Bridging the Gap: Straddling Between Standard & Plus Sizes


Heazure asked, Could you do a post addressing people on the “cusp” between plus sizes and straight sizes? I’m a 14/16 and it’s maddening, and I was happy to share my experiences and insights.

For most of my life it’s felt like no matter WHAT my size, I’ve always straddled the “cusp” between standard sizes and plus sizes. Size 10? Well, that’s still a size 14 and we don’t stock it. Size 20? Well, your arms, legs, bust and hips are too small to fit in everything.  Most of my life, I’ve straddled the 14-18 range, and it’s effin’ hard. I stopped wearing oversized everything in high school, so it can feel especially difficult to find a fitted shirt, dress, or skirt when I’m on the cusp. (You’re on the cusp! You’re plus, but not! You must hide your body!)

Many standard clothing stores stop at a size 14 (and some stop at a 12). Many plus-size shops begin at a 14 … and yet there’s this huge difference in the way those two size 14s are designed. Many women find that at the standard shop, you’ll get a little muffin top, the thighs may be too tight, but when you pop into the plus-sized shop, you’re finding that the pants are falling off of you everywhere.

For a comparison: The Limited, Express, and Eloquii are all sister shops, and you can see how their sizes compare:

  • At Express, a size 14 has a 40″ bust, 32.5″ waist, and 43.5″ hips.
  • At the Limited, a size 14 has a 41.25″ bust, a 34″ waist, and 44″ hips.
  • At Eloquii, the size 14 Women’s has a 42″ bust, a 37″ waist, and 45″ hips.

Between the Express and Eloquii size 14s, you have a 4.5″ size difference. And what happens if you’re between that Limited 34″ and Eloquii 37″ waist? A 3″ gap is a pretty big!  And yet, when you’re on the cusp of clothing sizes, that’s a pretty frequent occurrence.

Shopping is already a difficult, anxiety-inducing task for many of us. When you’re a size that’s on the cusp (and that could be another cusp — perhaps you’ve got a very petite frame and a 0 or 00 is a bit too big!), it just feels like extra work. You’re too large for one shop, too small for another.

Another factor that contributes to this is grading scale for patterns. In a standard size shops, clothes are usually graded with a 1″ difference between sizes; yet as soon as you hit size 10 or 12, the grading jumps up to an 1.5″.  Once you’ve moved into full-on plus-sizes, it’s not uncommon to see a 3″ variation between sizes, which means it can be difficult to find that perfect fit.

It’s Not You.

Sally says this all the time, and it’s true. Straddling the cusp isn’t YOUR fault. Don’t beat yourself up, think your bangin’ bod is odd, or swear off fashion forever.

They’re just clothes.

Each store has their own version of the ideal customer, vanity sizing, and sense of draping. Even if you absolutely love J.Crew, Anthropologie, or Nasty Gal OMG SO MUCH, their styles may not work with your body.  But the amazing thing about shopping and the internet? How much easier it becomes EVERY DAY to find the styles you want, a size that fits, and a brand you love (and can afford!).

Know which Shops ARE Designed to Fit You.

It took me a long time to learn that the woman Lane Bryant designs for is not shaped like me. And neither is the girl Urban Outfitter designs for.

I’m sure you’ve found a few places where you’ve bought clothes and felt good. What is it about those items that do work? Is it ample room in the bust? Extra space in the hips? A slim cut thigh? Do you need a junior’s fit, a standard fit or a women’s fit? Once you know what brands work and what it is you want from your clothing, finding that perfect fit becomes a bit easier.

I’ve personally found luck with places like ASOS, City Chic, Modcloth & Ruche’s plus selections. I have luck at places like Macy’s, Kohl’s, Target, or Old Navy, where the standard range may run from 0-20 and they have a variety of junior’s, standard, and women’s fit.

If you’re having a hard time finding brands that work for you, a service like Gwynnie Bee may help. For a monthly fee, you “rent” clothes from a wide variety of brands. Sizes start at 10 and go up. I received a one month free trial from Wardrobe Oxygen, and my quick and honest thoughts are: For a woman going through weight change, starting a new job, or who has a tendency to wear clothes a few times and then buy new items, it’s WELL worth the cost.

Find Inspiration in People Built Like You.

I may have a fashion blog, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have days when I hate fashion. I love looking at women of all shapes and sizes, because a great eye for shape, pattern, and styling is universal.

But finding other bloggers built similarly to me? It’s a huge relief.

It doesn’t matter if they’re a size 2, 12, or 22; I know which bloggers aren’t super busty, who gains weight in their stomach, and those who may have a long torso.  For those who fall into a similar size range as me, I check out the places they shop. As a result I’ve found tons of new shops I’d have never known about. They’ve lead me to independent designers who create custom clothes for women of all sizes.

The average American woman is a size 12-14, which means a larger portion of women are likely straddling the cusp than we realize.  If you’re in that cusp, I’d love to hear your thoughts — what tips and tricks you’ve learned for shopping or what fabrics or styles you’ve found are great and easy to adapt for your body.

_ _ _

Call her Ash, Ashe, or Ashley– she doesn’t mind! Already Pretty contributor Ashley began blogging in 2007 about fashion and style to fill a void in her life while living in the wintery tundra of Indiana. Her blog Dramatis Personae focuses on food, life & style.  Ashley’s love of fashion began at 10, when she bought her first issue of Seventeen magazine; this also began a life long battle with learning to love her body (she never looked like the girls who graced those pages). As a plus-sized woman, she loves promoting fashion for all women and shops that want to make all ladies feel beautiful.  She currently calls New Orleans home and share her little house with a wonderful fiance and two brilliant and playful Maine Coons kitties.

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55 Responses to “Bridging the Gap: Straddling Between Standard & Plus Sizes”

  1. Cynthia

    I am in this 12-14 size range too, and yeah. Not shaped like plus size (what is all that room around the chest for? Oh yeah, not me) and not small enough for straight size. Certainly not small enough for awesome professional-looking lines like Theory. I actually like my size. I’m tall, I’m solid, I’m a fucking Amazon, it’s quite awesome. But I would like more clothes for Amazon-sized (but not hardbodied)(but not apple-shaped) women. I’ve had great luck with the UK retailers. Boden, Dorothy Perkins, Monsoon, and others all stock a 12 that is exactly my size AND shape. I still end up looking like a boho art teacher more often than not but at least the clothes FIT.

  2. Jennifer

    Ashley, I really enjoyed this post. I’m a size 16 tall and very familiar with shopping on the cusp. What is most frustrating to me is that as you move into plus size territory so many clothes get shorter, or the bustlines shift into unflattering positions. I’ve learned to not be afraid to try *everything* on, and you eventually figure out which stores work for you in which sizes. Plus shopping online has made it so much easier to find really hard to fit items (hosiery has always been my biggest challenge).

    I have a follow-up question: Right now I am 3 months pregnant, and feeling very underwhelmed by maternity clothes options, especially since I work in a professional office and yoga pants for 9 months is just not an option. Are you aware of any services like Gwynnie Bee for maternity clothes?

    • Rosanne

      Interestingly, I found that Gap and Target (and a little bit of Old Navy) had good options for maternity professional wear online in plus & tall sizes. For reference, I was a 8 – 12Tpre-pregnancy and by the 3rd trimester I was more in the L/XL categories and I gained approximately 50lbs. After baby, I found that most of the weight settled around my middle & hips and have slowly gone down from a 16 (non-maternity) in the past 14 months to a 10/12.

      Gwynnie Bee for Maternity wear is an AWESOME idea – I have so many maternity clothes that are too nice to consign at pathetic prices and the time to list things on Craigslist or Ebay is simply non-existant working full time + 2 kids.

  3. Susan

    For many years I lived in Cusp-world, wearing a plus 14 pant because a misses 14 was cut too slim for my rounder bottom. I discovered how short sighted retailers are about women shoppers and their sizes. Many department stores relegate plus to another area of the store away from the misses department. In one popular Atlanta department store the plus department was way around the corner next to a candy shop. This used to make me so mad! But even worse, now a local department store has exiled plus sizes to another building! I refuse to shop there. I agree that this kind of nonsense adds frustration to what should be FUN – shopping!

  4. Angela

    This is me. Totally me. I had pretty much given up on shopping. I can wear 12s, 14s, and 16s from varying companies, and that is a nightmare walking into a new store’s fitting room! My favorite right now is Torrid, where things are cut for curves. I am probably a standard 14, but there I actually wear a 12. I can wear their lingerie without feeling like a sausage stuffed in a casing, and their jeans have *just* enough stretch.

  5. Grace

    What a great post! This is my tribe, too–I’m typically a 14/16, but plus sized 14/16s very rarely fit, being far too wide from the bust through the waist. I have much better luck with “standard” lines that have higher sizes, especially Ann Taylor and Loft. It’s so damn frustrating, though, and I never realized there was a definite difference, like the one you point out at Express/Limited/Eloquii. That makes so much sense!

  6. Bernie

    This! I used to be a standard 12. Post-baby I’m a 14W? Or something like that. The one time I managed to get out of the house to go shopping I was lucky enough to hit up a Talbot’s Woman while they were having a sale. Found 4 pairs of pants that “fit” me for under $20 each. They were all 14WP. For reference, I’m 5’5″ so I don’t know what truly short women wear.
    Even this doesn’t fit quite right. I don’t have big hips, but I do have an extra roll around my midsection where my c-section is healing.
    Due to breastfeeding my top is more like a 16.
    It’s exhausting to find stuff that fits, and finding stuff that flatters without spanx is even more challenging. Sigh.

  7. Melanie

    Actually, Gwynnie Bee made this problem even WORSE for me. I am a size 10 but when I ordered from GB the size 10 items (which they call 0X in a lot of things) are crazy off. You really have to look at the size chart. As a pretty true size 10, nothing fit. I think GB goes to the “plus size” side of 10, and if you are a larger 10 or nearly 12 maybe, but if you are mid-low 10 range then GB will probably not work out well for you.

  8. Alison

    I have gotten to a point where I only shop from certain retailers, it’s too exhausting and demoralizing to hit the mall. Ann Taylor, Gap, Nordstrom (their house brands Halogen and Caslon are budget friendly and size friendly), Vince Camuto, occasionally MICHAEL Michael Kors (though it sometimes runs small), Foxcroft for shirts, NYDJ for jeans (can fit one size smaller usually), Talbots. I rarely go outside these brands to save my ego, time, energy, and money. Thanks for mentioning Gwynnie Bee, it has been great for adding to my wardrobe, trying new brands and silhouettes in the comfort of my own home without buyer’s remorse or spending a lot. They also react to customer feedback quickly, trying new brands and styles from suggestions.

    • RoseAG

      I give the Gap praise for posting body measurements in their sizing reference. Unlike any other retailer I’ve dealt with they post “thigh.” Since my fitting issues are around my bottom I save myself returns by sticking to pants whose thigh measurement approximate mine.

  9. Lynne

    I’m six feet tall, size 16 top and size 14 bottom. Long torso. 36″ inseam. It’s very, very frustrating trying to get anything to fit properly! I find plus size shops don’t cater to taller women, either.

  10. Felicia

    Honestly, I think finding clothes that actually fit for any size can be a challenge. That is until you know what brands and styles work for you. And then, designers can change their sizing. While I’m no longer on the border between standard and plus, I do border between standard and tall (long inseam). I have found that I can wear anything from a size 8 to size 14 depending on the brand and cut of the garment. I used to think that if I were only a size 4 or 6 (not gonna happen!) that I would always find clothes that fit. But when sizes are not standard between different brands, you just have try everything on and forget about the number on the label!

  11. Amy

    I love this post!

    I am 5’10” and very proportionate with most of my weight in my belly. I straddle between a 14/XL and a 16/1X. I have a small bust so when shopping for tops and dresses in the plus section, I often have to deal with the bust just hanging down in front of me. If I try on the 0X/1X, it’s usually too big in the bust and long on me but doesn’t cling to my belly, but an XL in the misses department will fit me in the bust but be too short and cling to my belly.

    With pants, I have the opposite problem of what it seems most women at Lane Bryant and other plus-sized stores have. I have a belly but slim hips and almost no ass, lol. Pants that fit me in the belly sag in the butt and hips. Pants that fit me in the hips and butt are too tight in the waist. I have found some solution to this with Old Navy’s jeans, but even after a while, even the butt in those begins to sag. A few years ago, I found this awesome pair of Gap boyfriend jeans at their outlet store in Foley, AL, and they fit me like a glove. Of course, the type I loved were discontinued and I’ve yet to find anymore that fit me like that.

    My solution as of late has to been to wear dresses as much as possible. I can wear the XL or XXL at Target in their dresses and tops (but not their pants), which is nice because the selection of plus-sized clothes at Target is not what it used to be.

    If you live in the Atlanta metro area, go to Macy’s at Lenox. They are the only Macy’s I’ve found in this area that has a decent selection of plus-sized clothes. I still wander between floors of the plus sized and misses sizes, but they have some really cute stuff in the plus sizes and often, they have huge sales on their clothes. And the staff is always so helpful for me.

    Oh! Another thing that I deal with: I have broad shoulders. Jackets and blazers are hard for me to find. If they fit me in the shoulders, they are too big in the waist. If they fit me in the waist, they’re too small in the shoulders. Jackets tend to make me look like a linebacker and that’s without the shoulder pads, so I don’t even bother most of the time, though I’d love to find something that fit me well.

    So yeah, for me, Old Navy, Macy’s, and Target are my go-to. Sometimes I can find things at Ross, TJMaxx, and Marshalls, but it’s slim pickings most of the time. And I rarely find anything at Goodwill that is my size and looks good on me.

    • Emily

      I’m 5’4″, but my pants and blazer experience is exactly the same…it’s like, my body is shaped like this:
      but they’re making pants for this shape:
      and they always gap a lot in the back.
      I am not very feminine, so I don’t want to wear skirts all the time, but they just fit so well!

    • Daisy

      “I have a belly but slim hips and almost no ass, lol. Pants that fit me in the belly sag in the butt and hips. Pants that fit me in the hips and butt are too tight in the waist.”

      “Oh! Another thing that I deal with: I have broad shoulders. … Jackets tend to make me look like a linebacker”

      This is me, too! And my solution of late has also been to wear dresses and skirts! Lower waisted pants tend to work better, too, because I can wear a size that fits my hips/non-butt and usually doesn’t give me too much of a muffin top. I still might have some extra material on the top of my thighs, but it’s close. I’m also short-waisted with longer legs, so dresses and skirts are easier because length isn’t as big of an issue. I find many regular-sized pants are too short and tall often isn’t available in stores. This has become more of a problem as I’ve lost weight recently — I guess because inseams are a bit shorter with smaller sizes (and I promise I’m not complaining about losing weight! It’s been a good, healthy thing overall).

  12. Dee

    Been on the cusp for probably 20 years. Because of vanity sizing I am usually a 16 pant and a 1x top, — I say vanity sizing because when I weighed 20 or 30 lbs less I still wore a 16 pant! Ha! I am in the process of losing weight now – hoping to not need plus sizes in the future. Not that there is anything wrong with wearing plus sizes, but I am older (50s) and the weight is starting to make me look ‘matronly’, and I don’t want that!! I totally ‘get’ all the issues everyone has mentioned. For me its helped to fine the brands/stores that do carry clothes that usually work for my shape. Its often hit or miss, and sometimes brands change their sizing, not to my benefit, but perhaps the new sizing fits others better. Coldwater Creek did that a year or so ago and I pretty much have given up on finding anything that fits me there anymore. Tops are too small and pants are made for women with more curves than I have. For me I have the best luck with clothes from Talbots, Chicos and Jones NY and Macy’s brands.

  13. Norma

    Thank you for this.

    A year ago I went to a TJ MAXX in our nearest big town 2 hours away. I was sooo excited because my local clothing options are Walmart and Shopko. (We currently live in a very, very small town.) I picked up a few size 14’s but the rack was mixed. Some were 14 and some were 14 plus.

    I tried on every pair of pants the store had. None fit. I wanted to sob right there in the dressing room. In the past I’d been a 12 and that wasn’t an easy fit either due to my height. But this. This was nonsense. My friends who are size 20 or 24? I never hear them mention the problems I was having.

    I picked up a few dresses and encountered the same issue.

    I left buying one poncho. I might have cried a little in the car. I might have also declared to my husband that I hate clothing and was going to just start wearing muumuus.

    Nothing has turned me off to fashion like being a size 14. I’m still trying to recover.

  14. Erin

    I’m on the cusp, too. Some 14s fit me just fine, other 16s and 18s are too tight. It drives me nuts. I went shopping at an outlet mall this week and saw a cute shirt in the junior’s section. I grabbed it and tried it on in a large and extra large. Couldn’t get either of them on, even though XL usually works for me. I gave up on the shirt and wandered around some more and then I found the same shirt in the plus size department. I grabbed a 1X and a 2X and glory be – the 1X fit. But isn’t 1X and XL the same thing?! WTH? I decided I didn’t care what the size on the tag said – the shirt was CUTE and BLUE and those are GOOD things for me. So yay! New shirt! BOO having try on FOUR shirts before I found one that fit.

    • Tabie

      A 1X and an XL are most definitely not the same. 1X’s are a plus size and cut larger than an XL in any store that carries both standard and plus sizes. A 1X would be closer to an XXL.

      Stores like Torrid start with a plus size “0” or 0X, XL. That 0 is what would compare closest. Hope that helps!

  15. Stephanie

    This is why I got frustrated when people complain about vanity sizing. In our current market I am mostly not on the cusp at a 10 to 12 depending on the phase of the moon and what I’ve been eating since I gain right in the middle. However, in sewing patterns I’m between a 14 and an 18 meaning that in the more old fashion sizing I at a so called healthy wait for my height would likely not fit in many stores. To me this is crazy I think we should be calling for a larger size range in traditional stores. I mean really if the average is a 14 why on earth don’t more places carry a 14 and beyond the gap in sizing really should not be right where so many of us are. I sew quite a lot and am in the process of learning how to properly alter patterns and its like opening a whole new world. But anyways I babble I just think we should be asking stores to carry more total sizes. After all we are all beautiful and unique.

  16. Miss T

    Sometimes a different approach is in order. I have written letters of complaint to several retailers (Nordstrom, Macy’s, Anthropologie, and others) regarding a) lack of consistency in sizing, and b) unrealistic sizing of clothing. I do not have the time or patience to read every customer review of every individual garment that interests me to find out what the fit is like — for someone else. Although retailers to do not have complete control over the sizing of lines from individual manufacturers, they certainly have influence over them — they can refuse to carry lines of clothing that have limited appeal because of sizing issues, and larger retailers can pressure lines into sizing their lines appropriately. I complained several years ago — in writing — directly to the buyers of these stores, and believe it or not, I got personal replies from them, saying that my points were valid and that they would take that into consideration going forward when evaluating lines. When I pointed out to them that the result of their inaction is NO SALE, they were quite amenable to listening to their customers.

    So, I would suggest that rather than suffer in silence and do massive amounts of “homework” on which stores carry clothing with realistic measurements, complain to the retailers with lousy-fitting lines! Just think, if hundreds or thousands of women did this, we might see some meaningful change.

  17. Tabie


    I’m right on that cusp and it’s getting even harder to find clothes now that I’m not just a 16 up top and an 18 on the bottoms. Now I’m a 16 is snug, except in the gap jeans I just bought which I know will fall off of me by the end of the day, 18 falls off. Solidly 1x? Nope you lost an XL is too small a 1X is falling off, etc.

    According to those numbers posted I’m a 14, but let’s be honest, I’ve never had the clothing measurements and my measurements match up. I’ve also never seen a 14 at Express or The Limited! I’ve found that my best fit is from Forever 21 Plus..but I have to try on everything and the closest F21 with a plus section? 3 hours away, despite the fact that my mall has a 2 story F21 and many, many plus size 20somethings. At least I know, I’m not alone.

  18. Tabie

    Oh, also, why in the hello do I have to shop on a different floor when I go to Macy’s? Why are all the misses, womens, juniors, etc. (female of all sort) clothes on one floor but if I want to shop plus I have to go to the next floor and shop in between the men’s clothes and the furniture section. In every Macy’s I’ve ever been in….WHY?

  19. Kb

    Great post. I struggle with clothes sizes in that I’m an 8-10 on top and a 10-12 on bottom. That doesn’t sound like that big of a gap but I refuse to sport a muffin top so I go through quite an ordeal to find clothing, particularly tailored workwear that looks even half-decent on me.

    If anyone knows of any good shops or blogs for pears like me, I would love to hear!

  20. Sarah

    I’ve been having this problem since puberty. I love reading that other women have the same issue, but girl, you left out that whole “W” thing which complicates shit even more. Am I a 16/18 or a 16W/18W? How come I can fit in an 18W but a straight 20 is too big? What’s the difference between an 18W and a straight 20? Or an 18 and an 18W? Can someone please tell me where the extra fabric goes? And also, I would love it if I could find pants that fit my waist and don’t look like freaking jodphers over my hips. Not every fat woman has a huge butt and hips with a tiny waist!

    Also, I would love for someone to explain to me why a straight 18 is just a tiny bit tight, but when I jump to a 20, they won’t even stay up on their own. If a 16 is very tight, an 18 is a bit tight, shouldn’t 20 be perfect? No, because the gap between 16 and 18 is like 10 pounds, while the gap between 18 and 20 is like 30 pounds. So my options are wearing pants that are too big or pants that are too tight. Awesome! Either way I look like a big, uncomfortable turd! I just don’t get it!

    I totally agree about Lane Bryant too. The women they design clothes for have to be at least 6 feet tall. I am tired of trying on tunics that come to my knees and t-shirts that look like tunics hitting mid-thigh. I am 5″5, that’s a normal height! How come it’s okay to be fat and tall but fat and short is unacceptable? Not to mention, I have purchased multiples there several times, same pant, same size, same length, same everything, and one pair fits, one is too big and one is too tall. Seriously, what is up with that!?

    I may just need to bite the bullet and start on-line shopping at ASOS curve and Modcloth. I hate online shopping because I want to know how an item looks on before I shell out my money for it. But I am at the point now where I finally have money to spend on decent clothes and I can’t find a damn thing that fits.

    • Amy

      Yes! The 16/18 vs. 16W/18W is an issue of mine too. How can a dress in a regular 16/18 be so snug and a 16W/18W fit? It’s mind boggling!

  21. dustwindbun

    I have to admit, I find the talk of vanity sizing baffling (I know it’s not the real point of this post but people brought it up). Everyone says that they find that the number’s getting smaller and the clothes are getting bigger, and I find that it’s the COMPLETE opposite! I have clothes from, say, Target, that I bought several years ago, that still fit well, and are marked medium, but when I decide I want another one and go to Target to buy another, now I have to buy it in a 2X to get the same fit. I’m heavier than I’ve ever been, true, but older things I have that fit on me right now marked 10, I now have to buy new in 14 to get the same fit. I see smalls that look like children’s clothes rather than something my 16-year-old 100-pound size-5 self could have worn.

    It’s not that I care what the number on the tag says – why bother? – but I’m being sized out without my body even changing! Between that and the cusp sizing, it’s like they’re *trying* to shrink their customer base or something.

    • Stephanie

      I found this same thing. I have 10s from last season that fit well but must get a 12 from the same store this season. As for Target the seem to be all over the place. Consistency from season to season would also be lovely. To really see what people call vanity sizing you have to look at a size chart from several decades ago and compare it to today.

  22. francietony

    Sarah’s comment about looking like a big uncomfortable turd made me spit out my coffee. 🙂
    I agree about the comments regarding Lane Bryant. I have a big bust and thick waist but I’m not big everywhere else. Their blouses are so large in the shoulders and arms they fall off me, and the slacks have too much thigh and bum room. Catherines is the same too. I think they are expensive for the quality sometimes also. Target hasn’t had anything for me in 3 years. Ugly small selection behind the maternity secetion which was super cute and fun.
    The local JCP has the plus size womens clothing upstairs hiding behind lingerie and housewares. I feel like I’ve been banished to Outer Mongolia. Compared to the huge square footage downstairs for womens clothing the selection is quite small. The pricing is OK and they always have the basics for the office.
    For professional clothing Macy’s had the nicest slacks and blouses this spring IMO. My local Macys Womens department is downstairs with other clothing departments. I bought all I could afford and hope to wear several seasons, but I couldn’t find a dress or skirt at all. During the summer I couldn’t find anything that was office appropriate. We have a Christopher Banks with large sizes and the fit is OK but I find there clothes expensive and more mature in style. Very matching matching. Torrid is great for home or free time but not for office clothes. Kohls has been hit or miss. I have to try on everything in the womens department because the brands sizing for each designer is very different but if I just try on everything I can jeans that find fit. It took three hours but I did find two pairs. Some seasons the offering is not my taste however. Lately everything has sequins or beads or other embellishment that will date it quickly.
    Overall for fit, service and selection, but not price is the dress barn women. Not big on Casual wear but very nice cocktail and office clothes. Really good service, they have enought staff to bring you things to the dressing room if it’s not the right size. My local store’s manager remembers me and is really honest about if it is flattering or not. A little expensive if you are on a budget.
    Hope this wasn’t too long.

    • Sarah

      Yes! This is basically my entire shopping life (although I’ve never tried Christopher Banks). I haven’t been to Macy’s in forever but I probably will go check one out based on your recommendation. I transitioned from a casual jeans job to a business casual office and I could definitely use some quality work wear. I have the same exact fit issues/body shape, so I might have some luck!

      So glad I am not the only woman out there who cannot wear Lane Bryant clothes. I tend to default there out of pure frustration – and to be fair, I have had luck with some of their cardigans – but only as a last resort. I can remember being 15 and plus size and Lane Bryant was the ONLY option where I live in Baltimore. I hated the styles (this was almost 20 years ago – bad early 90’s fashion!) so I wore men’s clothes for most of my teenage years. When as Old Navy opened up in 1997, I heard angels singing. Got a job there, bought everything they sold in an XL, and used my discount like a champ. At least there are a lot more options now than we had back then!

  23. Gracey at Fashion for Giants

    Wonderful, wonderful post, Ashe. As usual. I am also on the cusp and even when I was smaller than a 14, it was difficult to find clothes because I was tall and muscular. (Yes, I used to be muscular, I swear!) And I agree that looking at others with a similar body type can be very helpful – it’s one of the reasons I started my blog.

    Also, for me, The Gap brands work pretty well. And I’ve had some success with JC Penney recently.

  24. Sue

    I can sympathise with you all, even though I am an American size 8-10 (UK size 12-14), as I carry too much weight around the waist, but my hips are comparatively slender. I have bought clothes from Lands End, for example, that fit on the waist but have too much loose material around my bottom section, however the advantage with them is that I can choose the right leg length (I am only 5’1″). I like their Empire line dresses, as I can select the right bust size and then the dress skims over my waist – perfect! I used to order from the British company Wallis, until they decided to make their petite trousers several inches longer – why? I think the idea of complaining to retailers is an excellent idea! How many women are able to buy clothes that cater to their needs, whether we are between sizes, shorter than average, of a non-standard shape?

  25. Marsha

    I’m on the cusp, too. One day while sitting at the mall I did a quick appraisal of the sizes of the women passing me. I’ve done a lot of sewing for a variety of body shapes so I’m pretty good at guessing sizes. About 75% of the 50 or so women I saw l seemed to be size 12-18. Very few significantly thinner or significantly larger ones.

    I was just complaining to my husband yesterday about how hard it is to buy clothes at retail stores. If it’s a store that carries regular XL, they tend to sell fast, and the stores don’t seem to stock many in this size. If it’s a plus-size store that carries 0X (or whatever they call the size smaller than 1X), it’s the same thing. I believe from observation there’s a ton of women in the cusp and they get to the stores before me!

  26. lauren

    i was a large 14 before i lost weight a few years ago. now i am a small 12 (or, i was before i got pregnant). i’m fortunate to not be curvy, so standard misses sizes fit (assuming they are long enough). right now i am fine, because “longer” tops are in style. but as soon as we go back to short tops i am in trouble.

  27. Catrina

    Love this article because I am right on the cusp!! I’m 5 ft 8 in tall and a size 14/16. Stores are really hit or miss for me. Just like you said, when I shop in plus sized stores I find that the clothes are generally too big. I’m also right on the cusp between tall and average so sometimes things are too short for me but if I get tall sizes they are too long!! Soo frustrating!! Pants shopping in the worst!! The stores I have found that I can find things that fit and I like are Maurice’s, Vanity, old navy (though I find their pants fit awkward), and mod cloth. I love anthropologie but it’s hit or miss and depends on the brand in question.

    • Tori

      I’m on the same height cusp as you are, and it’s really frustrating.

      It’s so tempting for me to go for the standard inseam length, even though I know what I really ought to do is purchase tall sizes and have them hemmed a little. But there’s so much less availability — fewer stores, overall less selection, more money per item — in tall clothing in general that… well, maybe these “average” pants will fit, close enough, just this one time? 😉

  28. Paola

    I am a tall 14-16 woman, and the frustrations that the writer and commenters have I share. They sent me screaming to the sewing machine a few years ago, and I haven’t looked back. Instead of spending hours in stores trying to find something I like that fits me, I spend those hours making something I like, that will fit. I’m in my forties, so it’s never too late to learn.

  29. Kristen

    I don’t have personal experience with this, but I think most (all?) of us have those stores or those styles that we like but that are NOT going to work on our bodies. I love your advice to look for the brands that work for you and to get inspiration from similarly-shaped/sized people. Don’t focus on what doesn’t work, look for the stuff that does.

    And: I just wanted to add that tailoring is good! Even for those who aren’t on that cusp, a lot of us fit into one size in one body area and another size somewhere else – depending on where you carry your weight, if you have defined muscle tone, etc. I think that’s part of the problem with being “on the cusp,” you may have the size 14 waist but not the hips, or size 18 hips but narrow shoulders and bust that don’t need the extra room your hips are looking for.

    Clothing can’t be designed to fit every single body shape and type (just scrolling through these comments shows a huge variety of body shapes), but a piece of clothing can always be changed! You aren’t locked in to the way it fits in the store. It definitely adds to the cost if you don’t sew, but if it gives you a well-fitting garment that you’ll feel so much better wearing, think of it as part of the purchase price and you may find it’s worth it to you.

  30. LK

    My bestie is on the cusp of 14-16-18 and 5′ 11″ tall. Her favorite store is Torrid. Torrid is owned by Hot Topic so it might be a little edgy for some but they have very cute dresses.

  31. Mindy

    I am so glad to not be alone in this! About 10 years ago, I was a 24w. I lost a lot of weight, and could get into a straight 12. Now I’m more in the 16/18 or 16w/18w range. From the weight loss (which was purposeful but not done in a healthy way) my body is all sorts of shapes. I have hanging skin from the rapid weight loss in my arms, tummy, and legs and bum. However, my chest and waist are much smaller in comparison. Since the weight loss, I’ve been exercising regularly and I think that has something to do with this. In order to wear something that fits over my hip area, I’m usually pulling up the top all day so I don’t flash anyone what little I’ve got 🙂 I can seriously go to my closest right now and put together an ensemble of items from size L-2X (womens) that ALL FIT. Shopping for jeans is basically the worst thing ever.

    Just glad to know that I’m not alone on the cusp!

  32. Shaye

    THIS. I know that sizing varies, but I’ve learned that most places, if their 16 doesn’t fit me, nothing will, especially in pants. Sizing up doesn’t work, and true plus sizes (the W’s) are just not cut for my proportions. For one thing, plus sizes usually have a bigger waist than their straight-size counterparts, and as someone with a waist that’s comparatively smaller than my hips (in full skirts I usually size down), that’s the opposite direction I need to go. And don’t even talk to me about rise on pants. Low-rise used to mean it sat on your hip bones and skimmed your belly button. Now I have to buy pants marked high-waisted to get the same fit. So here’s what I do:

    A) buy multiples when I find pants that fit. I just literally bought seven pairs of skinny ankle pants from Old Navy. When Levi’s has a sale on my favorite jeans (high-waisted with a curvy fit!), I buy two pairs.

    B) buy pencil skirts from thrift stores exclusively. Old ones fit me sometimes; alternately, I buy them big and cut them down to fit me. I’m okay with altering my clothes when I spent 6 dollars, but not when I spent 60.

    C) buy vintage dresses. Plus size bodies from that era seem to be closer to mine, possibly because I don’t need a girdle to get the wasp-waist effect. New Look is my jam. (Note that I don’t want to make it seem like I’m bragging about my waist. It’s not actually that small; it’s the size of my hips that makes it seem that way!)

    D) give up entirely on button-down shirts. They never fit me anywhere and they’re complicated to alter. Just say no!

    E) thrift in general. Because a greater selection of brands is available, it can be easier to find a good fit on one shopping trip. I don’t stick to my own size rack, either (except in pants). I have a good idea of how big and what shape a garment needs to be in order to fit my body. That can be anything from a M to a 2X, ESPECIALLY since thrift stores stock junior’s and misses sizes side by side. The older the intended audience of the brand, the bigger the garment seems to fit.

    F) following from that, knowing what garments need to look like in order to fit you it is my #1 tip for not becoming demoralized when you go shopping! Thriting taught me how to accurately eyeball a garment, but it could be as simple as paying attention to your clothes as you handle them.

  33. Fran

    Bless you for doing this piece, I think alot of women are in the middle.. I know I am.. it is so hard to find something that fits right!!
    Thank you again

  34. Tracey

    I also straddle the regular and plus sizes. Thanks for writing a great piece that spoke so clearly to me. Also great to always remind people that it isn’t them it is the clothes no matter their size or shape. I know women of all sizes that beat themselves up when clothes don’t fit them. Your tips can be helpful to them too.

  35. Frenchie

    All these comments show how different women are in shape and size. The idea of fitting into a pair of pants or a blouse off the rack is not the norm for everyone.

    I’m a size 10/12, broad shouldered and tall. My weight fluctuates 5 to 10 lbs up and down. I hate tight-fitting anything, so I started sewing shift dresses. You know, those sleeveless dresses that don’t have a defined waist (think Jackie O dresses but a little looser). I have sewn over 20 now, and have a collection of belts that I wear to create the waist on my dresses. They are comfortable, my walking is not constricted like in pencil skirts, and I wear leggings under my dresses with boots when it’s cold.

    If you don’t sew, have a friend sew one (or a few) for you in exchange for another service. I can sew a dress in the time it would take a friend to take the kids to the park for an afternoon.

  36. hollyml

    Heck yes. Try being a 14/16 who is short-waisted and broad-shouldered. I am on a cusp between misses and petite sizing, more than between misses and plus, but with a curvy body shape that is actually more like the way some plus lines are cut. (Just TRY to find plus-size petite items!) I have worn some plus-sized jeans and pants, but the tops are tentlike. And the usual style advice for petite (short) women tends to directly contradict the usual style advice for plus sized or curvy women. It does seem crazy that what is, after all, THE average American woman (size 14, 5’4″) equals, in the fashion world, both too fat and too short for “regular” clothes.
    I wear a lot of knits. In shirts and dresses they are MUCH easier to get away with than anything more structured or classically tailored. And in pants I look for curvy fits that are offered in a short inseam. My go-to stores are JC Penney and Kohl’s, which carry a reasonably large selection of petites, in sizes up to at least 16 or XL, with the same or coordinating lines also offered in misses and plus, and all at an affordable price in well organized stores. I have mostly given up on shopping in thrift stores or places like TJ Maxx, other than for jewelry and accessories. I do know what to look for, but it’s a lot of work and all too often fruitless.

  37. Lisa

    I was so glad to see this post! I think there are a lot of women like this, too, based on how many times the size I’m looking for is already picked over. For years I could only shop in the plus size section, but I lost a bunch of weight and now I am right on the cusp in the 14-16 sizes. I call it 14-16 because sometimes the size 14 fits me, sometimes the 16, and sometimes neither one. It’s maddening! Meanwhile, the 14/16s in plus sized sections look like tents on me. It also doesn’t help that I have to shop in the petite section for pants and skirts, so I went from one special section of the store (plus size) to another (petites). I didn’t really have this option as a plus size because for some reason designers think plus sized women are also 8 feet tall and have massive legs.
    The ‘W’ thing makes me nuts, too. Usually those wind up being way too big for me.
    I could go into a whole rant about Lane Bryant, but suffice it to say I refuse to shop in there . I’m not sure what body shape their clothes are designed to fit, but it certainly isn’t my apple shape. Even their “petite” pants are a mile too long, and everything top they sell seems to be made of jersey material or looks like a maternity top. I like their jewelry and belts, but that’s it. I’ve started finding all kinds of great options at Old Navy, JCPenney’s (the Worthington line is awesome!), Macy’s, Target, and Kohl’s. I’ve never bought anything from ASOS or Modcloth but I’ve heard so many good things about it.

  38. Rhonda

    This is a wonderful post full of resources — Thank you! I noticed this cusp problem some time ago. I thought I would be able to wear a size 14 or 12 in Lane Bryant only to discover that the button down shirts just hung off of me. Of course in other (straight-size) stores the tops fit every where but could not accommodate my bust line. I have had a lot of luck with Land’s End and Talbot’s with tops because I have a short torso which makes me a petite, but a large bust so a petite extra large or 16P fits me best. However I have long legs (I am 5’5″ tall) with slim hips so a size 10 or 12 works just fine if there is a generous 33-34″ inseam. I also like Simply Be, because their size 12 tops and tunics work just fine for me.
    What I have learned most is to not be afraid to try clothes on, don’t get attached to a number or a size and know your measurements.

  39. Rachel

    Pants are the particular cusp issue for me – plus size pants are generally too big, especially in the waist, but standard store pants in a 14 are usually too tight. I haven’t shopped for pants in ages (and you can tell – all my pants are starting to get holes!)

  40. Meagan

    I pretty much have given up on buying clothing in a retail environment. I find that I run from an American size 8 all the way through a size 14. The big problem with fitting for me is that I am petite but not in the areas that clothing retailers seem to fit for. I am short but all around proportioned like a taller person, just 5’4, my husband calls me a Homunculus( a miniature, fully formed human). So when I buy petite pants they become flood pants but when I buy regular pants they are several inches too long. Then onto the whole tops nightmare, I have a fairly large bust but small band size( which is a whole different nightmare, who would have thought that getting at 32DD bra would be a near impossibility). This means that even though a medium would fit better in the shoulders I have to buy a large or X large to fit across my bust. When I buy a suit jacket, I am swimming in it because I am busty but I have a smaller shoulder frame. I have decided that its much more worth it for me to make my own clothes or to hire a tailor to help me. Clothing retailers are just out to lunch.

  41. Martha

    Interesting that you mention Asos. I’ve had trouble lately finding clothes that fit me just right as I, too, am on the cusp of a 12/14. I’ve been cruising Asos’ Curve line and not only are there so many great pieces, the model’s bodies look like mine.

    SInce I’m on the cusp I haven’t yet ordered (what if the things I buy are too big?), but with free shipping and returns, it could end up being the answer to my closet woes. Off to shop. Great piece, btw!

  42. Caro

    I’ve read that stylists take a variety of body measurements and then measure the clothes they’re selecting. How else can they pick clothing to fit clients that aren’t there? And most people need to alter clothes to fit properly anyway, right? Lately I’ve been looking at sellers on etsy that make clothes to order. Most clothing in history was made that way, and it makes sense because we are all shaped differently!

  43. Polly

    I never run into anyone who has the fit issues that I do. Narrow shoulders but big upper arms. A tummy, but also a big round booty. I’ve found that the Cookie Johnson jeans in a 12 fit me well! They are crazy expensive but sometimes can be found on clearance on the internet. Old Navy also has stretch twill ankle pants right now that are great, and I wear a 14 in those. Recently I went to thrift store and tried on a billion pairs of pants…walked out with three pair from Talbots in a 14WP. They are ankle pants on me, I’m 5’4″. NYDJ are also good in a 12 or 14. Trying on pants at Target also makes me want to cry.

  44. Polly

    Oh, one other thing…I wear a petite size on top if I am buying a jacket or coat or shirt, and a regular size on the bottom. When I try to find “petite bloggers” all I come up with are tiny size 0s. Is there anyone blogging who wears a 12P and has a round rear? 😉