growing a minimalist wardrobe: extended sizing.

April 25, 2019
extended sizing in ethical fashion | reading my tea leaves
The Tie-Dress from Hackwith Design, offered in sizes +1-+4.

When we talk about ethical clothing, we’re often talking about how clothes get made. We ask questions about the where and the what and the who of what happens before clothes are ever worn. Less often, we ask questions about what happens after clothes have outlived their usefulness. (What do we do about clothing waste? Are we repairing, or donating, or digging clothes back into the soil?). Still more rare is to question the ethics of who gets to wear what. Who’s represented and included in the ethical fashion conversations—not to mention on the racks and in the lookbooks—from a consumer point of view?

68% of American women wear size 14 and above. Indeed, the average American woman wears between a size 16 and 18—a range that’s considered plus-size by the majority of the fashion industry. And yet the options available in these sizes remain incredibly limited. Why is it so difficult for folks searching for ethical and sustainable options to find clothing sized to fit?

This week, I invited Aja Barber to help us crack open the subject of plus-size fashion and extended sizing, especially as it relates to ethical fashion. Aja offers her tried-and-true tips below.

The Bel Skirt from Elizabeth Suzann, offered in sizes XXS-4XL

Here’s more from Aja:

Clothes shopping and fashion can be an arena that leaves large groups of people feeling intimidated and left out in the cold. Because we exist in a world that doesn’t make space for everyone, we have large groups of the population who feel forgotten when it comes to fashion and style. (Raises hand.)

Changing the landscape of fashion means that folks of all sizes need to start joining the conversation and speaking out too. It’s going to take all hands on deck in order to fix these problems. For far too long, people who fall into the category of standard size haven’t been forced to look at or acknowledge the problem. Now that we are on the precipice of what is a new dawn for fashion production, consumption, sustainability and ethics, it’s high time we start to look out for each other and realize that ethical fashion also means fashion that’s inclusive and diverse. In the last twenty years, I have been a variety of sizes. Navigating my own changes in size have allowed me the unique opportunity to view the fashion industry from multiple sides and to see exactly where some of the problems are. Even when I was at my smallest and would have been considered “standard size” by the industry, I still couldn’t fit into some designers’ trousers, which says a lot about who the majority of clothing is made for.

Today, when I’m not microblogging on Instagram, or writing, or helping my clients of all sizes pick out clothing they’re going to love, I am actively reaching out to brands that I enjoy to ask for more inclusive sizing, in addition to better representation of all kinds in their spaces and lookbooks. Often I make headway but sometimes I don’t get a response at all. It’s tiresome and it’s SO worth it.  Until every brand and designer is as diverse as we’d like it to be, here are some of my pointers for shopping more ethically when you don’t fit into “standard size” (whatever that means).

The Charli Dress* from Reformation, offered in sizes up to 3x.

Try avante garde (and secondhand):

I personally gravitate towards more avant garde designers because they tend to make clothing that I can move in freely and that fits a variety of shapes. I was in Japan last month and I was on the lookout for designers like Issey Miyake,Comme Des Garcons, and Junya Watanabe. I ended up with a gorgeous dress and two very nice jacket/sweaters by sleuthing in secondhand shops for the names of designers who I love

Buying second-hand, in my opinion is the most sustainable shopping one can do and I never feel guilty about it. I’m saving something from the landfill and I’m not driving the demand for fast fashion. Luckily there are even a few places to shop online:

+ thredUP*: As a stylist many of my clients have had good luck with thredUP which has a dedicated plus-size section.  Being able to filter through the entire inventory of clothes to find clothes that you know might fit can feel so encouraging. Be sure to filter by size so you’re not hit with a flood of material.

+ eBay*: When you really truly know what brands you like and you know your size and how the clothing fits, you also can’t lose with eBay. I just bought a Junya Watanabe x Marimekko dress on eBay recently and I’m so excited to get it.  It’s also great for brands like Universal Standard.

Go custom:

If you know your style and you really know what you want, consider having someone make you exactly what you’re looking for, made to measure. You could find a local tailor to work with, but increasingly I turn to the internet. There’s a wealth of tailors and makers all over the world who can make exactly what you’d like, and sometimes for not that much more money than fast fashion brands. Cost aside, having clothing made to order isn’t nearly as wasteful as the fast fashion process is. It gives me great personal joy to see my money going directly to the maker. Sure, it takes a bit more time, and you need to know your measurements, but what you receive in return is going to be made JUST. FOR. YOU.

+Etsy*: When looking for custom-made clothes, I almost never go wrong with Etsy. From my perspective, Etsy stores really give makers back their power and help build small businesses in communities worldwide, which seems to be good for everyone. For the most part, I’ve been incredibly happy. People often write to me worried about bad experiences, but I’ve only had one experience with a shop I wouldn’t patronize again. One pro-tip: Read the feedback from other customers carefully before taking the plunge with a new shop you don’t have experience with.

Hire a professional:

If all of this still sounds daunting to you (it’s not everyone’s cup of tea), consider working with a stylist. It’s more affordable than most people think and sometimes it’s good to have someone to hold your hand, help you make new outfits with combinations you wouldn’t normally wear, and push you to have the courage you need to try a new styles. Ultimately, you save money when you buy clothing you like because there’s a lot less trial and error than when you’re wandering around trying to do it on your own. No matter what, everyone deserves to wear beautiful clothing that they feel happy in and I hope you find something out there which makes you feel good.

The Pleated Culottesfrom And Comfort, offered in sizes 0X-4X.

A few of my favorite brands for new ethical clothes with extended sizing:

+Universal Standard (My clients’ personal favorite.)

+ Elizabeth Suzann  (A favorite among my Instagram friends’.)

+ Hackwith Design House (They just introduced some cute swimwear pieces.)

+ Girlfriend Collective  (I have a pair of their leggings that I love.)

+Tuesday Bassen (A lot of fun clothes that remind me of the best bits of the 90s.)

+ Reformation* (I hope plus sizes are here to stay this time!)

+And Comfort (A great place to start building a capsule wardrobe.)

The Retie One-Piece in Thistle from Hackwith Design House, offered is sizes XS-+4.5.

What about all of you guys? Favorite places to shop ethically that serve a wide range of sizes?

Aja Barber is a writer, stylist and consultant who lives in London. Aja writes about fashion, style, race, and feminism because all of those things intersect! You can read and support her work on Patreon and follow along with regular updates on Instagram. She enjoys matcha lattes and helping people shop better for clothing they’re really going to love.  

* Denotes affiliate links. Reading My Tea Leaves might earn a small commission on the goods purchased through those links. Several of the brands mentioned above are current or past sponsors of this site. This post is not sponsored and brands were included at the author’s choosing.

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  • Reply Judith A Ross April 25, 2019 at 3:37 pm

    What a lovely surprise to find Aja Barber on your site today. Her words about fashion, sustainability, race, feminism (as well as class issues) are insightful, wise, and provoke meaningful soul searching. Her posts have helped me formulate a more accepting and less judge-y attitude towards size and beauty, starting with an adored family member. Thank you Aja for all that you do.

  • Reply MissEm April 25, 2019 at 5:22 pm

    I love this! Thank you! After the birth of my second child, I went from a size 8 to a size 12/14 and never went back down. Suddenly I couldn’t wear as many of the clothes and brands I used to love, and it felt weirdly like I was now excluded from the club of legitimate women bc I’d “sized out” of valid femininity and beauty. I still haven’t figured out how to dress, and it’s frustrating to want to buy from independent designers and be told they haven’t figured out how to make plus sizes yet (still feeling bummed about realizing that Christy Dawn’s biggest dresses only fit about a size 10 – though they said they are working on larger sizes but you’re working on it or you’re “working on it,” you know?). I know Madewell isn’t as ethical a company but I do love that they are offering slightly larger sizes and photos of larger women in their clothes. So excited to have this list of links and ideas now! Thank you, Aja and Erin!

  • Reply Cait April 25, 2019 at 8:00 pm

    Love all your posts on growing a minimalist wardrobe. Something I would love to read more about is tall sizes- I’m just over 6′, and find lots of brands have shirts that are crop length/too short on me, and virtually every jacket or blazer is at best a 7/8 length on me. There are a few brands that have specific ‘tall’ lines- Elizabeth Suzann is great, and JCrew has tall, but any recommendations for sustainable clothes with tall/long sizing would be very welcome!

    • Reply Nicole April 25, 2019 at 10:27 pm

      Yes, please! As a fellow tall girl, I would also love to buy more sustainable clothing, but always skew toward avoiding the inadvertent crop top or too-short sleeves instead.

      • Reply ERIN BOYLE May 1, 2019 at 10:32 am

        Hi there! You guys might have good luck with Sotela. I featured their pants in yesterday’s Make-Believe post. They’ve flouted convention and chosen to produce three inseam lengths and use their own sizing guide, 0-10, which fits traditional sizes 0-2 through 28-30. Worth a look!

    • Reply Ann April 26, 2019 at 1:27 am

      I have the same height as you (187 cm) and I deal with the same issues. It is a pet peeve of mine, and I had a long chat with a woman working in a local store that sells sustainable clothing. They try to have clothing in more diverse sizes, but it is a struggle, she said. I don’t fit into much of their clothing, but I would love to. And I am so, so tired of feeling wrong. It is like the brands tell me that I am not allowed to be that kind of person. I am not allowed to be that kind of feminine. Many of the clothes from brands with tall-sections don’t work on me either, because I am not thin enough. So I don’t buy from them anymore. I refuse to feel wrong about my body anymore. I mostly buy thrifted clothes and vintage pieces, often men’s clothing and shoes, and I rock them. And I get pieces altered as well. But oh how I would love sustainable and ethical brands to be more diverse in their sizing! I just discovered the Danish sustainable brand Laøhlé (on insta they are ‘laohle’), and they seem to do work that would fit more people. It is a rare find!

      • Reply Kris Erskine May 1, 2019 at 6:08 am

        If you were in Hobart, Tasmania I’d tell you to go visit Oyster+Pearl, which is run by a tall woman, the fantastic Prue who designs all her clothes. I’m 5″7 (167cm) and my eldest daughter is 6″ (185cm), we’ve both found beautiful, long wearing items that fit neatly into the minimalist wardrobes we’re both slowly evolving. If you have a look at insta you’ll see her clothing there.

    • Reply Mary Kate April 26, 2019 at 12:20 pm

      And I’d adore a listing like the above for curvy petites. I’m very short but especially after the birth of my child I need clothes with room in the bust! I don’t think they exist but find the advice on custom clothing really interesting I did not know that was affordable!

      • Reply Debra May 31, 2019 at 12:25 pm

        I’ve had a great experience with *The Tiny Closet* in Los Angeles. Check out their online store. Natalie Diaz creates wonderful shapes for a capsule wardrobe. I’m short and curvy and her pieces are well made and look great on me. I also support plus size women and inclusive sizing. My shape is difficult to dress, but I recognize that plus size women have it even worse.

  • Reply Abby April 25, 2019 at 8:25 pm

    Thank you SO much for this post. I usually end up fitting into “standard” sizing but because of my long torso, it’s hard to find clothes that actually fit my body the way I want them to. Jeans, shirts, dresses (god forbid)–shopping for any of them usually ends up with me feeling frustrated. I’ve started trying to adapt or make my clothes with what limited sewing skills I have, but it’s tedious to have to teach myself something when I just want clothes that fit! Now! I realize I’m in a much more privileged position than many other folks, but it’s still so helpful to hear about this.

  • Reply L Nell April 26, 2019 at 9:50 am

    This is great! Do you have a favorite Etsy contact who makes custom clothing? Would love to know your referrals.

  • Reply Amanda B April 26, 2019 at 2:23 pm

    Some additional recommendations for my fellow larger (and tall!) ladies:

    Jamie + the Jones – XL in most pieces easily accommodates a 22/24. 3/4 length sleeves that actually hit between elbow and wrist on my very long (and very broad shouldered) arms. Extended lengths available. Beautifully finished pieces that tailor well, should that be something you require. Extended sizes are supposed to be launched in May, I think.
    Skargon 60 and 61 tees – L tees fit a 20/22. XL available in some colors. Heavyweight, hard-wearing basics that can be found on eBay or Poshmark, as well as first-hand.
    Eileen Fisher – Sizing can vary widely, but there is a dedicated ‘plus’ line. Would greatly appreciate individual garment measurements on their site vs the generic size chart, though.
    Alice Alexander – Sizes 0-28

    One thing I would like to see acknowledged and addressed by the brands moving to extend their sizing: Why do the extended size offerings often include only a limited (sometimes very much so) selection of the items available for straight sizes? Looking at you HDH, Reformation, EF… If you truly want to be an inclusive brand, all items should be available in the entire size spectrum you are serving. Do not offer only the most basic and/or least revealing pieces to your larger customers. That’s still attempting to force our bodies into a very narrow box while taking our dollars and patting yourselves on the back for being a size-inclusive company. DO BETTER.

  • Reply Kimberly April 28, 2019 at 1:09 pm

    I am tearing up. Thank you for this!

  • Reply Alix April 29, 2019 at 9:03 pm

    If anyone is seeking stylist services, I’ve heard great things about Cuniform, a sustainable styling firm. They’re based in Portland but offer their services around the country. They also have a big focus on sustainability, so they donate clothes you no longer want and they also source pieces you may be lacking from secondhand resellers. Plus they have a sliding scale for fees to make it more affordable. I haven’t used them myself, but I’ve heard wonderful feedback!

  • Reply Heather May 1, 2019 at 2:42 am

    Thank you so much for this post! Women who fit into “straight” sizes are vital allies in the body positive movement, which this post illustrates beautifully. Most of us don’t fit into the very narrow space our culture allows for women’s bodies, or haven’t in the past, or won’t in the future. And it’s not our bodies that are the problem.

  • Reply Debra May 31, 2019 at 12:19 pm

    Excellent article. Thank you for making space for Aja Barber on your blog. I encourage others to follow her on Instagram and support her on Patreon. I’ve learned so much from her.

  • Reply Shoshana May 31, 2019 at 3:07 pm

    SO happy to see Aja here. You can actually buy a styling session with her on her Patreon account if you want custom help.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE May 31, 2019 at 3:10 pm

      Yay! So happy to have her! Patreon linked to above!

  • Reply Alexandra Suhner Isenberg June 13, 2019 at 2:25 pm

    I’m genuinely surprised at how few businesses offer plus-sized clothing. I’ve got a sleepwear company (The Sleep Shirt) and we launched a plus version of our classic nightshirt a few years ago. We had a few plus sized ladies test the product, and we did some focus groups talking about fit issues and also branding. I’d be exaggerating if I said that it was a raging success from day one, but the growth in this category has been steady and the numbers show that it has been quite profitable. It’s surprising that more companies have not tried to capitalize on this market. The decision to launch plus was originally made because we wanted to be size inclusive but now it is also a key part of our business.

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