Okay ya’ll. I’m about leave for Singapore in a week and I wanted a few additions to my spring/summer wardrobe because it’s supposed to be in the 30s (high 80s – low 90s for you Stateside peeps), compared to the weather here that’s just barely starting to resemble something like spring.
But confession? It’s really hard for me to find good clothes in Japan. Most women’s clothing stores have a one size fits all thing going on, or if they separate into sizes there’s usually only two to choose from- M (fits like a Juniors XS-S) or L (fits more like a Juniors M). Sometimes these sizes are labelled 38 or 40, which correspond to S or M in European sizing. If you’re a non-Asian female expat or have body type bigger than this, you might be facing the same challenge.
So what to do? Well, you have two options: go domestic or go home
Finding Clothing in Japan
There’s a lot of clothing styles in Japan, but in general most clothing is geared towards making women look infantile or younger than they should probably be dressing for their age. You’ll see a lot of women in their 20’s and 30’s still rocking baby doll dresses. It’s not a bad style, and was actually great when I was still barely 20. Now that I’ve almost climbed to 30? Not so much.
Over the years I’ve spanned both the smaller and larger side of the scale. I remember the first time I went shopping for work clothes at UNIQLO. UNIQLO sells sizes up to an XL, so I thought surely at 160 cm (5’5″) and an M/L American juniors size I’d be golden. But even at their XL size, the arm circumference didn’t differ much from the M, the length of the garment itself was virtually unchanged, and my B-cup bust was almost making buttons pop. If you have any kind of hips or a butt, you aren’t going to fit the pants here well. With exception of a rocking pair of Edwins jeans and some nice suit pants I chanced upon, every pair of pants or jeans I’ve tried on here has made it look like my ass is just an extension of my thigh, or what I like to call a uni-ass. It doesn’t matter if the pants are in regular or larger Japanese sizing.
While larger sizing, called ōkii saizu, does exist you’ll find that sometimes all that means is the width of the garment increases in size. So unless you’re the same height and build as an Asian person, but with a bigger waistline, chances are even clothing at the bigger size stores is going to be rather ill fitting. What’s more depressing is that besides office wear, larger sized clothing only seems to come in “frumpy old lady”, or “try too hard little girl”. The former is like an assortment of various mumu-like tunics with leggings, and the latter consists of mini dresses where for some reason all of the designers seem to think your boobs stop at your collarbone. (Admittedly my boobs are not as perky as they once might have been, but I don’t ever remember them being as high as my collarbone.)
Then there’s the trouble of actually finding a store. You can usually find a few brick and mortar larger size clothing stores in urban areas, but your options might be limited or zero in rural areas. Some of the ones I can think of off the top of my head are Marui department store’s model size section, Isetan’s larger size department, Shimamura, Jusco, and Covenly/Palemo/Supure/Jinnee. I recommend Shimamura for cheap bras/undies, but their clothing is pretty hit or miss no matter what size you are. GAP and H&M carry sizes up to 14, but there’s often not much offered the higher you go. If you can get access to a military base, you can sometimes find American size clothing there.
On that note, don’t be surprised if the majority of your shopping might be done online. These stores have extended sizing, but of course your mileage may vary on actual fit.
Belle Maison – Sells everything and the kitchen sink, but has some stylish basics, middle-aged fashions, and office wear from regular Japanese sizing to larger sizing.
Nissen – Also sells everything and the kitchen sink, but has better selection of large size clothing that’s more on point and trendy.
Rakuten – You can find anything you’re looking for here, but their search engine isn’t the best for filtering out stuff you don’t want. Stores that carry larger sizes are MinMin, Re-J, Clette, Philine, and Gold Japan.
Onward Crosset – Carries small, regular, and large brand name clothing. A bit pricey, but good if you like Japanese fashion brands
Mico Super – For larger sizes LL-6L
Clette – In case you’re not a Rakuten user. They actually use larger models so you can see what the clothing will look like on someone shopping there. Carries larger sizes LL-5L
Buying from Overseas Online
Admittedly this is usually my preferable option unless I need something last minute. I’ve tried to gather a list of places that ship overseas that I or friends of mine can vouch for.
eBay – I find Abercrombie, American Eagle, and other popular brands back home ridiculously marked up in Japan, and so I stock up on eBay for much cheaper. Aeropostale, Kate Spade, and other brands have their own accounts to buy from as well. Just watch out for counterfeit sellers and make sure shipping to Japan is offered in the listing. You’ll need a Paypal account to pay.
ASOS – Only their UK store ships to Japan, so everything is in UK sizing. They carry regular and curve/plus sizes.
Dorothy Perkins – Another UK store that carries regular and plus sizes.
Modnique – You have sign up for access to the site, but costs to ship to Japan are reasonable and they carry everything from low end to high designer brand merchandise at a discount.
ModCloth – Mostly junior sizing, but has some plus sizes as well. I admit that a good quarter of my wardrobe is from here. Their shipping is really reasonable if you fit under the USPS limit. If you don’t, watch out for UPS charges, and inevitably the bogus customs charges that almost always follow. Sometimes they have free international shipping deals, and do a great end of the year holiday clearance.
Ruche – Like ModCloth, but more reasonably priced. The have a limited plus size section.
Revolve Clothing – XXS to XL
Torrid – Large and plus sizing. Their shipping isn’t exactly cheap, but not outrageous. Due to their security policy you might have to call them on your own time and yen to to confirm your credit card info after placing an order.
Madi’s Remailing Service – For any clothing store that doesn’t ship to Japan. I’ve used them once and their shipping and fees were fair, and certainly better than MyUS and ShipItTo. In fact it was cheaper ordering from Nordstrom via Madi’s than using their expensive carrier.
You’ll also need to shop at larger clothing stores or online if you have above a size 8 US foot or have wide feet or large calves. Most Japanese shoes top out at 24 or 24.5 cm (US women’s 7 1/2 or 8), and the calf widths here for boots are tiny! ABC Mart is the only store I’ve found with size US women’s 9 or 10 athletic shoes, and at some bigger city locations, casual/dress shoes under their Nuovo brand.
Do you have any clothes shopping in Japan woes to comment on or shop suggestions? I’d love to hear them!