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Last week, I spent an afternoon at the beach with some friends. At the end of the day, a woman approached me in the parking lot to tell me she liked my dress. “Where did you get it?” she asked. I thanked her and said that it was from Old Navy. Her eyes widened. “Oh, really?” she said. “Which one did you go to? I can never find plus sizes in Old Navy stores.”

I resisted the urge to put my arm around her like a father would when explaining the facts of life to his son. “Yeah, they don’t carry plus sizes in stores, for some ridiculous reason,” I said. “I ordered this dress online.”

I didn’t think it was possible, but my new friend’s eyes grew even wider. “Oh my God, I could never order anything online,” she said. “I’m just so afraid nothing would fit. I have to try everything on first.”

Now my eyes were as round as saucers. I’ve always considered online shopping to be a part of my lot in life as a plus-size woman. Most brick and mortar stores don’t seem to be interested in taking fat girls’ money, so I just naturally assumed that all plus-size women were turning to the Internet for their clothing needs. Apparently I was wrong.

Later that afternoon I sent out a few texts to some of my friends who wear a size 14 and up. I asked them if they shopped online or not, and if not, why? Most said they did shop online (but wished they didn’t have to), and two reported that no, they had never shopped online, and for the same reason as my parking lot friend: they were afraid that nothing would fit.

So, I knew what I had to do. I had to make a guide to online shopping for my fellow fat girls. These are the tips and tricks I’ve learned that have made online shopping a(n almost) painless experience for me. If you have any pieces of advice to add to this guide, please leave a note in the comments!

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1. Know your measurements
This is an obvious one, but it has to be said: you need to know your measurements. There is no such thing as a universal sizing system, so if you wear an 18 in one store, you might be a 16 or a 20 in another. You’ll need help measuring yourself, so ask a body-positive friend to do it for you. Write your measurements down so you can refer to them whenever you’re online shopping.

2. Read the sizing guide for each and every piece of clothing you want to purchase
Knowing your measurements is pointless if you’re not going to check the sizing guides when you shop. Never assume that you need a size 4X because “that’s what you typically wear.” You need to check the sizing guide for each and every piece of clothing before you add it to your cart.

3. Check the fabrics and care instructions before you buy
Not all fabrics are made equal. Some itch, some stretch, some wrinkle, and some wear thin. Most (if not all) online retailers will plainly list the materials used in each garment, so make sure you read that list before you buy anything. You should also check the care instructions for each piece before you buy it. You don’t want to wind up the unhappy new owner of a bunch of dry-clean-only shirts if you’re the type of person who would never actually go to a dry cleaners.

4. Know the store’s return policy
This is of the utmost importance. Some stores (like the aforementioned Old Navy) will actually send you a pre-addressed and pre-paid bag for returns, so if something doesn’t fit, you can send it back at no cost to you. Other stores (like my beloved ASOS) will send you a pre-addressed bag, but you’ll have to pay to mail it back yourself. If the store’s return policy sucks, take your business elsewhere.

5. Factor in the cost for minor alterations
Whenever I buy a sleeveless top or dress, I always assume that I will have to take said top or dress to the tailor to have the arm holes made smaller. Minor alterations like that don’t cost much, but when you’re plus-sized, you’re already dropping major cash on your clothing. Make sure you budget for alterations, because when you can’t try something on in the store you have to assume that it might need a nip or a tuck to fit just right.

6. Sign up for email notices from your favorite online retailers
I know that getting emails from clothing stores can be super annoying, but sometimes it totally pays off. Many online retailers will send email subscribers a message letting them know of surprise flash sales or discount codes, and trust me, you don’t want to miss those. Plus-size clothing is already so expensive, so give yourself every opportunity to get your jeans and tops at a discounted rate.

7. Watch “the runway” videos

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When you can’t try something on in the store, it’s impossible to guess how that product will fall on your body when you’re actually wearing it. That’s why I always like to watch the runway videos that some retailers provide (ASOS being one of them). Although I’m definitely not as tall or thin as most plus-size models, watching those videos is still really helpful in terms of predicting how a garment will fit on my body.

8. Read the comments about each garment before you buy it
If the store you’re shopping at doesn’t provide runway videos, check to see if they have a comments section. Oftentimes they do, and sometimes women who have already purchased that piece of clothing will leave really helpful comments about its fit, fabric, and care. Those comments will help you make an informed decision about what to buy and what to skip.

That’s all from me! Feel free to add to this list in the comments section below. If you don’t have any online shopping tips or tricks yourself, leave a note letting us know your favorite plus-size online retailer. And happy shopping!