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I’ve been plus-size for as long as I can remember, which means I’ve always had to navigate shopping for my body in an industry that notoriously rejects size inclusivity. Growing up in a single-parent household where I relied on free school meals and uniform shopping vouchers, I learned how to scout out deals and shop the sale rail. Years later, the bargain-hunting shopping habits ingrained in me have remained. But even though I am armed with endless tips and hacks, it’s still not easy to shop on a budget when you’re a plus-size person.
Amid the cost of living crisis, it seems impossible for anybody over a size 16 to 'budget dress' unless they’re buying fast fashion, which is sometimes the only option for plus-size shoppers. Vintage or secondhand clothing — by far the more ethical choice — can be incredibly hard to come by for plus-size shoppers concerned about their impact on the planet. Kirsten* tells Refinery29 UK that she accrued debt while shopping at one of the few plus-size retailers that offered her size range but whose pieces weren’t long-lasting. "It is difficult to clear [the debt] as I buy a few bits at the start of every season so I’m stuck in a cycle," she says. She recently went from a size UK 24 to a UK 18 but finds it just as hard to buy clothing from more affordable shopping destinations despite being a smaller plus-size woman. "I feel like if you’re above a size 16, you’re penalised for it."
Sizing aside, there is also the issue of the lack of affordable clothing for various body shapes. As a pear-shaped woman, I know firsthand how difficult it is to find jeans that go up over my butt and sit flush around my waist without gaping at the back. Plus-size shopper Bridie, 21, thinks that a lot of high street stores don't understand plus sizing. "I think they just make things bigger all around without considering shape or curves." Indeed, many brands extend sizing by grading up from a straight size rather than using a grade rule to balance out extended measurements around a whole garment.
As I mentioned, over the years I’ve developed some savvy shopping tips as a plus-size woman and now, having spoken to other curvy people, I’ve compiled a list of five top tips for plus-size budget shopping and dressing. Scroll on to discover how you can dress your curves in 2023 without breaking the bank.
Buy staple pieces for longevity
Personally, I’ve found it helpful (and easier on my bank balance) to shop with longevity in mind. High-quality garments from slightly more expensive brands are likely to last longer than fast fashion pieces that might need replacing every season. Although it might seem a little pricey when you’re eyeing up a pair of trousers or a top that is nearing three figures, investing in long-lasting pieces will save you in the long run.
Check out specific curve and plus ranges
Commonly overlooked because of their matronly associations, curve ranges from popular stores shouldn’t be ruled out. "They tend to be more flatteringly shaped clothes than 'straight' sizes that are just made bigger but not adjusted to fit well," says Bridie. And above everything, all items are modestly priced. Other notable stores that stock on-trend curve ranges and staple pieces are The Iconic and ASOS.
Don’t rule out supermarkets
Okay, so when you’re filling your trolley with groceries, you might not be thinking about clothes shopping. But honestly, don’t sleep on supermarkets’ clothing shelves. From Costco to Aldi, there are fashionable garments to be had that are made well, affordable and size-inclusive.
Check out online resale marketplaces
Plus-size people have a notoriously hard time shopping secondhand. For years I searched and searched charity shops for fashionable finds but because the 'oversized' trend was in and everybody was snapping up the bigger sizes, it seemed impossible. But with the likes of Depop, eBay and Facebook Marketplace, it’s never been easier to snag some stylish secondhand finds. Although, to be fair, it might take you a little longer than straight-size shoppers.
Watch for sales
Previously, sales were a biannual occurrence but now there's a discounted event happening every month. Hold off buying an item until then, particularly if you’re looking to swoop in on some expensive pieces for longevity.
*Name has been changed