Dear Raquel — Plus Size Fashion?
This week, Olivia received a question that she knew Raquel would better be able to address.
Since you are the same age as me, and love fashion just as much as I do, I wanted to vent for a bit: I'm so deeply, deeply conflicted because of my love for clothes. I'm overweight (I'm 170 cm tall and weight 90 kg) and I love looking at beautiful dresses and clothes, but then, when I'm going to try them out, there's never a size that fits me, and that infuriates me—I've gone out of shops crying and angry at myself for being fat but then I get angry at the fashion industry for making me choose clothes that I don’t like as much just because the pretty dresses aren’t available for me. Do you or your friends at the Attic have any advice or know about any brands that are friendly to big girls like me? I always come home so sad after a day of shopping, and I think I need to starve myself or some other shit to meet the standards, but then I get angry at myself for thinking like that, I JUST WANT CUTE CLOTHES.
Believe me when I say how much I feel your pain. As someone who very quickly went from fitting into typical fashion industry sizing standards to very quickly not (thanks, hormones), it can be difficult to find something you like to wear, no matter your size or style. I’m not a doctor, so I cannot tell you what to do if what you’re looking for is a weight loss method. What I can tell you, is that the important thing is to be healthy and kind to yourself.
“Fat” is a relative term, and you should never use it as a way to negatively describe yourself. You are more important than a letter on a clothing tag or a number on a piece of measuring tape. I also know that no matter how many times I say that to you you’re not going to instantly believe me. Some days, I barely believe myself. But please try. And PLEASE do not starve yourself. Ever. A letter on a clothing tag is never worth that.
On the other side of your question, all of these things are especially difficult when you love fashion. The plus size element of the fashion industry has always pretty much been an ignored one, trotted out every few fashion cycles as a spectacle meant to portray awareness or inclusivity that may or may not be genuinely felt, and again shunned away once the next trend rears its ugly head. Fortunately it seems to be having a moment yet again, and as a legitimate believer in inclusivity, and for the selfish reason that I may finally reach a wardrobe full of clothing I don’t struggle with, I can (as I do every time it comes around) only hope it sticks.
I’ve done the math and I believe myself to be roughly the same size as you (for those wondering, I haven’t weighed myself in years but wear a size US16/UK20/EU46; in most places I shop this translates as an XL, but I like an oversized fit and will mostly buy sweaters and slip dresses in XXL when I can find it) so I will now share what works for me.
Follow plus size bloggers on Instagram. They are honestly some of the most supportive people on the planet, and nothing gives me a confidence boost (and accessible fashion inspiration) than seeing strong, outspoken women not letting the shape of their bodies be a hindrance to their self-expression (or even better, embracing themselves in genuinely fearless ways). Some favorites of mine are @missalexlarosa, @gabifresh, and @marielle.elizabeth. If you’re looking for wellness, @nolatrees is your girl.
On the shopping side, if you’re into vintage clothing but hate the struggle of never finding vintage clothes in your size, @selltradeplus is a relatively new account that offers the option of selling or buying previously owned items specifically in sizes large and up.
When it comes to shopping in person, learn what brands work for you and forget about the rest. That a brand offers larger sizes doesn't mean that their clothes will fit you perfectly*, and therein lies the soul-crushing part of figuring who knows what they’re doing and who doesn't at the pattern-making level. I love J.Crew, but I know I’m more likely to find something that fits at The Gap, so I don’t walk into J. Crew stores if I’m serious about finding something, I mostly walk in for inspiration or clearance accessories. (J.Crew does carry up to size 16 online, and fortunately will accept most returns in store, which brings me to point #4).
If you can swing it, buy a full length mirror. It doesn't have to face outward every single day if the thought scares you (cover it in a cute tapestry or decorate the back and keep it flipped around when you don’t need it), but the best way to prevent disappointment in public is to narrow the process down in the comfort of your own home. If you trust your friends, invite them over with their own purchases, order takeout and make a party out of it. That you may not enjoy shopping in public doesn't mean you shouldn’t get to experience the activity and fun with friends as anybody else would.
If you do decide to shop in store, bring your most trusted friend along, like the friend you have no fear in sharing your discomfort with whatsoever and who you know to be patient when you're taking up a lot of their time. Thank them profusely. I love shopping with my best friend; even though we no longer live in the same city, we make a point to shop when we do get together simply because we’re so good at it in each other’s presence. She knows exactly what I like and dislike, and vice versa, which allows us to honestly help each other. It’s not uncommon for us to end up picking things out for each other, trade purchases later on, or even go back the next day because we love something so much on one another that we have to try it on for ourselves (you’ll not be surprised to find we also have very similar taste). Having someone you trust who understands your issues makes all the difference.
In trying different clothes, you’ll also find what shapes you prefer and feel good in. This will help narrow your search as well. I like high-waisted styles, flowy, wide-leg trousers and midi dresses, boyfriend fit crew neck tee shirts and pullover sweaters, etc. but that may not work for you. It took me years to figure this all out (and some hard time de-conditioning of the notions of what a girl my size should and shouldn't wear). When casually shopping now, I narrow down categories and don’t spend much time on clothing sites outside of what I know works. This saves me from trying to rationalize things I may think look interesting but know will make me miserable the moment I open a package. It also saves me money and wasted time online.
And finally, actual places to shop:
As previously mentioned, Attic favorite J.Crew offers up to a US16 online, and many times the cuts of their knits and dresses may be more generous. Additional Attic fave Kate Spade also offers select items in additional sizes online, but their runs can be limited.
In a similar vein to our beloved Kate Spade but more affordable and with a full range of sizes, we have ModCloth, with its girly, vintage inspired wares.
The Gap, Banana Republic, LOFT, and Old Navy are a few more standard American brands with a wide range of plus sizes available both in store and online, as well as Lane Bryant which is more explicitly in the plus size range. Of these, LOFT and Lane Bryant are probably the most trend-driven, while Gap is good for affordable basics and Banana Republic for sophisticated work-wear and luxe basics (I live in their washable Merino wool).
Old Navy is the most affordable of the bunch, and may be a good place to start in the hopes of picking up some comfortable-but-still-cute pieces to boost your confidence as you delve into the deeper search of finding pieces you’ll want to invest in.
If you like classics or menswear-inspired styles, shop the Men's section of your favorite department store. My best button down is a Brooks Brothers Oxford I've had for almost a decade and my best black blazer is stolen from my older brother. The cuts are boxier and more comfortable, unlike classic women's suiting which tends to be riddled in unfortunately placed darts and seams.
For the hyper-trendy, ASOS has been at the top of my go-to list since my early university days and the purveyor of some of my favorite dresses to this day. Popular abroad, they carry multiple brands in addition to their ASOS Curve line and are the most searchable when looking to shop by occasion in particular. They also offer the less-easy-to-find larger sizes in tights, jewelry, and even wide fit shoes.
H&M has (as of my “research” expedition last night) seemed to finally have expanded their H&M+ offerings, something I could not have said four years ago, AKA the last time I stepped foot in a location which offered their H&M+ range only to find it was full of boring basics and weirdly oversized pieces.
Eloquii and Premme are brands I’ve recently discovered, so unlike everything I’ve mentioned previously, I cannot attest to their fit yet but will say their feeds are gorgeous, and the Jay Glitter Suit and Aurora Pajamas (both Premme) are giving me Major Feelings at the moment, and Eloquii has a way with prints that has me considering color for once in my life.
Finally, and again if you can swing it, I’d offer you the advice of investing in at least one piece that you really love and you feel is worth it. There’s no point in buying something (expensive or not) that doesn't fit now in the hopes that you’ll fit into it someday. Every time you come upon it you’ll only feel sad that you haven’t yet reached that goal, or angry, that you feel like you’ve wasted money. But the size you are now (whether you stay that size or do go on to lose weight) is not a reason to feel as though you also don’t deserve well made, properly fitting pieces. Luckily, many small brands have been aware or inclusive from pretty much the start, and not only will you be buying something that’s made with a little more thought and effort, you’ll be supporting a small business. I know that seems like a hard thing to do when you think your size is only temporary or unworthy, don’t have the financial means, or are too in love with trends to let fast fashion go, but at least, one, single piece, that works with your body (and potentially, given the investment, will work a versatile number of ways within your wardrobe) will feel so much better every time you put it on than the twelve different pieces you now have no use for thanks to your changing taste or preferences. A few of my favorite small brands which offer larger sizes are Elizabeth Suzann, Hackwith Design House, Universal Standard, Wool & The Gang (if you know how to knit, their patterns are available in larger sizes to knit your own), Lonely Lingerie, STATE The Label, and as of today (!!) Reformation. There are many more all over, and should you wish to search within your own region I’m sure there’s something at least nearby!
I hope this hasn’t gone on too long, and I hope I’ve sufficiently answered your questions along with my 'big sister, be healthy!! love yourself!!,' pleas. Being of larger size will never be the easiest thing in a world full of people excluding us or disrespecting us, but as someone who’s basically been reminded of how much space she takes up in the world since birth, I’m kind of fucking done with the idea that a piece of clothing will make me feel like a lesser human being if I don’t want it to.
If you need more advice moving forward, or simply a supportive thumbs up to an outfit you’re not sure about, you can always reach out to us on email, tumblr, or instagram DM.
*Getting into the logistics of pattern making and the very obvious problem that comes when mass market companies try to break into plus size clothing by simply making every measurement bigger is a topic for another time. I feel like I’ve already gone on so many tangents here but I want to be sure I’m touching every possible issue you may have so I will avoid unnecessarily building on this one.
All pictured clothes author's own and past season J.Crew. Similar tops: here and here. Similar skirt. Similar espadrilles (the pictured J.Crew model is currently out of stock but a piece that comes back every summer). We may earn a small commission through some links in this post.
Ed. Note: This piece has been updated to reflect Editor favorite and sustainable industry darling Reformation’s release of a Plus Size collection which was announced shortly after this piece was published.