Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Hunt for Women's "Plus Size" Wool Cycling Clothing

Although I truly despise the words "plus size" when referring to a woman's size in clothing, the reality is that it is the terminology most use, so I feel obligated to succumb to that particular wording here. For over a year now, I've been in search of wool cycling clothing for women of substance, and it has been a rather futile/fruitless use of time, I must admit. I've managed to find a couple of tops that are on the fitted side by purchasing the largest misses size I could locate (an XL), but finding pants/capris/shorts of any sort seems to be impossible. While the men's sizes are generally a bit more generous with fabric, the shape is just ill-proportioned for most women's bodies. Following are a few items that have potential to possibly work, at least as layering pieces in cooler weather.
Ibex Woolies Crew (base layer) side view
Ibex Woolies Crew (base layer) front view
The shirt above is from Ibex but I purchased it on sale from REI locally. It's not necessarily intended for cycling specifically, but could be used for this purpose or even others, depending on your needs. According to their size charts, this shouldn't fit me, but oddly, it works (Note: the fabric is not being stretched out as it would appear, but is rather a base piece, intended for layering, so it is thinner than some wool items. I wanted to show how it fits as a representation for others though). In the summer months, this weight of fabric seems to work well without a need for multiple layers, and I'm sure in the winter it will be great for a base (though I've yet to wear it in cold weather). I guess this just goes to show that you do have to try everything on, because even if there's a size chart, it doesn't necessarily mean it's accurate. I would also note that the color is less pajama-y looking in real life, but I believe it's a good base piece regardless.
Ibex short sleeve Echo Sport T
This should be a looser garment, but is more fitted on me
Admittedly, these tops aren't loose on me, but I'm also not hiding my size by wearing oversized garments either, and many of these weren't intended to be loose fit articles of clothing. While I'd prefer that this was available in a larger size, for now, it will have to do. According to Ibex size charts, the bust measurement on the XL size is a range of 40.5-42.5. While my chest measurement actually falls beneath the low side of this (measuring around the rib cage, just under the bust), my bust measurement is larger than the stated size, so it was a bit confusing. I'm glad I took a chance and tried these though. I will say that they do seem to give some with wear and become a bit looser fitting, and I can wear them several times before washing without the pieces starting to smell (which never happens with any kind of workout wear I own). One of the fabulous properties of wool! It also means that you don't have to purchase tons of these if you ride daily because you can wear it multiple times before it requires laundering (wonderful news, since wool isn't inexpensive). The short sleeve wool shirt pictured above is pulled down to show its length. Again, this shirt is a very light fabric, and is fitted on my body, but I tend to prefer this when cycling for sport/distance. I don't have to worry about loose things getting caught on bike parts, so it works.
Ibex Giro short sleeve jersey from the side
Ibex Giro short sleeve jersey from the rear (Kinda cool that the Ibex logo is reflective!)
I also ordered an actual bicycle jersey to try out: the Giro short sleeve jersey. It is made of a thicker wool fabric (I'd say more of a mid-weight), and fits very similarly to the tops above. At the moment though, I'm still debating whether or not to keep this one, as I am not sure about the look/fit on my body. The photos above are for additional reference purposes, as well as showing the back side of this with the cycling pockets (which can be handy, depending on how one rides). Again, I'd love to have a bit more wiggle room in this jersey, but it is what it is.

As for pants, knickers, or shorts in wool, I haven't been brave enough to even attempt to order them, as the size charts are far off the mark for me on any of the brands like SmartWool, Ibex, Icebreaker, etc, and I carry a good deal of my weight in my legs, so they likely wouldn't work. So, what am I wearing right now when I ride? I actually have a couple of options. One choice is my active pants that I purchased from Lands End a few years ago. They're almost a close-fitting yoga capri, and have held up incredibly well. They do begin to smell though after wearing for a very short time, which isn't ideal. I also have a pair of bike shorts without a chamois that I purchased about 6 years ago, however, I don't typically wear those because I prefer to have my knees covered when I ride.

Out of frustration and curiosity, I have been in contact with multiple distributors and manufacturers of wool clothing in hopes of finding a line that will work for ladies with a bit more meat on their bodies. Most of these companies have sent me a canned response stating that they are "unaware of any company that manufactures wool cycling clothing in plus sizes at this time", to which I want to respond, "Yes, that is why I'm contacting you - to change that." I can't help but shake my head when I get this sort of response. There was some light in this process though. When contacting Ibex, they said that though they do not currently carry larger sizes for women because they are still a small company, they do have hopes of doing this down the line. While I have no way of knowing how long of a wait "down the line" is, it's nice to know that at least one company realizes there is potential for money in manufacturing sizes for larger women. If you'd like to see larger women's sizes, I would encourage you to email or call Ibex and request this, so that they realize there is a market for this line. And, if you have another manufacturer/distributor you've contacted that seems open to the idea of a women's line of wool clothing in larger sizes, please leave info in the comments or e-mail me, as I'd love to contact them as well. Has anyone else had success with getting a company to start selling or making a different type or size of clothing? I would be very curious to hear about it.

15 comments:

  1. Thank you for doing this. I'm larger than you and buy most of my clothing from Georgia Tent and Awning, so I have no hope of being able to find any wool cycling clothing that fits unless I undertake a severe starvation diet. Anything form fitting like these items just reduces me to a fit of self-loathing, so I stay away from them to try to keep my psyche intact.

    I think you absolutely should write back to the canned response manufacturers. Those responses are totally dismissive and present a poor reflection on the company from a customer service POV.

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  2. I'm a fairly substantial lady, Cecily (and, by the way, I know you don't buy clothes at the tent/awning store, silly woman!), but I do wish these clothes came in larger sizes. It's so frustrating. They will "do" for the time being, but like you said, I can't starve myself to make cycling clothes fit, nor should I have to. They are snug, and it is frustrating when you want something to fit with a little room. I don't need it to be a potato sack, but some room for the rolls to move would be nice. :o)

    As for the manufacturers lack of enthusiasm to my requests, I have responded to most of the replies and asked that they forward the request on to the appropriate parties. Only time will tell what will come of it. Perhaps nothing, but hopefully a change in thinking. I'm tired of being punished because I can't fit into what the manufacturers see as standard sizing. If I was a better seamstress, I swear I would just make the clothes myself, but goodness knows my skill stops somewhere around a square pillow.

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  3. This is so incredibly important. I've been in the hunt for office-appropriate bike-comfy clothing for quite some time now. As I started compiling a list of the possible products, I noticed the incredibly limited range of sizes. (And I must say most manufacturers are totally missing the mark on the work-appropriate design front too--I don't want a shiny logo on my butt or swishy fabric when I go into the Chamber of Commerce.)

    I happen to be lucky in that I can find clothing that fits but am angry with manufacturers who seem to assume that only a Skinny Minnie wants to ride a bike. I have many beautiful friends who aren't a size 00 and they deserve the same fit, comfort, and style I can find.

    I'm sharing this post via my Twitter and Facebook accounts and hope we can rally many women to contact the manufacturers.

    @BarbChamberlain
    Founder of Women's Bike Blogs
    http://bit.ly/WomenBikeBlogs
    @WomenBikeBlogs
    facebook.com/WomenBikeBlogs

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  4. Barb,
    You have a great point about the giant shiny logos on clothing, too! When one is cycling to work, or to a meeting, or any number of other places that aren't specific to exercise, it can be difficult to find appropriate wear (that gives, that doesn't hold on to sweat, etc). I still hold out hope that with the growing number of cyclists (including larger sized women) it will change the ways of current manufacturers and hopefully even bring new ideas to the forefront.

    Thanks for sharing the post, too! We just never know who might see something like this and have their eyes opened to possibilities.

    Best to you!

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  5. Just a thought, for the amount of money you are likely to spend buying clothes from some of these manufacturers, you could possibly get a pair of custom made pants-that fit you. The first pair might end up being more expensive, but once the pattern works, the cost should come down.

    sandra b

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  6. A few weeks ago I was daydreaming about having some merino items custom made for me, and then daydreaming about starting a company (which I know nothing about) that makes clothing (which I know nothing about) for women over size 12 (i.e., plus size in cycling parlance). At RAGBRAI I talked to the folks at Aerotech Designs, a small company in PA that makes a limited number of items for the plus sized crowd, and I encouraged them to keep making plus sized stuff, plus to consider merino for us as well.

    Also, I'm thinking about getting a bit more Grant Peterson in my approach to cycling garb. I've quit buying cycling shorts, opting for padded liners that I wear with normal looking shorts. I haven't gone all seersucker yet (altho my DH has been for years & had folks on RAGBRAI start talking to him about Rivendell just b/c of the way he was dressed), but I'm looking for shirts to wear that are airier and cooler than the "cycling" jerseys I have.

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  7. Iris,
    I think it's great that you were able to talk to Aerotech at RAGBRAI (a ride that I still want to take one of these summers, by the way), and even better that they're open to the idea of creating clothing for larger ladies. I'll have to look them up, as I haven't come across them in the past. For every day riding (to the store, or on errands), I also just wear whatever I have on, because it seems silly to me to go and change just to run a couple miles down the road, and I'm perfectly comfortable most of the time wearing my normal clothes...but when I go for more specific exercise/long rides, it's nice to have something that doesn't pool sweat, and that isn't going to get caught in parts of the bike. Wearing these couple of wool shirts, I can completely see the benefit of this type of material, as it really does seem to balance out my temperature. I wouldn't call them necessarily "bike specific" clothes, but just more appropriate for long rides.

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  8. Thanks for putting so much effort into these descriptions and for contacting the companies too. Hopefully more cycling and general workout clothing will be available soon.

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  9. Your photos are really helpful, I can really tell how these would fit me. Thanks!

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  10. I just found this site and all the posts are ancient, so I don't know if you're still monitoring or not. Anyway, I'm a size 2X female bicyclist and I've been making myself custom bicycle clothing. Get any kind of pattern that allows movement and bending and is right for your shape. If you go to the Vogue patterns website, they have icons for the patterns that tell the figure shape each pattern will/will not for eg. top heavy, bottom heavy, column shape, hourglass shape. I look for fabric sellers who carry wool/poly blend knits and wovens, or wovens with sufficient stretch. I like wovens for bottoms due to chafe issues with my thighs. The wool allows for breathability. The polyester will make the fabric last, something I discovered was important when I tried Ibex woolies in larger men's sizes, only to have them shred within a season. At their prices, that's not acceptable to me. You can get a variety of bike pads from AeroTech.com and they even have a women-specific, non-sew pad to turn your existing pants into bike pants (although you'd want them to be tight-fitting to keep the pad from shifting). Seattlefabrics.com and Rockywoods.com have bike apparel patterns and stretch mesh and edging ribbon for pocket linings among many other things. Terry bicycles has been carrying a nice selection of poly and nylon bike wear in plus sizes.

    If your sewing machine has zig zag, you can make bike clothes. It's easy. Make sure to take accurate measurements of yourself. Measure the actual pattern pieces against the bust, waist , hip measurements listed on the back of the enveope for the size closet to yours to see how much ease that pattern allows, then add (or subtract in the case of negative ease) that ease to your measurements. If tops tend to ride up, you may be short-waisted and wide hipped, so measure from nape of neck to waist and see if that measurement corresponds to where the waist is located on the pattern pieces and adjust. If large busted, look for patterns with darts to get a perfect fit at the bust, and locate darts where your actual bust is located. Sometimes the pattern dart will be too high/low. You can get a re-furbished sewing machine from Overstock.com for less than the price of a single Ibex shirt. Joann Fabrics usually sells patterns for 40% off the listed retail and has pattern sales at various times, sometimes as low as $1/pattern, or for $15 a year, you can join the buying club on Vogue patterns website if you sew enough to justify the expense of the fee and get discounts. You can make an entire business appropriate wardrobe with hidden bike tech inside. You can make yourself beautiful, high quality garments at a fraction of the price of retail, custom sized to you.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you for your thorough response! :O) While I'm not particular handy with sewing, I'm sure there are many who will certainly benefit from your thoughts/advice... and who knows? I may actually give it a try one of these days and see how it goes.

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    2. Thanks so much for posting these photos of this size Ibex shirt. I wish Ibex showed all sizes in their images and not just the medium. I am a fitness trainer and buy smalls on the Ibex site, but how are people supposed to purchase sizes if they don't know what it will look like???
      The sewing idea is great, but I am a sewer and would find it a challenge, and time consuming to sew a form fitting garment. All the info on how to make a shirt though is there if anyone wants to take the plunge.

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    3. Glad to hear it's helpful. As a note, I've lost a chunk of weight since these photos were taken a couple of years ago, and I still wear the XL's in Ibex' clothing. The fit is less restricting now, but I find that there's actually quite a variance as far as fit seems to go (and of course, it depends on the specific piece of clothing as well). I appreciate that I can still wear the same pieces without having to buy new ones as I have lost.

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  11. Great blog post. I too "luck out" occasionally with XL's from some manufacturers, but typically don't have too much luck...Until I discovered a small New Hampshire based company that carries WOMEN's sizes up to XXXL! Check out www.minus33.com for a decent collection of base clothing.

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  12. Great info here! As cold weathrr approaches in the northeast I am once again looking for plus sized wool anything. These pics have been a big help! <3

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