Online Shopping While Fat

Growing up in Prince Edward Island—a small island on the east coast of Canada that had a population of approximately 135,000 people in the mid-1990s—we didn’t have a lot of options when it came to shopping for clothing. A couple of local stores that sold brands that were popular at the time, but if we wanted to go to The Gap or Club Monaco or West 49 we had to travel off-island by ferry to Halifax, Nova Scotia (four hours away) or Moncton, New Brunswick (two hours away). So when online shopping became a thing in the early-2000s I was, needless to say, into it.

I can still remember the first item of clothing I bought online. It was 2002 and I was using my parents’ credit card. I had squirrelled away the money I earned working at the Sunglass Hut in the mall and I bought a tank top from dELiA*s. At the time, I was squarely a size 12—small enough that I fit in most brands, but big enough that I was wearing the largest size. When the tank top arrived in all its square-necked glory, that XL looked more like an XS. It was devastating. That tank top held all my hopes and dreams and fears. And it confirmed what I had spent quite a bit of time thinking—I was too fat for cute clothes. I had sized out of cute. I was officially size not cute. All that remained for me were jeans with elasticated waistbands and bedazzled tees.

Luckily, I rebounded rather quickly and tried ordering online again. It was a dress for New Year’s Eve 2002. A one shoulder pink number with a sheer black overlay that had a beaded pattern on it. And when it arrived, it fit! Oh, did it fit. It took me from hosting a dinner party to dancing to my favourite band at a local bar. Oh my god, was I feeling myself in that dress. I had definitely not sized out of cute—I just had to get a little more creative about where I shopped and a little less attached to what size I wore.

Online shopping can be fantastic—euphoric even. But it can also be a miserable mess. Here are a few ways to hedge your bets online shopping while fat:

Know your measurements. 

This is especially true for us fat babes. At the very least, keep accurate & up-to-date measurements for your bust, waist, and hips. If you’re unsure how to take your own measurements ask a friend to help, or better yet, have a tailor take them for you. Everyone’s body is different so where to measure will be different for everyone. With that said, I’ll try to give you a general idea of how to measure yourself based on my experience. I’m doing this because Googling how to measure yourself is rife with a lot of “information” I would put trigger warnings in front of. We’ll just leave it at that.

The first thing you need is a soft measuring tape. You can get one of these on Amazon, at Walmart, Michael’s, or basically any fabric store. They usually come 60-inches long, but you can also get them in 120-inches, and 288-inches (I’ve linked one of each above, respectively). I have a fancy Merchant & Mills Bespoke Tape Measure that my uncle bought me for Christmas that I never leave home without—you wouldn’t believe the amount of time it comes in handy, and not just at Ikea!

Bust — While wearing a well-fitting bra, measure the widest part of your bust (usually in line with your nipples).

Waist — Measure at your “natural waist” or the smallest part of your torso (generally above your belly button and below your ribcage).

Hips — Stand with your legs together or with your feet hip distance apart. Measure the widest part of your hips, at the top of your leg and across your butt (which generally aligns with the crotch of pants or jeans).

Read the reviews.

I will jump for joy the day ASOS implements customer reviews on their site because oh my god the sizing of the brands they carry is all over the place. If, like ASOS, the store itself doesn’t allow reviews check around online for blogs or on YouTube for general brand reviews to get a feel for the sizing.

I will be starting a series in mid-to-late January where I review the sizing and quality of different brands. First up is J.Crew. Keep an eye out for it and let me know what brands you want to see most in the comments!

Ignore the sizes. Instead, compare your measurements with the brand’s sizing guide.

If your measurements fall in between sizes, round up. It’s much easier to tailor something that is too big than something that is too small.

Buy the size that fits the largest part of your body.

For me, that means buying items to fit my arms or my hips and having the item taken in at the bust and/or the waist. Or not taking the item in at all and instead, rocking that oversized look.

Get a tailor. No seriously, get one. I’m not joking.

Buying items to fit my largest parts means that sometimes they are out of proportion with my other parts. That’s where a tailor comes in. For a few dollars here & there they can make your clothes look like they were literally made to fit your body.

If you can, order multiple sizes.

If the company has free returns (or you don’t mind paying for returns) and you have the space on your credit card go for it and order multiple sizes. Just remember to check the store’s return policy so you don’t get stuck with them for eternity.

And a specific tip for my Canadian babes:

Paying duty.

I wish I had the magical answer on how to avoid paying duty, but I don’t. I can try to demystify the duty process for you, though.

First, duty is only a fraction of what you are being charged. You are being charged duty, HST (PST & GST, or just GST, depending on what province you live in), and a customs brokerage fee. The customs brokerage fee can be up to $30 on its own, which can often be far more than the amount you are paying in duty and taxes combined.

Some retailers (Eileen Fisher, Lane Bryant, Nordstrom—basically any retailer that ships via BorderFree) will calculate duty and taxes during checkout. This often saves the buyer from paying a customs brokerage fee. I am a fan of this option and wish more retailers would implement it.

According to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), you won’t have to pay duty or taxes on items that you order from the United States or Mexico if the items were manufactured within the United States or Mexico.

Currently, keeping your order under $20 will avoid duty, taxes, and customs brokerage fees altogether.

Under the new Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA) that will replace NAFTA, the threshold for duty will change from $20 to $150. The agreement still hasn’t received royal assent (i.e. become law) in Canada, and some are speculating that it won’t until June 2019. I’m saving some big purchases until then.

Find out how the retailer you want to purchase from ships. You can usually find this out by tweeting at them, emailing them, or sliding into their Instagram DMs. Here are some trends I’ve noticed:

DHL? You are almost definitely paying duty and taxes, plus the customs brokerage fee will be $30+.
FedEx or UPS? It could go either way. The customs brokerage fee will be less than DHL, though.
USPS? These packages usually fly under the radar. If you do get charged duty and taxes, the customs brokerage fee calculated by Canada Post is $9.95.

Finally, if you end up returning something you paid duty and taxes on those duties and taxes aren’t lost forever. You can remit this form to the Canadian Border Services Agency with paperwork showing the item was returned and your money was refunded. You can also remit the same form if you were overcharged in duty and/or taxes, or if you were charged duty and taxes on an item that was manufactured in the United States or Mexico.

Do you have any tricks for online shopping I didn’t mention? Let me know in the comments below.

Photos by Yuli Scheidt.