Throughout East Asia, thin has always been the primary beauty standard and Vietnam is no exception. Despite the growing acceptance of body positivity, bigger bodies are still considered undesirable across the country, with products catering to plus-size women still limited. The issue is a major problem in the fashion industry.
Heavily influenced by Korea and America, the fashion industry in Vietnam is diverse, with trends ranging from cute girly looks and minimalism, right through to retro and edgier looks such as punk or y2k. But the same cannot be said when it comes to sizing. Women with larger bodies invariably struggle to find clothes that fit.
Lan Nguyen, an articulate 19-year-old college student, feels her achievements have always overlooked because of the strict beauty standards in the country.
“Growing up, I was chubby compared to my peers and this damaged my confidence. There was teasing from classmates and I felt I isolated when walking into a women’s fashion shop. I ended up just hiding my body in baggy clothes or shopping in men’s stores,” she says. “Most fashion shops have a ridiculous sizing system. They just make a bigger version of an item for a smaller body and expect it to look the same on a bigger body.”
Phuong Nguyen, another college student, dresses in a girlish style with a touch of chic. However, it is hard for her to find items of her liking in her size, and she largely has to buy clothes from stores that sell free-size clothes, mainly T-shirts and trousers. “They are not really my style but I don’t think there are any other options for my body type,” she says.
The sizing system is not only a problem for Vietnamese plus-size girls, it is also a challenge for foreigners in the country, who often naturally have bigger frames than Vietnamese women to start off with. They report loving living here, but struggling to buy clothes that are the right size, especially women from Europe or the United States. Not being local, they don’t always find it easy to navigate around the city or ensure they are being charged a fair price.
Bex Queren, a teacher and improv comedian from the U.K., has luscious blonde hair, a curvaceous body and is a naturally beautiful woman, but felt her confidence dimmed when she first came to Vietnam. Back in U.K, Queren was comfortable in her style, feeling free and sexy. But once she came to Vietnam, she had a hard time finding her style in her size.
She tried shopping in markets around Cau Giay, but while the clothes were nice, fashionable even, they were rarely the right size. “Maybe I could get away with a T-shirt or a top, but for the most part, no” she says. Queren also looked into several tailoring options on Xuan Dieu street, but was mostly unsatisfied “It wasn’t quite what I wanted, but it was ok, as I just needed some things for work.”
Louise Ode, Queren’s roommate, has found herself in a similar situation. She has a voluptuous body and was formerly a fashion student, so has a clear idea what she wants to wear but it has largely been to no avail in Vietnam.
“I’ve always been a bigger girl,” Ode chuckles. “You have the clothes but they only come with certain sizes. Let’s take a crop top for instance. I definitely can wear a crop top. But now when I’m wearing a crop top and I have a lot of anxiety around it because of the fact that you have these voices floating around.”
Fortunately, after much searching, Ode found a good seamstress in Hanoi and, satisfied with the work, has been a regular customer ever since. She recently bought an outfit which set her back 1.2 million VND, a decent price for something handmade with well-made material. She considered it a good investment.
A typical Vietnamese store of this type just advertises itself with the logo “Fashion for Fat people.” Hardly inspiring.
Tailoring appears a good choice for plus-size women, as it gives them a certain degree of control over the color, look and size they want, though finding the right store can be a challenge. Also, when buying from a tailor, you only get to try on the clothes once they are made, and it can be difficult to know if what you are getting is worth what you paid for.
For now, the most popular shopping option for plus-size clothes in Vietnam is online, with many delivering clothes from countries abroad that are better at producing larger sizes. But this too has its disadvantages with customers not being sure what they are ordering will arrive in the right size, or how it looks when they try it on. Despite the online convenience, it is not always the best choice for plus-size girls.
Looking for a good plus-size local brand in Hanoi is no easy task. Yes, there are shops that are dedicated to bigger bodies but the number is small, with most stores aiming for older customers, primarily postpartum women or office workers. And when it comes to naming and marketing, some feel a little bit uncomfortable. A typical Vietnamese store of this type just advertises itself with the logo “Fashion for Fat people.” Hardly inspiring.
The dull and homely designs also play a big part in driving customers away. The designers are often too concerned with size over style, taking away the fun and joy in wearing beautiful clothing. Even in these stores the sizing is not quite right. With people reporting pants that are too loose on the top but too tight below the knees. Designers in Vietnam simply do not be seem to be paying full attention to women with bigger bodies.
Being plus-size in Vietnam may not be easy but it doesn’t mean that you can’t find the right place for you. From just a bit of searching, it is clear that the fashion scene hasn’t forgotten the plus-size market entirely. Check out our guide to the different options larger women have:
For many plus-size girls, export stores are a great place buy clothes as they mainly carry bigger sizes and still have a great variety. In Hanoi, there are two popular export shops:
Sinh Mua He Shop
Long famous among tourists, Sinh Mua He Shop looks small from outside but once you enter, there is plenty to see. The clothes are mainly casual, somewhat vintage, targeted at people in their late 20s to 40s, or maybe someone younger that into the retro look.
There are lines of dresses and jumpsuits, as well as dresses with numerous patterns, from floral and polka dots through to vertical prints. We even found some items with cute animated food prints. There are also rows of shirts and pants, ranging from youthful to more professional looks. You can find plain shirts hanging next to far edgier cuts. On the pants side, they sell mostly jeans and khakis, but there are also some sweatpants, ideal for slumming it at home.
Opening hours: 9 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Address: Số 66 Nguyễn Công Hoan, Ngọc Khánh, Ba Đình, Hà Nội
Price: 300,000 – 600,000 VND
This store in Dong Da district Luna has a thrift shop kind of vibe, the store jam-packed with items. Here too, a diverse range of styles are on show from simple, minimal vibes through to looks that are classier, stylish and more ornate.
The sheer amount of clothes here can be a little overwhelming. Racks of garments line up and fill almost every inch of space. Customers can find just about anything. If you want something formal, you can find a nice simple shirt and match with a pair of khakis that comes in neutral colors. If you’re looking for an outfit for a day-out, there are some striking items to match, including cute mini dresses with lovely patterns or clothes with bold animal prints. The store seems to have it all.
Luna also offer a full adjusting service if clothes don’t quite fit, a huge convenience for those who are afraid that they can’t find their size of choice. Usually, it takes 1-2 days.
Opening hours: 9 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Address: 1B Ngõ 8B Vũ Thạnh, Chợ Dừa, Đống Đa, Hà Nội
Price: 300,000 – 600,000 VND
Bu Bigsize Young
Good plus-size shop in Hanoi are a rarity, but we were lucky enough to discover Bu Bigsize Young. The name is a good indicator of its target market. With the slogan “Be yourself” the store tries to embrace giving women a more positive body image.
Founder Chu Hong Ngoc was happy to sit down with Chào and give insights into her brand. She says when she was trying to find a gift for a friend she couldn’t find any clothing the right size, so decided to open her own brand. After much research, she founded the store two years ago.
Initially, Bu Bigsize Young was going the traditional route, designing for older working women, but soon decided to switch things up and add a more youthful touch. “Our concept should be varied, trendy. Something that our customers actually cares about” Chu says. Their designs are still suitable for the office: simple and minimal, but with the addition of trendier colors with more flair and versatility.
While some plus-size stores can be neglectful, Bu Bigsize Young designs clothes that enhance the curves of a woman’s body whilst being comfortable to wear.
Opening hours: 9 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Address: Số 7, ngõ 9 Hoàng Cầu, HN
Price: 300,000 – 400,000 VND
Located in an alley on Doi Can street, Feeling Silk a small shop but has a tidy interior. This one is not the cheapest, but produces nice designs that are popular among foreigners in Hanoi. Colorful fabrics in various materials are on display for customers to choose.
The store has been around for 20 years and used to be in the Old Quarter, so has built up a fair bit of experience working with foreigners. Owner Thoa is very friendly and approachable, which will be a bonus for many.
Pricing varies from 400,000 to about a million VND, a touch pricier than some of the stores we visited. But the cost is worth it considering the material and the effort put into each piece.
An order usually takes about 7-10 days to complete. “If we don’t have the required fabric for our customers here, we will look for it from other sources,” Thoa says.
Opening: 9 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Address: 17/285 Doi Can street
Price: 400,000 – 1.000.000 VND
Words by Hai Anh.