If you’ve had a look at my ‘About‘ page, you’d have seen that I normally wear something between a size 18 to a size 22, depending on style, fit, and what store I’m shopping in. You might also have noticed that most of my clothes come from online retailers. Here’s why…
As far as plus size women go, I’m actually lucky, as I’m what a lot of our community would call an ‘inbetweenie’ (check out this fantastic post by iCurvy where Jo talks about what that term means to her). For me, it means that I can shop in a lot of standard size stores, or at least the ones that go to a 16/18/20 (such as Katies, Crossroads, and Trenery – and weirdly, Gorman Size 14). However I also fall very firmly into the plus size category insofar as I feel MUCH more comfortable shopping in plus size stores, especially for trousers or fitted items.
I want to talk about clothes shopping as a plus size woman for a few reasons. One, I’m a clothes shopping fanatic, and am obsessed with buying new clothes and styling interesting outfits. But beyond just my own selfish enjoyment of buying clothes – I’m part of an beautiful online community of Australian plus-size women called ‘Curvy AU’ (find us on Facebook!) and the most common posts on there is ‘Where can I buy X in a plus size?’ or ‘Has anyone purchased X from Y store, do they go up to my size?’. It’s conceptually something I’ve found that people just don’t understand if they’ve never been plus size. And I don’t just mean, “I’m bigger than all my other friends at a size 12 while they’re a size 8”. I mean, “Buying the plain undies in Kmart because the cute ones stop at a size 16 but at least I can buy undies here unlike at Bras & Things or Victoria’s Secret”.
Let me explain.
The other day, I really wanted to buy an fitted, but comfortably roomy, white button down shirt to wear to work. I’ve put on a bit of weight and had packed my work outfit without checking that everything still fitted, and lo and behold, when I got changed after the gym my shirt was gaping at the boobs and tight around my stomach. It wasn’t hugely noticeable to anyone who wasn’t me, but I still was feeling pretty uncomfortable so figured I would take an early lunch break and pop out to the city to grab something to wear for the rest of the day. And here’s the issue – in Hobart where I live, there are almost no plus sized stores in the city centre. Most of them are out in a shopping centre called Eastlands, a 10 minute drive from the city. So I try Target, normally a pretty safe bet since they go up to a size 20 and also have an ok plus sized range (if you only want basics); no luck there, the white button down shirts they had weren’t fitting me properly, so there was no point in substituting one poorly fitting shirt for another. I then went to Myer, again, a safe bet for work wear; again, they only had ‘fancy’ white shirts (what is the point of this? I don’t want diamantes on my shirt), nothing that met my ‘plain, white button down’ criteria. Shirts are a tricky beast for lots of women, but I find that being plus size, most of them pull very tight across my stomach and hips, and rarely fit across the shoulders and bust.
And that was it. There wasn’t anywhere else I could go that would have a shirt that would fit me that was also in my price range. (In the interest of transparency, there are two other plus sized shops in Hobart CBD, however they both cater to an older demographic, and have nothing that costs less than $100)
I don’t know how to explain that sensation to someone who hasn’t experienced it firsthand. This wasn’t a matter of me being picky – there was literally no where else I could get to in the Hobart CBD that STOCKED MY SIZE IN A PLAIN WHITE SHIRT.
I (and many other women who wear a size 18 and above) can’t just waltz into any old shop and expect to find things that fit me. I can’t just grab a cheap blazer or pair of jeans in a fashion emergency. I can’t shop for formal wear in the shops that cater to on-trend items or currently popular styles. When helping a friend look for a dress for an event she had to go to, I picked something out for her to try on and when I passed it to her, she said “Oh, I thought you picked that up for you to try on?”. What she didn’t realise was that nothing in the shop we were in would have come close to fitting me. This is the reality of shopping in a world that is socialised to hate fat people – things aren’t made to fit you.
You need to go to a special store, with a limited selection of items, and hope there’s something there that you like. You also need to hope that when you go into a ‘standard size’ shop that the sales assistant isn’t going to look you up and down with that pitying “oh you are SO not going to fit into anything here”. Or wondering if you’re going to rip the seam on pants as you try them on or get stuck with a zipper on a dress. Or worse, having the assistant actually saying to you (and this has happened to every plus size woman I know, including me), “I don’t think you’ll fit into anything here, sorry!”. (Notice how it’s me not fitting into the clothes, rather than the clothes not fitting me? That’s because, if you haven’t figured it out already, society is socialised to demonise fat people. But that’s a topic for another post altogether). Common variations on this theme include “I’m not sure we have anything in that size” and “this is one-size-fits-all so it might work”. Or if they’re really trying to up sell you into buying something, they steer you towards stretchy/loose knitwear, accessories or shoes.
Is it getting better? Yes, I’d argue so. Shops like Crossroads, Katies, Kmart and Big W have extended sizing in lots or all of their items. Online stores like Showpo have started extending their range up to size 20, and using both a ‘standard’ and ‘plus’ model to advertise their clothes.
But to be honest with you? There are few things that make you feel worse, as a plus size, fashion-conscious woman, than to be desperately trying to do up the zip on an item that you know isn’t going to fit you and to hear the sales assistant ask if they can “help you with sizes”. No, you can’t help me with sizes, because everything I brought into the change room with me is in the largest size you stock.
Here’s what I want to say to all the brands that stop their sizing at a size 14 or 16. You are not doing this whole ‘catering to the market’ thing very well. If you aren’t interested in being a brand with a social conscience, at least be good at your core business of growth and profits and capitalism. Because there are a lot of women out there who make a good or great income, and they want to spend money in your stores – but they can’t. So get your act together and start making things in sizes that everyone can fit into.
Lots of Love,