clothing · fitness

Parkas, parkas, everywhere, and not a one to fit

November is coming, and the weather in the northeast part of the US is getting seasonally fall-like.  I love pulling out my winter clothes: jackets and coats and sweaters and wool socks and skirts, as well as cold-weather cycling and ski gear. It’s like getting a new-to-me clothing windfall.  However, for the past two years I’ve had a problem: my outdoorsy athletic gear jackets haven’t really fit me.

I’ve gained weight in my upper body, which is not where I used to gain weight when I was younger. My breasts are larger, my back is broader, and my belly is also rounder. Hello menopause!

The obvious thing to do here is to buy a new outdoorsy jacket, winter jersey or two in a larger size. This is the golden age of Internet shopping with free shipping, right?  What could possibly go wrong?

Here’s what could go wrong: I was a size XL in jackets and coats and some shirts and sweaters (it varies, of course).  I needed a larger size, but in most cases THEY DON’T MAKE THEM. That is, there’s no XXL in lots of outerwear.

As all of you know (as you have shopped in the world), size categories (S, M, L, XL, 1X–4X, etc.) mean very different things to different clothing makers. I’ve never even bothered to try on the largest item of Castelli women’s cycling clothing made, as they don’t see women who look like me as being part of the cycling world (can you tell I’m irritated by this?) Luckily, other manufacturers do make cycling clothing for people my size. But it’s catch-as-catch-can. You can’t reliably predict what styles will fit when you’re pushing the top of the sizing categories.

I am lucky that I have the privilege of being a fat person who can wear lots of outdoorsy clothing that major manufacturers sell.  I’m a size 16–18 these days, which means I have much more access to more styles that work for my athletic activities.

Turns out, unsurprisingly, I’m not alone in my consternation about this problem. On a recent Twitter thread, In Nicoled Blood posted that “outerwear sizing is bananas… it’s reverse vanity sizing”. By this she means that a L might fit someone who normally wears a size S. Her post unleashed a torrent of sympathetic complaining from men and women who are noting that outdoor clothing manufacturers don’t seem aware of people’s:

  • broad shoulders from swimming or whatever;
  • mighty calves from weight training or whatever;
  • large breasts from just shut up and make the jackets big enough already;
  • hips that require jackets that will zip around them;
  • needs for sizing that allows layering under outerwear, as this is a thing not just for tiny people.

A blogger for Outside magazine wrote a largely sympathetic article (also found in the twitter thread)  in response to a question about how to find athletic wear for fatter people. However, it took an odd turn when I read this advice:

Since you mention clothes as a specific problem, let’s get you a hiking outfit that makes you feel good. Most outdoor brands have a long way to go when it comes to making plus-size clothing and gear (you hear that, manufacturers?), but your local outdoor store will usually have at least one or two options. You can also choose high-quality material and bring it to your tailor for custom-made clothing. It might feel decadent, but it probably won’t be much more expensive than buying directly from a company—and you’ll end up with clothes that fit your proportions and are designed exactly how you want them.

Yes, it’s true that outdoor stores carry larger sizes, but they are mainly for larger sized men; many women will find them not well-fitting.

Then there’s the tailoring suggestion.  Really? I’m supposed to buy some Gore-tex or Polartec material and get a tailor to make me a ski jacket?  Who does that? I googled “bespoke down jacket” and got some schmancy website, but there was not even a whiff of pricing information anywhere.  You know what that means:

If you have to ask the price, you can't afford it.
If you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it.


It’s true that more clothing makers are offering more sizes, including more plus-sized clothing.  But the variety and availability just plummet once the size is above L.  This just won’t do.  People of all sizes need clothing to explore all aspects of the great outdoors (and indoors too).  And everyone is able to do so.  Here’s a graph that even proves it (from that Outside magazine blog):

Funny but true graph listing appropriate outdoor activities for people, based on weight.  Basically all of them are good for all weights.  Yeah!
Funny but true graph listing appropriate outdoor activities for people, based on weight. Basically all of them are good for all weights. Yeah!

A good way to deal with the “I haven’t got a thing to wear for winter parasailing” problem is to share information.  I found a North Face jacket in XXL that fits me well enough (big in shoulders and long in arms, but otherwise does the job).

Hey readers– where have you run into problems with outerwear sizing, and what solutions have you found?  We’d be grateful for any tips you have.  Thanks!








16 thoughts on “Parkas, parkas, everywhere, and not a one to fit

  1. Cathy,
    have you tried Marks?
    Their clothes, especially their brand Windriver, generally fit more generously than the sizes of other brands in other stores. For instance, you indicate that you are currently a 16-18. You would probably be a 14 in Marks clothes. I have found their online shopping to be very reliable too. They often have sales online that aren’t happening in their physical stores.


    1. My apologies for referring to you as “Cathy” rather than “Catherine.” I thought I had seen you use the former in some places, but I may have been wrong about that.

      1. HI again Shelley. I go by Catherine; thanks for asking, and no worries in any case.

    2. Thanks for the tip, Shelley. I hadn’t hear of Marks, and I see they carry loads of outdoor wear in my size. Yay!

  2. Yep, I definitely run into the trousers problem. Not just with outerwear though, but All. The. Bloody. Time. I have (surprise! I run and swim!) leg muscles and fairly short legs for someone my height. It’s actually worse with normal jeans than outdoor gear, because at least there’s no trend called “skinny hiking trousers”. So at least I can fit my legs into most of them, even though they’re all way too long. But jeans are made for people with super thin AND long legs, apparently. I hate trouser shopping.

  3. Sorry, I have no help for you, because I have a different body. So I’m just here to join the rant. I have had this problem forever, because I am a girl with hips and a generous butt. When I ran marathons at about 115 lbs, my running shorts were L. I weigh considerably more than that now (typical size 14) and it’s almost impossible to find a jacket that goes around my hips. (Patagonia, particularly, doesn’t recognize that women have hips. At all.) More and more clothing is cut straight because of cheap manufacturing, and what seems to me a greater percentage of women who are more apples than pears (I think it’s the carbs). Eastern Mountain Sports makes hiking pants that fit my shape, but the largest are 16, and yep, I can just barely zip them. AND – this really frosts me – when you zip them off, the shorts are VERY short. About 6 inches shorter than the shorts in the men’s version. What is this all about?

    1. Hi Barbara– yes, the whole short-shorts design for women is most irritating. It’s just as bad for kids, too; girls get way less coverage while boys get shorts that go to the knees. Argh..

  4. You might try Sportive Plus. They’re a Canadian chain in Quebec with an extensive online store. I’ve gotten great outdoor gear and genuine technical sports wear (breathable, wicking, etc) from their online store, including a fabulous red parka and assorted rain gear essential to my life out here on the west coast. You can even search by sport. They have their own brand made for Canadian weather and they also carry brands like Columbia, which is one that does seem to get that women are active at any size. And that we want to wear colours other than black!

    1. Thanks for the tip! And yes to pretty colors– I’m not an all-black-all-the-time outdoors (or indoors) person, either… 🙂

  5. My complaints about parkas is that they have ones that the ones for men go only to the kneecaps while the women go almost down to their feet.

  6. Shop the men’s department. I’m tall and big, wearing size 12/44 shoes. I gave up women’s clothes of all kinds a long time ago in favor of better quality fabric, longersleeves, and Pockets!

    1. I often do that, but the problem there is that the sleeves are usually too long and hang well past the tips of my fingers sometimes. I’ve been wearing men’s slacks for a few years (when I can’t wear jeans) simply for the pocket sizes, but they aren’t cut for my waist/hip ratio and tend to gap in the back.

  7. The struggle is real. I now just purchase outerwear at random if I try and it fits and is flattering (even if I don’t need it) because it is so hard to find. I like Calvin Klein (from the Bay) for non-sports winter coats, and Columbia outerwear fits me very well (I am usually a 2XL), though much fewer options once you are over XL. I also love Sportive Plus (Canadian yay!) but find it just out of my price range as a student. I have started ordering a lot of my leggings and other sports clothes form small-scale size inclusive producers in the U.S. (e.g. lineage wear, bombsheller) but am searching for a Canadian-made product. Ideas?

  8. I’ve had a lot of success at Mark’s Work Warehouse. They carry things similar to LL Bean and are the clothing part of, get this, Canadian Tire.
    I’ve gotten a snazzy mid calf trench coat and two years ago a wonderfully tailored parka.

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