Thin People Problems

A straight-sized friend of mine who has an interest in fashion and always looks fabulous recently posted the following link on Facebook. The article advocates a curated or “capsule” wardrobe as an antidote to the problem (caused by so-called “fast fashion”) of having a huge collection of average, mismatched clothing items and never knowing what to wear, which seems like a cool idea. The thing is, I’ve never had that problem. The article states:

The ability to access fast fashion has grown at a rate faster than Zara have been able to open their 1,700 stores. Comprehend that figure and add to it the an imaginary figure of just how many stores there are for other fast, fashion-foward brands such as H&M and you realise that fast fashion, and the dream of the massive wardrobe that it enabled with an affordable price tag, is now commonplace. It’s not just available to everyone, it is everyone. – Fashionising.com

But Zara doesn’t make clothes in my size. Neither does H&M, not even in their plus size and “Inclusive” collections. The line between “fast fashion” and “high fashion” is blurry and indistinct in the plus size world, because the plus size clothing industry is so much smaller and the options for fat shoppers so much more limited, so even items that have the quality and lasting value of fast fashion (i.e. not much) are often priced like high fashion.

I find this whole concept of the overflowing wardrobe fascinating. I’m a size 26-28. My wardrobe is “curated” in the sense that there is nothing in it I don’t regularly wear, but that’s because it has to be, because shopping at my size is an exercise in frustration and careful planning. Because plus size clothing is expensive in general and hard to find in my size, I can’t afford to ever buy something that I don’t know I can wear straight away. I don’t have drawers overflowing with skirts and t-shirts and random bits and pieces that don’t go together because I simply never buy them; not because I’m a particularly clever or stylish shopper but because I have about fifty dollars a month to spend on clothes and accessories (including underwear and shoes) and if the item is not something I can either wear on its own or immediately mentally slot into an outfit with pieces I already have, I do not buy it even if I adore it. I just can’t guarantee that I will ever be able to find anything else affordable and in my size that I can pair it with. There simply isn’t the same variety, even of perfectly ordinary basics or disposable knockoffs, in size 26/28 that there is in, say, size 12.

Do straight sized women really have this problem of trying on multiple outfits of a morning and not being able to find one that “works”? I always thought that was just in the movies, not the lives of real people. For the most part, me deciding what to wear for the day or to a particular event involves picking a dress and then accessorising it or, more often than not, putting on one of my three pairs of shoes – two black, one white – and just going with it.

I’ve got about ten day dresses now, far more clothing than I have had at any other point in my life, thanks to internet shopping and staying the same size for several years (this is the first time in my life I’ve been a consistent size for more than a year at a time, thanks to previously either being young and still growing, or being on or off various weight loss diets). My dresses are all variations on a theme – high waisted, stretchy, knee-length and usually A-line, although a few have straighter pencil-style skirts. This is because that style suits my shape, and it’s pretty much the only option in plus size clothes other than sleeveless empire-line maxi dresses, swing dresses and bodycon. I’ve got three cocktail dresses (two of them are the aforementioned swing dresses) and one ball gown, so if it’s a formal style event it’s fairly easy to choose. I imagine most women my size – actually, most women in general – probably don’t own a ball gown, but I do actually go to a formal ball once every couple of years. Plus my mum bought it for me.

I’ve also got three or four jackets and cardigans, which keep me warm or extend the wear of some of my dresses to a more corporate type context, graphic t-shirts, mostly bought from clubs I am in, a black three-quarter-sleeve stretchy top I wear exclusively for choir performances, and two skirts, one black and one leopard print, both long and stretchy. The black one has a hole in it and needs repairing. Then there’s a lot of leggings, some tights and socks, two bras and a bunch of underpants. I have quite a bit of cheap costume jewellery too, because it’s an easy way to spice up an outfit without spending much money or having to find the right size.

It is a capsule wardrobe. There’s nothing I don’t wear regularly (apart from the ball gown) and no pieces that don’t currently fit into an outfit of sorts. I don’t think of it as a luxury, except in as much as being able to buy new clothes at all is a mark of privilege. To me, being able to buy something without working out where it would fit in the collection would be a luxury. My “curatorship” of my wardrobe is the resourcefulness and care that comes from caring about clothes at all when you are fat. It’s a necessary response to the dearth of options out there for people like me, not the result of me being more stylish than other people or having the resources to make more of an effort in planning my wardrobe. Like plenty of other fat women, especially those of us who are 26+ and sized out of even many plus size collections, I simply have no option but to make an effort. And I’m lucky enough, though it seems hilarious and horrible (horrilarious) to say it, to have more options than just “baggy black” – if I were any bigger than I am now, my “capsule wardrobe” would probably be entirely long black skirts and baggy black tunics unless I made the clothes myself.

So no, a massive wardrobe full of fast fashion isn’t “available to everyone”, even if you are only looking at the financially comfortable middle-class. And a smallish, carefully selected collection of clothes that has no redundancy or frivolous items isn’t luxurious and special for everyone, even those of us who do care about fashion. For some, it’s just how clothing works.

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6 thoughts on “Thin People Problems

  1. YES!! As you know I’m about the same size as you (though a little differently shaped) and oh how I know what hard work it is to find fabulous clothes to fit. Sure, there are lots more “plus-size” ranges on the market than there used to be, but all but a tiny few cut off well before our size.

    I do have a fairly expansive wardrobe, but that’s because I constantly buy things that are on sale, grabbing whatever I can in my size, hoping that I can make them work. My budget is about $50-$75 per month on a good month, so it takes a lot of work constantly hunting for things in my size that I can afford. 30% of those end up being on-sold or donated because they don’t fit properly. 20% are seasonal, so they get put away for half the year. Almost all of the purchases available in my size are either cheap/shoddy make so they fall to bits after a few wears, or they’re badly cut/shaped so that they’re uncomfortable to wear. Which means of the items that REALLY work for me, I have a handful of garments. I do a LOT of “making it work”.

    All this talk about a capsule wardrobe of classic pieces is bullshit for larger fats. Find me a white t-shirt or button through that fits me. Or a plain blazer. Or good quality classic skirts or pants. They just don’t exist.

    I’m tired of straight sized people whinging about how hard it is to fill their wardrobe. I simply can’t imagine having that much choice at my fingertips.

  2. Danika says:

    Oh, it’s totally true. I swear Lesley posted an article related to this on xoJane, but since I can’t find it, it was either posted ages ago and I read it through those “if you liked that, try this” links, or I dreamt it.
    I’m aware of the difficulty my plus-sized women friends have with finding places that cater to them clothes-wise (which is ridiculous. It’s not as though plus-sized people are as rare as unicorns), which is why I try to pass on links where I can, whenever I come across them (frequently via Lesley and Marianne on xoJane, admittedly).
    I know I speak from a position of privilege being in straight sizes, but even I cannot find a pair of goddamn trousers that fit and don’t show my underwear because they bulge at the back. When I wore a size 16 trouser, I complained of this to my dad, and his response was, “Maybe you should lose weight”. Which was, you know, less than helpful. And even though, many years later I have, I still have the same fitting problems. Like people have been saying, it’s not the person’s problem that the clothes don’t fit. We shouldn’t have to change ourselves to fit the clothes. The clothes should be made to fit the people. And this definitely, OBVIOUSLY, includes non-straight sizes. And especially includes the larger plus-sizes!
    I don’t know who mainstream fashion is made for, because lots of straight sized stuff doesn’t even seem to be made for straight-sized women. So if they’re not making clothes for half of straight-sized women, and they’re not making clothes for plus-sized women, who the heck are they making clothes for?
    I dunno. Over the last few years I’ve felt like my wardrobe finally reflects who I am, and that makes me happy. It’s been many years in the making (and partly thanks to online shopping, which reduces my anxiety over shopping remarkably, not to mention other benefits). I just wish my plus-sized lady friends had the same opportunities to feel as comfortable with their wardrobes as I do. It’s shitty.

    • Sarah says:

      “I don’t know who mainstream fashion is made for, because lots of straight sized stuff doesn’t even seem to be made for straight-sized women.”

      We-ell…on the one hand I remember being size 16 and not being able to buy pants that fit me properly and it was damn frustrating, but on the other hand I’m a bit incredulous that “straight sized stuff doesn’t even seem to be made for straight-sized women” because I see a hell of a lot of straight sized women walking around in perfectly nice, well-fitting clothes. It would deeply astonish me if, out of the hundreds and hundreds of straight sized clothing labels out there, there was not a single one that had something to fit any given straight-sized lady. It might not be to her taste or affordable or what she was looking for, but there’s a difference between not being able to get, for instance, trousers that fit properly and not being able to get trousers that actually do up, as is my experience in Australia and the experience of any Australian woman my size or bigger. I think it is an exaggeration to say fashion designers are not making clothes for straight sized women. I mean, I don’t deny plus size designers are making clothes for fat women, it’s just that there aren’t many of them and they are not making clothes for ALL fat women, or with a whole lot of variety.

      You’re clearly plenty empathetic to the clothing situation for fat women, still, and I’m sorry your dad said that to you, because body shaming is shitty no matter what size you are. I agree that the clothes should fit the person, not the other way around! If the dress doesn’t fit, the DRESS is the wrong size or shape, not your body.

      I’m glad you’re having an awesome wardrobe symbiosis experience 🙂 I am starting to feel a lot better about my wardrobe in recent years too, which is interesting because I always thought that would happen when I was “finally thin”, but in reality it happened when I finally let myself be fat. It’s not that fat women don’t or can’t feel as comfortable about their wardrobe as you do, and the takeaway message here shouldn’t be “feel bad about feeling good about your clothes”! What I mean to highlight is that the work of making a wardrobe comfortable seems to be extremely different for fat and thin women, and that the idea that it’s passé to consider a large, cluttered collection of clothes “luxurious” is predicated on the assumption that amassing a large collection of clothes is easy for everyone. Piles of disposable fast fashion simply isn’t the norm for most fat women.

      • Absolutely Sarah. The issue is not about not being able to find something that fits “perfectly”, it’s about being able to find something that fits your body AT ALL. Yeah ok, construction and sizing of straight sizes in budget fashion is dodgy, that’s what you get when you try to standardise bodies. But hell, say you’re a size 16 and something doesn’t fit you – go up or down a damn size and your body is still covered and clothing is available to you.

        But when you are our size, trying to find clothing that actually comes in a size that will fit our body is so hard. We can’t just go up or down a size, when we are sized out altogether.

        It’s so infuriating that people under a certain size (and that would be fairly generous, a lot of ranges go to 20 or 22) just cannot see how they have SO many more options than we larger fats. I can walk through any shopping centre or mall and count dozens of clothes stores that go up to size 16, and a damn good number that go up to 20/22. But then I have TWO that go up to size 26, if I am lucky. How is that imbalance of number of options not obviously clear to someone?

  3. vesta44 says:

    Yeah, I wish I had the problems that people who wear straight sizes have finding clothes they like. I see clothes I like all the time in those sizes so it’s not like the fabric isn’t available in those wonderful colors/prints/designs for clothes that would fit me, it’s that designers/manufacturers of clothes for fat people refuse to even consider that those fabrics/colors/prints/designs would look good on fat people or that fat people would buy/wear them.
    I wish I could wear a 26/28 again. I haven’t gained any weight, but it must have shifted because the pants I used to wear in a size 26/28 are too small now. I have to buy a 32 or a 34 to get them to fit, even though I’m still wearing a 5X top and have for years. And believe me, the pant options in a 32/34 are damned slim pickings. Tops in a 5X that I like, those are slim pickings too. And having $50 to $75 a month to spend on clothes would get me one, maybe two, pairs of pants if I can find them on sale. Shirts, forget it, that would get me ONE shirt, unless I wanted to get tee shirts from Roaman’s or Woman Within (when they have a buy two, get one free, or a BOGO). And most of the time, I end up settling for the least ugly option because no one has anything I REALLY like. My pants are the basic brown, black, navy blue, and charcoal grey because that’s all I can find that fits (although either Roaman’s or WW did bring back their bootcut leggings in colors).
    I don’t do dresses or skirts because I have to wear compression stockings to keep the swelling in my lower legs to a manageable level and those only come in one color – dark beige (it’s supposed to be flesh colored but it’s not the color of my flesh).
    Don’t even get me started on bras and panties. Goddess quit making the only bra that fit me and their next closest style doesn’t come in my size (they stop at a G cup, I need an H). The other brands that have my band size, their cups stop at G too. And Just My Size quit making their highcut stretch satin panties, which are the ONLY ones I really like. So I’m hunting around for a new source of underwear and have spent enough money buying and returning bras that I could have had one custom made.

  4. I’m somewhere in-between, because as a UK 22 (ish) I’m lucky in some ways that I have a few more places to choose from than if I were a 26/28/32. Me being me, I always want the high fashion looks that only go to a size 14 though. It does annoy the crap out of me that decent plus size clothes are so EXPENSIVE though. I shop mainly at places like Evans and Simply Be, occasionally in Next although they come up small on me. I can’t just drop into New Look or H&M and het something cheap and cheerful, I have to decide in advance what I want and narrow the selection down because if there are two or three funky tops I love, I can’t afford them all. In New Look I could pick the same designs (or similar) up for 2/3 of the price, no problem, maybe even half.

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