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.