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Big is beautiful

Kristen McQuillin discovers that even in Japan, fashion can be gaijin-sized

Are you gaijin-sized? If you' a woman over 158cm (5'3") or wear a size US 10 or up, you've probably had difficulty buying clothes in Japan. Men, even those considered normal-sized at home, may find themselves in a similar situation. Don't despair. You don't have to fly home to update your wardrobe.

Know your size
It helps to know your Japanese size. Check the chart below or, if you have a tape measure and a web browser, Seibu's online size advice (Click Here to see web) will help you find your exact fit. Instructions are in Japanese, but it's simple to follow along with the pictures to find your sizes.

WOMEN
Japan 13 15 17 19 21 23 25 27
USA 10 12 14 16 18 20 22 24
UK 12 14 16 18 20 22 24 26
Europe 44 46 48 50 52 54 56 58
MEN'S JACKETS
Japan L LL LLL
US/UK 38    40/42 44/46
Europe 48    50/52 54/56
MEN'S SHIRTS
Japan 40 41 42 43 44
USA/UK 16 16.5 17 17.5 18
Europe 40 41 42 43 44

Even when you find a size that should work, clothes made in Japan may not fit as comfortably as you expect. Japanese patterns are based on Japanese shapes, which differ significantly from Western ones. Arms are a little tighter; shoulders, hips and thighs are a bit narrower. Women's bust lines are smaller. And if you're a man, you know what areas pinch and bind.

Diligent browsing and trying things on are the keys to successful shopping. Here are some places to start your search.

Depato
Isetan Clover Shops - Young Clover, Ladies Clover and Better Clover-fit women up to size 19. Popular brands include 23 Ku, DKNY, East Boy, and Polo. If you're 166cm (5'6") or taller, visit the Tall Shop at Isetan. Their unfortunately-named Supersize shop carries sizes up to 27.

Marui did a much better job of naming their larger-sizes shop. 01Model stores at Ikebukuro, Shinjuku, Shibuya and Ueno have clothes for "model sized" women over 166cm tall and up to size 19. 01Model's tagline: "Fit for a new generation."

Shinjuku's My City has a shop called L Size. The name is a depressing reminder, but they carry fashionable basics at reasonable prices. Just keep in mind that an L here is an M back home and it doesn't seem so bad.

Tall and big men should visit Isetan Super Mens in Shinjuku. No flying capes on the racks, but plenty of designer and upscale clothes for men over 190cm tall or with waists bigger than 90cm.

Foreign brands and designers
Shopping in international retail clothiers such as GAP, Eddie Bauer and outdoor outfitters like L.L. Bean and Patagonia can be fruitful. But the size range doesn't usually extend as far as it would on these companies' home turfs. The new GAP in Harajuku carries up to US 12 in some women's styles and L in unisex items.

Designers with boutiques along Omotesando sometimes carry gaijin sizes in limited quantities. Marina Rinaldi designs for the over-thirty set and her sister store Pennyblack for the younger crowd carry a range of European sizes. Japanese designers like Issey Miyake, Rei Kawakubo (Comme des Garcons) and Yohji Yamamoto offer clothes designed with ease and generous fit. And sometimes an L or XL mixed in with the Ms.

Freedom in freesize
Check out items with an oversized design which sometimes fit the Western form perfectly. Clothes labeled "freesize" are designed with a looser fit and adjustable closures.

Good bets for women's closets this spring and summer include gauzy cotton skirts with elastic waists, wrap-style skirts and dresses, summer sun dresses from India and Indonesia, and vests. Men will find casual drawstring trousers, shorts and lightweight jackets in freesize.

Custom couture
When store-bought garments are close but not quite a perfect fit, a tailor can alter them for you. Most dry cleaners offer alteration and garment "reform" services. Tailors vary in price; shop around or ask your friends for a recommendation.

You can take tailoring to another level and have your clothes custom made. Bespoken garments are pricey, but they are a sure-fit alternative to off-the-rack fashions. Most department stores have an in-house tailor and there are many good independent ones in Tokyo. If you happen to be making a trip to Hong Kong or Singapore, you'll be able to buy custom-made clothes at a fraction of the Tokyo prices.

Shoes or shoeboxes
Big feet? Once again, beware of Japanese patterns. Japanese feet are generally wider and slightly flatter than Western feet. Look for wide sizes or buy brands made in your home country.

WOMEN'S SHOES
Japan 25 25.5 26 26.5 27
USA 8 8.5 9 9.5 10
UK 6.5 7 7.5 8 8.5
Italy 40 41 42 43 44
 
MEN'S SHOES
Japan 27.5 28 28.5 29 29.5 30
USA/UK 9.5 10 10.5 11 11.5 12
Italy 43 44 45 46 47 48

Washington Shoes has several shops that carry Western-sized shoes. The Ginza outlet has the best selection and seasonal sales bring the prices down a little bit.

Don't get mad, get geta!
Some styles are more forgiving than others. Sandals and women's slingback shoes are open enough to allow you to squeeze into as much as a full size smaller than you normally wear.

Women have the advantage of buying men's shoes for unisex style sports shoes. Most sports shoes come in larger sizes for men, too. Oshmann's in Harajuku has a range of larger sizes, but not in every style.

If all else fails...
Mail order is always a good option for shoppers who don't need their new clothes in a hurry. Not all mail order companies will ship internationally and customs duties can be expensive but if you want the fit you get at home, mail order is the best choice.

All of the retailers below will ship to Japan and you can order online, too.

J.Jill - www.jjill.com
Career and smart casual

Neiman Marcus - www.neimanmarcus.com
Career and smart casual

Brooks Brothers - www.brooksbrothers.com
Career and smart casual

Lands End - www.landsend.com
Casual

Eddie Bauer - www.eddiebauer.com
Casual

Boo - www.boo.com
Casual

Victoria's Secret - www.victoriassecret.com
Lingerie

Bluefly - www.bluefly.com
Trendy fashions


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