped top. Yes, striped! There’s no reason to stay away from them. Just keep the color range in mind.

Myth #4: Only wear monochromatic looks
Reality: We all know black is slimming but so are bright colors if they’re worn correctly. Colorblocking— i.e. mixing bright solid colors— is another huge spring trend. Curvy girls should absolutely indulge by picking two colors that work for you. LaTia rocked an electric-pink dress with an army-green cardigan.

Myth #5: Stay clear of pencil skirts
Reality: Pencil skirts can be sophisticated and slimming if you pair them with a great belt (try a bright color for a little flair), a tucked-in blouse and a killer pair of heels.