The Joys of Plus Size Shopping for Women

By Maggie Wells on 31 March 2010 35 comments

I read last week’s article, 15 Reasons Plus-Size Shopping Sucks, with flabbergasted amusement. The article let off some well needed steam I thought — and I used to feel that way too — but it doesn’t have to be a pain and a chore to buy a nice outfit in a decent average size — which nowadays seems to be a plus size. Part of the frustration, as I see it, is seeing great looks in sizes that just aren’t going to fit your body type. Not that you necessarily need to go the route of watching endless bits of What Not to Wear, but perhaps taking stock in yourself in a full length mirror naked might help.

I’ve done that quite a few times. My weight goes up and down with my thyroid but for the most part I know where I hover (around a size 16-18). I’d even venture to say it’s harder for me to walk into your average mall and find clothes that look nice than most women due to the dreaded curves. Fat girl clothes seem to think that all big girls are broad shouldered, barrel chested, and pear shaped at the bottom with stilts for legs. I call it the eggs on stilts look.

But that’s not me. I have small shoulders, a small neck, the dreaded 38 DDD, tiny waist and giant hips and not a lot of length in the leg. Where does this freak of a girl find clothing? Everywhere but the mall and it is fun. But that might be the problem right there — walking into the local mall. In our DIY culture of now, when has a mall offered anything but the same old, same old? In going to the mall you are giving up on anything unique and original anyhow. So, stop the mall and chain store business and get realistic.

I don’t even think I own an outfit that doesn’t look good. I follow the adage that if you’re going to be big you HAVE to be beautiful. How do I manage it? I got realistic with my body type.

The hour glass figure with breasts to match

Dresses will always look better than anything else on you. Never wear pants. They weren’t meant for you. Wear at your own peril. Don’t wear belts or cap sleeves or bulky sweaters and for heaven’s sake don’t show up in shorts. Don’t even look at these items in stores. Even if you do find your size those things are always going to look tacky and you’ll always look like a caked sausage.

Once you realize that 1920s fashions and spaghetti straps are never going to work for you, you will begin to live again and enjoy shopping because you will no longer waste your time with expensive mistakes. Find what works for you. Find a celebrity that has your body type. What does she wear?

Find your time period

Seems like designers liked my body type from the 1930s until the mid 1960s. That’s 30+ years of fashion ideas that work well on this figure. This spring I went to one of my favorite shopping sites, Etsy, and typed in XL and 1X and 2X (some designers on here have 16 as a 2X) along with the word vintage and then again without it. I scored five beautiful dresses that each look amazing on me. I highly recommend Shristi Studio for nice, inexpensive spring/summer dresses. She uses vintage patterns with new fabric in large sizes. As soon as the first dress arrived and fit like it was made for me, I ordered two more just like it in different fabrics, same cut. That’s smart shopping. Each was under $30 bucks and perfect. From Rocket Betty I bought a great rockabilly dress that I get mega compliments on every time I wear it. From Pretty Cool Clothes I bought an unusual looking dress that fit my shape well.

One place that I check out every month for cool ads for big girl clothes is the back of Bust Magazine. Two of my favorites I’ve found cool on are The Mode Merr (who can custom make if so desired) and Daddy O’s. Not only are there many small time designers out there making great clothes in large sizes but purchasing from one of these designers means you are supporting small businesses who are making their products here in the USA. The items I’ve bought from these stores never fail to get compliments. So most of those sites above aren’t selling necessarily to the frugally inclined but my Scotch grandmother always taught me that a few good pieces in your wardrobe go a long way.

Thrift stores

I balance this out with strategic thrift store shopping. Did you know lots of times clothes wind up in discount outlets and thrift stores not because they were unwanted, ugly, or ridiculous, but because they were badly sized? I just bought a size 10 designer skirt for 3 bucks that should have been sized a 14 or 16. Don’t go by the size on the tag; hold it up to yourself instead. Surprise yourself too. I bought a great sweater for 2 dollars the other day that looked like a bunch of fabric on the hanger that was loose and low cut. But the fabric was such that it clung nicely where it should and not where it shouldn’t. A girlfriend of mine showed me a dress she found discounted $60 bucks in the store simply because it didn’t look like anything on the rack. The body made the dress and often does. When I lived in San Francisco I used to go to this great vintage store that catered to drag queens. Well, I surmised, men tend to need bigger sizes when they dress up as women and low and behold I hit the jackpot befriending a few fashion divas and asking their secret shopping places.


If you aren’t willing to pay for the uniqueness and the styles are just a little to wild for ya, why not shop at Target? Hands down, Target always has cheap clothes with big sizes. They seem to go up to a XXXL. They also over size in the first place. A target shirt marked “L” is usually really an XL anywhere else. Some of my best workout clothes are always from Target. Know the local market of your chain store. I lived in a tiny woman’s neighborhood in San Francisco. I never went to the Ross, Gap, or TJ Max in my area where it would be futile. Those chains catered to their local population of size 1, 2, and 0. This sounds crass of course, but heck, go to a fatter neighborhood. Those same stores that carry XXXS in a skinny neighborhood in the city will carry XXXL in the suburbs.

I freely admit to loving clothes. I see them as performance art just as much as I see them as necessary covering. Even if I found a designer who made a pencil skirt in my size I know that it won’t look good. The waist will feel like there’s miles of extra fabric and the hips will be too tight. Why go through the torture? It should and can be fun to plus size shop. The designers are out there!

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Guest's picture

It's interesting that dresses work so well for you and pants don't. My experience is so different.

I can never find dresses that are proportioned properly. I'm a 34-36 G, broad shoulders, hour glass figure. Dresses always make me look short waisted, and they're usually huge in the waist and the hips by the time they come close to fitting on top.

Pants are my go-to - boot cut or flared only (Coldwater Creek and Eddie Bauer - both have great clearance deals and lots of different fits - I rarely pay more than $10 a pair). My biggest problem is finding talls so they're long enough in the rise (crotch to waist)

Ditto on the no belts, heavy sweaters. I go for great looking tailored shirts since I have a waist (Coldwater Creek, Van Heusen and surprisingly Dress Barn) that don't over emphasize all the cleavage.

Guest's picture

Nothing to add, I just thought it was worth noting that this kind of post is why I come here - practical, detailed, with specific suggestions and examples. Thank you.

Guest's picture

It is even harder to find clothes if you are tall. With the internet now it is easier, but still highly expensive. You can tailor most clothes to be shorter, but not longer.

Guest's picture

I'd love to see something like this for plus-sized men too. Often we're relegated to just single-color t-shirts and elastic pants. Some of us like fashion too!

Guest's picture

Thanks so much for the great information!

Guest's picture
Julie K

Great post. Makes me wish we could book a day of shopping and cocktails. What fits isn't even a matter of being a size xxx. It's shape. Junk in the trunk = no leggings jeans for me.

Even time I vintage I realize how de-flated sizes have become vs. the old days. I'm a 8 in jackets now - a 10 or 12 in jackets from the eighties.

Guest's picture

Sad to say, the negative article about plus-size shopping had thousands of visitors and so many comments they had to shut it down.

If you look at the story, tips were buried in the negativity. However, it's incredibly irritating that "expert" recommendations on how to deal with a particular problem (i.e. large hips, top heavy, etc.) never consider a woman might have numerous problem areas that can't be fixed by wearing a cute jacket that nips in at the waist.

BTW: Why is the mannequin modeling the dress in your illustration so skinny? Shouldn't she be plus-sized?

Guest's picture

great for you having an hour glass figure, but i'd say a larger percentage of plus size gals like myself don't have a waist. in fact alot of us look like we're 7 mo pregnant! a very different figure to fit.

interesting bit to find a decade in which designers liked to design for my shape. i live in pants/jeans and find it works for me, not so much for shape but for how my life is. dressess dont' work as well for me when you're dealing with children, running errands, painting, gardening etc

Andrea Karim's picture

The only drawback to dresses is that you really have to commit to (1) maintaining some nice stockings/nylons/tights or (2) dedicate time to shaving and caring for your legs. I am so lazy that I have trouble with these things.

Guest's picture

When I wear dresses, I have a trusty pair of calf hi boots. I hate hose and pumps.

Guest's picture

Which is why I gave in and started using "Veet" or "Neet" or something similar.
And in cases where I absolutely must wear nylons of some type (wedding, etc) I wear knee-highs and a dress long enough to cover the top of the elastic (at all times).
Can't stand to have that elastic up to my waist cutting me in half and making me sweat.

Maggie Wells's picture

and do gardening, weed pulling, messy art projects. I just put on an apron and I'm good to go. I'm admittedly one of those people who longs for the days when America dressed to leave the house. I used that dress photo because that's the dress I bought.

Margaret Garcia-Couoh

Andrea Karim's picture

As much as my body and face don't seem to cooperate at 5AM, there is something to be said for dressing with style. I wish I had a job or a life that necessitated 50's-style dresses (petticoats!) because that's a look I could rock.

Also, I actually found a high-waisted skirt that worked for me - at JCPenney, of all places. It almost works as a girdle!

Guest's picture

And I got the best swimsuit I've ever had from Bravissimo. They size their suits by bra size instead of "dress size" and carry cup sizes D-KK. I had always bought separate top & bottom because my top & bottom are different sizes, but then after I had my baby my top got to a size I couldn't find easily.

I wanted to post that on the last article but it got shut down first.

Guest's picture

Great post, unlike the super negative previous post regarding plus-sizes. I absolutely agree with you that finding what looks best on you and duplicating that in various colors and patterns is the way to go. The big thing that irked me about the other post was that the author thought that everything would look fabulous if only it was made in their size. GET REAL. Even if you're a size 6, some clothes just will not look good. I used to be a size 14, and finally had to get in shape because I hated clothes shopping, and I hated the way most clothes fit me. Now that I'm a size 8 I actually like shopping and feel better about my healthier body.

Guest's picture

Had this been the original article about plus size shopping I think a lot of the negativity and harsh words could have been avoided! I was one of the people who gave a piece of my mind to the original poster as well as the ones who came to their defense.

This article is so vastly different there is nothing bad I could or would say. It raises an issue, proposes solutions and goes on with life! Just the way it should be!

Congrats on the article, it was a good read!

Guest's picture

Hi... This articles is more useful for those people who are interested to buy variety of designer wear and what problems they could face.

Guest's picture

I had a wonderful hourglass figure, always large in the hips but small waist. Until I had to go on lots of med, now I am 40 lbs more of me. I still have small shoulders, big butt, but now I have a bit of a tummy. I am having a hard time with it. BUt I agree with you now belts or dumpy sweaters. I admit, i have watched a lot of What Not to Wear, it actually helped me though.
I love dresses and skirts, and as I live in Az I never wear hose unless very dressy.
I like Ross and I love yard sales and the Thrift stores.
I have actually had good luck with QVC and their designers. Quacker Factory is good for me for pants and jeans. And I love the bling on them. Susan Graver makes a lot of good clothes, and I always buy them on clearance.
If you are worried about your legs in a dress without hose, get some fake tan lotion. It works great now and looks natural.

Guest's picture

I don't know why anyone who has an internet connection and needs to shop for plus sized clothes would torture themselves by going to the mall to find them. Unless they liked looking for a needle in a haystack.

There are so many places that you can buy the size that fits and get a great deal too. JMS (Just My Size) is good for lingerie and casual clothes, but recently I have been buying a lot of stuff at Before going to the site, stop by, sign in, and then find OneStopPlus on the list of stores. You will get 15% cashback. Between shopping sales and making use of discount codes and the Bing cashback, you can find some really good deals on some VERY nice clothes. I've been very pleased with everything I've bought from them, both in price and quality.

Guest's picture

I like to try things on. Having to order things, wait, try them on, and then send them back is a big hassle.

Myscha Theriault's picture

Great job, Margaret!

I have been hovering around the 16-18 range myself, although I am more comfortable at a 12 - 14.

That being said, I am looking forward to exploring the resources you mentioned. While I agree with the overall mall avoidance tips, I have found a few things at different stores such as the JC Penny find Andrea mentioned. Also, Coldwater Creek and Eddie Bauer are at malls in my general area and may be available for others as well.

I have picked up a few tips in the last few months that have made a difference for me and could be used with various figure types, not just plus sizes. Will try to write up a quick post soon and link back to yours.

Thanks again for the great new places to shop!

You can also follow me on Twitter and Trek Hound.

Guest's picture

I love the idea of seeing when one's own shape was "in" with the dress-creating community and then shopping for that era in vintage stores. I never would have thought of doing that. Thank you!!

I do have to say that our Target (CentralPA) is absolutely the last place I'd ever go for anything large, however. Ours - maybe because this is such a college town - is totally geared toward small, young women. A couple years ago, I finally lost enough weight to qualify for wearing some of the cutesie layered t tops, but I'll never be able to find pants that fit there because I'm 6' tall, and apparently college-age women aren't supposed to be as tall as guys :)

Guest's picture

I'm glad the writer found items that work for her.

But for some of us, who work in the corporate world, we need decent suits (pants and otherwise). Finding well-tailored (and affordable) suits is very hard when you're both short (5 foot 3 inches) and busty and large.

Most of the stuff that's out there looks ludicrous on women of my size (and there are many around). The stuff at places like Lane Bryant and FashionBug is cheaply made and horribly styled (for the most part).

Some of us have very sophisticated (translation: Simple lines, great fabrics, great tailoring) taste and there is virtually nothing out there.

Retro and vintage are great for accessories, but not for clothes.

There is a huge opportunity for both designers and stores, but very few stores (regular ones) want to stock for larger sizes. They really don't want to be associated with large women. They don't want to see them shopping in their stores (no problem; you can't stock clothes for my size? I won't buy ANYTHING in your stores.)

Guest's picture

Thank you for posting this. I was thinking the same thing!! I am so tired of people recommending plus size stores with clothes with horrible quality. I'm just not a Target/Wal-Mart/thrift store type of girl (when it comes to clothes).

I know it sounds snobby but I've tried cheap stores and the fit of the clothes are horrible, no style, fabric is cheap which means it won't last long and most of the stuff looks faded. I love DKNY, Michael Kors and Calvin Klein is my absolute favorite. However now that I'm a 16 it's getting hard to find things that fit. All three of the designers carry plus-size but not for every style - and it's usually the styles I don't like.

I think the problem is that they associate weight with class. If you're overweight, you're low class and that's not the image they want to potray. However if we continue to make our case perhaps change will come. In the meantime this is a great motivator for me to lose weight - in addition to overall health. I will never be a size 4 and want to keep my curves. I received more attention as a size 14 than a size 8 but I have to be able to enjoy shopping and buy nice clothes. That's one of my greatest joys in life!!

Guest's picture

I just wanted to add that you and I should go shopping together! :-) Sounds like you have the exact same body type as I do - down to the bra size!

Guest's picture

I buy all my plus sized clothes from old navy, the trick though is that they only offer plus sizes online, not in stores.  There plus sized line is cute, casual, and cheap!

Guest's picture

when women are loosing weight it's a waste of money to buy new clothes because you're changing your size in a short period of time .
visit my ebaystore to find grat deals brands and taste for a great price!!!

Guest's picture

Great post! I would love to have some of those dresses.

Guest's picture

Good Tip on shopping at Target. Many people are dealing with a down market and such. So deals are always golden!

Guest's picture

I found a great place to shop online at haute curvture for plus size evening and after 5 clothing. I would like to share it with you. check them out!

Guest's picture

This is a helpful topic for us bigger gals. When I was much smaller and in college, I took a sewing class and had to make a button-up blouse. The instructor was a very experienced seamstress. She taught us how to increase and decrease the size of the pattern to adjust to bust size, small shoulders, and short waists, among other things. I was able to go from a size 8 to a 6, and the clothes fit perfectly. To be a size 6 again. Where's the celery?

Guest's picture

I have made it a point to follow them around town. They do a fashion show almost every month. They then sell right off the runway immediately after the show, I have been able to get some one of a kind dress pieces for about $60 or less. These dresses would definitely cost me around $300-400 anywhere else. I highly recommend all plus size gals to check them out. The owner offers personal service, and has even explained that she makes last minute shopping easy. she will bring it right to your place or business, and during your lunch hour you can try on as many as you like and purchase. I have not been able to find this kind of service anywhere!

Maggie Wells's picture

Thanks for the tips! I've recently started buying from which has some designers that carry plus size dresses.

Guest's picture

I buy shirts and dresses for work, the quality is good, and you can order them tailored to your height/bust/shoulders, etc. Beautiful clothes! and if you look under the "overstock" tab you can get some real bargains, i just look every few days for my size.
also, dont forget about estate sales for bigger sizes in cool, eclectic patterns. You can find old school 50's and 60's dresses and skirts and polyester shirts (that are really cool) when an older person passes away and the family just puts up everyhing in the house for sale. You can really find some steals!

Guest's picture

So pretty much we can either dress like we're from the 1930's or wear Target clothes? I don't think so. American Eagle goes up to size 18, and XXL, Forever 21 goes up to 3X and size 20, online. Torrid has many plus sized clothes, along with Lane Bryant, though they are more expensive. Old Navy has cute clothes and a whole plus size section offering cute clothes for cheap, and so does Dots, Maurices, and Debs stores. All of those have varying styles, and a wide range of price ranges (Torrid and Lane Bryant being most expensive). A lot of other stores also offer plus sized clothing online, like Levi's (on Amazon for cheaper). Fashion Bug also can offer some good styles for the price too. There are so many more too, if anyone wants more suggestions.