These days it’s more than just us Americans who find themselves off the size scale in certain parts of the world. People all over the world are getting bigger, and finding clothing that fits in some areas can be very challenging. Fortunately it’s often easier than you might imagine, as long as you know where and how to look.
For a bit of background, I’m a big and tall American man who has been traveling around Asia and Europe for more than 3 years now. I’m nearly 6’4″ and built like a retired rugby player who spends too much time at the pub. In other words, I’m taller than nearly everyone born in most countries around the world, and also wider than most of them too. I wear US Size 14 shoes, which are hard to find even in the US. Fortunately, I’ve been able to buy new clothes in a variety of ways, which I’ll describe below.
Where to find large clothing while abroad
Start with the internet
The easiest and best step to begin the search is right here on the internet. Needless to say, if you are in or near a large city you’ll have better chances than if you aren’t. When I was going to Thailand I Googled “Large mens clothes Bangkok” and found a few articles and forum topics on the subject. I also saw a few topics for large womens clothes, though in my experience they are usually found in different places.
In Bangkok, for example, I read about a stall on the 6th Floor at the MBK Center that has huge sizes. It wasn’t easy to find at first because it’s one of scores of clothing stalls in the main marketplace area, but I did find it and I’ve shopped there several times over the years. The prices are great as well, with shirts and short pants selling for around US$12 for good quality stuff. In the US those prices would be double or triple, and in Europe more like 5 times as high.
The point is, if more than a few larger people live in or come through an area, chances are there will be at least one or two people selling those clothes. In Budapest I found a Big and Tall Men’s Shop in the city center, even though very few Hungarians qualify (yet).
Look for outdoor markets
The second most effective technique I’ve discovered for finding larger clothes is to walk the aisles of outdoor/flea markets. You can find these pretty much everywhere around the world, sometimes open every day, and in other places they are only there one or two days a week. Since the “shelf space” in an outdoor market costs almost nothing, some merchants buy large clothes even if they only sell a few items a month. Sometimes they just keep them in a box out of sight, probably alongside very small sizes or other things that don’t sell every day.
The best part of shopping at these outdoor markets is that you don’t have to even look for the stuff. It would be time consuming and probably embarrassing to ask the person at each stall if they have larger sizes, so fortunately you don’t have to. All you need to do is walk down each aisle glancing at the clothes and making a bit of eye contact with the merchant. In most cases they’ll just let you pass, but if they have sizes they think will fit, they will jump to attention and politely say something like, “I have your size.”
This has worked brilliantly for me in many different places, including small towns where I didn’t expect anything. If enough Western tourists visit, there will be a market for larger clothing. The one caveat is that some merchants are more interested in a sale than in happy customers. In Hoi An, Vietnam I was shown a t-shirt that was supposedly 4XL and they insisted it would fit. When I got back to my hotel I realized that it was probably just a normal XL in the US or Europe, and it didn’t come close to fitting well. Fortunately it was only about US$3, and I learned a lesson.
Tailor shops will make anything
One nice coincidence is that areas of the world that are dominated by smaller people, also tend to have cheap tailor shops in every neighborhood. So far I’ve only used tailor shops (and shoemakers) to repair my clothes and shoes, but obviously they can also make just about anything. As long as you don’t need designer labels, this could be your best bet.
From what I’ve seen, they are capable of duplicating an item of clothing that you have with you, as well as measure you and make a great many styles pictured in catalogs they have. In both cases, it’s usually only about two days to completion, though if you are measured they often have you come back for a fitting the day before it’s finished.
If you are in a small town in Sweden this might be very expensive, but in most of the world you can get pants or shirts made for US$20 or even less. And as mentioned before, it’s also usually very cheap to get clothing fixed. I’ve had rips or seams coming apart that I would just throw away and replace in the US, but when new clothes aren’t an easy option, getting cheap and fast repairs usually is.
Large shoes can be tricky
With a US size of 14, I struggle to find shoes that fit even in the US. In all of my travels I’ve yet to find shoes or sandals that fit me outside of the obvious countries. I’ve had to order running shoes online from the States a couple of times, and having them shipped to me wasn’t as expensive as I feared, as long as I can wait up to 2 weeks to get them.
I’ve had sandals made for me in Pondicherry, India from one of the many sandal-making stalls in the town center. I imagine I could have dress shoes made from a shoemaker if I found an affordable one, but for something like running shoes or other specialty footwear, having them shipped from abroad is probably the best strategy.
Do you have tips you can add? This is a major challenge for some people, and we can use all the help we can get.