Help me transition from plus-size to straight-size clothing
April 5, 2020 5:15 AM   Subscribe

I was Very Fat Woman and now I'm just Fat, and given my height/weight/body shape I'm right on the brink of transitioning down from 1X size into "straight sizes." This is bringing up both practical and psychological issues as I try to get new clothes, mostly via online shopping.

If you've made this transition, can you please help me with the following:

Practical: Trying to understand how to make this transition with brands that feature both plus and straight sizes. It feels like there's some mysterious overlap where I am shrinking out of 1X but I should not go right to their biggest straight size? If you did this, how did you figure out what size you should try first?

Practical: I'm experiencing issues where brands that have larger straight sizes -- like, 16 -- and also a line of plus sizes -- like, that includes 16 -- those two 16s are not the same cut. The straight 16 is smaller in myriad ways than the plus 16. Aargh. Is there...any key to figure out this issue?

Psychological: After years -- decades -- of being Very Fat, I had become accustomed to online shopping at retailers that happened to use plus-size models. I like this, even if I acknowledged that these models were mostly not that fat. I could look at them and imagine how this clothing would look on my body. However, as I set my preferences to a smaller size, I'm suddenly confronted with twig-sized 00 models who are, like, so skinny as to literally disturb me. I don't read fashion mags and I don't subscribe to these ideals of beauty and yet it's making it almost impossible for me to shop, to have to look at these images and then imagine my body in these clothes.

Help. I need new clothes. I'm literally falling out of my old clothes. I shop now?
posted by anonymous to Shopping (14 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Both HSN and QVC sell a lot of clothes in your sizes (former and present). The live models frequently are a variety of shapes and sizes. This is HSN's basic size chart. This is QVC's.

In addition, most presentations will detail the measurements for each size, and many of the presentations are available to view online.

Disclaimer: I'm not shilling for HSN or QVC.
posted by Dolley at 5:40 AM on April 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

Are you at a point where your size is stabilising or are you still changing a lot? That will determine of where you spend your time and money at the moment.

Especially if you are still changing a stopgap measure may be alterations. If you have clothes that generally work with your shape/how weight is distributed over your body but they are now too big identify some good quality staples and have them taken in to get a bit more wear out of them as you figure out what brands may have patterns that work for you now and going forward.

It may help you to think about/learn a bit about garment construction-even if you don’t plan to ever do any sewing. Hear me out on this - understanding about patterns and proper fit and alterations will help you understand what you’re buying and makes it more likely you buy things that either fit or can be altered easily to fit.

Standard patterns used to mass produce clothes make a lot of assumptions about average bone structure and average distribution of muscle and weight and also about how form fitting or otherwise the target group likes their clothes. Then they make patterns to fit this theoretical person. They also make assumptions about how much and what to change as you go up in size. The reason why your size 16 regular vs plus is cut very differently is because the assumptions to get from size 0 to size 16 regular are very different than when you start from a size 16 plus to size 24 plus. So if your 16 plus is a bit too generous in places but a 16 regular is still too tight in places that’s why.

It is always easier to make things a bit smaller than to make them bigger so buy the plus size and make or pay for a slight alteration until the regular is no longer too tight. One reason why making things bigger is really difficult is that fast fashion minimises cost per garment by minimising the amount of fabric used by minimising seam allowances. And you need generous seam allowances to let out a garment/make it a bit bigger in strategic places.

As you explore regular sizing consider how much ease the clothing line seems to provide. Ease is how loose the item is meant to be on the body - even tightly fitting clothes are cut with some ease because you need to be able to move your body. But a line that is form fitting on your twig model is designed to be form fitting in all sizes. So if you are the upper end of shape their largest size is able to accommodate on paper chances are it will be too tight in places. If the garment is shown to fit loosely on the twig there is a better chance that it may fit somebody at the upper end of the size range, although it will be more form fitting on such a person. And if that works really depends on exactly where you carry weight and where the garment is designed to be loosely fitting. If these areas are not the same it won’t fit at all. And if the garment is designed to fit loosely and is tighter on you it may also simply not have the silhouette it has on the twig and may not look nice, even if it is not technically too tight to move in and is comfortable otherwise.
posted by koahiatamadl at 5:58 AM on April 5, 2020 [7 favorites]

For jeans, the “W” size is better in the 16 and 18 sizes. They are harder to find, and honestly I don’t know exactly why or how they are cut differently, but they are. I’ve been stuck for years in the 16-18-plus-W size and there’s just no easy way. Plus sizes are too big and regular sizes are too small. Most regular 18’s are too tight, and most 16W’s fit great. But they are hard to find.
posted by raisingsand at 6:13 AM on April 5, 2020

there's no one secret, unfortunately. Women's sizing is hard no matter where you are on the size-o-meter.

I've been in the range where you are, coming from the other side of it.

One thing that seems to be true is that the "W" or "plus" sizes are generally cut to be more forgiving of fatness on an otherwise small-average framed woman. As a woman of average height with a short waist, I did much better in a 14W than in a 16. The 16 is for average fatness on a larger frame, not for additional fatness on an average frame.

Your local dry cleaner may be able to do alterations, even if you don't have a "real" alterations shop nearby. Mine does. Not everything can be easily altered, but some things - like taking in a waist on pants that otherwise fit - are extremely worthwhile and easy to get done.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:15 AM on April 5, 2020 [5 favorites]

Another thought on visualising sizes. There are brands such as Universal Standard, that offer clothes across a very wide spectrum of sizes. They also have models of a range of sizes model them on their website. One of the reasons why this is not done by more brands is because you can’t just take the standard pattern and grade it up from twig to size 40. You basically have to draft a new pattern at intervals to accommodate how sizes change in real life. If you do look at their website, note that the clothes do not fit equally well on all the models. For example, they make assumptions about arm length and whilst a jacket may fit a shorter, large person well in terms of width quite a few of the pictures show short, wide models with sleeves either pushed up the arms or sleeves stopping well below the wrist. The same jacket is worn by a taller, more slender model and the arms fit as well as the rest. I am not dissing them, I love a lot of their stuff, this is merely to illustrate that even brands that try to get it right are struggling to get it right for all variations of shape. The alternative is petite sizes, which they do for a lot of things, but not all. Or to use different standard arm lengths that is much too short on a longer limbed person. And at that point you’re back at having to make alterations and that it is easier to make things shorter than longer.
posted by koahiatamadl at 6:20 AM on April 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

This is often called "midsize" or "in-between". (Which usually starts around size 12/14) Try searching on Youtube for some fashion bloggers and their clothing hauls or fitting room try-ons for someone of a similar shape or size. Also look for brands that are "size inclusive." Of course, some are still split into plus and straight sizing but others are just the same item in all sizes. (Of course, the fit model and cuts may change at a certain size still.)

Old Navy, Madewell, American Eagle, Universal Standard, and some Target listings are some off the top of my head that show various sizes of model. ASOS is actually working on this and a few newer listings have their new option with a variety of models in different sizes and heights.
posted by Crystalinne at 6:28 AM on April 5, 2020

Honestly I found no really good way to know online besides just going into stores and trying things. And I continually have to remind myself that when I try on clothes and they don't hang right, to try on smaller sizes. It's been years since I started to lose weight, but I still struggle with the concept that clothes might be too big instead just not that flattering.

In a perfect world I'd go to a store where you like the overall clothing aesthetic early in the day and have a salesperson help you. Of course that's not entirely practical right now. So one place I'd suggest looking right now is eshakti where every piece is custom to your measurements. You don't have to worry about sizing period. Or someplace like ModCloth where people upload pictures of themselves wearing the clothes with notes about their sizes, and most people leave detailed reviews about fit.
posted by Caravantea at 7:13 AM on April 5, 2020

I wear a size 16/18. I have an ample belly, and no hips and no butt. 16W/18W fit me better in the waist but are comically large in my hips and butt. Straight size 16/18 fit me much better in the hips and butt but are always a bit tight in the waist. Sigh. ... All to say my experience is that plus-size bottoms are much more sized for pear shaped folks. I find straight sized bottoms at Old Navy to be generous in the waist and that's where I seem to find my best fitting jeans.
posted by Pineapplicious at 8:00 AM on April 5, 2020 [2 favorites]

So, I've definitely been there. I, too, was a Very Fat Woman, and now I'm not anymore. My street cred is successful gastric bypass surgery. My advice is: Embrace returns.

Seriously - buy a range of sizes that seem like they would fit you, and be prepared to send most of them back. The problem isn't just the sizing; the problem is that every brand sizes things differently. And even if you get two brands that "fit" you at the same size, in that you can physically close the clothes around your body comfortably - the actual fit of them will be different, such that one may make you look fabulous and one may make you look like a potato. Sadly, because of the way modeling works, you will never be able to tell for sure from the pictures on the web site. Even if the model looks like she's shaped like you, she's got pins you can't see holding stuff together so she looks awesome no matter what.

So yeah. Buy a lot of stuff. Send back what doesn't work, and keep what does.

I wish I could help with the psychological aspects, but honestly, that's going to be different for everyone. The shopping part never bugged me. It's possibly because during my big "transitional phase" to smaller lady, I did a lot of my shopping in person, on the cheap - at Target, or sometimes a thrift shop. I knew I wasn't going to be any single size for long, and didn't want to waste my money. Those options are likely not terribly available to you right now (thanks, covid).

I will say this, though, for practical advice: You can probably wear a J.Jill medium or large right now with no problems, because that is a brand that is extremely forgiving; and you might want to avoid Eddie Bauer, as their sizing is not at all generous; I consistently needed a 1x or 2x in Eddie Bauer pants when I was a medium for just about every other brand. Random A-line/swing dresses and leggings can be found easily online, and can be very good friends (and also work in almost all weather, with the right accessories).
posted by invincible summer at 8:21 AM on April 5, 2020 [6 favorites]

I’ve done this a few times (sigh) and now I just order things from Old Navy with their copious coupon codes. There’s definitely a point where the largest straight size intersects with the smallest plus size for sure. Also, their swing dresses are generous in both straight and plus sizes and can be worn a little skimpy or big and still look all right.
posted by 41swans at 9:05 AM on April 5, 2020 [2 favorites]

There's a lot of good information in these responses, but fingersandtoes really nails it.
This is coming from a person who's gone both in and out of plus sizes, and has done professional costuming and tailoring: US women's sizes are bonkers. There is no meaningful industry standard.
If you buy from places that give a size chart, and are able to take good measurements of your own body, you've got a good start. But I would advise buying from online retailers who will take returns, because you're absolutely going to run into stuff that looks and sounds like it will fit properly but just doesn't once you get it on.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:13 AM on April 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

I don’t know if these businesses are still shipping due to the virus, but a subscription like Stitch Fix might be useful so that you can try on different brands without committing.

Otherwise, I agree that women’s clothes shopping is a total crapshoot regardless of size.
posted by Autumnheart at 10:25 AM on April 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

First off, the proportions for plus sizes are different than those for 'straight' sizes; so there isn't a even progression from straight sizes to plus sizes. Plus sizes generally have more ease, and are cut wider/fuller in the shoulders, belly, and thighs than even nominally equivalent regular sizes. If you still have plus proportions, then regular sizes won't fit well. (and vice versa - theoretically, I wear 0x, but every single 0x top I've ever tried on is waaaay too big in the neck & shoulders, and 14W trousers just don't fit at all.)

Clothing sizing is bonkers. Pretty much all you can be sure of is that in the same style and color, a 14 will be bigger than a 10 and smaller than a 16, but that's about it.

You need to have a current, accurate, set of measurements as a starting point. Be prepared to return stuff. Then bracket the size you think you'll need.

Jessica London and Lane Bryant both have smaller plus sizes (I think they go down to a 12W) and their sizes are pretty consistent.
posted by jlkr at 10:58 AM on April 5, 2020 [2 favorites]

Lane Bryant carries plus sizes under the name Woman Within.

posted by Cranberry at 12:11 AM on April 6, 2020

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