Plus Size Clothing: A Gender-Free Style Guide

Plus Size Clothing: A Gender-Free Style Guide

By Charlie Lewis - May 2023

For many who experience moving through the world in a larger body, finding clothing that both fits and is gender-affirming can be challenging. We created this gender-neutral/fluid guide to plus size clothing to help you navigate these challenges. In this guide, we will walk you through the most common problems and solutions with regards to plus size clothing, and give you several tips on styling plus size clothes depending on your body type and gender expression.

What Is Plus Size Clothing?

Definition of what plus size is varies. In the US, plus size is often considered size 18 and above for what is traditionally labeled as “women’s wear”. For what is traditionally labeled as “men’s wear”, plus is size is considered over a 34-inch waist. For XS-XL type sizing, plus size is considered 1X to 6X. What is surprising is that while plus-sized clothing is seen as a niche market, the average numerical size in the US is size 16 or XL (for “women’s wear”) and 34 (for “men’s wear). This not only shows that plus-size is quite a large market, but also reflects society’s expectations of what is considered as “regular” in terms of sizing.

Why A Gender Neutral Guide to Plus Size Clothing is Needed?

Clothing sizes are almost exclusively separated by gender. This not only makes finding well-fitted clothes difficult for those who fall outside traditional expectations of gender identity/expression (e.g., non-binary, transgender, gender fluid, etc.) but also informs people’s expectations of what a certain gendered person’s body size should be. People with larger bodies are often made to feel as though their bodies are not in line with the expectations of gender which society holds, especially those identify as women or femme-presenting.

This creates a big challenge especially for gender non-conforming people who have a larger body. For instance, transgender people who are not in alignment with those expectations in terms of size often struggle finding well-fitting clothes that simultaneously allows them to affirm their gender identity. This is why a gender-neutral/fluid approach to plus-size clothing is so necessary, to allow those left behind by gendered expectations of body size and expression to dress confidently and without being held back by stigma and inaccessibility.

Common Plus Size Clothing Problems and Solutions

Inconsistent Sizing

Sizing is rarely consistent from brand to brand when it comes to plus sizes. Furthermore, due to a lack of options at physical retailers, many people wearing plus-size clothing often shop for their clothes online without trying them on. This can make it very tricky to find clothes that are well-fitting.

The best solution to sizing is to get accurate measurements of your body. The most common measurements clothing brands use to determine size are bust or chest, shoulders, waist, hips, and height/length. Once you have an accurate measurement of your body, you can begin using sizing guides which online brands tend to provide as guidance. This will especially help with purchasing pants that are sized by waist and height measurements. If you are looking for a pant-sizing guide, click here for a gender-free one that provides a step-by-step measurement instruction and a size converter. 

High Prices

Despite only needing a marginal amount more fabric than straight sizes, plus-sized clothing is often excessively more expensive. While there’s not an “easy” fix to this, finding plus-size inclusive second-hand shops can be an affordable option. See if any thrift stores in your area specifically include clothes over an XL. Many larger thrift store chains such as Goodwill include a plus-size section at most locations. Second-hand plus-size clothing can also be bought directly from sellers via second-hand clothing apps like D-pop, where you can find out a bit about the garment before purchasing. 

Poor Materials/Construction

A well-designed plus-size clothing should be well-fitting (not too tight or too loose), comfortable to wear without causing pain or restricting body, and have longevity of wear. It must be made to give larger bodies the support they need, as different body parts must be considered depending on your size and shape. Unfortunately, many plus-size garments you see today often do not satisfy many of these criteria due to the use of cheap materials or poor construction.

To overcome this issue, when shopping online, checking the reviews of any garment you intend to buy is key. Many websites will offer reviewers a chance to share the size they purchased, their measurements, and report on the quality of the material and construction. If you are shopping in person, the best solution is to try on things on to see how they fit your body and if they are made using high quality materials and construction. If you do not feel comfortable using dressing rooms, just familiarize yourself with the store’s return/exchange policy and try/inspect things at your home and return or exchange items as needed.

How to Style Plus Size Clothes Depending on Your Body Type

Wearing whatever makes you feel comfortable and affirmed is the most important aspect of dressing. However, certain styles or clothing pieces might help to flatter different bodies. Gender-neutral styling tips for plus size clothes that we provide below are by no means an exhaustive guide, but you may find a few tips that may work for you.

Short and Wide Body Type

As a “petite” person with a wider/curvier body, it can be very difficult to find well-fitting clothing. For example, pants that fit your waist may bunch up around your ankles due to being too long. Here are some of our styling tips if you have a short and wide body type.

Cinch Your Waist

To make your body appear more proportional, it’s important to emphasize your natural shape. Cinching in your waist in all garments will allow you to show off your torso’s actual length. This can be done by tucking in shirts, belting dresses, and jumpsuits, and wearing cropped tops and high-rise/high-waisted pants/bottoms to emphasize your natural torso and give the appearance of longer legs.

Consider Petite/Short Sizes

In addition to plus sizes, there are often sizes that are referred to as “petite” or in the case of pants “short.” These sizes will allow you to find clothing that fits your body all around. Finding flowy or wide-leg cropped-bottom pants is also a great way to keep your legs looking proportional, vs. bunching up skinny jeans or cuffed pants.

Tall and Curvy Body Type

Here are some of our styling tips if you have a tall and curvy body type.

Go For High-Waisted Pants

High-waisted pants will ensure there's room for your legs and will hopefully include a higher inseam to accommodate your pelvis. They are also less likely to leave red marks on your belly like lower-rise waistbands often do. Fitted pants will outline and support your legs, allowing you to show them off while being comfortable and feeling held together, however, if you have larger legs, opt for tapered fits which leave room for your thighs.

Consider Midi Dresses and Skirts

Another great way to show off your legs without feeling buried by shapeless fabric is to wear midi dresses and skirts (if you feel comfortable in them and they align with your gender expression). Along with a belt to cinch your waist, this will keep you looking proportional by landing just below your knee, and not disappearing your shape under a lot of fabric.

Cinch Your Waist

This tip that we previously mentioned also works for this body type. Despite having very different heights, cinching your waist as a tall human wearing plus-size clothing will help to accentuate your natural shape. It will differentiate your torso from your legs, and allow you to show off all parts of your body, instead of drawing focus on the legs only. 

Medium All Around Body Type

Here are some of our styling tips if you have a body type that is medium all around. 

Find Stretchy Waistbands

If you've got a larger waistband size than what's expected for your height by straight sizes, find pants the appropriate height with elastic built into the waistband is helpful for comfort and flexibility. Not just for sweatpants, there are pants of many styles and materials which are made this way, so you can wear work slacks without having to deal with the discomfort.

Consider Button Downs

Button-downs are a versatile way to show off your features while accommodating different body sizes, and they come in a lot of fun prints and a variety of styles, from a casual beach look to office-appropriate attire and even formal wear. For our gender-free style guide on button ups, click here.

Use Layers

Adding a fun cardigan, unbuttoned button-down, or a long shawl or jacket, or adding a long sleeve shirt under a blouse or t-shirt can be a fun way to play with your shape and add in some extra flair, colors, and patterns. 

How to Style Plus Size Clothes Depending on Your Gender Expression/Presentation

Your gender presentation is defined only by you. There is no one way to look “masculine” “feminine”, “androgynous” or “undifferentiated”. These are only tips you may find helpful when your presentation falls closer to one of these titles. If you want to read more about gender expression through fashion and beauty check out our article on the subject.

For Those Presenting Feminine

If you would like to present more feminine in plus-size clothing, consider these tips:

Show Off

Find clothes that show off and support the parts of your body you feel (or want to feel) the most confident about. Whether that’s your arms, legs, belly, shoulders, etc. you will likely be able to find plus-size clothing that accentuates that feature.


While plus-size clothing may be harder to acquire, jewelry and other accessories are usually fairly available, you can make use of accessories to utilize a piece of clothing in multiple ways and styles. A long necklace, a colorful scarf, or a headband/hat can make you feel dressed up and that much more excited about the way you look.

For Those Presenting Masculine

If you would like to present more masculine in plus-size clothing, consider these tips: 

Get Your Suits Fitted

Even if you found it at the local thrift store, if you can, bring your suit to a local tailor and have it altered to fit your body in particular. This is how plus-size celebrities look so good in their clothes.

Don’t be Afraid of Patterns or Color 

Mainstream masculine fashion in the 21st century is often limited to certain colors, styles, and patterns. Throughout history, masculinity has always involved some flavor of dandy-ism or flamboyant masculinity. A vintage frilly shirt or floral button-up can look stunning and still read as masculine.

Consider Vertical Panels

Vertical Panels will help elongate your torso and give you room for expression. To achieve this look, wear an unbuttoned shirt over a t-shirt, mixing and matching the patterns/colors in a way that feels exciting for your eye and personal style.

For Those Presenting Androgynous

Androgyny is all about playing with gendered expectations and having fun exploring the fluidity of your individual gender experience through clothes. If you would like to present more androgynous in plus-size clothing, consider these tips.

Play Around

There’s no definitive version of androgyny. Androgyny is often represented through thin, white, often AFAB individuals in mainstream media. This gives the impression that fat people, POC, and others cannot be androgynous. Your larger body can be androgynous, and you have just as much of a right and ability to play with gender using your clothing and body.

Consider Makeup

Makeup can be a big part of gender play alongside clothing. Adding or removing facial hair, matching color palettes to your outfits, or combining traditionally masculine pieces with feminine-reading makeup are just a few of the many ways makeup can factor into your dress and expression.

For Those Presenting Undifferentiated

Undifferentiated, also sometimes labelled as “gender-neutral” refers to a gender experience and expression completely disconnected from gender. Those who identify with this category may not want to be seen as masculine or feminine, nor necessarily a combination of the two. If you would like to present more undifferentiated in plus-size clothing, consider these tips.

Pick Association-Free Clothing 

Finding ways to express yourself continues to be a journey for everyone, if you’re seeking a non-gendered expression, wearing clothing such as jumpsuits, large sweaters, jeans, and sneakers are all examples of clothing that isn’t associated with one gender over the other. If you do find joy in clothing traditionally associated with a specific gender, it’s also perfectly valid to view the piece as separate from any gender, as clothing is not inherently a gendered object.

Find a Style External to Gender

Find a style external to gender that you enjoy, such as goth, or Y2K, and find pieces across the gendered categories to fulfill that style in a way that's affirming and excites you. This makes it easier to know what you’re looking for without getting stuck in categories of male or female.


People of all bodies and gender expressions deserve clothing that is accessible, well-fitting, and in line with their self-expression. If you are a plus-size person who liked to live outside of the needless boundaries of gendered fashion, we hope this guide helped you find ways to feel comfortable in expressing yourself in any way you want. 


“The Most Surprising Plus Size Fashion Industry Statistics and Trends in 2023.” Gitnux, 14 April. 2023,

Charlie Lewis (he/him/his) is a queer non-binary writer and filmmaker based out of Portland, OR.