Bodies come in all sizes, and if you have a child who is plus size, you need to consider how to help her find clothes that make her feel good. Girls plus size clothing and plus size junior clothing can be harder to find, but parents can make the process much easier by identifying retailers that carry plus sizes and getting creative with online shopping sprees.
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Things to think about when shopping for girls’ plus size clothing
We live in a society that promotes harmful body ideals. Bodies come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. But the fashion industry makes clothes for a very narrow (literally) body type. The lack of plus size fashion for girls and juniors is frustrating for parents.
Children living in larger bodies are at risk of body hate, disordered eating, and eating disorders. This is no surprise, since it’s hard to live in a larger body in our society.
We recommend that parents who have plus size girls, tweens, and teens learn about Health at Every Size. This approach encourages parents to completely accept their child’s body. But even the most accepting parents will find it difficult to help their kids feel when stores fail to carry kids’ plus size clothing.
When shopping isn’t fun because there’s a lack of girls’ plus size clothing
Going shopping – an adolescent rite of passage – can be fraught when you’re looking for girls’ plus size clothing. Clothes may not fit well, may be too tight in some places and gape in others. Even worse, many retail stores don’t carry plus size children’s clothes in the store.
Shopping meltdowns are common during this delicate time in a girl’s physical growth and emotional development. Parents and their kids can feel awful about themselves because there are so few options available.
In fact, shopping can be a major trigger for the beginning of struggles with body hate and dieting. Since dieting is a major risk factor for eating disorders, it’s important to address shopping struggles.
This is why it’s a good idea to think critically about clothes shopping before going shopping with your child. Education can help you and she understand the options and navigate the changing room with minimal shame.
Most clothes are made for “straight-sizes”
The vast majority of clothing available in retail stores is for “straight-sizes,” which range from size 0-12 for adults. People who live in larger bodies find it extremely difficult to find stylish clothing in their size.
In 2012, it was estimated that 67% of American women are “plus size” (size 14 or larger) (Bloomberg). However, plus size clothing is often given a tiny fraction of department store floor space. Sadly, the majority of mass retailers do not accommodate sizes beyond 12.
This means that people living in larger bodies have a very hard time finding clothing that meets their body needs and personal style.
The excuse from fashion designers is that making plus size clothing is hard. This will remain true as long as consumers accept a lack of selection in plus size clothing. We need to increase pressure on retailers and fashion designers to dress our bigger girls, tweens, and teens.
Children’s clothing sizes
Children’s clothing is based on age. This assumes a straight growth curve in which the child grows up and out at a standard rate. However, not all bodies are made to be straight. For example, an 8-year-old girl may need a size 12 to accommodate her waist, but a size 12 length is too long.
The hardest time for plus size girls is when they are in between children’s and junior clothing sizes. For example, 10-year-old girl may need a Junior size 2 to fit her waist, but the neck holes, armholes, and length are all wrong. Junior sizes give too much space for breasts, not enough space for tummies, and the length is wrong for most children.
Junior clothing sizes
Kids’ sizes end at straight-size age 12, at which point a girl goes into the Junior’s dept. A 13 year-old plus size teen is not going to be able to wear a Junior’s size 5 or 7. She needs clothes that fit her body shape. Straight sizes assume we grow according to thin beauty standards, however, most of us don’t.
This mismatch happens right as girls are gaining weight for puberty, and their shapes are in transition. It’s as if Junior sizes forget that tweens’ bodies are gaining weight and growing unpredictably. Straight sizes assume a standard chest-waist-hip ratio that doesn’t fit the majority of the population.
Every brand uses its own sizing chart. This means that a woman may range up to four sizes depending on the clothing brand. This adds significant stress for people living in larger bodies, who already feel incredibly vulnerable in the changing room.
A teen who carries more weight in her thighs may be unable to fit in clothing from one brand. A teen who carries her weight in her breasts may fit that brand perfectly. This happens to straight-size and plus sizes alike.
The variation between brands can be mind-boggling. Here’s a woman trying on the same size in different brands:
How to shop in the store
To avoid generating body shame and anguish, do some research before going shopping with your child. First, identify whether your child is straight size or plus size.
If your child is a straight size, then you will be able to find clothing for her in most major retailers. But children who are on the large side of straight sizes or are plus size may be harder to fit. You want to minimize the pain of not fitting into the largest size in the store. If your child is plus size, then you will likely have more difficulty finding options at your local mall.
1. Be a Fashion Scout:
It pays to do some scouting in advance. Find out whether your local retailers carry plus size children’s and plus size junior’s clothing. It’s better not to bring your child on your scouting expeditions. It can be frustrating for both of you to see that there are no plus sizes. Save your child from external evidence that there is something wrong with her body. She’s likely already facing that every day. We can’t protect our child from constant reminders that her body does not fit our cultural ideal. But we can protect her from unnecessary exposure to fashion tragedies.
When shopping for clothes in a retail store, the key is to prepare in advance to “upsize.” This is especially true if your child has recently gained weight or her body has changed.
Upsizing means that you choose multiple sizes of the same item, including one that you are fairly certain will be too large. Try to avoid selecting anything that you are fairly certain will be too small. Have your child try on the clothes from the largest size to the smallest size. Avoid looking at the size label while trying on. This will help her enjoy whatever size actually fits, instead of starting small and trying to force her body into something uncomfortable or despairing over her body’s size.
Encourage her to ignore the size label while she is trying the clothes on, reminding her that every brand does sizing differently, and it’s important to buy things that fit well, regardless of the size on the label. Be careful to avoid bringing any judgment to the sizing process.
3. Don’t praise clothing size
If she fits in a smaller size than you were expecting, don’t praise her for having a smaller body. Just acknowledge that the size fits her well. If she is too large for the largest piece of clothing in a certain style, just remind her that sizing is crazy.
Remember: if the pants don’t fit, it’s the pants’ fault – not her body’s.
Whether the pants fit or not should never mean that you provide praise or disapproval of your child’s body. Remind your child that it is the clothing’s job to fit her body. It is not her body’s job to fit the clothing.
How to make online shopping work
Unfortunately, most of the major retail clothing stores do not provide plus size clothing in-store and if they do, it can be very limited. Some online retailers that carry “Girls Plus Size” clothing include:
Some online retailers that carry “Juniors Plus Size” clothing include:
Many retailers provide plus sizes online. Online shopping isn’t the same as a traditional shopping trip, but your child may prefer it.
Together you can search online retailers, fill shopping carts and place the orders. If you are able, over-order the clothing with the assumption that you will likely return 30%-70% of the clothing purchased online. If your budget allows, order at least two sizes of every item so there are choices.
2. Take measurements
Over-ordering isn’t always possible! The alternative is to take careful body measurements and consult the size charts for each retailer.
3. Fill the cart
Consider having your child do the “fun” part of adding the stuff she likes to the cart. Consider taking on the hard/frustrating part of figuring out which size to order.
4. Plan a try-on day
Wait until all the packages come in and have a try-on day. This can be a fun replication of the dressing room. Set all of the clothes up in multiple sizes. Lay out different outfits and combinations. Help your child evaluate how well the clothing fits, and have her sit, stand, and run around in it. Make a pile of keepers, maybes, and go-backs. This will optimize your child’s experience and minimize size-shame.
This is very much like the traditional shopping trip but in the comfort of home. Once you have piles based on how well the clothing fits, you can evaluate your budget and return what doesn’t fit.
Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating issues, body shame and eating disorders.
She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate eating disorder recovery and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.