What It’s Like to Shop as a Tall Woman

By Rachel McCarthy James

Height is practically a prerequisite for wearing clothes professionally: Models are on average 5 feet 9.5 inches. ”When I was a size 2 or 4, [it] was really easy to find high-end items at a great discount,” says Falasha, a Switzerland-based fashion blogger, “especially items used for models or styling. Size 6 and 8 are much harder to find higher-end.” But women who are model tall but not sample size have a harder time finding stuff to fit them — especially if their torsos are long, and especially especially if they’re tall and plus.

And often enough, they can only manage to find anything at all online. Tall women are a specialty market, as those over 5 feet 8 inches make up only about 10 percent of all women, and so they are not a priority in brick-and-mortar retail. Even stores that carry tall sizes generally restrict their selection (save a few pairs of long-inseam jeans) to regular and perhaps petite sizes, offering tall clothes online only. “I prefer to shop online because I hate going to stores, trying on things that don’t fit, and leaving completely demoralized,” says Ashley of Salt Lake City, adding, “I see you Anthropologie Sale Room, with all your petite blouses”

Old Navy, which offers one of the wider ranges of tall clothing styles, says that a focus on online marketing makes it easier to reach tall customers. “Our online store provides a tailored experience for extended-size customers, allowing them to filter products for specific fit needs,” says Loretta Choy, senior vice president and GM of Old Navy’s women’s and men’s divisions.

But even when they reach them, there can be further complications. “Returning clothes to online-only brands is always a hassle and, even if I know my measurements, it’s almost always a crap-shoot,” says Luisa of Salem, Virginia. She prefers to seek out retailers in person.

“I can go into a Torrid or a Lane Bryant, try things on, and adjust sizing as needed without having to wait weeks or spend extra money on sizing options,” she says. Most don’t feel that they have the option. “I can’t just go to any store and buy pants,” says Melanie of Bristol, Virginia. “Most stores don’t carry pants in lengths that fit me. Dress pants are even worse.”

Trying to know how to dress for work is always a trial. “What looks like a professional dress when you buy it quickly looks unprofessional at work. Especially fabrics that ride up combined with heels draw a lot of unwanted attention,” says Falasha.

A modest skirt cut for a 5-foot-6-inch woman can turn into a mini real quick on a 5-foot-10-inch body. “Because I’m so tall, clothes often look inappropriate or sexy on me when I’m not even trying,” says Shannon of Los Angeles. “I cannot wear short dresses to work. Especially if they are tight.”

Athletic clothes can be just as difficult. Ashley, a dance teacher who works in elementary school, struggles to find athleisure that provides enough coverage for “wiggling in front of kids. I end up wearing nice leggings but need to cover up with maternity tank tops and cardigans and am basically in my pajamas and humiliated.”

Tonya of Chicago notes that even when she does find a reliable option, it could still disappear. “Both Victoria’s Secret and Lululemon carried pants extra long, but they both stopped over a year ago and I am bummed,” she says. “I discovered Long Tall Sally last Christmas and am now a loyal customer.”

Long Tall Sally targets women 5 feet 8 inches and taller, and emphasizes the need for an all-around fit. “Long Tall Sally never just adds inches to a hem or sleeve,” says Camilla Treharne, creative director at Long Tall Sally. “Jeans are more than just a ‘longer leg.’ A 6-foot woman needs a longer rise, deeper yoke, adjusted knee positioning, [and] a 34-inch, 36-inch, or 38-inch inseam.”

Retailers beyond specialty brands seem to be getting the hang of designing jeans for taller women, at least. “Not only do we offer multiple lengths in our core denim styles, we account for how anatomies differ between shorter and taller people such as the position of the knee,” says Jill Guenza, global vice president of women’s design at Levi’s. “We make adjustments within the pattern and in finishing to account for these differences, which has a big impact on how the jeans hang on the body and ensures that finish features like shading and holes are in the right place.”

But inconsistent sizing makes it difficult to find the right fit consistently. “I have shouted out to the universe and still haven’t received a clear answer of why women’s jeans cannot be sized as men’s are — a simple waist size available in a variety of different length sizes — in inches, not the manufacturer bias of what they think a certain size is,” says Deanna of Overland Park, Kansas. “I will occasionally wander through a store and see a super-cute pair of jeans on a store mannequin only to look at the rack and find the item ‘capri-length’ for me.”

Much as long legs are fetishized, not all bodies are 90 percent legs, and women with long torsos often struggle to avoid an unintentional 2008 midriff look. “It’s much easier to find pants,” says Jody from Westchester, New York. “If [the arm] is long enough, the body is often short-waisted.”

”I had to learn what types of shirts and dresses would not only be long enough to cover my stomach at normal times, but also to allow for real-life movement before buying them,” says Carly of Little Rock, Arkansas. “You may think a shirt is cute on the rack or even on, but I’ve given so many clothes to Goodwill just because they’re slightly too short and I hate wearing them.”

Some companies are more eager than others to service this exact need, and Old Navy is a standby for many tall women. “I pretty much only shop online at Old Navy, especially when it comes to long pants and long-sleeve shirts, jackets, and sweaters,” says Emily of Spotsylvania, Virginia.

Old Navy is fashion for the people,” says Loretta Choy. ”We want all of our customers to have access to great styles at great prices, regardless of shape or size. We are proud to offer 70 percent of our women’s tops assortment in tall sizes.”

Gap and Old Navy are often the most reliable option for tall-size shirts in styles everyone else wears, but they aren’t the only ones. Ann Taylor also takes a pragmatic approach: If someone buys tall pants at Ann Taylor, they want to sell her tall tops, too. “We want to be able to dress our customer in Ann Taylor head to toe and to solve any wardrobe issues that women may have,” says Lauren Blane, the company’s styling director.

Still, having only a few options at only a few stores leaves many long-torsoed women feeling frustrated. “There are more options for adjusting the inseams on pants, but for tops? No,” says Ashley. “There are petite sections in virtually every department store, but no comparable section for tall women.”

Petite women make up at least 50 percent of the female population, and they have issues too — especially petite-plus women. Their larger share of the market, though, does not always translate to greater options. Alex Waldman is the co-founder of Universal Standard, which was founded in 2015 and makes “elevated” clothing for sizes 10-28. The company first expanded its brand by offering longer inseams in denim, but for now, it’s focused on shorter women. “Our first concern for the underserved would be toward petite, because they’re the ones who are more underserved,” says Waldman. “We’re trying to be as maximally inclusive as possible, so we’ve taken steps toward inclusivity across the spectrum, always starting with those who are most underserved.”

While most clothing retailers offer a shop for men who are tall and plus-size, there is no such thing as a big-and-tall shop for women. Tall plus-sizes are limited, harder to find, and usually online, making a good fit all the harder to achieve. Lane Bryant offers jeans in long inseams, but has no specific tall shop or tall shirts. Ditto Torrid. Ditto Target. “I would love be able to shop Ava & Viv at Target, particularly their jeans,” says Luisa. “Paying over $50 for jeans at Torrid is not always an option for me, financially, but Ava & Viv denim is always Butt-Crack Central.”

Several women I spoke to mentioned Old Navy as their go-to place for some actual options without the attendant stress of wondering whether or not they will fit. “After much trial and error, I pretty much know that whatever I order from there will fit and I don’t have to waste time trying on clothes I know are going to not work,” says Emily, and Carly agrees: “Old Navy has the benefit of a huge plus-size section, so you can always find something without the emotional struggle.”

“When developing product for all women, our focus is creating fits that flatter,” says Loretta Choy. “We want our customers to participate in fashion, and our extended categories allow us to provide great styles designed for every body.”

Sometimes, styles offered in tall are not offered in plus-sizes, and styles in plus-sizes are not offered in tall. Old Navy offers a wide range of tall-size options among its straight-size stock, including tall shirts in XXL. But while it does offer long sizes, including long inseams in plus-sizes, there are no length options for its shirts. Its sister/parent brand, Gap, doesn’t technically have a plus store; it does offer women’s shirts up to XXL and pants up to size 20, but tall sizes only go to XL and pants to 16.

However, Gap is expanding its options for tall women. “We will begin offering tall and petite sizes for our GapFit leggings as we look to support our customer in their total lifestyle,” says Mary Castilow, VP of women’s merchandising at Gap; the new sizes will be online only.

While clothing options are difficult to find and mostly online, it’s still better than it was to many tall women. “I remember most of the time tall women would have to shop from catalogs for longer items and now everyone shops online so it is really easy,” says Falasha.

”I think the market is finally realizing that it’s not a one-size-fits-all world anymore,” says Jessica of Baltimore. “Inseams are coming in more options now, in everything from yoga leggings to jeans, and I know there are specific brands catering to tall women, such as Long Tall Sally. It’s not just a ‘regular’ and ‘petites’ world any longer!”

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