No matter your size, finding great-fitting pieces online can be a little like playing Russian Roulette with your credit card. There’s just no way to know from brand to brand across styles and fabrics how something will fit, especially when you’ve got a little extra junk in your trunk! As a woman who wears a size 16W, I read the return policy before I even start shopping. In fact, according to a 2020 Shopify study, at least 8% of customers return over 50% of what they buy online. And when it comes to clothing for women who wear plus sizes the numbers are even higher. And, guess what a Vogue Business study reported as the most common reason for returns? You guessed it: “poor fit”. So how can you ensure that you are buying the right size online or in-store? According to expert fit designer Luann Harry-Pantin, measuring yourself and honoring your own comfort is the key to success. We had to get more pearls of wisdom from this 20-year veteran of the clothing industry who has fit everything from men’s apparel to women’s, kids and plus sizes. Here are her insider tips for plus size women on how to shop for a great fit.

“According to expert fit designer Luann Harry-Pantin, measuring yourself and honoring your own comfort is the key to success”

How To Use A Fabric Tape Measure

First things first, knowing how to use a fabric measuring tape is a must when determining your measurements. If you’ve never measured yourself before, no worries! According to Luann Harry-Pantin, measuring yourself is not difficult. She gave us some simple beginner steps.

  1. Make sure that when using a measuring tape, you place the beginning of the measuring tape to the front.
  2. Bring it [the rest of the tape] all the way around and loosely let it sit against the beginning of the tape.
  3. Then place your finger where the tape overlaps to track that measurement.

What makes it even easier is that you don’t have to be exact, according to Luann, “If you’re off by an inch or so it’s ok because it’s still better to have a range of what your measurements are.” And when it comes to shopping online, everything comes down to bust, waist, and hip measurements. Once you have these three numbers down, you’ll be reading size charts like a seasoned pro.

How To Measure Your Bust

When measuring your bust, which is slightly different from measuring your bra size, you’ll want to put the measuring tape around the fullest part of your chest at nipple level. It’s important to get the fullest part of your bust because garments should fit comfortably across your chest to avoid pulling and gapping in dresses and blouses. It’s also best practice to take your measurements wearing only your underwear. This ensures you are getting an exact measurement as clothing tends to add volume, thereby leaving you with incorrect measurements.

How To Measure Your Waist

When it comes to measuring your waist, it’s also encouraged to measure the fullest part of your midsection which is typically about 4 inches above your belly button. Most importantly, don’t hold your breath! Filling your lungs with air will actually expand your rib cage, exhale right before you take the final measurement for a more accurate reading.

How To Measure Your Hips

Measuring your hips follows pretty much the same logic as bust and waist. You’ll want to go around the fullest part of your bottom. It’s important to accommodate for the fullest part of your bottom especially when sizing dresses and pants. However, if you are wearing pants that stretch, your waist measurement might be enough as the fabric will accommodate your hips and rear end. Similarly if you are measuring for a fit and flare dress, the flared skirt will allow ample room for you bottom so the waist measurement will be the key to a great fit.

Finding The Right Fit For Your Body Type

If you are pear-shaped, like me, you typically wear a larger size on the bottom than on the top. Or if you have a more inverted triangle shape where you might wear a larger size on top, you will probably find that your top and bottom measurements correlate to different sizes on any given size chart. And you’re not alone, this is a common challenge for a lot of women who wear plus sizes. Here’s what Luann had to say about navigating this when shopping online; “ I would say to go with the measurement of the widest part of your body. Also, focus on the fabric. If it consists of any kind of stretchy material and you want it fitted and it has the give, just make sure that your chest is well covered. If you’re measuring for bottoms, I would say [ measure your] waist first, because it’s probably going to stretch out at the hip.” So while you might find that your size on the top and bottom are different, depending on the range of measurements attributed to each size, it is possible for the garment to still fit correctly. Luanna added, “ Also always keep in mind the measurements that you’re seeing on a particular chart are body measurements. Dresses and other garments are being made to accommodate whatever that body measurement is.”

How To Consider Fabric When Measuring Yourself

According to Luann, fabric plays a huge role in how a garment will fit and accommodate your body measurements. For example stretchier fabrics, typically with spandex, elastane or lycra offer more give and will expand to fit your body. With some clothing you might even be able to buy a size down compared to your measurements. While fabrics with no stretch (such as woven fabrics typically used in blouses and some dresses) won’t offer that stretch and you may have to buy a size up. Luann breaks it down more for us here: ”If you want to wear spandex shorts, your waist might be 38”, but the shorts might measure 30″. The shorts will still stretch to fit your body measurements.”

Tips For Plus Size Women On Getting The Right Fit

With all her years of experience in the fashion industry, we had to ask Luann for her top tips on getting the right fit as a woman who wears plus sizes. “I would say, know your body measurements,” she said. “Know the fit of the clothes that you like, whether it be tight or not. Know the fabrics that you like, or that you don’t like. And stick with brands like Dia & Co that you know are made to accommodate your body. Stick to what makes you feel comfortable.”

For more styles made to fit your body, shop today.