One of the most basic challenges for the plus-size professional woman is finding suits. First, the stores that sell them are few and far between. Then, if you are fortunate enough to find them, you must contend with issues of style (which is often lacking), fit (which is often tricky as many of us wear a different size on "top" than on the "bottom"), and even price (which is often high because, hey, it's suiting . . . plus a lot of retailers KNOW they can get away with charging us more because our options are fewer). Nonetheless, there are a few places that prove to be reliable when searching for business attire.
Major Department Stores: Ah, the major department store. I've been enchanted with them since I was a little girl and the biggest treat in the world was to go to Macy's and visit with Santa Claus at Christmastime. Department stores are great because you can not only buy clothing, but also get shoes and a bag to match! The main drawback, however, is that department stores do tend to have smaller collections of plus-size clothes. Typically, they're situated in an out-of-the-way location . . . either the very top floor or in the basement. And don't walk past the "regular" clothes first in order to get there . . . you will turn green with envy when you walk by all the vibrant colors and stylish designs and arrive at the rather bland plus-size offerings. But, I won't hold that against them since we're just talking about basic suiting here. Depending on your workplace, bland might be the most appropriate form of dress. The stores I tend to favor are the aforementioned Macy's, JC Penny and Bloomingdale's. Be on the lookout for brands like Tahari (which often pairs neutral pants or skirts with colorful blazers), Anne Klein and Jones New York/Le Suit (which features suiting separates - so you can get your size 18 blazer and match it with a size 20 skirt).
Mid-Range/Minor Department Stores: I have no idea if this is a real term, but somehow it just didn't feel right to discuss Target and Kohl's alongside Bloomie's. Just the same, these stores tend to have decent pieces, like blouses and skirts, that you can pair with higher end items. Other options include TJ Maxx and Marshall's, where you can find great blazers and other suiting items . . . you have to be willing to dig through the racks to find them, but they are in there!
UPDATE: Two stores I neglected to mention are Burlington Coat Factory
. Both offer DEEP discounts on suits that you'd normally find in a major department store. Just this weekend I visited Burlington and found a $200 suit marked down to be about $40!
Straight-Size Retailers: As we discussed previously, there are some straight-size retailers that do have plus-size offerings. You will find the most options at Fashion Bug, which I think is owned by the same parent company as Lane Bryant. Meanwhile, Banana Republic and Ann Taylor go up to sizes 16 and 18, respectively. You will also find greater options on Chicos.com and OldNavy.com, which carry up to sizes 22 and 30, respectively, on their websites.
Plus-Size Retailers: Interestingly, when shopping for suiting pieces, I actually find that I have the least options when I go to plus-size retailers. Typically, most of their clothes are pretty casual and seem most appropriate for a laidback work environment or weekend activities. That does seem to be changing slightly as demand for plus-size careerwear continues to grow. Generally, your best bet for simple suiting pieces is going to be either Lane Bryant or Dress Barn Woman. Avenue has some nice pieces and last year Igigi began offering more business attire, which I absolutely love. (UPDATE: Just today, Igigi unveiled even more businesswear. Clearly they knew the topic of today's post!) Even the super-trendy Ashley Stewart is getting into the mix this season, with a collection of reasonably priced suiting apparel.
This is just a sampling of the ever-growing list of retailers that are finally heeding the call of the plus-size profssional woman. What other stores do you frequent when seeking out business attire?