When I asked around for the best plus-size clothing for active women, the answer was … crickets. Soon after, I quickly heard some anger.
“Athletic apparel manufacturers are you listening?! Comes up all the time,” one woman told me. The frustration was palpable: Women felt ignored. While most brands now have women’s-specific lines of clothing, the size ranges are rarely inclusive, and a major slice of the athletic wear market is being skipped over.
Slowly, though, responses with some favorites began to trickle in. The brands doing the best in the space were the ones who didn’t just make larger sizes of standard favorites.
Designers and CEOs explained that the secret to their success in the market was due to ensuring that the clothing didn’t just get bigger. It had to have real plus size women in mind. And this apparel required testing with actual plus-size humans — including athletes — before launch.
“Size inclusivity is a feminist issue,” Superfit Hero founder Micki Krimmel told us. “If you believe it’s important for women to be active, then you need to include plus-size women, especially since women over size 12 account for the majority of the population. To be frank, it’s insane to me that we’re still even having this conversation!”
While there are some great options available now, it’s obvious that what’s available in the marketplace right now is absolutely not enough. Those brands that do offer high-quality plus-size women’s gear are ahead of the curve, and others should — and likely will — follow suit.
So consider this a battle cry that highlights a few favorite brands and pieces that are size-inclusive, comfortable, and ready for adventure.
Plus-Size Women’s Athletic Clothing Rsport
CJ Riggins, CEO and founder of Rsport, created the brand to address what she wasn’t seeing at events, races, and around town.
“Having worked in the apparel world for 30 years in development, materials, and sourcing for ready-to-wear and outdoor apparent — and as a size 12/14 myself for years — I noticed at a local triathlon that there was a clear size where participants didn’t have kits to wear,” she explained. “So I started talking to the athletes to ask where they shopped, and they said, ‘Our husband’s closets.’”
But that situation also wasn’t ideal. As Riggins put it, not having a well-fitting, performance product for your body’s specific needs can be “mentally deflating.” So she set out to design a kit that would properly fit plus-size women. And that didn’t just mean expanding sizing on outdoor options. Plus-size women often have different needs than their “straight-size” counterparts.
Rsport bottoms, including shorts and tights that are coming soon, feature opaque fabrics, abrasion panels, a non-pinch waistband, internal elastic drawcord, dual front hip pockets that hold the world, and a hidden back pocket for cards and keys as well as the pee/period/sweat pad.
Fave pick: Trifecta Capris ($84)
Terry has been making cycling apparel for all shapes and sizes for years, and the brand knows what it’s doing. Whether you’re looking for a simple, sleek cycling kit in basic black or prefer a riding skirt or dress, there are options.
“Not only were average-size women underserved when it came to jerseys that fit, but there was absolutely nothing available in plus sizes. We were all wearing men’s jerseys and bike shorts!” Terry Bicycles founder Paula Dyba told us.
“Two things converged for us. First, we heard from female cyclists about the need for a broader range of fits and sizes. The plus-size community of cyclists may be smaller as a percentage, but it is vocal, and when we heard from potential customers, we listened.
“Second, as a company of mostly women, we had staff members of all sizes who were serious about riding and made the ideal development team for product and testing. We started with styles we felt could be easily re-patterned for plus and then worked with pattern makers and our manufacturers to not just upsize our existing garments, but develop new patterns and grading for the market.”
Terry even has a popular saddle lineup designed for women, by women, and they offer a wide array of saddle widths for different sit-bone spans. Clothing comes in three different cuts, and sizing goes up to 3X.
Fave pick: Touring Short Plus ($119)
Launched in 1995, JunoActive is the longest-running plus-size-specific brand for activewear. Don’t expect anything fancy, but the basics are great and reasonably priced. It’s also one of the only brands making performance-ready activewear in quality fabrics for up to size 6X.
“We know how active women of all sizes are, and our job here at JunoActive is to help her feel comfortable and confident,” said Anne Kelly, president and founder of the brand. “We use real fit models so that we know everything performs in motion and focus on high-tech, long-lasting fabrics. And everything we make is available in one of the largest size ranges, XL-6X.”
Admittedly, the designs aren’t exactly head-turning in terms of bright, loud prints or bold styles. But Juno designed them to last and maintain quality versus the “fast fashion” approach that has crept into a lot of budget activewear brands.
Fave pick: QuikWik Long Capris ($70)
Not every female athlete wants to wear running skirts or dresses, but there are plenty of women who prefer that option. Nuu-Muu offers sizes up to 3X in its running and activewear dresses in fun prints and patterns. And it actually uses plenty of plus-size women in advertising and social media. (Basic black is also available, and might be the perfect solution to your active needs when traveling light!)
“Some of the best ultrarunners in the world wear skirts when they run,” ultrarunner and Nuu-Muu ambassador Betsy Hartley said. “I always wanted to pull off that look, except that I am a larger size than the elites. And having lost 200-plus pounds, my upper thighs need a little more care and coverage than most.”
Fave pick: Ruu-Muu ($88)
With a dedicated plus range and sizes up to 3X, Shebeest is best known for loud prints and whacky patterns. But you can also find more sedate styles and mountain biker-style baggy shorts in Shebeest’s plus-size range.
It can be hard at any size to find women’s baggy shorts for cycling, but Shebeest started from scratch to come up with shorts that would work well on women versus just shrinking a men’s version.
Its spin class apparel — lighter tank tops with water bottle storage pockets in the back and shorter cycling shorts — will give you scene cred in SoulCycle or when you’re out riding on super-hot days.
Fave pick: Smitten Kitten Skinny Americano Short PLUS ($90)
Because Athleta is part of clothing behemoth Gap, it’s one of the few brands that offers a wide array of sizes, including petite and plus-size options for most garments online. And this doesn’t mean a “plus-size” section with lame patterns and weird cuts, just better plus-size versions of the standard range.
“We worked with active women size 1X to 3X to understand what they need from their performance activewear,” Sarah Wallis, vice president and general manager of e-commerce for Athleta, told us. “And instead of grading up from a standard block, we created a new base fit for every style to ensure we provide her with technical, sustainable, and beautiful apparel that our customer expects from us.”
And for significantly cheaper alternatives, many women I spoke to recommended the active line by Old Navy — also owned by Gap.
Fave pick: Salutation Stash Pocket II Colorblock 7/8 Tight ($89)
Canadian-made plus-size clothing company Sportive Plus offers everything from ultra-fashionable to uber-practical activewear for a pretty impressive array of activities. And all come in sizes 14 and up.
This site has everything for winter sports including skiing, but also plenty of swimwear, standard running/yoga active clothing, and plenty of great hiking and trekking options. It can be hard to find solid winter parkas in plus sizes that have nice designs and shapes, but Sportive Plus manages to hit the mark with its parkas and anoraks.
The site also includes picks from other plus-size-friendly brands like Columbia.
Fave pick: Sportive Plus Cadence Multi-Sports Windbreaker ($160)
Most companies attempt to do it all when it comes to activewear. But Superfit Hero niches down to making the perfect leggings, capris, and shorts for every body, and showcases photos of real women in a wide variety of sizes and shapes modeling the clothing.
“When I launched Superfit Hero, I started by interviewing hundreds of athletes about their biggest gripes with activewear,” founder Micki Krimmel said.
“The biggest complaint was about fit. You can’t focus on your activity if your clothes are slipping down, rolling over, or bunching up in all the wrong places. In this world of fast fashion, meticulous fitting is not the norm, especially in active.”
With options available up to 5X (and down to XS), the simple, sleek design aims to fit perfectly, making you feel like a superhero. Or at least as fit as one.
Superfit’s options carry bold patterns if that’s your jam, but there’s also basic black. Flatlock seams, sweat-wicking fabric, and a medium-compression level of support mean comfortable tights that can make it through any workout — including roller derby!
Fave pick: Superfit Pocket Capris ($90)
See something we missed? Let us know in the comments — including actual sporting equipment, like the perfect comfortable climbing harness for a plus-size climber!
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