On Fatshion and the Privilege of Buying Clothes

I've been reading Lesley Kinzel's new book "Two Whole Cakes" for a review I'm hoping to write next week. I'm really enjoying it thus far. There is a section early in the book on fashion that does a fantastic job explaining what it means for a fat woman to just buy clothes. Its the sort of thing I imagine a lot of fat women just take for granted. I've known about the routine for a while being romantically involved with fat women. Its one of those privileges non-fat people take so for granted it probably never even occurs to them what a hassle it is for fat people to just get dressed. Lesley relates this in how she responds to people complimenting her on her good taste and how they really don't understand what goes into it. As she puts it "I SLAYED A FUCKING DRAGON BEFORE I COULD BUY THIS DRESS."

Even as a fat person, I could easily be unaware of the kind of ordeal this is for fat women. As a man, and as a comparatively thin man, I experience a lot of privilege with purchasing clothing. My wife, though really not much if any bigger than me, does everything Lesley describes in her book. Buying an outfit means maybe going to a number of stores and hoping a plus-size section might have something she wants. More likely, it means buying numerous sets of clothes online, trying them on to see if they fit, and paying to return whatever doesn't. Retail environments have withheld service from fat women, forcing them to either make due or essentially pay for the privilege of a dressing room. Do thin women get how much a privilege fitting rooms are? How much a privilege the wealth of options they have at their nearby mall is?

I'm very aware of my own privileges regarding clothing, in part because they are actually quite precarious. I'm a cusp size, meaning if I was any larger, my clothing options would plummet dramatically. I might not even need to be larger. Over the last few years, options at my size have been steadily dwindling. I can't tell you how frustrating I'm finding the fitted/slim fit movement. Its stealing the last inch I had available to me. Already, at the stores I regularly frequent, I've been shunted into online-only territory. As "fashionable" men's styles become a diverse gallery of slim fit to extra slim fit to fuck you fatty fat, online buying is getting more dicey.

Over February, I posted some Fatshion photo sets on Tumblr as I've been increasingly interested in how I related to fashion. I want to be more daring and creative and colorful and I'm already feeling constricted by the options available to me at retail. I'm not looking forward to the prospect of being further pushed aside as so many fat people already are. I'm even pondering trying to teach myself how to sew and tailor so I can try to create some styles that just don't exist. Like, I might want to try colored khakis, but right now I'm too fat for that. I'm keen on experimenting with colorful vests, but that's just not something that exists in my size. I'm faced with the prospect of commissioning garments or trying to take them on myself, either of which is a daunting prospect, but one that's just every day life for a lot of fat people. Just the fact that I haven't already been forced into this is a privilege I must recognize. I'm not sure thin people ever see just how much privilege they have in the things they regard as banal.


colorlessblue said...

I think most of my clothes now are made by a seamstress because I just have no patience for the hunt anymore. When I go to the shopping district of my city, as I enter each store I ask what sizes they have before I even start looking, and most only do small and medium. And these are smaller than they used to be, because of the slim fit movement you mentioned. I have years old shirts in size medium that still fit perfectly, but if I find something that fits me nowadays it's usually extra-large.
You know what's depressing? I complained of not finding button-up shirts that I can close, and my mom suggested breast reduction surgery. Because my body is to fit the clothes available, and not the opposite.
I think this hassle with shopping is one of the reasons I'm starting to knit clothing instead of only accessories. That argyle sweater/vest(?) on the Fatshion post, BTW? To die for.

maggiemunkee said...

@colorlessblue even with a breast reduction (i went from a 48i to a 46dd -- quick digression: my surgeon left big 3" skin pockets, now filled with fat, under each arm. when i asked about them, she told me that i didn't ask to have them removed. WTF?! shouldn't that be fucking standard?!) you won't necessarily fit into button down shirts. i regret my breast reduction.

Shieldmaiden96 said...

I remember someone telling me enthusiastically "Old Navy does carry your size...its all online!" As if I am supposed to be excited and grateful that a store that is typically the size of a small airplane hangar can't see their way clear to throw a couple of racks of size 28 jeans in. F*ck them. I've never given them a dollar and I never will.

Hellianne said...

I've been considering going the sew-my-own-clothes route, too. I look great when I have clothes that hug my waist, and making my own might be the only way to get properly fitting clothes in styles and fabrics that I like to wear. But I've run into a bit of a problem: In order to get the hang of cutting, I need to do at least a few items from patterns. And most of the patterns in "plus" sizes are shapeless. So, how am I supposed to learn shaping?

There are a few tailored options that are tagged "plus," but funnily enough, those are only offered in the sizes at the low end of plus. Maybe I could get that pattern size and add two inches to the bust. Or is that a non-trivial task?

Extra annoying is that I really don't feel like putting in all the time and effort of sewing unless I'm going to be able to make something I know I'll love. And I don't relish the thought of making do with the handful of blah options that are in the "almost big enough" category. To be able to sew things I actually want to wear (see the Vintage Vogue collection), I'd have to get the largest available pattern and then add 5-6" to the bust, 1" to the waist, and 2" to the hip.

Does anyone here know if that's do-able? How difficult is it to modify a pattern up a couple of sizes? Or do I have to resign myself sewing things I don't want to wear in order to learn enough to make my own designs eventually?

I should say that I do have a fair amount of sewing experience, but most of it was when I was doing historical/roleplay costuming and had lots of experts around to guide me. Now I need to learn both how to sew from patterns and how to make practical and flattering-for-me clothes, not medieval gowns.

Surely someone has solved this problem. What's the solution?

KellyK said...

I've done it once. The hubby and I made a corset for a friend of ours, and I missed that it was a "juniors" pattern. It supposedly went up to size 20, and she's a 16 or so, but their junior's 20 was more like a 14.

We did it by following instructions found online. I'm not sure if this is the actual set we used, but it looks about right: http://www.ehow.com/how_8523092_size-up-sewing-pattern.html

One thing that helps is to make mock-ups in muslin or something similar.

Hellianne said...

I agree about the muslin mock-ups. They're handy!

The one-size jump (14 to 16) seems pretty do-able, but I'm wondering if I can scale up two, three, or even four sizes. I would think that it would be necessary to adjust arm holes and sleeve shoulders, not just open up at the darts. Maybe it would be easier to get a book on dressmaking and start from scratch rather than pre-designed patterns.

Brian said...

@colorlessblue: In Lesley's book, she talks about the warped notion that our bodies must be altered to fit our clothes. Its such an outrageous idea.

I know there are some books on fitting that are well reviewed. I'm hesitant to get them for my own education as I'm guessing they are more female oriented and my plan is mostly to make clothes for myself. I also can't be sure how much they would actually deal with fat bodies in a non-problematic way.

Cathy S. said...

I'm loving Lesley's book. It's nice to hear from guy about fatshion some time because it's so rare. You look fabulous in your fatshion tumblr. That outfit from April 2nd's spectacular. I have been hiding mostly behind stretch waist pants and tunics, but Lesley's got me leaning towards dresses because I just can't find pants that fit properly. Even these elastic waist pants, which are comfortable, still have to be pulled up and adjusted constantly. So I've been looking online for fun, colorful summer dresses and I'm going to make the switch this summer. And I'm sure I'll be sending many many things back to the stores after I try them on.

Teaspoon said...

For those wanting to sew their own clothes and experiment with fitted shapes, one thing that can help is a "duct tape double," which is much less costly than a commercial dressmaker's form. Once complete, it should be a near-exact stand-in for your body shape and size, which makes the fussy bits of fitting a lot easier to manage.

Because it is built by wrapping duct tape over an old t-shirt, then cutting it off and filling the now hollow form, it may not be a suitable option for everyone, particularly those with anxiety related to sharp objects or being closed in/restrained, or for those with some kinds of medical issues. If you can get through the wrapping and cutting portions, though, having a double can make creating your own fashions worlds easier. By using a commercial pattern to create a muslin mock-up, then using the double to fit the mock-up properly, you can then disassemble the mock-up and create a personalized pattern from the fitted pieces.

There are lots of different instructions online, just search for: duct tape double instructions.

Teaspoon said...

...I should add, since not all the instructions do, that wrapping the tape too tightly can hamper breathing. It's better to err on the side of cutting the form off unfinished and starting over another time than to try to push through any light-headedness or general not-well feelings. Safety first!

Anonymous said...


absolutely gorgeous sweater!
I just picked up knitting and if I ever get to do something like that I'd be super happy.

As for the post, dude, it's like you followed me shopping. I am also very much in my comfort zone and have mostly been a pants wearing woman but after so much frustration lately (I don't think I own a single pair that fit me right), I am starting to go for skirts and dresses, something I really have to get used to.

Courtney said...

If you aren't ready to venture into sewing yet, you might be able to get the colored khakis look you mentioned by dyeing a light pair in your size. If white khaki slacks aren't available in your size, the lightest beige should be light enough.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Shieldmaiden96. Sometimes I do shop for things online that aren't in stores, but it irritates me every time. For example, I bought some clothes at the women's retailer Talbot's (online) and returned them in-store -- and they had NOTHING in my size, so I just took the refund. Chicos is the same way. Ralph Lauren has my size, 20, but in the Lauren line on the website (and in stores) but they don't have the same clothes. If you want designer stuff, than forget about it.

I'm so fricking irritated by this. I don't have the patience to have things tailored, but I do have the money for clothes that are what I want and fit properly.

Valerie said...

I normally wouldn't comment, since I am a thin woman and have had the privilege of not having to deal with some of these things, but I do have something of an abnormal body shape (I'm tall and thin but curvy, especially at the bottom, which is apparently not the shape I'm supposed to be) and so I've been experimenting with sewing my own clothes, with some success. I thought I would add some of the things that I've found since I would still consider myself a beginning seamstress.

I've found that altering paper patterns is not terribly difficult if you have some experience with sewing in general. If you're unsure of yourself, muslin mock-ups are super helpful, and, if you're making some every day clothes that you would want several versions of, can be much easier to work with than the stupid paper patterns. I've never had to move anything up a size, but extrapolating from the pattern isn't terribly difficult anyway, and the good patterns tell you how to alter your fit based on what you're seeing, which holds no matter what size you are making. I made a pair of pants once that were way too big (even though I measured correctly based on the package directions) and even though the alterations took a little longer than usual, I did eventually get them to fit properly. If you're going up a size, I would recommend to cut a little larger than you would expect because you can always come down, but it's hard to add fabric.

Overall, although making my own clothes is a lot of work and takes a significant time investment, I have found it to be very body-positive for me because I get to make things that are flattering for my body along with a sense of accomplishment in what I've done.

I've found that most of the sewing guides I've have been relatively body-positive, or at least non-judgmental, more of the, if you have this figure, this will look better; admittedly, however, I do have significant thin privilege so I am likely not as sensitive to that as others might be. However, I haven't seen many sewing guides for men, at all, which is unfortunate because I'd really like to make a nice jacket for my fiance (who, surprisingly enough, also has an abnormal body shape. ugh fashion industry).

However, it is totally ridiculous that you have to discuss making them yourself not because you want to but because you are unable to find anything commercially. I honestly don't understand why it's so difficult to stock clothes in all sizes...[sarcasm]oh wait, because that would mean admitting that fatties don't just need to get thin[/sarcasm]

Brian said...

@Courtney: What little I've encountered of fabric dying actually struck me as more imposing than learning to sew. But its a thought.

@Valerie: Time will tell if my notions about getting into sewing will pan out, but I do like the idea of being able to explore styles that I'd have no hope of finding on my own. The alternative, obviously, is commissioning items, but I'm intrigued at the idea of taking it on myself and having fewer barriers. My closet is actually quite extensive and with a wide variety of colors, so I'm not sure I could limit myself to just what I could commission. I figure since a lot of what I'd like are the same garment in different color combinations, there is an advantage to getting the pattern right and then duplicating the work myself. But it is still work, so that is daunting in its own right.

DJ Shiva. said...

Oh wow, thank you for this post.

I have the most awful time finding jeans that fit properly, and even now I have jeans that fit my ass but gape around my waist. I have a belt, but it requires constant monitoring to make sure my waistband hasn't slipped out from it, looking tragically sloppy and stupid.

The store I used to rely on has not been stocking my size, insists on jumping onto the "skinny jean" bandwagon (really? I just want regular old JEANS), and their online ordering system is so abysmal the last pants I ordered never made it to me because somehow the shipping service they use couldn't find my building. My office building. The one that gets mail and packages every damn day.

To make it even more fun, I'm a butch lesbian that doesn't want frilly shirts and cutesy pants, but I can't wear mens jeans because of the aforementioned ass.

It makes me so mad every time I try to go clothes shopping. Half the time I come home with nothing after driving all over my city of urban sprawl. *sigh*

Dani Alexis said...

Its one of those privileges non-fat people take so for granted it probably never even occurs to them what a hassle it is for fat people to just get dressed.

As one of these non-fat women, this was indeed something that had never even occurred to me until I began reading Shapely Prose. That's when I learned that saying to a fat person "oh, but I can never find clothes that fit me either!" isn't sympathetic, it's insulting. I can walk into ANY shop that sells adult clothing and find something that will actually go onto my body. Fat people simply do not have that option in far, far too many stores.

I also realized it's a privilege I have that I get to complain about *how* clothing fits/looks. That's a step one can never even get to if nothing fits *at all.*

Sleepydumpling said...

I often wonder just how thin people do it. How do they face just so much choice every day when it comes to clothing? How do they not have wardrobes and wardrobes and wardrobes full of clothes, with so many affordable options available to them? How do they choose their outfit for the day?

It completely baffles me - I can't imagine having that much choice for clothing. I just can't.

Sib6 said...

I'm so glad I saw this post on Shakesville's blogaround and followed the link. I've been discouraged this week because one of my favorite stores just recently decided to stop carrying size 16 and up/XXL and up in the physical store, which means I have to order everything online now. I'm usually in between sizes depending on the item, so this means that instead of just going to the store to try on a few sizes to see what fits, I have to buy multiples of the same item online, try them on at home, then send back what doesn't fit, which is many cases will be all of the sizes of a particular item, because sometimes things just aren't cut right for my body. It's very frustrating, and there's no reason they can't just stock a few of the larger sizes in the store. It's not like it would take up a ton of room! It makes me feel like this store just doesn't want fat people in it.

I learned how to sew last year and I've been experimenting with making my own clothes. I've made a few skirts and I'm planning a dress for the summer right now. I have some privilege in that I'm within the sizes for plus size patterns, so that's a benefit, but as some mentioned above, a lot of the plus size patterns are kind of shapeless and not very fashionable. I'm going to try to alter some of the patterns, though, to make them more suited to my style. You can get this stuff called Swedish tracing paper, and it's a fabric-like kind of paper. You can trace your pattern on to it (you never want to cut the pattern itself in case you change sizes and need to use it again!), cut it out, then sew the paper itself together to test it out for size. If it works, just cut it out of fabric and sew the garment for real.

The biggest problem I've encountered with sewing my own clothes is finding fabric as fun and stylish as what the stores make their clothes out of. I live in Chicago and we actually have some good fabric stores here, but I can't ever find fabrics as nice as the clothes I covet that don't fit me in stores.

diamond roads said...

Great post. Now add onto this the experience that poor fats (like myself) have to go through for clothing! Every piece of clothing has to be 'perfect' the first time. I can't afford to pay shipping to try things on and I definitely can't afford to send them back. They either fit well when they arrive or I've lost that purchase entirely.

I spend more time thinking and rethinking making a purchase than actually buying anything because I just can't afford to make a mistake. Buying a piece of clothing is not fun when you're a poor fat person, its a decision that has to be agonized over for a long time.

I can't afford to buy things I like even if I found them, I can only get what I know will fit and I can afford, making the landscape to choose from even MORE limiting.

Once again, great post! Definitely stuff to think about. :D

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