Beyond Fatshion, or Practical Plus Size Clothing

Full Figured Fashion Week was recently held over a three day period in New York. Judging by the posts over at Musings of a Fatshionista, this year’s built and improved on last year’s event and we’ve got some exciting new plus size labels heading our way.

The event sparked some impressive press. The New York Times used FFFWeek as the context to report that retailers are beginning to recognise the market in plus size clothes. In reply, Jezebel questioned whether this was having an impact on production. The Jezebel article concludes with the idea that “It’s not just about making things available; it’s about making things fashionable.”

As heartening as all this discussion is, what of the clothes that have a purpose beyond fashion? The practical clothes that are afforded to straight size people that do not extend to plus sizes? Where can I buy them?

For example, the Boyfriend and I have been throwing around the idea of going to a country in western Europe for New Year’s Eve. Berlin, perhaps, if we have the money and can get enough time off work. Berlin in late December/early January is damn cold. As I live in Sydney – where winter is not much cooler than Berlin’s summers – it will be a cold like I’ve never experienced. My cotton tops and my thin, wool-blend coat will not be able to cope.

I don’t need a fashionable jacket – likes the ones I could buy at La Dan’s Closet or Dorothy Perkins – I need one that will keep me seriously warm. The thing is, I have no idea where I can get good quality outerwear or thermals in my size.

The more I think about it, the more examples keep popping up. I go to a samba class and we’ll be putting on a performance at the end of the year. Considering all the samba dancers I see are teeny tiny, where am I going to get a plus size samba outfit from?

If I learn to scuba dive, where will I buy my wetsuit?

If I ride a motorcycle, where will I buy my leathers?

I’m on the small end of fat, so I know that there will be many of you that have it infinitely worse than me. What clothing do you need but cannot find?


52 Responses to “Beyond Fatshion, or Practical Plus Size Clothing”

  1. 1 Spilt Milk 22 June, 2010 at 10:05 pm

    I went to the south island of New Zealand in winter – I bought a polarfleece and coat in mens’ sizes. I have to roll up the sleeves, and they don’t fit my hips well. It’s not ideal.

    Stylish & functional gym gear is hard to find too. I believe it exists but I don’t have the time or cash to look around, read reviews, order online. I wish I could just walk into a sports megastore and stick up like staight-size wearers can.

  2. 2 Jen D 22 June, 2010 at 10:08 pm

    I quite often find it really difficult to get work-out clothes, to the point where I usually just buy men’s stuff. It’s like, if you’re fat, you’re “supposed” to be losing weight, but you shouldn’t be wearing clothes that show any of that fat at all!

    • 3 Rachel 23 June, 2010 at 1:17 am

      There are retailers in the States that do sell plus-size motorcycle apparel. I’m not sure if they still have it around, but at one time Harley Davidson’s catalogue had women’s leather jackets and vests in up to size 3X.

      @ JenD– yes, I’ve been wondering that for years too! The closest I ever found to plus-size apparel made specifically for working out was a small line Torrid did recently, which I guess didn’t sell well because I was able to get the top for $4 and the pants for $10 off the clearance section.

      Then sometimes Old Navy puts out clothes that would be gym suitable that are affordable. I have these yoga pants from them that I swear by for working out. They were also only like $10 apiece.

      But since I don’t see the point in spending $60+ for clothes I’m just going to sweat in, I improvise– I like to wear an oversize men’s t-shirt with capri leggings for ease of movement. The yoga pants with a longer tank top.

      They do just as well as the fancy expensive stuff! But it really IS kinda an indignity that fat people always get yelled at to ZOMG get yr ass 2 the gym lyk NOW, and someone who would like to wear the nice clothes designed for workouts can’t find them. It makes just as much sense as that time I was jogging in a local park and some asshole yelled out his car window at me, “It ain’t gonna work, fatty!” Argh.

  3. 4 lilacsigil 22 June, 2010 at 10:09 pm

    Gumboots. I can’t find any boots that will fit my calves, not fashionable, not warm, not practical. Nothing. So I just have to stay out of much of my backyard in winter.

  4. 5 Elle 22 June, 2010 at 10:12 pm

    SPORTS BRAS. And workout gear. Seriously, if they want us plus-sized women to lose some weight, perhaps make it easier for us to do so by providing nice, comfortable clothing to work out in and bras which hold our generally-larger busts in so we don’t have to settle for just wearing three bras at once.

    Also: shapewear. That underwear which holds you all in so you can wear a nice sleek dress without too many lumps and bumps. I’m amazed this isn’t already widely available – GIANT gap in the market.

    Of course these things could already be available, but I’m unlucky enough to live in a town where they aren’t unless I want to pay exhorbitant prices for online shopping which might not even fit me.

  5. 10 Meems 22 June, 2010 at 10:43 pm

    I don’t know what it would cost to ship to Australia, but both Lands End and L.L. Bean sell excellent warm clothing (coats and long underwear included) well into plus size range. They also run large, as I wear around a 12/14 US and own a winter coat in a petite medium from Lands End.

    I, however, have trouble finding tops that are cute and fit me well. I like things that nip in at the waist, since I have an hourglass shape, but my 34G boobies mean that most tops with a banded waist don’t have enough room in the chest area. I can sometimes shop in straight size stores, but it’s just a toss up, and with the exception of Torrid, which is a junior plus store, I’m still smaller than most plus size retailers.

  6. 11 sleepydumpling 22 June, 2010 at 11:12 pm

    I bought a man’s coat in the US for the snow (one of those ones that have the optional outer waterproof layer), because I couldn’t find a ladies one that was warm enough for what I needed in a plus size. It was bog ugly, but it kept me warm in the snow. But if I’d have been a straight-sized woman, I would not only have a whole range of lovely warm coats available to me, I’d have had them at a price that was way easier to afford than anything I could find to fit me, both in plus sized clothing AND large men’s clothing.

    But the one that really gets me is bras. I just cannot find bras that are all of the following: affordable, comfortable and durable enough for wear all the time. Sometimes I might, just might be able to find an affordable one that is durable, or a durable one that is comfortable, but to get a really good bra that ticks every box, is just nigh on impossible to find. Yet unlike small sized women, there is NO WAY I can go bra-less.

  7. 12 Gorda 22 June, 2010 at 11:40 pm

    Workout clothes! And I’m not even talking cute colours or stylish designs: I spent the longest time looking for a simple sweatshirt and pair of sweatpants, in any colour or shape, in a size bigger than XL (this may sound weird to US or Australian readers – I live in a smallish Spanish city). Of all the clothes I haven’t been able to find in my size, I felt this was the most frustrating, because 1) The t-shirt-sweatpants combo seems to be the uniform of headless fatties in all the US obesity epidemic reports. I found myself thinking “Damn, look at their clothes, fat people in the US have it good!” (Which of course I know is not true at all, it was just the sweatpants-envy speaking!) And 2) Society expects fat people to do everything they can to lose weight. Somehow, our fatness is less offensive if we can prove that we are trying to diet and exercise it away. BUT most of us cannot exercise because we cannot find workout clothes in our size. I will never understand why sportsgear shops, of all shops, refuse to cater to larger customers. With all the moral panic about obesity going around, we should be their target demographic!

  8. 13 WeightlessOne 23 June, 2010 at 12:00 am

    For me it is rain gear and coats. I have yet to find rain gear for being outside in wet weather. I’ve made due with a men’s rain coat that doesn’t fit across the chest and belly and a poncho, but I’ve never been able to find rain pants that fit. I camp and work rain-or-shine outdoor events and this has caused me so many problems and left me sick after getting soaked and chilled to the bone. I’ve bought rain items from Cabela’s, but they are made for men and never fit me right across the chest, but there’s room for three more sets of my shoulders should I ever care to grow there.

    Another problem is coats. I have bought out of catalogs and sent back more than 6 coats in the past two years (I have never found a coat in a brick-and-mortar store that even remotely fits). I ended up with one that fits, but is fugly, not very warm, and I was told it looked like a robe. I about froze in it all winter.

  9. 14 La di Da 23 June, 2010 at 12:35 am

    Outdoors gear, wicking sports clothes, swimming costumes…. argh!

    Pretty much none of this available in Australia, of course. I’ve had the best luck ordering from – plenty of plus size sports and outdoor gear – and for Sport Hill plus size gear. One of my best buys was some “Skins” style compression shorts. They really do help with regulating temperature and supporting not only your muscles but your wobbly bits. I’m not ashamed of my jiggly arse and tummy but it’s a lot easier to bounce around the gym or dance studio or wherever with those brilliant shorts.

    I’m thinking of going skiing again this season, after 20 years off the slopes! I intend to order ski gear from Beautiful Skier, I will post on my blog if I do go ahead. πŸ™‚

  10. 15 O.C. 23 June, 2010 at 12:51 am

    Business wear for a tropical climate. In fairness, I’m not sure that straight sized women can find this either. I’m preparing for an important job interview in a very very hot place, and all I can find are jackets that are made of synthetic fabrics, or lined in synthetic fabrics, or both! Without finding something that’s both professional and VERY cool I’m going to be quite literally sweating through the interview, and worrying that I’m presenting the stereotype of the unhealthy sweaty fatty. After extensive searching I have not found clothing that will let me avoid that.

    • 16 Rachel 23 June, 2010 at 10:30 am

      O.C.– Linen, my friend. I’ve done great finding plus-size linen blazers and blouses on eBay and in thrift stores, and also in places like Marshalls, TJ Maxx, and Value City (which I think may be defunct now.) Linen is adaptable to both heat and cold. New York summers get utterly brutal and I sweat like a mofo! (Though I don’t think it has as much to do with my fat as it does with genetics, my mother’s side was a sweaty lot.) Though I have discovered that white and other pale colors of linen get pretty gross pit stains, so try to stick to dark or mid-tone colors if this is an issue.

  11. 17 Pegkitty 23 June, 2010 at 1:27 am

    I have a bra problem. I’m big around the ribs but the girls themselves are smallish. Ever try to find a 48A or B?

  12. 20 Godless Heathen 23 June, 2010 at 4:41 am

    Steel toed work boots. The offerings for women are slim already, but there’s never anything wide enough to handle my ankles and calves. Men’s work boots are not an adequate solution, as they hit me in all the wrong places. I was forced to buy a pair of men’s boots to deal with the snow here, and walking around for even a few minutes is agony.

  13. 21 Ashley J. 23 June, 2010 at 4:58 am

    I am an American size 16/18 (more so a 16), and my husband and I made plans to go snowboarding. None of the rental pants would fit me, so I started to try on the larger sizes of pants that the store had for purchase and I was horrified when the largest size they had (a men’s pair of snowboard pants, size XXL) would not fit. Really? Ridiculous. THAT should not happen.

    • 22 inge 24 June, 2010 at 10:28 am

      That *really* should not happen.

      I was pleasantly surprised by the surfing school I was at recently, where they actually had a rental wetsuit that fit my about (US) size 22 friend. I’m even less willing to give rentals or shops who only have standard sizes the benefit of doubt now.

  14. 23 erylin 23 June, 2010 at 6:24 am

    swimsuits. Tights. OMG tights….i would KILL to wear a pair of tights. I love dresses but cant wear them due to cub rub without a. wearing shorts underneat (yea THATS sexy) b. leggings or c. cute tights. one problem…..I am VERY tall….like 6foot 2 to 6 foot 3 depending on the time of day (im taller in the am) and weigh 300ish (giver or take 10-20 lb) putting me well out of the queen sized panty hose….i swear to go i would KILL for a pair of cute fishnets, but have NEVER found some long enough. (its not bad enough that i am tall…i also am long leggesed and short waisted meaning i better have LONG fucking leges nad like no crotcha t all or it up to my armpits)

    And maybe me and cross dressers are the only one with this problem, but i have GINORMOUS feet. i can go into target, kohls, ect ect and at least find SOMETHING that will fit my rack of doom or amazon like frame. I can NEVER find shoes. i wear an 11w and size 24 tops and 28 bottoms i would rather look for jeans than shoe shop. can i please get sturdy and or cute shoes that feel decent pretty please? im tall and big and ahrd on stuff…you want me to walk more, get active….BUILD FUCKING SHOES FOR MY FAT FEET

  15. 24 Heather 23 June, 2010 at 6:34 am

    Also: shapewear. That underwear which holds you all in so you can wear a nice sleek dress without too many lumps and bumps. I’m amazed this isn’t already widely available – GIANT gap in the market.

    Maybe we’re thinking of different things, but I’ve been buying these for years. That said, I’m in the U.S. Macy’s always has them, but discounted places like Marshalls, TJMaxx, etc. have the same thing for more realistic prices. We called them girdles in my family. Sort of like bike shorts, except they come up high enough to cover your gut. Some go all the way up to the bra. The whole thing is made of spandex and holds stuff in.

    • 25 Elle 23 June, 2010 at 1:21 pm

      That is what I need! I sometimes wish I lived in the US simply because there seems to be much less of a gap in the market there with regards this sort of thing. The only shapewear I’ve ever been able to find in the stores here (New Zealand) is in straight sizes. I ask you, why would someone need a suck-it-all-in pair of knickers in a size 8?? (I think that’s the equivalent of a size 2 US.)

  16. 27 Anita 23 June, 2010 at 8:59 am

    It’s hard for me to find simple black straight skirts that don’t hit above the knee. I have a huge butt so I have to wear something that hits slightly past the knee. I’ve noticed Lane Bryant has gone all short on their skirts lately.

  17. 28 meerkat 23 June, 2010 at 9:49 am

    Good boring business suits. Actually I think it might be difficult for women in general to find business suits that are sufficiently boring and not stylish at all. The good news is that the 2 suits I have come up with were really really on-sale.

  18. 29 inge 23 June, 2010 at 9:57 am

    Impossible to get: Cotton bras. Before microfibre, cotton were the only bras I could wear without breaking out in hives. The largest were two sizes too small.

    Sleeping bags. Most of those are made for men. Those for women are wider at the hips, but *short*. And “wider at the hips” does not mean plus-sized.

    Motorcycle gear. Yes, you can have leather clothing made to size. Does not mean that the tailor has any idea how to keep the pants at a good height in the back when you *sit down*.

    Boots. The widest shafts available at the plus-sized store do not fit me by one inch. I ride my motorbike in ankle boots.

    on Berlin in winter: If the cold doesn’t get you, the damp will. A large wool scarf can make a world of a difference as it keeps the wind and the damp from finding the way into your collar.

    • 30 Frances 23 June, 2010 at 10:30 am

      Thanks for the tip! I’ve already got the perfect scarf – a massive cashmere pashmina from Florence. It’s magic.

    • 31 Elle 23 June, 2010 at 1:23 pm

      Oh my god SLEEPING BAGS. I hadn’t used one for years, and when I got in I found myself so completely encased that I couldn’t move around without the entire thing moving with me! I don’t know where my mother found it, but she managed to finally get a jumbo one – it’s about twice as roomy as a regular sleeping bag, and now whenever I need one, I go and borrow hers…

  19. 32 Michelle 23 June, 2010 at 12:53 pm

    Outdoor wear – definitely. I’m going bushwalking in the NT in winter,and I need shorts in a size 24, but also super warm thermals and polar fleeces for night time when it gets below zero. in the past I have bought menswear and taken the sleeves and length up, but I don’t have big shoulders like men can have, so … doesn’t look good.

    In the past I’ve gotten sporting/cycling clothing from and they are bloody fantastic. although they’re in the US. I think I might just get my hiking shorts from there, actually.

    For this trip, the tour company provides a sleeping bag, but I’m already having nightmares about them not fitting my 57 inch hips. Hopefully they zipper open so I can use it as a blanket. I’m making my own cotton sheet lining just in case I can do it that way (I suspect their option of cotton sleeping sheet will also be too small).

    Maggie T can be a good option for cozy and classy outerwear. I bought a cashmere/wool blend pea coat from them years ago and it is still getting excellent use here in Canberra. I didn’t pay full price for it though – I waited until their sale and then picked it up for $140. Best $140 I’ve ever spent.

    • 33 Frances 23 June, 2010 at 1:01 pm

      I lived in Canberra for 11 months. I couldn’t find boots that fit my calves and, as I wasn’t involved in fat acceptance then, I had no idea that other people had this problem/where I could buy wide calf boots. It’s a miracle I didn’t get frostbite on my toes from walking through wintery Woden early in the morning!

      • 34 Michelle 23 June, 2010 at 7:24 pm

        I’m more of a pants and ankle boot wearer, but I totally hear you on the cold thing! I’m from NQ but I’ve been here almost 19 years. 99% of the time I love it here, but on some frosty mornings it can be a bit hard to take!

        Oh – I meant to add before that I find exercise clothes a total pain to find in plus sizes. Trackies are fine (and warm) but they lose their shape really quickly and before I know it I’m looking entirely slovenly while doing my power walking around the ‘burbs. I’m already big – I don’t need to look sloppy as well.

  20. 35 HellfireLover 24 June, 2010 at 4:01 am

    Skiwear which accommodates a capacious bust and chunky thighs is mighty hard to find – surprising, considering skiers tend to have hefty thigh muscles. I also find swimwear difficult, thanks to broad shoulders and the aforementioned rack o’ doom.

    I have real problems finding fitted blouses for work, since I find my arms, shoulders and bust all strain when the waist fits, and if perchance the sizing goes up to the size needed to fit my upper body, the waist flaps about like a loose tarp in a high breeze.

  21. 36 Pippa 26 June, 2010 at 9:52 am

    MOTORCYCLE GEAR: Try They do leathers and will make to order, not sure of the price though.

    I am actually working on a range of motorcycle jeans and such in larger sizes. Will let you know when I have it happening!


    • 37 Frances 27 June, 2010 at 2:31 am

      Are you a bikie chick, Pippa?

      • 38 Pippa 28 June, 2010 at 5:20 pm

        Not per se – I am merely a passenger who sees a huge gap in the market πŸ™‚

        Whatever you decide for Europe, just make sure you get a long coat – knee length at least, def over the bum. I experienced the pain of a numb, frosted ass one winter in New York and it’s not pleasant!

        Also, whatever shoes you take, make sure that they dry quickly and aren’t too precious because snowy streets means wet soggy feet, and the salt on the sidewalks watermarks/ruins most leather shoes.

  22. 39 Em 26 June, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    Hey love –

    I live in the UK and have travelled to Paris as well over Winter and my wool blend coats have done okay. So long as you are wearing things with wool blended in, a difference is made and felt. I arrived December 24th 2008 and the UK then had a very cold winter – with snow and all… thiis was repeated through 2009’s winter. A key idea, although you may think it sucks – could be to fly in to London. Take a few days… jet lag and shop. Seriously. I am a 20 and have found LOADS of good stuff. I also find thermal wear STRETCHES. I own NO thermal wear above a 16, although here – sizes do go much bigger than that.
    I can always scout for you if you like, too. x.

    • 40 Frances 27 June, 2010 at 2:30 am

      Thanks Em! Yep, if we do end up going I probably will go to London to stock up on some hardcore winter gear. (It’s a handy trip anyway because my sister and her family live there.)

  23. 41 Veronica 27 June, 2010 at 10:31 pm

    Great post, Frances! I’ve just read/skimmed through all the comments, and am now thoroughly depressed. This isn’t the first time I realized that these things are hard to come by, but it’s always been on separate occasions, I’ve never put it togther like this before. Yeah… there’s no other word for it… it’s depressing.

  24. 42 marie 1 July, 2010 at 7:38 am

    I live in Germany and I would suggest to go to berlin and just hit the stores there. Sometimes it’s quite mild in december here, so a fall-coat would do it.
    You won’t have to buy a snow-suit or so, a simple coat with some wool will keep you perfectly warm, besides, with a city trip you should consider layering.
    Some boots or mid-high shoos with a wool inlay (missing correct word here) and knit-pantyhose will be fine under your jeans.
    The big stores with plus size lines in lower price ranges are c&a or h&m, also ulla popken is a big plus-size retailer, but I wouldn’t reccoment them….

    this plus size shop is in berlin and from the website, they look nice to me:

    this is a second-hand shop, sadly with no pics but they carry plus size transvestite-wear and DON’T want h&m or things like that in there shelfs…

    just shout out loud, if you need translation of something special – I’m reading this blog weekly.

  25. 44 Tina 3 July, 2010 at 1:34 am


    am a British size 14 and I am still able to find outdoor and workout clothes. But what strikes me is that a size 14 is often the biggest size the shops carry (XXL), so what about bigger women who enjoy walking, skating or other outdoor activities?

    Frances, Berlin is a great place. I hope you will enjoy your stay. I think, Marie is right about the clothes she recommends for a trip in winter. Try not to wear too tight clothes, for some reason tight clothes do not keep you very warm. Layering is a good idea, you might try a big shawl that covers your shoulders as well. In winter, I always wear big shawls over my coat to keep me warm, I have at least twenty different shawls, red, blue, pink….
    Wool socks are nice in winter, too.


  26. 45 Jane 3 July, 2010 at 8:32 pm

    I have been stressing about what to wear in the freezing cold for months!! My husband and I going to visit my sister in Ottawa, Canada for Christmas and it is going to be sooooooooooo cold! We’ll be away for 6 weeks in Ottawa, Washinton DC, New York, Paris and Phuket and I will definitely need warm clothing for nearly all those places. I will be keeping my eye out on REI and anywhere else I can find. THANK YOU!!

    • 46 Jackie 14 July, 2010 at 2:23 am

      The store I shop in most in Canada for large sizes is Pennington’s (

      Penningtons is a Canadian store that specializes in “plus-size” womens’ clothing, with locations across Canada in all ten provinces

      Check their website for outerwear…you might get lucky.

  27. 47 anikasweetfacedstyle 11 July, 2010 at 3:27 am

    Hi, read your post on your tumblr on identifying as fat, and just wanted to say good for you for standing up for yourself. you might like this post I did on labeling and who has the right to label us. take care πŸ˜€

    xxx Anika

  28. 48 Victoria 12 July, 2010 at 4:02 am

    I know I’m totally late to this conversation, but I had to second the Land’s End suggestion for plus size winter gear.

    I suffered through 2 freezing winters in Chile with my wholly inadequate Australian winter coat, until I found the Land’s End website.

    The only thing I would suggest is to be careful with the sizes – the first coat I bought there was a size 24 and it was ginormous. I had it altered without any hassle though.

  29. 49 Jackie 14 July, 2010 at 2:11 am

    I live in Canada (Edmonton) where you’d think it would be normal to buy serious winter coats (can get to minus 40 Celcius in deep winter). It’s damn near impossible to find winter coats in plus sizes!!! The only long coat I could find in size 28 was only lined with polyester fiberfill. Normally, you’d need a serious parka to survive waiting for the bus in a Canadian winter. All the coats at my usual clothing store were short jackets. How’s a girl supposed to keep her legs from serious frostbite??? Gonna have to start wearing the husband’s long underwear I guess…

  30. 50 p49it 15 July, 2010 at 12:04 am

    Cute bra–playful colors, delicate fabric, and other fancy materials–only exist in small number. Even if available, it cost too much. Why oh why we can’t feel and find beautiful in our undergarment?

  31. 51 Barbara 15 July, 2010 at 4:13 am

    Try LLBean or Landsend! I live in Montana and that’s where I look for my winter gear. They have several styles of plus sized wool coats available. They are expensive but they last. The one I’m replacing lasted 4 winters of constant use, and the only reason I need to replace it is the lining is shot. The one I’m looking at getting for this coming winter started at size 18W, but I did see a 16w in other styles. And they went up from there. Mind both of these stores are mail order or online order only as far as I know. They also carry down parkas and other styles of winter coats in plus sizes. Along with long johns and long sleeved shirts. Though the clothing selection on both of these can be very…outdoorsy.

  32. 52 Ashlee 22 July, 2010 at 4:28 am

    I used to dance (ballet and contemporary) as a plus size teen, and it was almost nightmarish to find dancewear. lucky my mother and some of her friends were fairly handy with a sewing machine. There ain’t no retailer selling proper tutus in plus sizes…

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