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How to Build a Plus-Size Wardrobe on a Budget: Pandemic Edition

A few months ago, I realized that I am officially plus-sized and I decided to embrace my body. I didn’t want to go on a diet, I didn’t want to work out constantly, I didn’t even really want my “old body” back. I just wanted to feel comfortable in the body I had. So that’s what I’m doing.

The first step for me was buying new clothes. It’s impossible for me to feel comfortable in my own skin if I don’t feel comfortable in my clothes, and since none of my old clothes fit, they were definitely not comfortable, literally or metaphorically.

But since we’re in the middle of a pandemic and my husband and I don’t have a huge amount of disposable income, this has been much easier said than done. I spent years collecting my previous wardrobe, and now I’ve had to build a plus-size wardrobe from scratch without being able to try anything on in stores. It’s been tough, I won’t lie, but not impossible.

Never Rule Out Hand-Me-Downs

Growing up, nearly half of my clothes were hand-me-downs from cousins, and I loved it. I got to wear clothes my mom wouldn’t typically pick out, because my aunts picked it out for their kids a few years back. Plus, when we got the bags of clothes, it was like shopping without the long boring day at the mall (and all the money spent, even though I wasn’t super conscious of that at the time).

Both of my sisters have always been smaller than me, size-wise, but my mom had some clothes that were a bit snug for her, so she gave them to me to help me get my wardrobe started. It was honestly like shopping from the comfort of my home, for free. I had a field day trying everything on, and I got some amazing pieces from it, which you can check out below.

Sadly, Yes, I’ve Been Using Amazon

In addition to hand-me-downs, I’ve also been getting my new clothes off Amazon. I know Amazon is not the most environmentally-friendly or socially conscious shopping option out there, but it is fast and cheap and has lots of options, and right now I just don’t have the mental capacity to care about everything. I am doing my best to learn about racial justice, accept my new plus-size body and reject diet culture, take care of my house and husband and baby, write both professionally and creatively, and outgrow my old trauma responses. It’s been a lot, and honestly, I can only do so much. Amazon is familiar and easy and that’s where I’m at right now.

If you’re comfortable using Amazon to build up your wardrobe, then you can follow along with my wardrobe-building experience and try some of these clothes yourself, but if you want to try more sustainable options, thredUP and Depop are both great online thrift stores.

Start With The Basics

As much as I wanted to immediately replace some of my favorite items from my old wardrobe (my burgundy velvet pants, my swishy navy blue dress shirt, my purple tulle skirt), I knew the basics had to be my first purchases. We have no idea how much longer this pandemic is going to go on, and I need comfy house clothes for all seasons more than I need that perfect jumpsuit.

For me, the basics are bras, leggings, jean shorts and running shorts, a black skater skirt, and tops that I can mix and match. So that’s what I bought.

The Skater Skirt

Black skater skirt blue striped tied button down
Urban CoCo Black Skater Skirt 2XL: Amazon $14
Time and Tru Button Down XL: Walmart $15

Here is the all-important skater skirt. I love skater skirts. You can dress them down with a t-shirt and some combat boots, you can dress them up with a fancy top and glittery jewelry, they can really do it all. A good skater skirt is a versatile and necessary basic piece in my wardrobe. In this picture, I’ve paired it with one of the basic tops I bought for mixing and matching, and I love that it shows off just a sliver of my midriff. Plus-size gals should not have to hide our wonderful bellies.

Jean Shorts: A Summer Classic

Paper bag jean shorts with pale pink top
GRAPENT Paper Bag Shorts XL: Amazon $26
JINLAISA Tank Blouse 2XL: Amazon $18
Medium wash jean shorts with olive green tee
Haola High-Waisted Shorts 2XL: Amazon $25
A New Day T-Shirt 2XL: Target $7

I am one of those people who, if I have any means at all, will always have at least two pairs of jean shorts and two pairs of jeans. I like a little variety in my life, and wearing the same pair of shorts day in and day out gets boring fast. Plus, it means I would have to do laundry much more regularly than I actually do. If I could go back, I would get the paper bag shorts in a 2XL for more of the paper bag effect. The XL is a bit tight for my liking, but since they technically fit and I’ve kept them too long to return them, they’ll work for now.

As for the regular high-waisted shorts, I love how they fit. They’re stretchy and soft and comfortable, but the zipper and pockets do gape a bit. This might mean I need a bigger size, but these particular shorts only go up to 2XL, and like the other shorts, they technically fit. I’m not too worried about a bit of gaping when it comes to casual jean shorts.

I’ve paired both of these shorts with some mix-and-match tops. The pale pink tank is gorgeous, honestly one of my new favorite pieces. I think it would look even better if I had a bit of a tan, but alas, my husband has me being responsible and wearing sunscreen whenever I go out. As for the army green t-shirt, I love this one too. It has a silky cotton feel, somehow, and it looks great tied or loose.

My Lackluster Running Shorts

Black running shorts and pink hoodie long sleeve t-shirt
Hanes Running Shorts: $16 Amazon

Despite their name, I have never once gone running in my running shorts. I firmly believe running is the devil’s work. In my opinion, running shorts are best used for gardening, lounging around the house, or wearing to bed if my pajama shorts are dirty.

Unfortunately, this particular pair isn’t my favorite. I love the design, and they fit great, but I’ve only had them for a few weeks now, and they already have a hole along the seam. Luckily, my husband is a much better sewer than I am and he’s going to try to fix them, but I’m just disappointed that they need fixing after such a short time.

As for the shirt in this photo, that’s one of the hand-me-downs from my mom. It’s super soft and comfy and it has a cute hood. The only downside is the incredibly itchy tag.

Bras: Not Pictured Because…Yeah

One of the most important parts of building my new wardrobe was buying new bras that actually fit me. My boobs definitely were bigger post-pregnancy, and my old bras were several years old anyway. Lane Bryant specializes in plus-size women’s wear, including bras, and they were having a sale a while back, so I went and got one nude bra and one black bra. Pretty boring, but the basics are really the most important thing when you’re trying to rebuild your wardrobe from the ground up. Thankfully I was allowed to try the bras on, despite the pandemic. I believe my size was 40DD, and I paid $60 total for the bras.

A Few Cute Outfits

Once you’ve got your basics covered (the leggings aren’t pictured because they were see-through and I had to return them and haven’t bought new ones yet), then I recommend adding one or two full outfits to your wardrobe. I’m an impulsive idiot and bought mine right away, but if you have more patience and self-discipline, you should probably get the basics first, and then add cute but unnecessary items.

Daisy Pants Crop Top Outfit
Wild Fable Yellow Crop Top XL: Target ???
Wild Fable Daisy Print Drawstring Pants 1X: Target ???

I was wandering through Target a few months ago, knowing that all I needed was baby formula but itching to buy some clothes that actually fit me, when I ran into this outfit. This is my entire aesthetic. Bright, comfy, and a little bit 90s. Plus, even though this isn’t the most versatile outfit in the world, I have found additional ways to wear both pieces. The yellow crop top goes well with my high-waisted jean shorts, and I have a plain white t-shirt that looks nice with the daisy pants. Unfortunately, it seems like Target is no longer carrying these pieces, but if you like this look, Wild Fable has lots of other cute outfits you should check out.

Black and White Wrap Dress

Finally, no wardrobe is complete without a nice dress. This one was a hand-me-down from my mom and I absolutely love it. It makes me feel classy and curvy and beautiful. It’s a wrap dress, which is usually good for my curves but bad for my boobs spilling out all over the place, but this one comes with a well-placed, well-hidden snap to keep the girls in place. Unfortunately, I have no idea when or where my mom bought this, but if you’re looking for something similar, it’s a size 14 and the tag says “Suzi Chin for Maggy Boutique.” I don’t think that’s a current brand anymore, but you may be able to find similar looks on thredUP or Depop.

Wardrobe Wrap-Up

So now you have all the cute pictures and links, but let’s take a look at how long it took to build this starter wardrobe, how much it cost, and how much more I still need to stay clothed and comfortable all year long.

I got hand-me-downs including:

  • three dresses
  • one jacket
  • three long-sleeve shirts
  • one t-shirt

I bought:

  • two bras
  • two pairs of jean shorts
  • one pair of running shorts
  • one skater skirt
  • three tops
  • one outfit

I paid:

  • $195-ish (not sure how much the Wild Fable outfit cost)

Over the course of:

  • 3 months

I still need:

  • leggings
  • jeans
  • leather jacket (another staple of my wardrobe, but a much more expensive one)
  • winter coat
  • cute winter pants
  • sweaters

Overall, I think I did pretty well. I kept the cost relatively low, bought pieces that I like and that actually fit me, and I spread out my purchases so our bank account didn’t take a hit all at once. And I did it all without trying anything on (except the bras because come on people, how are you supposed to buy bras without trying them on??)

If you’ve gained some weight recently, because of quarantine or having a baby or just life, I hope this post can help you start rebuilding your wardrobe. Let me know in the comments if you want another wardrobe update when I buy more of my winter items, and be sure to subscribe in the box below so you don’t miss any of my plus-size body positivity content.

7 thoughts on “How to Build a Plus-Size Wardrobe on a Budget: Pandemic Edition”

  1. You look so cute in all of your outfits! I love the emphasis you put on getting basics/essential pieces of clothing. I’ve always been easily drawn to all the fun/cute patterns and different styles, but they sit in my closet untouched, especially now—so I’ve become more intentional about buying more mix-and-match basics. Would definitely love to see the update with winter clothing!

    Liked by 1 person

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