Finding Odd Sized Clothing on a Tight Budget: Ask the Audience

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Dear Home-Ec 101,

I have a problem. I need to clothe myself, and all the clothes I have had since high school and that were bought when I started college are starting to fall to pieces from overuse with dreary regularity. I’m down to one pair of jeans, one pair of yoga pants, and a skirt when it comes to covering my bottom half without holes. The sole is pulling away from my shoes, and I have one mediocre-fitting bra and one moderately well-fitting bra with seams that make it inadvisable to wear with the knit shirts that I have to cover my upper half.

I find it very difficult to fit even one piece of clothing into our budget, because everything I need to buy can’t be had at cheap mainstream prices. I have to buy plus-size clothing, which is something I can theoretically change, but it isn’t melting away, per se. I break out in a rash anytime I wear polyester and exert myself at all. I am also extremely busty, an H or I cup for my band size, and currently breastfeeding! I have feet that are not only WW/EE, but they are thick at the ball of my foot, causing all but a few low-cut or low-lacing shoes to fit badly. I have sandals, ankle boots, and dress shoes–one pair each, and one or the other of the first two is constantly falling apart from the season’s wear. (I would think the $60-$80 I am forced to spend to cover my feet would ensure a long-lasting shoe, but no such luck.) I’m even expensive to adorn! I can only wear hypoallergenic jewelry, and am allergic to many scents in perfumes, cleansers, and hair products.

I guess what I’m trying to ask is this: What strategy can those who are forced to buy the more expensive options use to cut costs so they don’t have to run around in clothes better sent to the rag bin? Assume that items that can be mended or glued have been repaired when possible. I do check at thrift stores, but because the sizes required are unusual, the pickings are slim.

Thank you!

Expensive Genes

Heather says:

You may find this hard to believe, but I can relate, if you’re not within the “normal” range, clothes can be very hard to find. I’m far too tall for petite clothing and rack clothing for tall women is usually sized for a larger frame. At least short people have the option of hemming.

My personal solution is to KEEP checking the thrift stores, every single time I’m nearby. Yes, it’s a pain. Yes, I hate shopping.  But occasionally I score exactly what I need and those small scores eventually add up. Just recently I scored the best fitting jeans I’ve ever had for $6.

E-bay and Garage sales also come to mind, but neither are a perfect solution.

Since I also  have a hard time with this exact problem, I thought this would be a great Ask the Audience question. I know many Home-Ec 101 readers have also faced this problem and have found ways to cope.

So, Home-Eccers, how do you find odd-sized clothing on a tight budget?


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27 thoughts on “Finding Odd Sized Clothing on a Tight Budget: Ask the Audience”

  1. The trick with thrift stores is to go often enough that it only takes about 15 minutes to scan for the things you need, and you don’t get completely discouraged when you don’t find your size. Yes, there are more size 12’s a few that you can find/wear. They also don’t understand store specific sizing – so a Torrid size 1 (~ 14 – 16) can sometimes be hung up with actual size 1’s. I cruise about 4 different stores once a month, and now I rarely need to buy work shirts new. Also, be willing to drive other neighborhoods/towns – the thrift store downtown by all the skinny hipsters is full o’ skinny people clothes, but the one in the burbs has lots of plus size clothes. Every area is different, this will take some scouting. For pants, my best cheap advice is the Lane Bryant sale rack, Macy’s sale rack, or save up and buy amazing pants. And sister, I feel ya on the feets. Ross, DSW sale rack, and Nordstrom Rack have been good to me, but you have to be willing to cruise by often, as their stock often changes.

    My mom has good luck with shoes by LL Bean and Land’s End, she tries them on at home, ships them back in the return envelope if it doesn’t fit.

  2. has clothes from Woman Within, Avenue, Romans, Just My Size and Hanes for undies. I, like you, have an issue with synthetics. I simply can’t wear them. I have had to adjust for bras since there are no cotton ones with the features I need (sounds like I am buying a car or dishwasher).

    One thing that I do is put $20 each pay period in my “clothing” envelope. I have that to spend when I find something I like. Do not be afraid to spend a little extra for good quality.

    I also stock up when I find something I like…right now I have 7 shirts of the same design in my closet (or the laundry!) in different colors. I understand what you go through…

    I have found nice lots of plus-size clothes on Silhouettes has wonderful natural fabric clothes but they can be expensive unless you get them from their ‘outlet’. Just some things that help me!

    Best wishes.


    “Your online shopping mall for sizes 12w to 44w”

    I am not sure where all their clothes come from, but do sign up for their emails for more savings. Wonderful bargains to be had there. Love, love this online store.

  4. I’ve had some good luck with plus size tops on clearance from old navy online. I have a really insane waist to hip ratio so their pants NEVER fit me, but I have some friends who are more apple than hourglass who really do well with their bottoms.

    Bras are the worst. when I find one I like I save up like crazy to buy 5 more of the same. then I wash them on gentile and hang them on the edge of the bathtub to dry (I do not have the time or energy to hand-wash on a regular basis).

  5. Two suggestions for clothes: First, if there is a Freecycle group in your area, put up a Wanted post naming the sizes and styles you need. Take what you can get and whatever doesn’t work for you can be Freecycled again or donated. Second, if you have a Macy’s in your area, do try shopping the clearance racks there. I have gotten first quality clothes there for single digit price tags. You do have to be diligent to get the best deals, and it is best to shop on weekdays. My area Macy’s seems to put new clearance items out on Thursdays.

    Style suggestion: move away from the stretch knit as you add new pieces, or buy stretch knit that is at least a full size larger than you wear. This prevents bra lines/seams from showing. I thought I couldn’t wear knit for exactly those problems until I accidentally tried on a top that was two sizes too large – it hung well and didn’t show the lines…much classier.

    Bras are a horrible problem. I’m a 34H and no one makes anything that fits me for less than $120 each, which I can’t afford. I’m naturally quite firm and need only a little jiggle control, so I buy larger band sizes, caring only if the cups fit (and are not spaced too widely so that the underwires end up under my arms), and take up the band and shoulder straps (my breasts sit high on my chest) by folding and stitching with a needle and thread. Cutting and re-sewing bras is dicey business, so do try to alter by folding first. I typically can convert a $10 38 or 40 DD bra from Dollar General or Ross into one that fits.

    Shoes are also a problem – I have “fat feet” that are not only wide but also have very high insteps and most shoes don’t fit me. Boots that fit are even harder to find because I have unusually muscular calves, too. I’ve had luck finding shoes at Ross, Big Lots, and Dollar General. There currently are fabric boots at Big Lots and Dollar General for $15 that look a lot like suede and they stretch. Dollar General recently has had wool clogs for sale that are sized to wear with thick socks so they are really roomy, and they are the most comfortable shoes I currently own (plus they are kind of cute). I paid $8 for them and they look like they are going to last a long time. The DG in my area is now sold out, but other stores might have some left. They are also washable with a damp washrag and mild soap. (Dog poop happens.) Brands to look for at Ross: Aerosoles and Report…these seem to always run wide.

  6. I wrote a great long note, but somehow deleted it. To make a long story short, try resale shops. Perhaps you could form a relationship with the proprietor to let you know when larger clothes come in. Being cheap and large myself I used to take my clothes to a resale shop. Now that I am retired I only wear jeans and T shirts.

  7. Ross has been a great place for me to get odd sized clothes. I have a big butt/thigh but small waist problem, and I can almost always find jeans and dresses that fit well and are affordable.

  8. Feeling your pain. When you get to a certain cup size, you get to choose from a wide variety of nursing bras. Meaning 2. Which you have to pay good money for without being able to try them on. Ask me how I know. >.<

    • @CassandraCraig I don’t know about nursing bras but I do get fairly good prices for my “Good God’s” at I also tried on bras at Intimacy (specialty store) and then found them much less expensive on Ebay. I tried them on to make sure they fit first so I would know the brand, style and size.

    • oh and lands end has free shipping all the time. and you can return for free to sears. so you could buy diff sizes/styles on your credit card and then return what you don’t want/like.

  9. I love etsy. There are many seamstresses and tailors on there who will sew beautiful clothing to your exact measurements. I have found that the prices are comparable to the popular plus size stores and the quality much much better. They can many times recreate designer looks for you that you would not be able to find in your size. Also for the shoes check out or these are companies that specialize in shoes for drag queens that are high quality and long lasting. I wear large sized shoes and I loooove these sites so much!!!!!

  10. In your situation, as a long term solution, I would save up for a sewing machine and learn to sew, even though arts-and-crafts just are not my thing. I’d try to make it my thing and then maybe see it as an opportunity – as an alternative to buying presents (people cherish hand-made stuff) or to make some cash taking in mending/hemming or making custom curtains or something. Hm. I might just have talked myself into something ….

  11. As others have mentioned, get OCD when it comes to checking the thrift stores.

    Have you tried sewing? While it can be more expensive to full on make clothing than to find it, altering clothing from thrift stores can be cheap. Personally, I’ve been inspired by New Dress A Day to expand my wardrobe with clothing from thrift stores that doesn’t fit.

    If you want to sew from scratch, get on every coupon mailing list for craft stores in your area and buy things what you need as you have coupons/sales- it may mean a 40% zipper this month and a 40% cut of fabric next month, but between that, checking thrift stores for sewing items, browsing the linens section thrift stores for fabric (I have found some ADORABLE sheets I plan to turn into shirts), and occasionally finding someone on craigslist dumping their sewing stash, things can be done. They just take a while.

  12. Make sure you are checking the Maternity area of your thrift store. Frequently maternity clothes are plus-size friendly and gently used. Don’t just check by the size on the rack or tag. Things are often mislabeled.

    • good point! target has maternity and plus size. i am a 12 but my fav black pants EVER are maternity from liz lange at target. and i wish i would have bought like three pairs. also i think w/ nicer black yoga pants you can kind of trick out a faux outfit to look cute. like this: tank top + cardigan + yoga pants + pashmina scarf + cute flats = a kinda cutish “outfit”.

  13. The commenting system is acting up, this comment was emailed in by Stacy

    “The very best place I have found to find just the right size at a reasonable price is JC Penney online, not the store, but online only. When I was pregnant I was absolutely filled with gratitude when I realized they had those simple basics in just my size for a decent price. It’s not thrift-store cheap, but it’s usually quite low compared with clothing stores or department stores. Also, I used to know someone who was well over size 18 who bought her clothes on Ebay regularly. She would actually get the exact size, maker, etc. and try to find the clothes at Macy’s and such, try them on, then go back to Ebay and buy them, or not. I’m not sure I’d do all that, but I would be willing to buy that way if needed. My regular “go-to” though is JC Penny online.”

  14. Try thrift stores in other areas. There is a HUGE thrift store in a bit of a “swanky” area. Checking other areas can be beneficial.

    There are clothing swaps online or you can start one in your community by using a group creator like Meetup.

    Clearance sales online can be cheap. You can often get free shipping if you spend $50.

    Sharing your need in your circle of friends, church, FB account and clubs/groups can turn up treasures.

    Crisis Pregnancy centers, breast feeding groups, mothers morning out groups, preschool groups…all of these can be a rich resource.

    Family. Often times people in your family are similar in size and shape…and may have clothes they want to donate.

    Check your local churches and for clothes closets.

    Craigslist posters often sell lots of clothing or items very inexpensively.

    Dry cleaners often sell clothes that have not been picked up within 30 days.

  15. I speak from experience when I say that it can be very difficult to find plus sized clothes at thrift stores, especially once you move out of the14, 16, 18 range. My advice is two-fold. One, get on Lane Bryant’s mailing list. I don’t buy full-price from them often, but I do buy their sale prices (also check Jessica London online to pick up good foundation pieces–skirts, pants, etc. They can be a little frumpy, but you can find good stuff, and they have online sales as well). Two, check out the men’s section at Walmart and Tractor Supply for t-shirts, sweats, and overalls (if you like overalls). Men’s sizes run larger, but those places also carry more larger men’s sizes than they do women’s, so that makes them great, inexpensive places to pick up stuff. Obviously, if it doesn’t suit your style, it doesn’t do much good, but deals can be had.

  16. a great way I’ve found to get clothes on the cheap is to go to a “shop n swap”. I found out about one through a friend who hosted it at her house and it was so popular we now do it annually at our church. This however can be done by anyone, just need time and space.

    You invite a bunch of ladies, friends, neighbors, coworkers to bring clothes that they have hanging in their closet they either don’t fit, or just don’t wear anymore. The more the merrirer (space allowing) is good so there’s a wide range of size. This can include shoes and accesories. You then bring it to the designated location and seperate everything by size. Then everyone gets to “shop” you can get new to you clothes and get rid of stuff that still in good condition but you don’t use anymore.

    The only big thing you have to be aware of is to have a plan for what to do with the clothes that are leftover that people don’t want to take home. Usually there’s a designated person that will make a thrift shop donation run at the end of the day.

  17. I’m not a odd size, a fluctuating size perhaps, but my problem is having worn uniforms for way more years than I care to divulge, I’m trying to bring my “normal people” wardrobe up to snuff on a tight budget.

    All I have to say is: Goodwill (or your thrift store of choice). Yes, it takes a while and many trips to sort through and find the basics and not fad fashions, but so totally worth it.

    Now, if I could get some sort of control over my t-shirt collectingcoughhoardingcough, that’d be a big help.

  18. My feet aren’t wide, but they’re still huge, and not many stores carry women’s size 12 shoes, because apparently not too many companies even make them. Easy Spirit does, and I’ve found an Easy Spirit Outlet store and check their clearance section whenever I go to the outlet mall, even if I don’t currently “need” a pair of shoes. In this way I’ve gotten shoes that originally sold for $50+ for under $20.

    • @Bobbie Laughman actually that’s a big part of it. Clothing has to be included in the budget in an ongoing basis or you end up needing clothes badly when there isn’t any room. So perhaps begin setting aside $5 or $10 a week into an envelope and continue to do so even after you (Expensive Genes) are out of crisis mode. you don’t want to end up back in this position in a year or so.

  19. Get the word out to friends about your need! You never know when someone might know someone…. I got about 20 nearly brand new “tall” sized pants that way! My stepmother happened to mention my need to a coworker who’d gone down a size and they were mine the next day.

    Also, Old Navy (not great quality, but cheap!) has been offering 75% off sales in their stores this holiday season on certain items. What they don’t advertise well is if the size you need isn’t in stores, you can call and get that price online. I’ve scored tall shirts for $3 each in the past couple weeks – less than thrift store prices around here.

    You could also frequent a few smaller thrift stores and make friends with the employees. I have friends who get phone calls when certain things the employees know they’ve been looking for come in. 🙂


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