Look Good

HLN’s guide to mid-size style

What to do when you’re ‘stuck in the middle’ with sizing…

Written by Jenny Brownlees
Published 17.06.2022

What is mid-size?

The term was created to represent those who fall in between sample size, aka UK 6-10 and plus size — a UK 18 and above. For a long time, fashion was only showcased on sample-size bodies, and though we are now seeing more inclusivity of plus-size figures on the runways and in advertising, if you fall in-between those sizes, your body is largely ignored in the fashion sphere.

I’m a midsize woman, 5”9 with a larger bust, broad shoulders and a long torso that often doesn’t fit tops and jumpsuits well. Neither sample nor plus size, I’m either sized out of designer wares or not able to fit into plus size brand offerings. To fit my chest into my favourite outfits, I often have to size up considerably, meaning garments then don’t fit my waist and hips. Essentially, clothes shopping is a nightmare. In this day and age, are we really settling for the ‘one size fits all’ mentality for women who are, in the UK on average a size 16? Why are size 16 and 18s largely forgotten by designers and brands, shamefully hidden at the back of stores, if you can find them there at all?

Mid-size frustrations

Like many mid-size women, I struggle to shop in many high street, independent and designer stores, who either consider size 12 a large, their sizes run small, or if they do make my size — they don’t carry it in-store. Brands Levi, Oliver Bonas and Whistles have been called out for this by consumers in the past. Recently, influencer Charlotte Jacklin highlighted the struggles of shopping in-store and as a mid-size woman in an Instagram post, and the hundreds of comments left by women concurred.

Because I hit the far end of straight sizing, I don’t fit into plus size clothing either. The result is feeling there’s no place for my body in fashion. While being mid-size comes with disadvantages, I realise my relatively thin, white body still benefits from so much privilege. Though I rarely see mid-size in the media, I don’t receive the hate for simply existing in my body as plus size women do. I’m endlessly frustrated by brand’s curvewashing (putting a model in an ad campaign or on the runway, but not carrying that size in real life) so I can’t imagine how plus size women feel.

I can mostly only shop online, forking out and sending parcels back in order to make a purchase. Shopping, which should be pleasurable is anything but. Luxury fashion is the worst culprit, but even on the high street, where the British thrive and where there should be an abundance of choice for the everywoman, mid-sizes are scarce and most imagery is showcased on a tall, size 8 model. Being mid-size has led to near-tears in many a changing room and the feeling that although I have been obsessed with the industry for decades and ultimately made it my career — fashion does not love me back.

Designers offer the same excuses — curves and large breasts don’t fit their clothes well, yet many make custom outfits for curvy celebs, just not the average woman. While the world is currently obsessed with the hourglass Kardashian figure, rather than the super-skinny of the 90s, this is still problematic — a perfectly flat stomach, tiny waist and enlarged hips and bum isn’t any more attainable for the average woman (not to mention they’re often surgically enhanced.) Victoria Beckham recently faced backlash when she told Grazia magazine, “It’s an old-fashioned attitude, wanting to be really thin. I think women today want to look healthy and curvy. The curvier you are, the better my VB Body dresses look.” Is Ms Beckham a hypocrite as her own brand’s size only goes up to a UK 14, or a victim of the toxic culture she grew famous in?

I want to support my favourite designers and brands, often found complaining about falling sales. Here is a woman with disposable income, ready to shop — but I can’t find my size in your stores. Similarly, shopping sustainably, something I’m passionate about is often a struggle – vintage sizing is notoriously small and though I love second-hand charity shop pieces, they can’t always be relied upon. Many sustainable labels that I’d love to support only make their clothes up to a size 14, so…I’m out. The options are lessened even further for plus-size women, left to fast fashion sites like ASOS and Boohoo. Can you blame a woman for shopping fast when these are the readily available options? The body positivity movement is seemingly thriving, and though it’s a joy to see curvy models like Ashley Graham and Paloma Elsesser strut the catwalk and cover glossy magazines, it seems there is merely an illusion of progress without much changing on the shop floor.

Abreast of the issue

Another issue facing women of any size is breast size, never seemingly taken into account that this can differentiate from your clothing size. The average bra size in the UK is 36DD, but it’s scarce that designers create clothes that fit chest sizes above a B cup. Small breasts are fashionable — a hint of nipple here, a plunging V there, yet on larger breasted women the same outfits are brandished as cheap or overtly sexual. The irony is that breasts were the focus on many a S/S 22 runway, but for big-boobed fashion fans, inspiration on the runway is all they’ll ever see — never being able to shop those looks IRL.

The internet uses its powers for good

Social media has shown itself to be a fantastic tool for uniting people when the mainstream fails, and mid-sizers have often taken to Instagram to showcase their style and share frustrations. The hashtag #midsizestyle on Instagram has over 500,000 posts dedicated to women sharing their outfits, and many a discussion about brands sizing has been launched in comment sections.

In a drive to ask brands to do better, influencer Katie Sturino launched the #makemysize hashtag and through #supersizethatlook showcases trending looks on her body. Elsewhere on Insta, Anushka Moore launched @midsize collective out of frustration that she could only find a handful of influencers that were also a size 14.

As the saying goes, the girls that get it…get it.

Shopping mid-size

Through my plight I’ve learnt some tips that have helped me to shop smarter, and discovered the best brands that cater to mid-size bodies — and I’m here to share…

Underwear

A great outfit is all about that base. For years I wore M&S’ plain black bras as they fit well, but they wouldn’t win any awards for stylishness. Discovering Curvy Kate’s Scantilly line was wonderful — they offer beautifully designed lingerie that fits up to an H cup. The brand have an abundance of tips on picking the right size and you can even have a virtual fitting, too.

 

 

Know your measurements

With sizing varying wildly between brands, a clothing tag can often mean nothing. I’ve found it best to note down my measurements and if shopping online, check them against the brand’s fit guide. It’s also helpful to know your height; as if the pictured model’s height is included if can help you see how a piece of clothing will look on you. Here’s how best to measure yourself:

Chest: Measure circumference around the bust at the fullest part. Use a flexible measuring tape, keeping it parallel with the floor.

Waist: Measure your body around your natural waistline. Your waistline is usually just above your belly button.

Hips: Measure loosely around the fullest part of you hips and bum, keeping the tape as parallel to the floor as possible.

Follow

If you can see it, you can be it. I love to follow influencers and stylish women who have similar bodies to my own, use the #midsizestyle hashtag to discover great trending looks.

@mariamacfarlanee

@hannahj.lewis

@nicoleocran 

@fashionbellee 

@kristinazias

@styleidealist 

@charlottejacklin 

@itsabinunn 

@isabellecoheen 

Shopping 

I have bought on-trend, well-fitting pieces from sustainable brands Anorak, Omnes, Joanie, Aligne and Saint and Sofia — sadly, most only run to a size 22 with Aligne and Saint and Sofia only catering up to a size 18. I am forever on the lookout for sustainable brands that cater to plus-size women, not just my own mid-size body. Lucy and Yak are brilliant and go up to a UK 32, as is Birdsong up to a UK size 30.

I’ve been impressed by Ganni (up to a size 26) Olivia Rubin (up to size 24) and Never Fully Dressed curve line, up to a size 24. Rixo has recently extended its sizing up to a size 20, and promises more sizes are on the way. Though I do love trusty M&S, whose clothing you can tell is made with women in mind, more often than not I’m now forgoing the High Street (despite River Island, Warehouse, Mango and H&M offering Curve sections) and opting for shops I didn’t consider before.

I’ve found brands like Joules, Seasalt and White Stuff — often dismissed as ‘Mum’ shops, produce well-made, great basics and wear-forever classics that suit all.

Plus, they’re making steps to be more sustainable. There is still such a long way to go, and through my work as a fashion journalist I continue to ask brands questions about extending their sizing regularly.

When it comes to dressing for SS ’22 as a mid-size woman, these are HLN’s favourite picks:

HLN's Top Picks

Seventy + Mochi - Phoebee Blouse - £80.00

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GANNI - Betsy Cropped Jeans - £195.00

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Aligne - Oversized Linen Shirt - £89.00

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Lucy & Yak - Mini Pini Dress - £45.00

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Never Fully Dressed - Animal Midi Dress - £89.00

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Saint + Sophia - Boyfriend Shirt - £109.00

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Omnes - Dorothy Midi Dress - £65.00

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Birdsong - Organic Cotton Tee - £36.00

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Joules - Simone Girlfriend Jeans - now £39.95

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Seasalt Cornwall - Denim Pinafore Dress - £69.95

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Joanie Clothing - Gingham Boilersuit - £55.00

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RIXO - Hattie Midi Dress - £265.00

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White Stuff - Stripe Tank - £55.00

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Anorak - Unicorn Wrap Top - £65.00

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Olivia Rubin - Colourblock Slip Dress - £310.00

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