I can only speak for the East Coast, but here’s a run-down.
A Fat Religious Fashionista Annoted Guide To Shopping!!
Lane Bryant: The mecca for chunky goddesses. It depends on the season, but I usually have luck with basic pants and some fun pieces. Sometimes I walk in and go, “Oh, I see that this season is all about 6’2″ prostitutes.” Because otherwise why would there be so much fabric! and sequins! All with no bazoom coverage to speak of and nary a respectable fabric to be seen. Great source for pantyhose, and their Cacique line of lingerie is pretty good in the bra department. Their jewelry and bags are garbage.
Avenue: Kind of crappy, kind of ghetto, but some fun pieces. Nothing is very well-made and it won’t last long, but not a bad place to pick up some basics, although you’ll have to dig past the icky, sproingy pants (you can’t fool me into showing up at the office in sweatpants, dammit! No matter how you style them!) and the extremely flammable, cheap poly blazers. I always go to Avenue with high expectations and leave with a pair of pantyhose and a headache. I think it’s from breathing the polyester fumes.
Ashley Stewart: Don’t have one anywhere around me but I seem to recall finding some cool items there in NYC. My mother and I were the only white women in the store and found the designs to have a lot more verve than the usual plus-sized offerings. Their colors and patterns are great for women of color.
Ulla Popken: Again, I don’t have one around me, but there was one in the King of Prussia Mall near where I lived in Pennsylvania. They also have a catalog. These clothes are scaled for Scandinavian giantesses. There is no other explanation for their ginormous apparel. Also, they put things like umbrellas on their camp shirts. I shudder just to think of it. Aside from that, if you’re very tall and hefty in good proportion you might look great in some of their dresses, which always dragged all over the floor on me and had armholes down to my waist. I did get a great pair of palazzo pants from them once, which I had to have hemmed for yards but which were terrific and very well made. They have loads of dresses.
Macy’s Woman’s Department: Carries some great lines like INC., and I get all my work-out wear by Style & Co. there. Good for professional and semi-dressy clothes but casual wear tends to run along the boring, sporty Liz Claiborne line (boxy, striped, generally very unflattering, over-sized pieces) or the overly-casual Panama Joe type stuff — and thank you very much but I won’t be decorating my body with palm tree motifs any time soon.
Filene’s Fat Girls Section (Or Whatever They Call It):
If the Filene’s is in the city, it usually yields some treasures. If in the ‘burbs, stay away ’cause it’s going to be mostly about heinous, shapeless polyester “career wear” (for what career, I’d like to ask? Even bank tellers wouldn’t touch that stuff, and it’s not like they’re encouraged to have lots of fashion flair) and weird shapeless glittery or faux-boho (“fauxho”) polyester tunics that will cause you to break into hives on New Year’s Eve.
That said, I have managed to miraculously find some adorable skirts there in the past — really different, fun skirts — and the occasional really fashionable jacket or sweater. So it’s worth a poke around.
Old Navy: Cute looks that last about ten minutes, or until after the first wash. I get their t-shirts every year to wear under things and recycle them, as they inevitably fade and stain like crazy. That’s okay, because they’re like $9 each. Old Navy is good for solid, fit plus-sized gals. Their armholes and sleeves are cut very small and their pants don’t have floppy thighs. They are obviously designing for a younger, unblobby crowd. They also have the best color selection for t-shirts of anyone, again because they’re geared to a younger crowd.
Over-priced but well-made, classic-verging-on-boring pieces. You may find a nicely cut jacket and it’s a good source for excellent, fitted t-shirts but not a wide variety of colors (usually gaggy pastels). Worth checking for nice trousers and blazers. I always want to take their lime green little preppy display shoes and throw them across the room, as they remind me of the days of preppy mania in New Canaan, CT. If you can’t stomach preppy, don’t even go into this store.
Kohl’s: Yuck. I only cruise through Kohl’s when I’m desperate and have tried everywhere else.
J. Jill: I think the era of J. Jill is over. I think a J. Jill outfit says “crunchy granola liberal” too immediately for me to really embrace it for clergywomen.
Same goes for Chico’s. These unstructured, hempen items are becoming a kind of cliche for clergy gals, and I just don’t think they’re offering anything really beautiful or exciting lately. I think J. Jill is just a bit precious for me to wholeheartedly recommend, and Chico’s jewelry buyer seems a bit stuck in 1995.
Silhouettes Catalog: Put that catalog down and back away from it very slowly. I don’t want you to go into a suicidal depression just looking through it.
Fashion Bug Plus and Dress Barn Woman:
Really, you’d be better off just learning to sew yourself. In all seriousness, better you should invest in one pair of beautiful trousers, one perfectly fitted black skirt, one blazer and two elegant white blouses for the next ten years (you can upgrade accessories as needed) than spend your money on this garbage. Stay away. Stay far away. The buttons fall off when you look at them.
Target: Target is a hit-or-miss. A lot of times their Plus section is just full of boring, weird, cheap stuff but then you’ll hit the jackpot. Always worth a swing-through if you’re there buying garbage bags or whatever. Their shoes are so fun!
Syms: PeaceBang’s little secret. Like Loehmann’s (CT gals and guys, you know Loehmann’s, right?), you have to take your chances at this enormous discount designer warehouse, but when you hit it big, you hit it big. All of my great, oldest “name brand” pieces (a favorite Ann Klein blazer, a Liz Claiborne blazer with a tie-waist and wonderful pockets, an Evan Picone Petite blazer in a classic grey with a tie waist and gorgeous buttons, a wool Calvin Klein skirt) came from Syms and were marked down at least 70% off retail. I love that place. I go about once or twice a year and sometimes it’s strike-out, but sometimes it’s just the place to find that perfect black cashmere-soft sweater at a fraction of the retail value.
What did I miss?
And Mrs. Philocrites, would you like to do a guest column on Where Petite Religious Fashionistas Shop?