the gap in the market.


In the time that I’ve been blogging about fat fashion, the industry has improved greatly. Where once it was a bleak wasteland of hanky hems, butterfly prints and a lesson on how to blend in, there are now brights, prints, sequins, hotpants, bodycon and all the rest. One area, though, where the plus size fashion industry is quite clearly failing is in basics. Amid all of the fun and froth, where are the staples that are always cited as the foundations of a woman’s wardobe? I decided to do an experiment to see just how easy (or otherwise) it is to come by these supposedly essential items if you’re fat. I chose five, to start with: white shirt, Breton t-shirt, black cigarette pants, grey marl t-shirt and black leather biker jacket.

I searched for these five items on one straight size retailer’s website (I chose Topshop, the most ubiquitous of all high street chains), just to prove to myself that they are perennially available and easy to come by if you’re a size 10. All five were there. I then looked for the same item on the websites of three major plus-size retailers: Evans, ASOS Curve and Simply Be. So what I’m saying is: you can buy all five of these items in one single high street shop aimed at slim women, of which there are many high street shops where you can get the same or similar items. Will I be able to find the same items in any of three of the biggest plus size retailers? Let’s find out!

The white shirt

My criteria were: no front pocket (pockets on white shirts remind me too much of ugly school shirts), long-sleeved, with a collar, made of cotton. Here is what happens when you search ‘white shirt’ on Topshop. That’s how many variations there are. Not all of them fit my specifications exactly, but there’s a massive variety to suit pretty much all tastes and needs. Satisfying!

Here is a white cotton long-sleeve shirt for £20 for sale on Topshop.

How many on ASOS Curve? 1. How many on Simply Be? o. How many on Evans? o.

Only one out of a possible three plus-size retailers are currently carrying a similar item. ASOS Curve have what they call a ‘girlfriend shirt’ that meets all my specifications, and are the only brand to have one that does. I don’t really get what ‘girlfriend shirt’ means… surely there are no special design qualities related to making clothes in the proportions and style expected of the gender you’re marketing the clothes at? Oh well. It’s a nice shirt.

The breton t-shirt

I was looking for a jersey t-shirt with sleeves of any length, horizontal navy stripe on white, with no other pattern or design. No random Eiffel Towers, a straight hem, just, you know, a white t-shirt with blue stripes. Here is a serviceable version on Topshop.

How many on ASOS Curve? 1, if you’ll buy it in a two-pack with a navy blue t-shirt. How many on Simply Be? 1. How many on Evans? 0.

This was Simply Be’s offering. It’ll do.

The black skinny trousers

I was looking for a pair of trousers that are black, full-length or slightly cropped, and made of a heavy, matte material (not jersey or pleather) like crepe or polyester at a push. I’m not looking for the moon on a stick, right? Just some sensible but sexy trousers that you can wear with heels and feel trop chic.

The Topshop ones are great, absolutely perfect.

How many on ASOS Curve? More than 1! In fact, ASOS Curve had several different skinny black trouser styles. How many on Simply Be? 1. How many on Evans? 0.

I adore these ASOS Curve trousers. They’re maybe not as skinny as I would want them to be, but the shape and the material are spot on.

Simply Be’s version are great too. Well done Simply Be!

The grey marl t-shirt

No specific criteria here, just a grey marl t-shirt. Comforting, easy, oddly sexy. Shouldn’t be too hard to find, right? I mean, it’s only a t-shirt, and Topshop’s is lovely. I wasn’t even looking for a cashmere tee but I won’t turn down luxury bitch vibes. Now, can we find a basic bitch t-shirt in fat sizes? Can we heck.

How many on ASOS Curve? 0. How many on Simply Be? 0. How many on Evans? 0. You can’t buy a grey marl t-shirt in cashmere, jersey or any fabric at all from three major plus-size retailers. Bad times. This is precisely why I thank my lucky stars that I fit into Topshops M/L or size 16 t-shirts. All my favourite t-shirts come from there. If I didn’t, I probably wouldn’t wear t-shirts at all.

The black leather biker

A black leather biker jacket. When I moved to Montreal in 2010, I got to autumn and couldn’t figure out why none of my outfits looked right. I realised it was because I’d chosen to leave my beloved All Saints leather biker in England, deeming it non-essential. Turns out a black leather jacket makes 90% of my outfits feel more coherent, more satisfying and more me. I’m now wearing one I got from ASOS Curve last winter, which is perfect. But what’s around at the moment?

This is exactly what I’m looking for. Gently cropped, black, real leather, biker shape.

How many on ASOS Curve? 2. How many on Simply Be? o. How many on Evans? 0.

ASOS Curve have two at the moment, which is the same as they did last year- one for £100, and another, slightly nicer one for 120. If you want a leather jacket and you’re above a size 16/18, you pretty much have to go to ASOS. I’ve been super happy with the style, fit and quality of my leather jacket, which I’ve worn endlessly since I got it.

Here’s the cheaper one.

And the more expensive one.

So, all told, how did the stores do? Did any one store offer one single version of all five wardrobe staples that you can easily buy from Topshop? Nope. The scores are thus: ASOS Curve with 4/5. Simply Be with 2/5. Evans with 0/5. This is a problem! The thing I hear my fat compatriots saying more than anything else about the macro trends in plus size fashion is “I just want what thin girls have, but in my size” and nowhere is this more obvious than in basics. I’m sure I would suffer the same fate if I did the same experiment with a black blazer, a coloured cashmere sweater and a sharp-pleated midi skirt, but alas these things are quite labour-intensive and I have neither the time nor the inclination. This serious gap in the market only serves to make dressing difficult. These items aren’t extraordinary feats of design, they’re just clothes that make getting dressed easier and serve as good backdrops for other, more frivolous items. Please, fatshion retailers, hear our prayers?

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