“Why are there no cool plus-sized clothes? And why do clothes not fit even when they are ‘my’ size? The whole act of shopping makes me feel bad about myself. Sizing for shopping online is never dependable and trying on things in a change room is traumatic for me. I like cute clothes as much as the next (smaller bodied) person! Is there any hope?” — Lisa, Georgetown
Everyone’s lived experience is different. Every body is different. The fashion industry should reflect that, but you are right, Lisa, it just doesn’t: yet. There is hope, though, some movement in a positive direction. To help us strike fashion gold here, I’ve asked one of my favourite interview subjects to jump in and provide both context, and expert shopping and styling tips for the curve market. Karyn Inder is a model, a body positivity advocate, public speaker, podcast host, and mental health counsellor and advocate based in Toronto. “Fashion is supposed to be a fun expression of self,” she says. “To think that that freedom and fun is a privilege some of us don’t have is jarring.”
When I first interviewed Inder, for a 2017 Toronto Star story about the rise of curve models, we were all hopeful about changes happening in the industry at that time: the move from token representation to true diversity of body types in pop culture, along with improved extended sizing in the retail market. Alas, she says today, “Bigger bodies and our place in fashion, that isn’t resolved.”
Feeling left out of the fashion experience is painful, Inder says. “Instead of the clothes — and the people who make and sell them — being at fault, we are left to believe our bodies are at fault. It’s a spiral; you end up feeling bad about yourself and you internalize that as, ‘My body is too big, I’m too frumpy.’”
Shopping, she says, is a life experience. When she speaks at schools, she is there to encourage body positivity and self-love. She hears stories that concern her: “When a group of girls goes together to the mall, the store has divided the ‘straight’ sizes away from the plus sizes. You are taking away that shared shopping experience, making someone feel othered.”
The clothes in the different sections are also not the same. “You can’t just take a size small top and scale it up indefinitely,” she says. “That is the biggest mistake companies make. Design has to be thoughtful and take into account that we are all built differently. Bigger people carry weight differently.”
Here is the thing, she says: “Thinner people, if they order a size online, it is more or less going to fit. But the same garment may not hit me in the same places as the person they did the testing on. So I read size measurements for each garment. Yes, it is labour, it takes up my time and energy, but it helps me feel more in control of the shopping experience.”
As for shopping in person, Inder has another tip: “Just try it on, try everything on. It will surprise you.” Because, she says, numbers are meaningless with size charts varying so wildly from brand to brand. “Sizing is not regulated; it is not real. I’m an XL/1X, but in my closet you will find everything from a small to a size 3X.” Furthermore, she says, for your health, try not to let the number define you. “If it fits you, great, that’s all you need to know.” She recommends buying extended sizing (up to 3X) from Reformation (“I’m obsessed”) because when the clothing arrives there is no size label. “Numbers nibble away at your brain.”
For in-store shopping, she issues a plea to brands and store designers: “Please put the mirror inside the change room?” Some people — recovering from eating disorders or self-harm, or just shy about their bodies — don’t want to be forced to leave the cubicle to see how something fits. “The shopping experience matters.”
Another peeve is that plus-sized shoppers are often left out of sales. “Sales are fun!” she says. “But you need to know you can return something when the fit is always in question.”
Here are a few of Inder’s favourite places and brands to shop for plus-sized clothing. “Kotn, I’m such a stan: it’s Canadian, sustainable, a B corporation, environmentally friendly, they build schools in Egypt. I’m obsessed with a textured maxi dress they have right now.” If confidence were a dress, she says, this is it. “I bought both colours in different sizes for different fit options.”
Inder is also a fan of Toronto-based Indigenous designer Lesley Hampton, who is committed to making clothes for all bodies. She loves Knix for its gym gear. “I put on the Catalyst sports bra and the high-waisted leggings, and I feel like a different person.”
Not that this is the year for sunny tropical escapes, but plus-size swimwear is always a great tip to have on hand. (And shopping ahead of the season is a smart way to ensure you get the right fit, and aren’t scrambling ahead of a getaway or pool party.) Inder says, “Kitty and Vibe is the most body-positive and inclusive swimwear brand I have ever met. They are changing the game in how swim sizes work. They have two types of measurements for the bottoms!”
Brands that pay attention to detail on their websites and show a range of women’s body types modelling different styles always win Inder’s favour. She points to Khloe Kardashian’s Good American as a great brand because you can ask the site to show you what the jeans look like on different-sized models. “I send emails to brands saying that when I see something worn by someone my size, I’m more likely to buy,” she says.
Inder’s final recommendation isn’t for clothing but home decor. “I love surrounding my home with size-inclusive art. Exposure makes you feel better about yourself.” She loves Brwn Collective’s female-form candles that come in a range of body sizes and skin colours. “Representation matters. Brwn Collective is about beauty existing in every size and every colour.”
What does Inder really wish there was more of? “My first answer is always empathy,” she says. “A lot of people only take into consideration their own experiences of the world.”
Shop the advice
A selection of great inclusive finds available in a wide range of sizes, from curve model and advocate Karyn Inder
Kotn dress, $98, kotn.com SHOP HERE
Inder picks this Kotn dress as her go-to for this winter: in soft-textured ribbed fabric with a flattering drape and details such as a slightly belled skirt and mock turtle collar, this pairs great with boots. Goes to size XXL.
Kitty and Vibe bathing suit top $73, bottoms $65, kittyandvibe.com SHOP HERE
This is the swimwear brand to go to for up to XXL fit and chic and modern cuts. The bikini bottom has two different size measurements to ensure coverage where you want it.
Lesley Hampton top, $90, lesleyhampton.com SHOP HERE
Canadian Indigenous fashion star Lesley Hampton has dressed everyone from Lizzo in her home gym to Devery Jacobs on the red carpet. This signature face crop T is available up to size 3X.
Reformation dress, $240, thereformation.com SHOP HERE
This sexy Reformation dress is a faux wrap with flattering ruching and comes in sizes up to 3X.
Good American pants, $257, goodamerican.com SHOP HERE
Khloe Kardashian’s clothing brand is loved for its jeans and its extended size range. These Better Than Leather vegan trousers are a sexy staple and are finished with five pockets and side slits at the ankle.
Brwn Collective Candle, $35, brwncollective.ca SHOP HERE
Because representation matters: These Brwn Collective candles, a tribute to all female bodies, come in a range of skin tones and body shapes. Plus they are 100 per cent soy, made by hand, in Toronto. Proceeds benefit Native Women’s Resource Centre.
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