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Your Favorite Internet Shopping Guide to Stylish Plus-Size Clothing: Sizes 12 +



Plus-size Clothing Sizing Report
What Are the Differences Among the Various Clothing Cuts?


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Understanding sizing is perhaps the most challenging part of shopping on the internet for the plus-size woman.  One aspect is that there are a number of sizing cuts or types that can fall into the plus-size range (14+), each of which in theory will fit different body types best.  The other is that there really are no industry-wide standards when it comes to sizing and fit.  Good designers and manufacturers pay close attention to quality control, fit issues, and size consistently across their offerings, but one brand may run larger or smaller than another for the same size.  This means knowing your own measurements and reading the provided sizing charts are essential when on-line shopping. 

More sophisticated and larger department stores (like Nordstrom) and shopping channels (such as QVC) offer garment specific fit tips, while many shopping sites (like Zappos) provide customer feedback on specific items that is often very valuable in understanding fit and garment quality issues. Taking the time to share with others your own shopping fit experience after a purchase - good or bad - will help others make their own buying decisions and build a group knowledge base. Reputable retailers will leave both types of comments available for review, and savvy buyers and designers will use the feedback to improve future offerings. Finally, some direct from manufacturer sites (such as eShakti and Light-in-the-Box) offer not only low, close-to- wholesale prices, but the ability to customize garments to your own measurements for a nominal fee. This is especially helpful for women with hard to fit body types such as plus petites or plus talls, or who wear super sizes (26+).

Specific figure fitting problems can also be accommodated through style and fabric types, and once you know your own problem spots and the "tricks" it becomes easier to choose styles that will work for you through the product images and descriptions provided in on-line shopping catalogs. This will be covered in a separate article. Right now, let's focus on the different cut types and what those sizes really mean.

Fit Types or Cuts That Are Frequently Referred to as "Plus-Size"

There are actually several cuts or fit types that are commonly referred to as "plus-size". Each is better suited to different body types.  Keep in mind that almost no body - thin or curvaceous - fits clothing off the rack perfectly. A tailor is the secret weapon of fashionistas of every size.  Mass produced apparel can only get just so close, but the following should help in finding a fit that works best for you.

Women's Sizes

Women's Sizes for a long time were the only cut type referred to as "plus-size" and the two were regularly used interchangeably. It's still one of the most common, but that is no longer the case as other cut types have been extended upwards in their size range above a size 13/14 in recent years.  Originally mainly more classic in style to appeal to older women, this also is no longer true, and women's sizes can come in anything from classic to trendy styles.

Numerically Women's Sizes are even numbered, generally beginning at a 14 or 16 in most brands, but it is possible to find Women's Sizes as small as a 10 in some plus specialty designer lines.  The key to understanding if this is the cut being represented is the use of a "W" at the end of the numerical size.  For example: 20W.  Almost all "super sizes"  (26W+), with the exception of formalwear, will be this cut type.

Women's Sizes are cut with some key fit components.  First, arm holes should be more generous. A common tip off that pattern fitting and grading hasn't been done properly during production in a brand is problems with the arms, but if the garment is a true women's size arm holes should be lower and larger.  There is also more room in the bust area, and again lower.  Meanwhile, waists are more generously cut in this fit type as well.  This tends to be the best cut type for apple shaped figures.  Sometimes a top or bottom in this cut will suit other figure types especially well, for example, if a customer is especially busty.  Ironically, the larger arm hole is most important for figure types that carry extra weight in their arms which is not always true of apples, and more common in some others that may or may not need the extra room in the bust or waist areas.

None of this means that a garment cannot be fitted and figure hugging, it merely indicates how the piece is cut.  More problematic is the common usage of more generic size labeling that uses the 1X, 2X, 3X, etc system.  This can refer to several cut types, and furthermore which numerical sizes are encompassed in each depends on the designer.   The best retailers will indicate which sizes correlate with which.  For example: 1X (14-16W), or 1X (16-18W).  Occasionally a retailer may try to use vanity sizing in this system, starting with a Small which is really the bottom of their plus-size range.  Often this causes more confusion for the customer, especially with new customers and can be off putting.  Again, savvy retailers will include a numerical size equivalent in the size selection menu. For example: M (16-18W).  It's an ill advised strategy to make women feel good about themselves that more often than not back fires when it comes to knowing what size to order on-line, but it is important to know that this size labeling variation is out there.

Misses Sizes

The Misses cut is the one most straight size clothing is available in. Styles tend to be classic to contemporary, although trendier detailing can also be seen occasionally.  Most ideal for evenly balanced figure types, the waist to hip ratio is closer to the classic hour glass in proportion.  Pear shaped women often also do better with this cut type if they can find it in their size, although frequently take different sizes top and bottom.  Larger hour glass figure types can run into trouble with this cut if they carry extra weight in the upper arm and thighs, as the pattern grading rarely takes this into account in Misses Sizes.

Also designated by even numbers, Misses Sizes do not carry the "W" at the end.  A Misses Size 14 will fit differently than a Women's Size 14W, and it is not unusual to wear a larger numerical size in Misses than in Women's in order to accommodate for particular figure issues such as heavier upper arms, thicker thighs, or a less well defined waist. 

Misses Sizes used to end at a 12 or 14 in most clothing lines, and still do in exclusive, high-end designerwear, but a growing number of low-to-mid market level clothing lines have been extended to include sizes 16, 18 and even size 20.  Formalwear can come as large as a 32 in the Misses cut, and hence the reputation for formalwear running small. The average woman in the United States wears a size 14-16, so it is not a surprise that many lines have expanded to include these sizes.  Fits, however, can be a little funky if pattern grading isn't tweaked somewhat at the upper sizes.  For example arm lengths can be excessively long in proportion if the designer has failed to pay attention to fit details.  When using the non-numerical system XL, XXL, XXXL is usually used for the upper-sizes in misses lines (and sometimes junior lines).  Again, savvy on-line retailers will indicated which numerical sizes are being included in each of these designations. It is not unusual for retailers that carry some styles in the Misses cut larger than a 14, but not all, to use the term "Extended Sizes" in their menu navigation to find the 14+ styles available.  This term can also be used for Talls and Petites, as well.

Another issue that is starting to crop up is that as the Plus Market heats up, some manufacturers and designers are entering without separate fittings for their plus-size lines.  Instead they are simply grading up Misses cut patterns and slapping a Women's Size label on them.  Fit problems almost always ensue and the line eventually is discontinued as unsuccessful.  Unfortunately it is rarely recognized as a fit problem, and is often blamed on plus-size women, themselves, being uninterested in shopping.

Junior Plus Sizes

Clothing made in Junior Sizes is the trendiest and often some of the least expensive in fabric quality and materials.  Who wants to spend a fortune on something that is going to be out of style tomorrow, right?   But the cut is also very different.   The idea is that younger (junior) bodies are less well developed than older women's so have fewer curves.  If you look around you know this not to be true, but it is how the cut evolved.  Consequently, the cut is straighter with less room in the bust and thighs, and less of a difference between hip and waist than either the Misses or Women's cuts.

Junior Sizes are designated numerically with odd numbers, although sometimes it is designated as a dual odd/even pairing. For example: Size 15/16.  The even number is closer to a Misses size than a Women's, meaning Junior cuts appear to run smaller.  This can be especially confusing when the 1X, 2X, 3X system is in place as a 3X may be as small as a 19/20 so be sure to check sizing charts.  Easiest to understand is on a junior trendy site which extends it's sizes upward to Junior Plus and uses the XL, XXL, XXXL system which is an instant flag that the sizing will run smaller than 1X, 2X, 3X and to be careful to check charts. A good example of this is teen trendy retailers such as Rainbow. Some of the popular Fast Fashion retailers such as BooHoo also use this sizing system.

However, many department stores carry Junior Plus Sizes using the 1X, 2X system but will flag a garment as a Junior cut. Meanwhile some trendy retailers like Forever 21 will use 1X, 2X as size designations but customer feedback and social media discussions often flag it as running small. This is because they are, in fact, Junior Plus Sizes. Somewhat confusing are trendy plus retailers like Asos and Ashley Stewart that use the Women's Size cut discussed above, so be aware that style is no longer an automatic give away to cut type. The best policy is to check size charts, and know your measurements, especially with trendy styles.

Extended Specialty Sizes

Retailers can use the "Extended Sizes" category in their web navigation to mean a number of things.  If it is a retailer or designer who is known for regular Misses Sizes, it may simply be where to find the Plus-Size section.  However, it can also be where to find styles available on the site available larger than a size 24 (Super Sizes), Talls, and Petites, depending upon the retailer.

Petite Plus

Petite Plus-Sizes can either be based on the Women's Size cut or the Misses Size cut, depending on the retailer. For example, those found at a plus-specialty retailer like Catherine's will all be based on the Women's cut, while those at a retailer like Old Pueblo Traders will both extend Misses Petite cuts and offer select Women's Petite sizes. Look for the "W" in the sizing to differentiate. For example: 24WP is a Women's Petite, while 18P is a Misses Petite.

Petite Sizes have some other factors that make them different as well. If a pair of pants or jeans are designated "Short", they are merely shorter in inseam. However, if they are a true Petite the fit will be different in other areas as well. Rises on pants will be shorter, waists and bust lines placed with petite proportions in mind, and sleeve lengths shorter. True Petites also tend to run slightly smaller than their Misses or Women's counterparts, so it is not unusual to have to go up a size in Petites.

The average height of the American woman is 5'4", so it is surprising that there aren't more Petite Sizes available. Many make do with approximate fits and hemming, but with some looking there are options out there, mainly in classic styles.

Tall Plus

Tall Plus-Sizes are probably the hardest sizes to find. Like Petite Plus they are available in Women's and Misses derived cuts. Talls are usually designed for women 5'9" or taller, although more plus specialty brands design with shorter customers in mind with pant and hem lengths more suitable for women 5'6" and shorter, closer to national averages. This can cause extra problems for taller women when buying off the rack.  Longer inseams are available from several jeans and denim companies including Silver Jeans.

Companies such as Long Tall Sally and  Lands' End will offer true Talls based on the Misses cut in a wider variety of clothing types.

 "Longs" or longer than average inseam lengths in pants and jeans are also available. However, true Talls have higher rises, waists and busts placed with tall proportions in mind, and longer sleeve, and shirt hem lengths. It is rare for a Tall specialty retailer to offer larger than a 20T, although if anyone is likely to wear larger sizes it's tall women. Unlike petites, the solution to fit problems are not a quick hemming job at the tailor. The answer, as frustrating as it may seem, is being extra aware of skirt, dress and pant hem and inseam lengths in product descriptions and where they will fall on your body. Some brands do design with inseam lengths suitable for medium talls, so don't discount regular plus-size offerings entirely. Maxi dress and maxi skirt trends also offer opportunities to find longer lengths than are usually available.

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