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Plus-sized and Petite Lab Coats: Fit and Buying Guide

6 min read

Are you an apple, or maybe a pear? Finding a lab coat that fits well can be a real challenge for many women, especially those that would consider themselves curvy, plus-sized, or petite.

We surveyed over 1500 scientists, more than half of them women, and their voices make it clear that lab coats are a consistent problem for their productivity, mental health, and self-image.

In this article, we’ll reveal what some of these women said about their lab coats, and then dig into the key things to look for as a plus-sized or petite woman shopping for a lab coat. It’s not impossible to find a lab coat you love in these sizes! We’re here to help.

First: Always check for lab coat size charts before purchasing

From the comments in our survey, it’s very clear that you should never buy a lab coat based on sizes like “XS” or “5XL”. These aren’t standardized, and many lab coats can’t be returned! Dozens of women reported that they have 2-3 different lab coats, and each brand needed a different size to fit them best.

If your lab manager asks for your size to order, don’t just tell them your normal clothing size and hope for the best. Find the websites of your best lab coat options, and check their size charts. You’ll want to measure the circumference of your body in three places:

  1. The widest part around your bust.
  2. The narrowest part of your waist.
  3. The widest area of your hips.

how to measure your body for a fitted women's lab coat

Compare these to the size charts and go up in size until all 3 of your measurements are at or below the measurements in the chart.

Lab coat size tips for plus-sized women:

Many plus-sized women might normally wear a 4XL or 5XL blouse, but when shopping for lab coats, are forced to search for hard-to-find 6XL, 7XL, or even 8XL sizes! The main reason for this is “Unisex” lab coat sizing.

women's lab coats don't fit at the hips

The problem with unisex lab coats

Most women in science know a secret that men don’t realize: Unisex lab coats are actually designed for men. They are just straight cylinders with long-ish arms attached, and this more closely matches the male body type.

Unfortunately, many of the big lab coat distributors have exclusive contracts with labs, and unisex lab coats require half as much work to source, stock and sell!

Because the silhouette is a straight cylinder, plus-sized and curvy women are forced to size up based on the widest part of their body. This leaves them “swimming” in fabric in the narrower regions of their body (especially for you pears out there)!

tailored or fitted women's lab coat shape sizes: Pear, apple, triangle, hourglass, rectangle

Get buttons or snaps that won’t pop open easily when you bend:

We read dozens of comments from curvy or plus-sized women saying how embarrassing it is to bend over or sit down and have their buttons pop open in front of colleagues. The easy answer here is to get a lab coat with threaded plastic buttons. These will hold tightly as long as the stitching it strong.

BUT, lab coats with plastic buttons can be a safety hazard when you’re working around chemicals or flames, because they can melt and they take much longer to unbutton if you need to shed your lab coat quickly in an emergency.

The safest option for scientists is a lab coat with all-metal snaps, but these can pop open. If your lab coat flares at the hips, it doesn’t put as much tension on the snaps and they are less likely to pop open on their own.

If you can test it beforehand, pull the snaps open to see how strong they are. Some manufacturers may cut corners and use weaker snaps, so you want to avoid these. For our “Curie” lab coat, we purposely sourced stronger snaps and flared the shape at the waist to reduce the chances of these embarrassing pops.

Finding a lab coat that fits both your top and bottom:

There are a few small details to look for here:

  • Choose a lab coat designed for women with a little bit of flare at the hips. This will give you extra room below the waist.
  • Make sure it has a real, working, adjustable belt. This lets you pull in the waist to keep the extra fabric in place.
  • A few lab coats, like our “Curie” coat for women, have an inverted box pleat in the back that expands and contracts with your shoulder movements. This gives a few more inches of room around the bust and shoulder blades, but goes away when it’s not under tension.

Lab coat sizing tips for petite women:

Petite women are just as overlooked in lab coat sizing as plus-sized women. Many of the women in our survey reported that even the smallest XS they could find in unisex lab coats were too big and baggy for them! Our data showed that lab coats tended to be too wide, too boxy, and too long for petite women.

most petite women say their lab coats are too long, too baggy, and too boxy

Lab coat companies might think of petite women as slender, but there are also many shorter women out there with curves! This can be frustrating when they have to order a medium lab coat and it’s almost dragging on the floor.

Keep an eye on lab coat length

The lab coat length is often left out of the regular size chart, but sometimes it will say in the title. A standard men’s lab coat is 40 inches long, and this fits well on a 5’ 10” tall man. Petite women should look for shorter lab coats around 35-36 inches long, assuming a height of about 5’0” to 5’3”.

If you’re under 5 feet tall, you may want to search for “consultation coats”. These are meant for doctors, which is not ideal, but they are designed to be much shorter than a standard scientist lab coat.

petite lab coat for women quote: being swallowed by a giant baggy lab coat

Look for lab coats with adjustable belts

Another key feature for petite lab coats is an adjustable belt. Now, be careful! Many lab coats say they have belts, but the majority are actually non-functional, only have 1 button to adjust it, or leave you with a long strip of fabric awkwardly (sometimes dangerously) hanging off your back. This image is a great example of the average attempt at a belt!

women's cotton lab coat with adjustable belt

A good adjustable belt will help pull in the lab coat around your waist, which helps for hourglass, pear-shape, triangle-shape, and even apple-shaped body types. You’ll feel less clumsy, more nimble, and hopefully more productive!

Unfortunately, there are very few scientist lab coats out there with working belts. The good news is that we made one ourselves! It comes in a 35” XXS women’s size, with a hidden interior belt with 3 size adjustments that can pull the waist in up to 8 inches. Our fans voted to call it “The Curie”.

petite woman scientist wearing a lab coat with adjustable belt at the waist

Knit cuffs help with sleeve length

In our survey, smaller women often reported their lab coat sleeves to be much too long, interfering with their work. It’s even a safety issue because these can get caught in equipment, chemicals, or flames. In fact, most scientists prefer knit cuffs over straight cuffs anyway.

women in chemistry prefer knit cuff lab coats for better fit

Sleeve length varies widely and doesn’t usually show up on size charts (we publish them our ours, though). But one hack is to make sure you get knit cuffs. These will help hold the end of the sleeve onto your wrist, no matter how you move. If the sleeves are too long, the extra fabric will be scrunched up gradually down your arm and not interfere with your hands.

woman wearing lab coat with knit cuffs and nitrile gloves dancing

Where can you find women’s lab coats in petite and plus sizes?

Unfortunately, there are very few lab coats designed for female scientists that have these features and sizes for petite and plus-sized women.

So, with the feedback of over 1500 scientists, we designed one that does.

The “Curie” lab coat is designed for women and sizes run from XXS-5XL, with an adjustable belt, flared waist, and knit cuffs. Learn more about The Lab Coat Project and drop your email there to get back-in-stock notifications and new releases.

We need data and comments from every gender and body type, so if you want to help us design the next version, fill out the survey form and we’ll incorporate your feedback in our next data sets!

plus sized woman wearing a white cotton lab coat sketch

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