Plus-sized women face certain challenges shopping for stylish clothes. Though my choices used to be limited to a few mall stores, now competition in this growing market segment has resulted in quality, fashion-forward clothes at various price points. Fashion giants Jones New York Woman and Michael Kors' MICHAEL have raised the bar, improving the choices for high-end and lower-cost retail lines too. Having more choices is a plus for any full-figured woman.
The expectant plus-sized woman shops at an increased level of difficulty. Pride in the baby bump requires pretty clothes at reasonable prices, a nice change from masking my curves. However, if I try pregnancy again (questionable after twins), maybe I’ll get a year’s wear out of my investment. The temporary wardrobe is an important necessity, especially for employed full-figures, but so is controlling the budget among limited choices.
Plus-sized maternity fashion is a black hole of dissapointment. The best solution I’ve found is to buy larger sizes at stores I usually frequent, but I'm having a harder time finding appropriate -- and appropriately sized -- clothes as my babies expand. At 24 weeks with twins on the way, I already approach the size of a singleton mom's eighth month, but I still have 2 to 3 months to go. In some stores, I'm already at the top of the sizing scale.
Time to Panic! Or make a plan....
Here’s my best advice for the expectant BBW, stores and tactics to help you find decent, comfy, pretty, or professional clothes, because being pregnant is truly the most lovely feeling; wear it with pride.
When to buy: Make purchases every couple of months, or as-needed for events. Don’t buy too much early, as you’ll risk outgrowing items before you’ve worn them enough to justify the cost.
Budget: Plan to buy everything on sale. Have a budget in mind, but no more than $600 total. Out of my purchases to date, I’ve only bought one pair of pants full-price.
Shopping List: To have enough clothes for a work-week, buy three pairs of dress pants or skirts, two pairs of casual pants, and one dress. Use the wide-cut shirts you already own at first, but plan to have at least seven tops to get you through a week’s wear later. Buy tops and pants that double for work or casual. Natural fabrics are more comfortable; avoid polyester/rayon as your changing body chemistry can manifest odd odors if fabrics don’t breathe.
You’ll need at least 2 day bras and at least 2 sleep bras to keep the girls perky. Medela and other maternity lines sell plus bras, but for +XL sizes you’ll need to go online.
Add a “belly band” and some support hose to your list. Also, a tummy sleeve can help keep your pants up if you unbutton your current ones, or wear overly large pants/skirts.
Cold-weather pregnancies require a coat or jacket, two sweaters, and undershirts for layering.
Later in pregnancy, you may need A-line dresses for comfort and easy fit. Buy maternity dresses to keep the hemline even.
Choose a simple color palette for maximum interactivity. Black, brown, or beige pants pair well with colored tops. A white or cream blouse is a must. Choose a jacket in gray, brown, black, or navy so it goes with everything. That salmon shirt looks cute until you put on the red sweater!
Fit: Buy items to wear for months. Buy pants that go over the belly, up to the ribs for maximum comfort. You may prefer hip-huggers to sit below your baby bump, but shirts will ride up to expose bare skin. Be the belly. Pull those pants up like a little old man in Miami.
Try everything on. Everything.
Choose styles that maximize wearability over the long-haul. Buy A-line shirts and dresses that float away from the body, v-neck tops with ruching, and elastic-waist pants one size larger than you currently need. Avoid empire-waist shirts that bind you in the middle. Beware: some non-maternity shirts ride up in front and stay long in the back, so buy tunic shirts (to the top of your thighs).
Accessorize: Scarves, costume jewelery, wraps, and purses know no size limits. You'll get more out of your limited wardrobe if you spruce it up with items you can use pregnant or not.
Prepare to SHOP!
Find local stores that work for your budget and style. In department stores, the plus-size section will always be hidden in the farthest corner of the store. Wear comfortable shoes, and leave off the makeup so you can try clothes quickly.
Buy pieces you would normally buy, in your color palette. Don't settle for something you dislike just because it fits and is inexpensive; if you don't wear it several times a month, you've wasted the money not matter how cheap it was.
Find a tailor and be prepared for a multi-sized wardrobe. One pair of too-tight thrift-store pants was redeemed when a talented aunt let out the pleats and attached a new waistband; I wore them for months. You might alter some of the 8-month clothes after giving birth. Instead, you may store early purchases on the way up; you'll need them again on the way down! Save pieces you love for your next pregnancy.
Be prepared to buy a few outfits online for those last months. E-tailers have a wider selection, but check the return policy before you buy. Some e-tailers let you return items purchased online to their retail stores, but others have special rules and policies.
Thrift Stores: Start here. I found four pairs of winter slacks (two of them NWT!) for about $10 each early on. On Mondays, some stores offer a 25% discount, so I got each pair for $7.50. Early on, my bigger shirts still fit, so I just stuck with those over these pants. No returns.
Target: Anything you can buy cheap is money saved. This discounter has a decent selection of maternity wear, but I’ve had better luck purchasing plus-sizes. They carry coats, sweaters, pants, shorts, skirts, and tops. The quality is not what I prefer for my regular wardrobe, but the prices for new clothes that hold up over several months are unbeatable. Stick to the sales racks. Their online store has more choices. It’s also a great place to buy inexpensive unders (to size 12), sports bras to 2XL, and men’s undershirts (to 4XL) for sleepwear. Target online allows some returns to the store, but not others.
Lane Bryant: You’ll likely need new bras before the second trimester ends. (Bra extenders widen the distance between your straps, so bras won’t fit as well.) Catch Cacique bras on sale and save 25% or more. I’ve seen sizes in-store at LB from 38C to 50EEE. Buy a skin-tone and a black with room to grow. Once you outgrow your stash of sports and sleep bras, purchase two soft-cup bras. Browse LB’s sales rack for outerwear while you’re here. If you need work pants, splurge here. LB also owns Catherine’s and Fashion Bug. Can return LB items purchased online to a retail store free.
Motherhood Maternity: Unlike its sister store A Pea in the Pod, MM carries a small selection of plus-size maternity wear, mostly simple cotton tops and casual pants, but to their credit all the plus-sizes are cut from the same styles as their Missy line. You can find a belly band in-store (to 3XL), swimsuits on the rack (to 3XL), pants, tops, and… that’s about it. The bra selection in-store is limited (to 42DD). A friendly atmosphere and online presence validate your visit. Excellent prices. Can return items purchased online to a retail store, restrictions apply.
JC Penney: They have a small plus-size maternity department, but I had better luck in their Woman’s department, where I purchased three pairs of elastic-waist, summer capris on sale (Navy, Brown, Beige). I also found a great deal on cute, 100% cotton knit tops – 2 for $16. Can return items purchased online to a retail store free.
Liz Claiborne: The mother of Dana Buchman and MEXX also offers Liz Claiborne Woman, a line which is regaining its luster since Tim Gunn took over as CCO. I frequent the outlet for upscale casual wear, accessories, and exercise wear. They lack some punch in work wear. Somewhat pricey for a temporary wardrobe, but outlet discounts abound. No online shop; shop LC outlets or other retailers. Coming to JC Penney in Fall 2010.
Talbots: This high-end, pricey store markets its own line of work wear, cocktail, jeans, tops, accessories, and shoes. Talbots stays current with stylish-yet-traditional professional wear and flirty evening choices. Clothes are well-made; fit is excellent. I bought a red party dress ten pounds into my pregnancy, and I'll wear it again next year. It might need a tuck or two to stay in my closet, but it’s worth the hassle. For elegant work wear or an evening outfit, go to Talbots. Can return items purchased online to a retail store free.
In Canada, Addition-Elle is my new favorite store. Think high-end everything sizes 14 to 26. From unders to swimsuits, coats to jackets, jeans to cocktail dresses, and work wear galore, they have everything a plus-sized lady could use and some items she'll just want. The juniors clothing was classy-hip. I nearly went bonkers ogling the LC and JNY clothes, and the items in their own line are fabu. They even have Anne Klein Plus, a collection so rarely seen I thought it was an urban myth. Pricey, with frequent sales and multiples discounts.
Plus Mom Maternity aggregates full-figure maternity clothes and goods. Check out their suggested shopping list.
Zappos.com sells more than shoes. Zappos has a shifting inventory of plus-sizes, some of which fit maternity goals. Worth a look. Free shipping both ways.
OldNavy.com lists a handful of tops, a few dresses, and two pants online in their new maternity plus department. Sizes 16 to 30. Returns by mail $6, exchanges by mail free.
Maternity4Less.com sells full-figure maternity only. Swimwear, clothing, and support garments. Many broken links, limited choices, good prices.
Best Book Choice: Big Beautiful and Pregnant