How one plus-size expat stayed stylish while living in SE Asia.
Unlike most women, I am not a shopper. I was not always this way; my desire for shopping waned over time. In my 20s & 30s, I enjoyed going to the mall, browsing the stores for the latest fashion trends in my size. I would bounce from store to store, trying item after item looking for my next outfit for work or play.
These days, I have become an online shopper, but not for the reason you think. I am a plus-size woman who lived in Singapore, SE Asia. My clothes size rarely exists and when I find something it is either costly or not stylish.
Like most expats, I moved to Singapore with a limited number of belongings in two suitcases. During the settling process, I realized I needed a couple of pieces of casual, work or formal attire for my new location. So, I embarked on a shopping trip to the local mall and walked into stores that might have some familiarity. However, I quickly learned this experience was not friendly in many ways. I would walk into the women’s section to almost immediate attention of stares and giggles from the staff. I would look for sizes to no avail. When I ask for assistance, the staff would say “no size ma’am” without even blinking an eye, much less walk to the backroom to check for any random stock.
Shoes were even worse as my feet are larger and wide. Wide-width is a rarity. The only shoes I could purchase with confidence are flip flops and maybe an occasional heeled/wedge sandals with no angle straps. I finally gave up on shoes and resorted to ordering only or stocking-up during an annual trip home.
Being a plus-size woman, the stares, giggles, and snickering became commonplace in many of the women’s clothing stores. Whether it was clothes or shoes, the standard comment was “Sorry Ma’am, No Size.”
I would get lucky every so often with either of the two British department store chains. They both carry larger sizes in a few items such as some styles of dresses or blouses, nothing else. I was also fortunate as work colleagues overheard my plight. So, I learned about a plus-size boutique. It was created by a local who could not find clothes to fit her or her friends. The second story store, located across from a famous Singapore hotel, was my lifesaver for casual, work and definitely my last-minute outfits. Thanks to Kaylene Plus Size Designer Boutique, Singapore.
Being a plus-size woman, the stares, giggles, and snickering became commonplace in many of the women’s clothing stores. Whether it was clothes or shoes, the standard comment was “Sorry Ma’am, No Size.” So, to my fellow curvaceous or tall women who are living abroad, here are some options for you.
If you are tall or plus-size, my recommendation is to consider the international chains in your location. If you cannot find a US chain store, try British or Australian. They tend to have a few items on their racks for both taller and more full-figured persons. The next best option is seeking out specialty stores or boutiques that serve plus-size or tall women. There is a segment of the population that is just like you and some of them own shops that are tailored to your needs. Just know with the specialty shops, you will get a limited number of items. They will be at slightly higher prices, but they will fit.
Shop in Neighboring Countries
Crossing borders can result in you finding your size. In my case, I shopped in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia a couple of times. I took strolls in the local malls and found a local department or specialty store serving my needs in plain sight. There is a larger segment of the population that has the same needs so finding a store was quite normal. The clothing options were stylish and within the normal price range. Plus, my requests for a size not on the rack, were always pleasant. The salespersons would greet me with a friendly smile and immediately depart to the backroom to check the inventory.
Many of the online stores deliver worldwide and are expanding their country delivery options daily. If the store does not deliver directly to your location, there are third-party services that fill the gap for free with purchases of specific amounts or for a small fee.
Shop & Ship
Depending on where you call home and presently reside, you might be able to shop at your favorite stores. You know the brands and sizes based on the designers who fit you. So, find their online store and order your clothes and shoes. Many of the online stores deliver worldwide and are expanding their country delivery options daily. If the store does not deliver directly to your location, there are third-party services that fill the gap for free with purchases of specific amounts or for a small fee. When using the shop and ship option, remember many countries have duties and import taxes on shipment above a specific amount. The value (i.e. purchase price of items) is shared with the customs authorities who then make the determination of your fee/tax. Sometimes these charges can be included with your shipping cost. If not, then you will be required to pay it upfront or separately upon delivery. I have used this option many times. For the most part, I know exactly what brands, designers and sizes will fit when I order clothes. Ordering shoes is still a mystery in getting the right fit.
Hire a Tailor
Often a luxury and costly option in most western locations that I have lived, but not so much so in SE Asia. Having a regular tailor and seamstress is quite common. They can make repairs, alterations and most of them will give you a perfect outfit just from looking at a picture of the item. In some cases, they will even shop for your fabric and accessories and it is all included in the price. Depending on your needs, you might have 1 or 2 people in your contact list: one who makes your originals (suits, dresses, etc.) and another one who does your alterations. Build a rapport and they would willingly complete your request on short notice, buy fabric you like and recommend items for you. When you are traveling in SE Asia, there are locations that specialize in getting tailored clothes in as little as two (2) days (i.e. a weekend). So, take a trip or layover in Bangkok, Thailand for clothes or Hoi An, Vietnam for clothes and shoes. The great part about this option is that your clothes, in many cases, are one-of-a-kind and made to fit all your curves.
Bring or Buy an Extra Suitcase
Taking a trip back home for work or pleasure often results in an extra suitcase! If you have limited baggage options for your flight, then take a virtually empty suitcase for your shopping needs. However, you can also buy a suitcase while you are there, which has been my case on a few occasions. I go on an annual visit to the US and if I hit the sales and stock up, then I have to buy a second suitcase. But in reality, this option requires planning. You have to be careful not to overshop to avoid extra luggage or overweight charges with your airline. The bonus here is you avoid duty and customs charges. By the way, remove all the price tags, wash or wear the clothes, wear your shoes at least once and leave all the shopping bags/boxes behind. In most of the places you reside, they have monetary limits for your new purchases when returning from travels. However, when the items are used, the monetary value does not apply.
Have a Donation Box
Regardless of which option you use to keep stylish, you will have items that will not work for you. You may have items that you no longer like or may not fit as well as they did when you bought them. So a donation box is a necessity. This is a great option for donating, upcycling or repurposing your new or almost new clothes/shoes. These items can go to thrift stores, consignment shops, charitable organizations or clothes recycling companies that will put your items to good use. Depending on where you donate your items, you could be helping others who share your same plight. Remember, the struggles you had and help make it easier for another person, whether local or expat.
This article is based on my experience living in Singapore, but many of the solution-oriented ideas can be found or used in other places. If you are moving to Africa or Central or South America, having a tailor or seamstress is quite common and reasonably priced. It is probably the best way to have your clothes tailor-made, especially in local fabrics. If you are moving to South America, Europe or Oceania, your options could be local and regional chain stores. Whichever way you decide to look stylish, remember, true beauty comes from within. Your clothes and shoes, whether tailor-made or store-bought, only enhance your already fabulous personality and curves.
Love this story and the idea, then please comment as well as share it on LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook. Thank you!
—Karla A. Fraser, Sassy & Curvy Girl Overseas: Clothes and Shoes Shopping, Roseapple Global, LLC
Roseapple Global provides expat coaching and guidance for individuals or groups. We serve all aspiring or continuing expats and specialize in assisting higher education professionals. We also offer to consult for student-facing units of higher education institutions internationally. Our services focus on developing or improving the administrative and operational areas of your departments. We help you unlock your potential, maximize your ability, and equip you with resources and tools for your journey or your student-facing unit. Contact Us