Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Plus Size Women's Cycling Clothes: An Update (sort of)

*** Note: This is probably the last time I'll be able to request your assistance here on the blog before the contest ends, so if you have yet to vote, please take a very brief moment and head here to the Pedal the Plains contest page, click "like" (on 'Steeling a Ride'), or make a comment on that specific photo. If you have voted, I thank you so very much. If you have friends/family/neighbors/strangers on the street you can talk into liking the photo too, that would be amazing. You can also vote on Twitter or Instagram using #steeling AND @pedaltheplains. A bit more info can be found by clicking here.Voting ends this Friday at 5p (I presume MST, but don't wait until the last moment). Thanks! :O) ***

Occasionally, I write here about my frustration with finding appropriate fitting cycling clothing. As someone who does not meet the societal expectations of the typical-bodied cyclist, it's frustrating to look for comfortable, decent looking, well-fitting cycling clothes. For every day riding, I find wearing my regular clothes to be sufficient. Most of my wardrobe consists of wool or cotton, both of which breathe well and are easy to launder. However, when it comes to distance cycling, there are just realities to what is needed to be comfortable. Padded shorts are a necessity to keep from bruising of soft tissue and wearing super loose fitting tops just causes excess flapping of material against the skin. Wearing every day clothing to participate in more sport-type riding has not been horribly successful for me, so I'm always on the hunt for things that work.

There are a few brands/companies out there that stock larger sized women's cycling apparel. However, what is considered "larger" by cycling standards is not what is typically thought of in every day clothing as bigger. In every day clothing, I often fall in the middle of the spectrum between what is considered misses sizes in the U.S. and plus sizes. It is beneficial in that I can shop both sides of the aisle, but when it comes to cycling clothing, most items run snug (to put it nicely), so looking at plus sized options is often my only choice. Therein lies the problem.
Wearing a wool Ibex jersey and Terry cycling knickers in 2012 at the start of Venus de Miles
It's been three years since I wrote about my hunt for plus-sized wool cycling clothing for women (and four years since my original rant), and I am sad to say that nothing seems to have changed. Well, my body has changed a bit, but not enough to make this a non-issue. At this juncture, it would be nice to be able to find any material in cycling clothing that isn't unattractive and fits well. I know that all things take time, but I also hold on to similar beliefs that I had years ago... there simply must not be the demand or someone would be making these items. Still, I find that my post from three years ago gets a decent number of hits from Google, so I know I'm not alone out there on the roads. In fact I see me (and my brethren --  or sistren -- Okay, now I'm just making up words) quite regularly even here in one of the fittest states in the U.S.

My biggest beef with all of this is that no one should be punished for trying to work out - regardless of his/her size - and not being able to find appropriate clothing is punishment in my eyes (sometimes physically in that it can be painful to ride in ill-fitting/inappropriate clothes, and definitely emotionally when frustration sinks in from too many searches and not enough results). Clothing that can be found is sparse at best. Instead of having endless options for chamois thickness, materials, or lengths, there is often 1 to (if lucky) 3 choices to be found. The gap gets worse the larger a person's size too.
*Image from Road Holland
Complaining about this on a blog obviously does nothing to resolve the issue, so I did put together a small list of a few places that offer some solutions - even if it's still not exactly what I'd like to see.

Pearl Izumi stocks up to size XXL in women's cycling clothing and seems to run more true to size (generally speaking) than most cycling apparel, but they do not offer any extended options beyond.

Team Estrogen has sizes up to 4X in their "plus size" specialty shop from a variety of manufacturers, but fit has been very iffy for me on most of the brands they stock (from being far too baggy and/or too long to being too small to simply not sitting right on the body) including Terry, Canari, SheBeest, Moving Comfort (though the items I've found with M.C. have no padding and are more basic workout type clothes). Additionally, much of what is stocked is non-cycling specific gear, and the items that are cycling-specific tend to be unappealing aesthetically and/or ill-fitting.

When visiting Terry's plus size specific pages, the options are all-too-often few and far between. I have found the larger sizes in the regular sizes can have an acceptable fit for me personally (but this varies quite a bit and is always a gamble), but why isn't there a cross over to include the same options in larger sizes?

Aerotech offers a few items for both men and women who require larger sizes, but for women, much like Team Estrogen's site, the same brands are available (from Terry, Canari, etc) and are limited.

I was happy to learn from one of the owners himself that Road Holland offers shorts and jerseys up to size 3XL in women's (and I even wrote a bit about them - women's and men's, if you're interested). I do love these jerseys, but am still hoping they'll make bibs for women again and even branch out into possibly a sleeveless version of the full-zip jerseys.

My understanding is that at one point Icebreaker offered women's sizes up to 2XL, but I have not seen anything over an XL size on their website for some time now, and cycling jerseys and shorts seem to have completely disappeared.

Many of the women on cycling forums who run into sizing issues seem to head straight to men's clothing as an option, but clothing is definitely cut differently for men and women, not to mention that larger men have a difficult time finding options, which is to say that there is still often a limit in sizes for men's cycling gear as well.

Although I could rant on about the injustice and difficulty of finding the right items, I'm actually pondering the idea of making some sample items myself. I am by no means a seamstress and about the best I can usually manage is a half-way decent hem on a pair of pants, but I figure it's worth a shot - even if it's just a test for myself. In fact, I even have a couple yards of merino wool on its way to me to experiment with (since that is my preferred fabric). While I realize nothing will likely come from it, I feel as though I have to do something to ease the frustration.

If you've been on a hunt for larger women's cycling clothing, what has been your experience? Do you have brands to add to the list above? If so, please feel free to comment. When I wrote a few years ago, I had been in contact with a few different cycling gear manufacturers who had spoke about the possibility of extended sizing, but that doesn't seem to have happened (and goodness knows if history is an indicator, there won't be much variety available). Has anyone else had better luck?

**I'm editing this post to add SprintDesign to the list. When I made the original list I'd completely forgot about them, but I appreciate that they offer sizes from youth all the way up through size 6XL (both men's and women's). To be fair, I have never ordered from them, and they are in Australia, but they have an extensive collection and lots of options, so it is possibly something to check out as well. If anyone has ordered through them, please feel free to chime in. I'd be interested in hearing your experiences.

17 comments:

  1. I do not know diddly-squat about women's apparel, cycling or otherwise.

    But I am in the same boat in regards to my needs for finding 3XL and 4XL sized cycling clothing. Choices for men with traditional cycling outlets are not much better than women. I have found some success looking outside the normal channels. For example, on Amazon, I found a great pair of knickers made by Rothco that are perfect for days a little too cool to wear shorts. They are not made for cycling, so I have to wear padded undershorts underneath, but that is no biggie. I've also successfully searched websites like REI, Eddie Bauer, Cabela, and Duluth to find larger sizes of shirts and jackets that are made for active conditions.

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    1. Nice disclaimer. :O)

      I agree with you on the "random" online finds. I have had some rather accidental success as well, so perhaps that is a better way to look for things. It helps when one already has a stash of available items and only needs to replace items that have worn out (in other words, s/he isn't trying to build an entire cycling wardrobe or at least isn't looking for something right this moment). I haven't looked at Eddie Bauer or Duluth but I will have to give that a try. Thanks for adding to the list of suggestions.

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  2. I am surprised by how small the selection is for women when compared to men when it comes to cycling apparel. Then to think about the limited range of sizing on top of that... Grrrr.

    I am oddly particular about my workout clothing-- it's weird how clothes can influence how we feel while we're engaged in an activity-- so I agree w/ you on your feelings of not wanting to feel punished for trying to work out.

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    1. So true. It's not even a huge selection for women in general - let alone if one doesn't fit into the standard sizes available. I suppose this speaks volumes about the cycling/biking industry, but I hope that is changing - particularly as we start to see women's cycling promoted more.

      I am pretty picky about any kind of workout clothing as well, and things just need to fit properly. We are all sized and shaped differently. Some are tall and need things longer, but don't necessarily need it to be wider. Some are shorter and DO need the width, but not necessarily the length. Some have hips, some don't. Some need the room in legs, while others do not. I could go on and on, but unless a person can afford custom clothing (or is a much better sewer than I am), it can feel frustrating.

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  3. As it happens, this is a really hot topic in the UK right now. Even fewer UK/European-based brands make/stock larger sizes than you've found to be the case in the US. In fact, it's pretty much accepted fact that if you're larger than a UK size 14 (which is US 10-12. I kid you not), you'll have to buy from the US and risk getting hit by Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs office. As well as the postal service - did you know they charge us extra for delivering something that has come from abroad? Unbelievable.

    Anyway. I thought you might like to see how things are going over here:
    http://womenscyclinguk.co.uk/gear/womens-cycling-brands-offering-kit-available-uk-size-16/

    I buy from VeloVixen and I've cycled with Phil Bingham - a tall, handsome man who just seems to "get" women (can we clone him, please?!). I hope more UK shops and manufacturers figure out how much money they're missing by not catering to women cyclists of ALL shapes and sizes. Soon!

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    1. I've actually purchased a few things from the UK (not cycling apparel, but other clothing), so I have a little bit of personal experience with sizing. I can imagine the frustration with trying to find something that works if a person is larger than what is deemed standard sizing. In regard to "extra" charges... I know we can get a customs charge on packages here, but I can't believe you have the potential of paying TWICE for packages outside of the UK. Holy smokes!

      I appreciate the link to the Women's Cycling post. I did scan/read a portion of it just now, but I am curious to read more thoroughly, as it seems as though there are (hopefully) some changes coming within the industry. There is a misconception here (and I'm sure in other countries as well) that if a person is larger, s/he does nothing physical or is "unhealthy." I don't know that there's necessarily a correlation with these two things. Yes, there are some who are both overweight and unhealthy, but it doesn't mean everyone who is larger follows a path of eating poorly and never working his/her body. I could definitely go on and on about this, but I will refrain (at least for the time being). :O)

      Hopefully, there will be more UK shops (and US and other countries too) that will become more aware of the reality that not every woman is a size 2 or 6 or whatever size they seem to have chosen as the "required" size for obtaining cycling wear.

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    2. As a quick side note, I just went to take a quick peek at Velo Vixen's selection and they have some pretty cool stuff. Good to know! Thanks.

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  4. Here's what VeloVixen have to say themselves about the "Plus Size" problem (they'd abolish that term too): http://www.velovixen.com/inspiration-1/larger-sizes

    In fact, VeloVixen have just launched a campaign for consistency in sizing across all brands. What an outrageous idea!!! :)
    http://velovixenblog.com/2014/07/15/sizing-up-the-cycling-industry/

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    1. I really despise that term - "Plus Size." I seem to be a little better with "extended sizing," but still don't really appreciate it. It makes a person feel abnormal, you know? I always want to say that it makes much more sense to just make the sizes larger, rather than alienating a group of people and/or making them shop in a "special" section. Of course, some manufacturers haven't realized that just making the clothing bigger isn't the solution - because, as mentioned in a comment above - not everyone who is bigger is necessarily taller, but then again, some are. I don't really know where the middle ground meets because I realize mass-production requires that there be a meeting ground.

      Consistency across brands?! That's just madness. (giggling) Yes, that would be amazing as well! Let's hope it happens.

      Thanks again for the links... good reading and great information.

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  5. One of the reasons I'm such an adherent to the cycle chic lifestyle is because I can't find tech fabrics in my size. I'm not saying I'd wear a full cycling kit, but I'd absolutely wear something like Icebreaker's knitwear if it came in my size.

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    1. It's upsetting, certainly. I love riding in my everyday clothes too, but it's sad that there aren't other options for more sport or exercise type rides.

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  6. Also, Rapha made a lot of noise a while back about supporting people who were actively losing weight by creating a trade-in offer on their kit. If your kit became too big because you were losing weight, you could send it back for new stuff at no charge (except shipping). Of course, their larger size kit only comes in men's sizes, so...

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    1. That's really interesting. I hadn't heard of Rapha's offer. I have definitely eyeballed Rapha's website, but I know their stuff (at least the women's line) won't fit me, so I don't bother. It's a shame that they don't realize women come in sizes above a US 10. Hopefully this will change - but, I feel as though I keep saying that and it doesn't happen. {sigh}

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    2. I may have said this on one of your other posts, but I have personally heard Simon Mottram (founder of Rapha) when directly challenged as to why he does not provide any women's items in a size larger that UK 14, say "I don't want my clothes to be seen on fat women".

      I suspect that as a company (and yes, while Simon is a control freak, it is getting a bit bigger than he can handle on his own now!), policy is shifting slightly. They definitely do want a certain aesthetic though and don't see 'excessive' feminine curves (breasts over a B cup seem to be frowned upon, as well) as part of their "exclusive" brand image. And yes, "exclusive" is another word Simon likes to use.

      Enough said, I think. Shame really. I'm top heavy so while I will never get into one of their jerseys, I do wear their shorts (in the largest size) they make, and they are The Best Ever. So good that I am ashamed to say I could not maintain my personal Rapha Boycott. :(

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    3. I don't think you had mentioned this prior, Rebecca. I really do take issue with companies that have this sort of attitude. Is the brand not exclusive enough with their prices? They also need to make a conscious decision to make clothing small so that what they have deemed to be a 'big enough' size is all they choose to manufacture? This seems to be a common theme right now - just generally - in clothing, and specifically workout wear companies. Not only that, but after reading what Cecily said about Rapha offering to trade in MEN'S cycling kit that has become too large from losing weight, there are a lot of things running through my head. As is typical, it's far more acceptable to be above what has been deemed normal size as a male, but females are supposed to remain small. This kind of thing really gets my blood boiling. I know it's personal for me, but I find so many things wrong with this kind of mentality - from discrimination to phallocentrism to being just plain cruel. I suppose when these things come up, I still find myself with my jaw at my shoulders - even though I know I probably shouldn't find myself in such shock.

      Thank you for sharing this information about Rapha. It's a good reminder to not get drawn in by the surface and to actually investigate what companies are about.

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  7. I need a plus size, also. Right now I wear cycling lycra in a men's large. However, shirts are a problem. Since it's so hot here, I don't adhere to the norm and use seersucker shirts that I find at second hand stores or when they are on sale at regular stores. Seersucker is cooler and doesn't stick to your skin. It also breathes, which synthetics don't.

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    1. It's great to find something that works, and I can see seersucker actually working pretty decently.

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