When clothes shopping, expatriates in China are often the recipients of the most discouraging phrase in Chinese—mei you(don't have). Whether it's a pair of jeans just one size up, a brassiere that doesn't crack your ribs or a pair of running shoes that don't pinch your feet, sometimes all the shops in China (and that's a lot!) just aren't enough for foreigners who are a touch bigger than their Chinese hosts.
Online shopping—a haven for big people
Some expats embarrassed by or just plain tired of the mei you mantra from bored shop assistants who don't even bother to check the racks in case there's a stray XL item that you could squeeze into, have turned their backs on traditional shopping and started making their clothes purchases online.
Over a hundred million Chinese internet users have shopped online, according to a MasterCard survey done last year. Unfortunately, while there are plenty of domestic online shops to choose from—the famous Taobao.com is really just scratching the surface—finding the proverbial needle is easier than getting size 11 women's shoes or jeans that comfortably fit a tall man. A few jeans shops randomly selected on Taobao yielded women's jeans only in sizes XS to M—that is, not something all Western hips can wiggle into. Plus, if your Chinese typing skills aren't up to scratch, placing the order might be difficult.
The good news is, more and more clothing retailers in the USA, Europe and Australia are adding China to the list of countries to which they'll ship items. So, if you're willing to pay a bit on top of the clothing price for shipping and taxes, you're only a few clicks away from a wardrobe that fits.
Test your address before sending
However, if you've never had something sent to your address here in Guangzhou before, it might be a good idea to ask a friend from abroad to send you a letter or a postcard as a test run to check the address before you start ordering shoes and clothes. Post offices in smaller neighborhoods can get confused by the lack of Chinese characters and you don't want to be waiting in vain for your expensive purchase from abroad only to find it got sent back unclaimed because the post office couldn't find you. If your address is tricky, you might have better luck sending the packages to your place of employment, if that's all right with your boss.
So here are a few websites that offer low-hassle international ordering and have mid-to-high quality clothes or shoes in a range of sizes that will have your waistline and your toes sighing with relief.
Tall and burly men can browse the latest styles online with Australian company Kingsize. Specialising in clothes for bigger men, Kingsize's website boasts that they have a dedicated following of expatriates all over the world. They accept MasterCard and Visa payments online and ship to China via Australia Post. They say they charge upfront for all costs of taxes and shipping.
2) Marks & Spencer’s
Both men and women can take advantage of British retail giant Marks & Spencer's 15 GBP international delivery charge. They offer lingerie, clothes and shoes as well as accessories. Sizes range from petite to plus for women as well as maternity wear, and from normal to Big & Tall for men. This is sent on a delivery duty unpaid basis, so depending on what you order you may need to settle taxes upon receiving it in China. They accept Visa, Mastercard, American Express, JCB, Delta, Maestro and of course their house brand of cards.
Phone: (UK) 44 0113 866 3017
American company Shoes.com will let you deliver shoes in your size to China and charge you the cost of your order in the currency that you select—helpful for avoiding conversion charges to your credit card. However, most of the bags on the site and some of the more famous brands can't be shipped internationally. For international orders, they accept Visa and MasterCard. Not sure about what size to order? The site offers a printable foot measurement tool and some handy size conversion tables.
Phone: (USA) 1 888 233 6743
For women, the UK's TopShop will ship to China for a set rate of 10.50 GBP in about five to eight working days. Like Marks & Spencer, this is a delivery duty paid service and so you will be liable for any customs charges on your package's arrival in China. They offer a printable measuring/size guide so you can keep track of your personal measurements for future orders. They also offer women's trousers up to UK size 16 and shoes up to European size 42. The best news is they will give you free international delivery on orders over 75 GBP.
Phone: (UK) 44 0844 984 0264
5) American Eagle
American Eagle offers to ship their brand of casual wear to China for a flat rate of 50 USD. You can view prices on the site in the currency of your choice, but your credit card or PayPal will be billed in American dollars. Trousers can be ordered in sizes up to US women's 18 and in long, regular, short or extra-long pant lengths. Men's jeans can be ordered in waist sizes from 26 to 44 inches with 28 to 36 inch inseams. They also offer shoes. Taxes and duties are the responsibility of the purchaser.
Phone: (USA) 1 888 232 4535
6) Gap Inc. stores
Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic, all part of the larger Gap Inc., use one convenient website for online shopping and also employ a third party, FiftyOne, to streamline international online order deliveries. This means import duties should be already taken care of before the package reaches you. Payments on the site can be made by Visa or MasterCard or, if using Australian, Canadian, British or Euro currency to pay, then PayPal. If it's trousers you're after, Gap has a well organized collection, dividing stock into tall or petite, with multiple choices for inseams, waists, and even plus sizes. Men get a Big & Tall section with waists from 28 to 44 inches and inseams 28 to 38 inches.
Phone: (USA) 1 614 744 3907
Classic American department store JCPenney's website says they will ship most of their products abroad, however the buyer is responsible for paying any duties to Chinese customs. Offering women's sizes up to US 24, this is one of the most forgiving options for fuller figures. The site allows you to shop by body shape—i.e. curvy, straight, hourglass, etc. Men also have a chance at larger sizes, and the Big & Tall section provides some handy size charts to check if you're unfamiliar with the sizing systems in the States. They accept Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover credit cards.
Phone: (USA) 1 800 322 1189
Amazon.com will not only provide you with reading material and gadgets, but also clothes and shoes. Some products can't be shipped to China, they say, but those that can include men's running shoes up to size 15, and women's stilettos up to size 11. Select “international shipping” from the drop-down menu on the site search bar and the website will calculate a customs duty deposit to streamline your order's arrival in China. Note that Amazon's local website Amazon.cn is also good for ordering some things, but doesn't seem to carry larger sizes in clothes and shoes.
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