On the high street, Evans is the most common specialist store, stocking clothes from size 14-32. Occasionally they get it right, but there's so much wrongness that the whole experience becomes dispiriting. I've heard from two sources that they have a policy of not making party dresses or summer clothes with sleeves, for example, because 'larger women sweat more' - or words to that effect. And yet I could point them in the direction of dozens of women who hate wearing anything that doesn't cover their arms. Their clothes seem to have so little understanding of how to dress the larger woman in a flattering way. Take the top above. Simply gorgeous colour and pattern, and then cut to look like a big shapeless pillow. It's something that's going to make slim girls look wide this season. It's so wrong for Evans.
The two dresses above are nearly right (although hardly things of great gorgeousness), but fail in their understanding of basic shape. The red dress has perfect sleeves, and would probably be great for anyone whose boobs balanced out their weight elsewhere - but unlike on smaller girls, there's a very real chance that an empire line on someone over a size 24 or so, will make them look pregnant. The purple dress is better, because it's structured at the midriff, but no matter how generously cut that sleeve is, buy puffing out and then cinching in at the widest part of the arm, it's going to be really unflattering.
Ann Harvey is a lesser known high street presence who used to be a bit mumsy, but recently seems to have taken on the role of Wallis's larger sister. Sizes 16 to 28, and the go to destination for suits. I really love this black chiffon-sleeved top (£34.25) - perfect glam workwear and dressy enough for evening. Would look ace dressed up or down too. I'd love to see things like this in more colour options - fat people don't all need to look like they're off to a funeral to look good. Formal workwear can be tricky for larger girls. No matter how well made, a suit is rather too much of a square hole if you're a round peg yourself. This jacket, though, I think is very stylish, and with black trousers and a smart tunic top should be formal enough for most roles - I might have liked some subtle shoulder padding to balance out the hips, but for £58.72 it's a good piece with attention to design which the plus size designers all-too-often don't bother with.
Where else? Well there's Jacques Vert, but that's all a bit 'Mother of the Bride' for my tastes, and pretty costly to boot. Elvi is also on the dear side, but with a more mixed aesthetic - it reminds me of a slightly more grown up Dorothy Perkins, actually. The pinky purple silk jacket is from Elvi, and I love the colour, but there's hardly anything in their tailoring that acknowledges the larger shape - sizes 16-28, £149.00.
On the web there are the twin presences of Simply Be (and their huge stable of differently named but same-stock companies) and La Redoute, who have their tallissime and en plus ranges. Design in both cases can be fruity: I like the red padded coat above (to size 30, , in a rule breaking kind of way - but quality is immensely variable, and customer service can be wonky. In all, I tend to be put off, which is a shame because the design element is really enticing some times.
Back on the high street, and there are a couple of regular stores doing a plus size range (in selected stores) which are worth a look. M&S is worth a look - and gains marks for having some fun colours in mostly flattering styles. It's a limited range though, and frustratingly there are no frocks. Upper sizes vary from 24 to 28. I like the retro jacket above, which also comes in a burnt orange colour for £35. And the, as cheap as can be, there's New Look. Their 'Inspire' range offers dirt cheap directional fashion up to a 26, and I really recommend their jeans (those above are £22.) The range has a fast turnover so check back often. Again no dresses, though!
Ferreting around for this post, I did find a shop selling utterly, well, swelegant, plus size clothes. It's called Emma Plus, but unfortunately it doesn't do mail order. The shop's in Brighton and I suspect it's expensive - but if you were looking for something really special, it would be my first choice.