There is a unique sadness in trying to shop online, selecting your size filter and watching an original offering of over a thousand items drop to five or six, especially when those six pieces are fuck ugly or extremely expensive. This is where a choice must be made: you can either close the tab and take to Twitter to complain about how badly plus-size fashion can make you feel, or you can dig deeper in the search for good clothing.
As a plus-size woman who has been let down too often by straight-size clothing, I’ve learned how to analyse and dissect these smaller size garments for their potential to fit my frame. Following these steps is an almost guaranteed way to access clothing you may not have considered before purely because of the size label. (If you don’t know, 'straight sizing' is the term for clothing that isn’t plus size, e.g. UK sizes 6 to 16, usually a fashion brand’s main line of clothing.)
Crack your knuckles, move your mouse across the screen and start looking through your favourite site’s straight-size range. First, set the site’s filter to the highest size it offers – usually an 18, occasionally (and thankfully) a 20 and, in the worst cases, a 16 – and get to browsing through the offering to see what might work on a bigger frame. Prepare for intricate investigations into a variation of pieces outside of your size and consider the following tips in order to find your hidden gems.
Stretch is your bestie
Not gonna lie, stretch fabric is my bestie in plus-size shopping too but there is something so satisfying about slipping yourself into a straight-size stretch garment and getting a figure-hugging fit that looks as good as anything you’ve ever bought in your size. (Just a note but this only further proves that women’s clothing sizes are pretty arbitrary, given the huge sizing differences between stores.)
If you don’t have a keen enough eye to tell from an online picture if an item is made of stretch fabric or not, look for jersey, Lycra, elastane or Spandex listed in the product information, check reviews of the garment (my favourite way of navigating straight-size collections) or simply roll the dice and order the item to check the fit for yourself.
Know your measurements
There is absolutely no point in ordering an elastic waist skirt and relying solely on its stretch to see you through if the skirt’s waist measurement at its largest is smaller than your regular waist measurement. Some sites will offer a stretched and un-stretched measurement for the waist but if in doubt, it's always worth ordering an item to check for yourself. By knowing your measurements, you can also use a measuring tape to check the fit of a garment you've ordered rather than go through the (potentially triggering) process of trying it on only to find out it does not fit.
It doesn’t stop there either. A garment may fit your waist but you’re not going to be able to wear your straight-size find if the bust is too small. As a busty broad, I’ve been known to not fit into dresses that my friends with bigger waists can because of their smaller busts. This just goes to show that knowing your full measurements – shoulder, bust, waist, hips, thigh, inside leg, the list goes on – is one of the most useful ways to know if a garment will fit.
This will benefit you exponentially in buying plus-size clothing too, as sizing can differ wildly between brands. If you don’t want to know your own measurements (as mentioned, it can be very triggering, understandably) then ask a mate/your partner/a family member/your flatmate to measure what needs to be measured, keep the figure to themselves and double check it for you against the garment’s measurements. This way, a simple "yes, buy it" or a "look for something else" are the only two options you need to consider.
Don't overlook your own proportions
Chloe Pierre, a plus-size influencer and owner of wellness brand thy.self, explains that knowing your measurements may not be enough if you haven’t considered how the clothing will actually fit you. "Body shape and body proportions are important to factor in," she explains. "I am a smaller plus size but my proportions in comparison to other plus-size bodies are definitely different." Pierre’s words ring true. My own big tits and long torso have gotten in the way of some spectacular fits.
Don’t think of this as a negative thing. Knowing your proportions and how garments will look on your body – i.e. not the model’s body – is fundamental to any online shopping spree. It can even work to your advantage. Since I know my boobs will fill out a smock dress and make its waistline higher, I can comfortably imagine how different the fit will look on me versus the model – a bit shorter, a bit clingier – and purchase based on what I want the dress to look like on me, not how it looks on someone else.
Because style preferences vary, the execution of this one is totally individual. If you’re lost on where to begin, try and work out how you want clothing to look specifically on you. Thoroughly inspect pictures and/or videos of the item to imagine how it will look on your body shape instead.
Look out for oversized garments
I know, it’s a bloody farce that brands which don’t offer plus sizes will still make oversized straight-size garments but use this to your advantage. There are two bits of advice I’d give when shopping for oversized pieces to wear on a plus-size body.
Firstly, understand that this item won’t be oversized on you. It will, hopefully, fit like a regular version of the garment. For example, an oversized sweater will fit you like a regular plus-size piece. I hope this isn’t a patronising point but seeing clothing worn as oversized on a model can be quite disorienting in comparison to your own body. Again, focus on looking at the garments and not those wearing them when wading into the waters of straight-size clothing.
Secondly, be aware of the oversized item’s proportions, not just your own. Some oversized clothes will have comically large shoulder widths or a deceptively small waist added to large trouser legs, which means they may not fit you properly either. The devil is in the detail so be aware not just of your own sizing needs but of what you need from the clothing you’re considering, too.
Find fits with no waistlines
This one is pretty straightforward. A T-shirt or A-line dress is much more likely to fit than a denim bodycon dress. Going for a more flowy kind of fit (if that’s a style you want to wear!) gives you a lot more leeway in the sizing department.
Utilise these tips when perusing the internet and eventually you’ll become an expert in working out whether certain straight-size items will be a perfect fit for your body. Even better, if you have the funds, buying multiple sizes of items from different brands will quickly get you acquainted with which stores allow their garments to fit your frame. (For example, Monki is full of hidden treasures but I’ve barely tried an H&M straight-size item since I wore a size 16.)
It’s also super important to be aware of brands’ return policies and ensure that if something doesn’t fit, it doesn’t sit in your wardrobe until the return window has closed. This shouldn’t be an exercise in wasting money and depressing yourself in the process. Find joy in the hunt and it'll be all the more glorious when you uncover a true gem along the way.