The last time I talked about Pepperberry on Sweet Nothings, I wasn’t very positive. I wanted to be! I love Bravissimo and everything they stand for, and I was so excited to hear about the launch of Pepperberry, Bravissimo’s sister brand offering a full range of clothing for full-bust figures. As the first few seasons came and went, however, very few of the options really wowed me. On one level, I didn’t love a lot of the designs. I liked some of them, sure, but I’m a very, very picky shopper, and I wanted to find something I loved that also happened to fit me well. Pepperberry is in a bit of bind because their customer base is “full-bust women who ordinarily wear Misses-sized clothing but who need more room in the bust.” Those women might be older, younger, students, professionals, teachers, stay-at-home mothers, artists, engineers, writers, chefs . . . you see where I’m going. In trying to offer something to please everyone, there were a few collections that felt too staid or safe, even dull. There were also some patterning, supply, quality, and consistency issues that took a few seasons to work out and that didn’t begin to justify the prices. So while I tried a few things every year or so, the dread of having to pay return postage eventually put me off.
With their 2012 Autumn/Winter collections, I feel like Pepperberry has really proved that they DO listen to customer feedback. Sizing across the board has been more consistent, the quality has skyrocketed, and each collection has a distinct, unified aesthetic point-of-view. For Autumn, many of the pieces were shot on the platform of a steam railway station, and the models, with their curled and rolled hair and neutral makeup, evoke a nostalgic, 1940s feel. For Winter, Pepperberry reached slightly further back into the past, with Art Deco beading and silhouettes that suggest the 1920s-30s and “Downton Abbey”.
In addition to these mini “historical” collections, each season’s release has featured some wardrobe staples like button-down shirts, fitted tees, and blazers, as well as a few more youthful dresses. They’ve done away with some of the stranger embellishments on the professional clothes (past collections used studs and sequins . . . not good) and have focused more on tailored details like pleats, seaming, and necklines, as well as improved fabric content. Popular styles have been re-ordered in new colors, and some styles are now available in Super Duper Curvy sizes in response to customer demand (although more would be nice!). While the prices are by no means bargains, the attention to detail and improved fit and fabric quality make them much more reasonable.
For my recent work trip to Bangkok we were given fairly strict dress code suggestions. While I’m a pretty conservative dresser anyway, some of the guidelines threw me for a loop: covered shoulders, knee-length or longer skirts, and black or otherwise neutral shoes. In addition, it was suggested that we avoid certain colors, including red, blue, and yellow. Y’all, I LIVE in navy blue and red. That is what is in my wardrobe. Any skirts/dresses that did meet the knee-length or longer requirement were almost certainly red or blue or both. Furthermore, I owned not a single pair of black pumps or black flats, and many of my tops and dresses are sleeveless, to allow for layering in super air-conditioned office buildings. I had some major, frantic shopping to do, and the desperation (I had about three weeks’ notice to prepare for the trip) convinced me to take a chance on another Pepperberry order.
After checking out UK customers’ pictures on Pepperberry’s Facebook page, I chose the Abstract Jersey Print Dress. The shape, bow detail, and ruched sleeves appealed to my love of feminine dresses, while the modest neckline, below-the-knee length, and conservative color and print met all the criteria for my trip. I’ve gained a bit of weight since the last dress I ordered and kept from Pepperberry, so I chose to go up a dress size and keep the same curvy size. Fortunately, the dress arrived the day before I was due to leave, and I got home and tried it on immediately.
I was deeply impressed right off the bat by the improved quality. The last jersey dresses I’d tried from Pepperberry had felt thin, almost scratchy, and clingy. This dress, on the other hand, hangs beautifully without clinging, there’s no polyester sheen to the fabric, and it feels much softer and more comfortable. It’s a heavy-weight jersey that will be suitable for wear year-round. I wore it in the 90-degree F. heat in Bangkok, and I layered it over tights under a puffy coat in cold New York. There’s no static cling, and it doesn’t stick to my tights. A+, Pepperberry.
Fit-wise, I should have stuck with my old dress size and just gone up a curviness size. The dress fits, but some of the underbust detailing does ride up a bit onto my bust. My waist isn’t as defined as it could be, and consequently it’s not the most slimming dress I own. However, I feel lovely wearing it, and I’ve gotten compliments every time. In a perfect world I’d exchange it, but I’m more than happy with a pretty-close fit instead of a perfect one.
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If nothing else, the Bangkok wardrobe requirements really opened my eyes to some massive holes in my wardrobe, and they forced me to admit that some of my clothes are worn-out, falling apart, or ill-fitting. I managed to find some great staple pieces for bargain prices at mass-market retailers like the Gap (thank you for making Tall pencil skirts, the Gap), but I decided to give Pepperberry another shot to invest in some versatile, well-fitting, easily-accessorized dresses to get me through the winter. I knew I wanted at least one “little black dress” that could go from work to a party with a change of shoes, jewelry, hair, and makeup, and I also wanted a slightly less formal dress that could go from work to more casual weekend events. After a lot of deliberation, including reminding myself that no, I really don’t need strapless party dresses, I chose the Ponti Skater Dress, the Stripe Skirt Dress, and the Drape Jersey Dress to go with my order of the Lola Luxe Basque from Bravissimo (reviewed here).
I was most excited about the Ponti Skater Dress, so I tried that one on first. I’ve always been a bit of a girly-girl, and I love me a fuller skirt and well-defined waist. This time I ordered one dress-size smaller and one curvy-size larger than the Abstract Print Jersey Dress, and the fit is perfect. PERFECT. I’m so used to tugging and adjusting clothing that wrinkles or gapes that it takes me aback when something fits so nicely. There is no straining over the bust and no pulling across the back, just smooth, clean lines that flatter my figure. The skirt hits me where it hits the model, just over the knee, and the neckline is modest without being frumpy. There’s a button detail at the elbow and a wide waistband that sits right at my natural waist. The jersey is once again of excellent quality, and the dress is fully lined (and machine-washable!) with a side zip. This one will probably be too warm for Summer wear, but it’s going to be great for Fall, Winter, and Spring. I’ll note that the sleeves are slimmer-fitting on me than they are on the model, and I don’t have particularly full upper arms, so it’s something to bear in mind if that tends to be a fit issue for you. Overall, this is a great, versatile dress, and I’d love to see it in more colors (green or red or polka dots!).
This was my wild card purchase, as it takes me a bit outside my comfort zone. I’ve never loved the way I looked in “wiggle”-style or body-con dresses, but since only the top portion of the dress is jersey, and the rest is woven, I thought I might find it more comfortable, and I also hoped that the horizontal stripes might offer some balance to my fuller-on-top figure. While I was correct on those points, I was let down by a few fit issues. First, the skirt is significantly shorter on me than it is on the model, by a good three-to-four inches, like everything from that last orange-red stripe down is missing. It really throws the proportions of the dress off and affects the otherwise classic silhouette. Secondly, the side zipper sticks part of the way up, and no amount of tugging or inspecting will make it budge, even though the fit through the bust is otherwise excellent. Finally, that hem is TIGHT. I mean, super tight. I could barely tug it past my bust when pulling the dress on overhead. Once the dress was on, I loved the way it looked. My waist looked tiny, my hips looked lovely and curvy, and the neckline was flattering. And then I tried to sit down in it. I wonder if the skirt was the proper length whether it would have been less excruciatingly tight when I bent to sit, but since it’s short, the hem rides up to my thighs and strains uncomfortably. Standing, though, the fit around my hips is fine, even generous. It’s weird, and it’s a shame, because I thought this would be a fun addition to my wardrobe, but unfortunately it’s going back.
There are a few nice black dresses currently available at Pepperberry, but I knew I really wanted to find a dress that read a little more grown-up, a little more womanly, and a little sexier than anything in my current wardrobe. Again, this silhouette usually gives me pause, but the slight draping of the skirt and the promise of a mesh lining under the jersey convinced me to give this a try, and I AM SO GLAD I DID. Once again the quality of the jersey is much improved from past seasons, the neckline is flattering (and deeper than that of the Abstract Jersey Print Dress, so a plunge bra will be de rigueur), and the length is perfect– right at my knees. It feels a little strange to pull on because the mesh lining is much tighter than the jersey overlayer, but the lining is tight for a reason. It acts like a built-in slip and provides some smoothing under the jersey so that it doesn’t outline or cling to, say, the line of your bra or your knickers. It’s a great construction choice that pays off really, really well. I’m now sad I missed out on the red version from earlier this year, but I hope this becomes one of Pepperberry’s recurring styles. I can see myself pairing it with boots and a scarf for work, and slipping into heels and sparkly earrings for a night out.
Has anyone else tried any of Pepperberry’s A/W 2012 collections? What do you think? If had my druthers, I would have liked to have seen an elegant, classic, structured black strapless dress with a straight skirt (New Year’s Eve!), and I was a little surprised that there wasn’t a single long evening dress available. That being said, I thought they made great choices this season, and I hope the Spring brings more treasures! Also, some coats, jackets, and sweaters are currently on sale, so if you’re feeling winter’s chill you should definitely check them out!
Reminder: Any item I review on Sweet Nothings, unless otherwise specified, is something I bought for myself, and all opinions are my own. Policies.