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Buy Clothing and Personal Apparel Before Traveling to Places Where the People Don’t Look Like You

The differences in the human body between cultures are very subtle, but these small differences can mean a lot when it comes to clothing or other personal apparel, such as eyeglasses. I generally advise travelers to not worry too much about packing before going abroad, as in these days of globalization you can pretty much [...]

Chinese fashionThe differences in the human body between cultures are very subtle, but these small differences can mean a lot when it comes to clothing or other personal apparel, such as eyeglasses.

I generally advise travelers to not worry too much about packing before going abroad, as in these days of globalization you can pretty much get whatever you need in any country. They sell clothes all over the world, so don’t bother trying to pack an entire wardrobe into your rucksack. But there is a big exception to this rule:

When going to live or travel long term in areas of the world where the people tend to be built differently than you, stock up on clothes, footwear, and other apparel before departure. The reason for this is simple: It may otherwise prove difficult, or even impossible, to find anything that fits your body.

I’m a 5′ 8″ Caucasian male in China. I’m not tall here in the least, there are plenty of men with a great height advantage over me, but I have a 42″ chest and 15″ biceps. In point, it’s impossible for me to find shirts that fit. Even XL is far too snug. While it may be cool to wear tight t-shirts that show bulging muscles, I just look like an ass when trying to squeeze my upper body into formal wear that is clearly too small. I’ve been looking for a hip looking suit jacket to wear while interviewing people for weeks here in China, and I think I’ve finally given up.

The sad fact of the matter here is that the clothes that fit my chest and arms hang down way too far over my wrist and waist. So I have the choice of looking like Charlie Chaplin or like I’m about to do the “fat man in a little coat” dance. Both options suck. I’m built too differently than the average Chinese male to shop in China, I just don’t match the body type that clothing here is made for.

Though I have to admit that Western women often have a far more difficult time than me clothes shopping in East Asia. I’ve even gone into clothing stores with Western girls here in China to have the sales clerks barring our entrance yelling “too big, too big,” while pointing to my friend.

It’s my impression that few woman want to be called “too big.” Anywhere. Ever. So I’ve know many Western women — even relatively petite or otherwise thin or average sized ones — who have just given up on clothes shopping when in East Asia, a region of the world where the women tend to have so slight a body frame that they look like they will crumble on impact.

But one of the most interesting experiences I’ve had with the incongruities between the body types of Westerners and East Asians occured while shopping for a pair of eyeglasses for my wife in China. To put it bluntly, Chinese people tend to have rather wide faces when compared with Caucasians. I’ve never really noticed the extent of this before until my wife began trying on eyeglasses. It was almost hilarious as she put on frame after frame that completely stuck out beyond the boundaries of her face. While these glasses look good on Chinese people, when placed on my Jewish wife they looked like something out of a comedy spoof — which is to say, totally ridiculous.

So before going off to live in another country, look at how the people there are built, look at their face shapes, their body structures — do they tend to be tall, short, thin, fat, broadly or slightly built, wide or thin faced — and then look at yourself:

Do you look like these people?

If not, then reprovisioning your clothing and apparel in these countries may prove to be a challenge. So go prepared.

Filed under: Clothing, Travel Preparation, Travel Tips

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 88 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3413 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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Wade Shepard is currently in: Rochester, New York

8 comments… add one

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  • Jack September 28, 2012, 11:02 am

    What a post, Wade, very timely. I’ve lost a lot of weight here in China. Before I just accepted that clothes couldn’t fit me, but now that I am a lot less weight, I’ve been looking for clothes. Pants are ok, but forget finding shirts. My shoulders are too broad, that’s not fat, it’s bones. Bigger Chinese men just aren’t as broad in the shoulders.

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    • Wade Shepard September 28, 2012, 11:40 am

      For sure, that’s the same problem I’m having. It’s funny, this is the first time I’ve experienced this. The bigger Chinese guys often don’t look exceptionally slight of build in the shoulders, but when I try on their clothes I realize how differently proportioned we are. I don’t think even XXXL will fit over my shoulders, chest, and back — and I’m only 5’8″. I think I may have to hire a tailor.

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  • m October 8, 2012, 10:12 am

    You can get your clothing tailor made. Find the local fabric market in a city, and you’ll find the tailors.

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  • m October 8, 2012, 10:16 am

    You can get your clothing tailor made in. Find the local fabric market in a city, and you’ll find the tailors. It’s pretty cheap. And if you already own a piece of clothing that fits you, you can take it and they’ll make a copy.

    Even if the clothing would fit (in terms of size), it looks funny because they are made for different proportions. I found that most clothing in China shortened my legs, and made me look squat.

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    • Wade Shepard October 10, 2012, 12:11 am

      Good tip here. Yes, the tailors are essential. Thanks!

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  • Bob L October 9, 2012, 5:42 pm

    My sister in law just tried ordering a “custom made” dress for my nephews wedding. The dress was $90 and was coming from China. She thought it would be a hoot to try this out, and maybe save big bucks. They wanted all kinds of measurements, had photos to pick from etc etc. My sister in law is not overweight, but she is a mid 50’s American women of Polish heritage. She is not slight of build but not stocky or anything, properly proportioned I would say. When the dress arrived, it was proportioned all wrong. It was like they took an average Chinese woman and stretched her to the right dimensions. Needless to say, the experiment failed, the dress went back. It’s just too bad we had no photo of the dress being worn.

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    • Wade Shepard October 10, 2012, 12:10 am

      Funny story. I can only imagine how it looked. In fact, I only just have to look at my wife (shhh!). Yes, European women not only tend to be bigger built than Chinese women but they seem to be proportioned differently too — so it’s not just a matter of finding a larger size. Thanks for this story, it really gave me a little chuckle over here.

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  • Brad January 15, 2013, 5:26 am

    I had an amusing experience just trying to purchase a belt in China. I am a somewhat overweight (BMI- 29) American, 5’11”, 44″ waist. I was at a large
    mall with many mens’ wear stores. I was travelling on business and my belt
    buckle had broken. Visited 3 mens’ wear stores, found nothing. Visited a
    leather goods store; they found 1 belt in the back room that would fit me using
    the longest set of holes!

    Definite agreement with the suggestions that you get your wardrobe from “home”.

    brad

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