When Plus-Size Clothes Are Barely an Option

On this week‘s episode of Roommate (룸메이트), comedian Lee Guk Joo invited fellow comediennes Kim Min Kyung and Hong Yoon Hwa over to the share house. We’re introduced to them getting out of the car as “the three fatties”. Yes, all 3 of them are plus-sized; a characteristic that seems to be common among ‘gagwomen’ (Korean comediennes), but not so common among idols and actresses.

Lee Guk Joo for Vogue

Lee Guk Joo for Vogue


As Guk Joo showed her friends around the house, Min Kyung joked that she had a similar outfit Guk Joo was wearing in a photo. The ladies then started talking about how they each had the same items the other was wearing. The conversation concluded with Lee Guk Joo, “It’s hard to find clothes in our size. So we all wear the same thing.” Even though I’m not eager to jump on fashion trends, that statement really saddened me.

It is relatively easy for plus-size women in the US to find women’s clothes regardless of price. We have Avenue and Lane Bryant in our shopping centers. Thrift stores, Ross, Target and other low-end retailers carry clothes in many sizes and styles. Online offerings from Amazon broaden our choices along with smaller shops like eShakti, clothes share store Gynnie Bee, and various designers on Etsy. Initially, I just thought they could shop from those stores. Then I remembered that the use of English and unfamiliar sizing scales would create a hassle, never mind shipping.

I’ve noticed that when they go clothes shopping in Korean variety shows, the bigger men usually just start looking for things to wear, while the bigger women often hang back and don’t bother looking. They want to wear the cute clothes like other cast members, but it’s limited. The big joke is to put them in shapeless farmer work wear or tell them to go get a tent.

 photo malarkey.gif

If you visit the shopping pages on portal sites Daum or Naver, one thing you’ll notice in individual shops is the lack of sizing information on particular items. That is far more common than finding size options on most clothing items (pants excluded). On rare occasions, some Korean shopping sites will have links to “66 – 77”. That’s their plus-size limit. To put it in US terms, that in the 8/10 – 12 range. Korean sizes for women tend to cap at 88, which is a size 14.

As a plus-size woman in the US, my biggest hurdle–outside of price–is finding something that’s flattering and fits my curvy bits. Styling and taste are just 2 reasons I mostly wear men’s clothing. Currently, I’m wearing a men’s green v-neck sweater from Old Navy. I paid $15 for it and it fit well. The women’s version of this sweater was made with thinner material, the arms were too tight and it costs $30. I looked stuffed into the women’s sweater. The men’s sweater falls neatly in all the right places. Still, I really don’t enjoy clothes shopping because it’s too time consuming to find something I like that fits well. I couldn’t even imagine what a headache it is in South Korea.

What is plus-size shopping like in your country?