Guest Blogger Tasha Fierce: A Maxie Girl In A Barbie World

Tasha Fierce edited the amazing ‘zine Bitchcore from 1998 – 2001 and co-blogs at I Fry Mine In Butter. Her writing explores black invisibility and racism in feminist spaces, sizeism and fatphobia, black queer invisibility, and transgender issues and subverting gender roles. Also, she’s my sister – okay not blood related – but she’s my family.

I have a deep, abiding love of fashion and the various bibles that dictate the terms of such. No matter how many times I tell myself I’m not going to pick up another fashion magazine, no matter how many times I reflect on how damaging staring at anorexic-thin models in clothes I will never fit into is, and no matter how many times I cancel my subscriptions, I still eventually give in to the lure of “100 Accessories under $100 You Can’t Live Without” and buy the damn magazines again. And start another subscription, because, you know, 12 issues for $8 is a really good deal.

So since my chosen career path is “fashion/beauty editor”, and I have started my own nascent fatshion blog to hone my skills, I find myself needing to exist partially in that world that really wants nothing to do with me. At least, until the next “love your body” phase comes along and “plus size” models are all the rage — and even then, I don’t exactly have the shape or height of your typical plus size model. Loving Chanel but knowing Karl Lagerfeld is hugely fatphobic, to the point where he can’t even stand the thought of fat women wearing his diffusion line at H&M, causes serious cognitive dissonance. Writing about fashion requires looking at current runway looks and trends, and while plus size fashion has come a long way, it really pales in comparison to the variety, beauty, and creativity you find in designer clothes made for “normal size” women. It’s extremely hard to desire the amazing looks but be unable to wear them. While low end retailers are going up to larger sizes, you still need to be at the smaller end of the fat spectrum to fit into those sizes, no matter how much stretch they put in their clothing. And even those who can get with the stretch would be hard pressed to fit into the non Lycra-infused items.

All this requires me to live in the “double consciousness” described by W.E.B. DuBois, not just in the fact that I’m a black girl living in a white world, but also in the fact that I’m a fat girl desiring to live in the fashion world. DuBois describes double consciousness as such: “[...] this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.” How accurate that is when applied to my relationship with a world so obsessed with being as small as possible, but that I at the same time love so much. Battling diet obsession becomes that much harder when you’re doing research by reading magazines full of stories of severe calorie restriction just to fit into a size 2. And battling self-hatred is that much harder when l’m looking at runway looks I’d love to re-create but can’t because the designers just don’t see me.

But this is the field that I love, that I feel drawn to. So it falls on me to continue to love myself in the face of if not hatred or disdain, erasure and invisibility. Because I’ve chosen this. It’s not something forced on me; this is not some other oppression. I can work to change the way the fashion world works, and thankfully there are a growing number of women doing that right now. Some may say it’s a silly world in which to try to create some kind of movement for inclusiveness, but hey, what can I say. I love beauty in all forms, and there is beauty in fashion, just like there’s beauty in fat bodies and the way we dress them. And I think, just maybe, if we can effect change in the fashion world, the larger world, which is very much influenced by fashion’s ideals, might change too. That’s the more noble purpose I strive for. And if I get to wear cuter clothes because of our success, well, I’m not going to object to that.

117 thoughts on “Guest Blogger Tasha Fierce: A Maxie Girl In A Barbie World

  1. All this requires me to live in the “double consciousness” described by W.E.B. DuBois, not just in the fact that I’m a black girl living in a white world, but also in the fact that I’m a fat girl desiring to live in the fashion world. DuBois describes double consciousness as such: “[...] this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.”

    Testify!

    What I found intriguing in abandoning ladymags, yet delving deeper into fashion cultural analysis itself, was the sheer numbers of fashion insiders who themselves do not meet the strict industry standards they enforce on others.

    Anna Wintour is well beyond the age of perceived hotness as dictated by her own magazine, despite strong adherence in other ways. Moreover, she hasn’t changed more than the color of her hair in nearly two decades, yet dictates the types of hairstyles that “fashionable” women should wear/have.

    And at the Haute Couture level, many of the rabid purchasers of the clothing have sizes sailing far beyond the arbitrary size cut off of size 10 or 12 (which works out to be about an 8 in off the rack sizes). But since they are wealthy and their garments are custom made, there’s no paper trail.

    Don’t get me started on the number of plump designers, stylists and underlings who could not get so much as a pinkie into the clothing they promote, yet stay decidedly on message. Granted, I don’t know what the level of activism-from-within is amongst folks, but from an outsider’s perspective it sure does not seem like much.

    Very thought-provoking post.

  2. Tasha—you understand nuance so well. I think you really nailed the merger of fatphobia and sexism; it’s an insistence on women’s bodies being unimaginably small, on women’s consumption of all of those matching accessories. And then you went and pointed to the racist underpinnings of fashion! Damn, well done! It’s not every industry that demands that its consumers look a certain way just to acquire its products and messaging.
    On the face of it, I keep hearing from fashionistas—Okay, Stacey and Clinton—that fashion is about loving yourself enough to show others in the world that you want to present your best face to them. But that line falls on its face in light of the crap storm you point to. Thanks so much for your insights here, and thanks for insisting on trying to change this juggernaut.

  3. Don’t get me started on the number of plump designers, stylists and underlings who could not get so much as a pinkie into the clothing they promote, yet stay decidedly on message. Granted, I don’t know what the level of activism-from-within is amongst folks, but from an outsider’s perspective it sure does not seem like much.

    There isn’t much within so much as on the margins wedging feet into doors. Like the whole fatshion thing, it’s become somewhat of a movement and I think it has so much to do with the whole trend we’re seeing with larger models being used and special mag issues just for “curvy” women. I mean, it’s a start and I hope it doesn’t just fade away like so many other trends. But the majority of fashion insiders are still really jackasses when it comes to fat women.

  4. @Snarkysmachine – I’ve wondered about that, too. How can these people who don’t meet the ideal create and uphold this ideal? Then again, it’s hardly the only industry in which people who set the bar can’t reach it themselves.

    I only read beauty magazines on the plane – the “Sunscreen Song” prompted me to ignore them. And I am better off for it. I do, however, watch America’s Next Top Model and Project Runway, so I’m not super clueless about fashion. Plus, I have eyes and see what people are wearing. Those tv shows don’t make me feel negatively about myself, but you know what does? Clothes shopping! As an in betweenie, I’m more fortunate than many in that I can walk into a JC Penney and find something, but that something is likely to be ugh, dull, or made by some 6 year old in a 3rd world country. The fun interesting free trade stuff doesn’t tend to go above a size 14. And apparently, women with large breasts don’t like organic fabrics or stuff made in the USA, either. And forget boutiques.

  5. @Tasha

    “There isn’t much within so much as on the margins wedging feet into doors. Like the whole fatshion thing, ”

    Pat McGrath, arguably the most popular/famous make up artist in the fashion world, looks to be “plus size” and despite having tremendous prestige in the industry, probably can’t shop high fashion off the rack!

    While viewing “The September Issue” the docu-film about Anna Wintour and the Vogue September Issue, I noted many “over the hill”, fat, not conventionally attractive, not straight and decidedly not the industry standard’s ideal in positions of power and influence. It was eye opening.

    It’s pretty jarring considering this means those folks are complicit in the beauty/class oppression of women. Though eating their own cooking seems like punishment enough.

  6. “It’s kind of like I said in my Fry Butter post on the fashion police, why do the people with the worst fashion dictate what people should be wearing?”

    I think this works in the same way as when someone smears something nasty on you when you are a kid, you have to smear some back, just so you all smell as bad.

    Fashion in a nutshell, Paintmonkey style.

  7. @evmaroon Thank you! I didn’t see your post wedged in there. I have a lot to say on the subject, so it was hard to keep it from becoming too long. I DEFINITELY feel that the insistence on the part of fashion “experts” for fat people to wear clothing that’s “flattering” and for them to care about how they “present themselves” is just thinly veiled fatphobia. I can understand wanting to wear clothes you feel comfortable in and not highlighting parts of your body you may not want to highlight but the push for plus size women to wear certain types of clothing is not, I think, meant to really make anyone feel better but people who can’t handle looking at fat.

  8. I still have a hard time even attempting to get into the mindset that fashion is something I could attempt. I tend to think of it as something other people do and care about. I think this is pretty reasonable considering that I am having a hard time even finding jeans to replace my worn out Right Fits right now.

    I wish that fashion could even BE an important issue for me. But the issue that I and a lot of other people struggle with isn’t fashion, it is just the simple act of clothing my body.

    I want my clothes to 1. fit and 2. be appropriate to the situation. If they happen to look good on me or express any part of my identity, then I must have gotten lucky that day.

    I guess it is a valid goal to hope that plus size fashion becomes important so we can all look super hot. But right now I would really have no problem settling for being able to go to a store and buy some pants that successfully cover my ass.

  9. It strikes me as odd too that the people who are often dictating fashion are the ones who are the most joyless about it all. I’m fascinated by fashion for its art and design, and by its potential for beauty, but find it sad to watch this strangled by persistent tunnel vision when it comes to the beauty ideal. I see beauty and flashes of ideas and things I admire constantly, but not in the drained neutered faces of soulless models stamping down a catwalk actively trying to deny any individuality just incase it undermines a product.

  10. As I watch my daughter grow, I can only hope that by the time she is at the age where she is beginning to wrestle with the body image issues that so many of us do, that things will have changed.

  11. DuBois describes double consciousness as such: “[...] this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.” How accurate that is when applied to my relationship with a world so obsessed with being as small as possible, but that I at the same time love so much.

    What a perfect quote for this piece. I really enjoyed reading it.

    no matter how many times I reflect on how damaging staring at anorexic-thin models in clothes I will never fit into is

    The phrase ‘anorexic-thin’ gives me pause — the association of an eating disorder with weight alone, I think. And also because I have a non-anorexic friend who would diagnostically qualify as ‘anorexic-thin’ through their sub-17.5 BMIs.

  12. And at the Haute Couture level, many of the rabid purchasers of the clothing have sizes sailing far beyond the arbitrary size cut off of size 10 or 12 (which works out to be about an 8 in off the rack sizes). But since they are wealthy and their garments are custom made, there’s no paper trail.

    Snarkys, this is fascinating – where can I find more about this??

  13. The phrase ‘anorexic-thin’ gives me pause — the association of an eating disorder with weight alone, I think. And also because I have a non-anorexic friend who would diagnostically qualify as ‘anorexic-thin’ through their sub-17.5 BMIs.

    I’m sorry if that phrase offended you; it’s hard to get across the unhealthy thinness of the models (literally, deadly thinness) without invoking such an image, but I can see where those who are not truly anorexic but weigh 90lbs and are 5’10” may be uncomfortable with that phrase. So I do apologize.

  14. Snarkys, this is fascinating – where can I find more about this??

    Google any of Forbes top earners (go deep down the list) and then google their wives.

    The phrase ‘anorexic-thin’ gives me pause — the association of an eating disorder with weight alone, I think. And also because I have a non-anorexic friend who would diagnostically qualify as ‘anorexic-thin’ through their sub-17.5 BMIs.

    Thanks for pointing this out. Yeah, we should probably avoid diagnosing anyone’s health via their weight.

  15. I guess it is a valid goal to hope that plus size fashion becomes important so we can all look super hot. But right now I would really have no problem settling for being able to go to a store and buy some pants that successfully cover my ass.

    This goes back to my post regarding critiquing what you care about. I don’t think Tasha’s goal is for everyone to be “hot” in and of itself or in some subjective fashion industry dictated way – though I’m not sure I understand why this would be bad goal on a personal level – but rather that folks of all sizes have real choice in terms of how they clothe their bodies. This *is* important because clothing a fat body can also be about access and class; I’m sure you’d agree those are important issues.

  16. @shinobi42 I totally recognize that for a lot of fat women, there are few options even in the mail order catalog department. I just want there to be options for all sizes to be able to feel good about what you put on. Fashion shouldn’t be body elitist and you shouldn’t have to feel like you can’t even engage in it. Like Snarky said, it’s also a class issue. For those who either can’t afford it, can’t fit into it, or both, having access to real clothing choices is something that can really affect your life and how you feel about living in a fat body.

  17. Like Snarky said, it’s also a class issue. For those who either can’t afford it, can’t fit into it, or both, having access to real clothing choices is something that can really affect your life and how you feel about living in a fat body.

    Not to mention it often limits the ability of folks to gain employment due to a perceived lack of “professional appearance”.

    As an aside; the concept of “important/not important” in terms of topics folks opt to explore is a really problematic framing device when applied to marginalized groups, who struggle to achieve the right to be as banal – not for one second suggesting I think Tashie’s post is such – as any privileged person.

    That said, until we get there, it’s not a productive direction for a conversation. For one thing it suggests that when marginalized folks discuss seemingly “fluffy” topics they do so as cultural insiders when that’s generally NOT the case. Many of these battles for “right to fluff” are often hard fought and do not exist outside a larger critical consciousness.

  18. This post is amazing. I am also a fattie who loves pretty clothes, though I wouldn’t venture to call myself fashionable. All I can say is that I’m am really excited for the day (which I do believe this will eventually come) when people like Tasha get to start designing and promoting gorgeous, high-end plus-sized clothes. Clothes that aren’t just scaled-up versions of the stuff they through on a size-0, 16-year-old runway model, but are specifically designed to work for fat bodies.

    I’ve never understood for a second why some fashion people are so threatened by the idea of embracing multiple types of beauty. Okay, yes, the narrow standards of beauty are profitable for some people. But I think there’s a visceral “Oh God no that would be terrible” attitude toward body diversity that goes beyond the economics. And it’s all just so absurd.

    One of the lovely side benefits of discovering FA was that it enhanced my ability to appreciate the beauty in women of all sizes and shapes. Now that I’ve thoroughly rejected the thin ideal (which, I’m ashamed to say, I did buy into more when I was younger) I get to more fully enjoy the loveliness of the world.

    Why would anyone not want that for themselves?

  19. That said, until we get there, it’s not a productive direction for a conversation. For one thing it suggests that when marginalized folks discuss seemingly “fluffy” topics they do so as cultural insiders when that’s generally NOT the case. Many of these battles for “right to fluff” are often hard fought and do not exist outside a larger critical consciousness.

    *love of statement*

    The whole Humorless Actvist thing gets on my nerves for this reason. On the one hand, if you call people out on privilege, you’re Humorless And Can’t Take a Joke. But if you are a Humorful Activist, what are you doing, being humorful? Cause, you know, if your thing you’re an activist about was so important, you wouldn’t be, you know, laughing about anything, including important things and fluffy things.

    There’s no winning.

    Regarding who buys haute couture, I cannot for the life of me remember where I read the article (New Yorker? Vogue? Christian Science Monitor? Home and Garden?), but there was a long article on this issue recently. In it, Helen Mirren was quoted as saying that although she enjoys seeing the Haute shows, there’s no way on earth she could afford to buy from them.

    The author went on to say the Haute consumer group is made of about 500 people world-wide, and they were very wealthy, low-profile people. The article cited the spouses of Saudi and Texas oil barons in particular.

    Somehow, I can’t see Haute Couture d’Maison Chicy Chicy telling the multibillionaire woman she’s too fat for ostrich skin trousers and hand-stiched suits from hand-woven vicuna wool. One does wonder how much Anna Wintour gets to dictate to women who can afford those kinds of clothes. If she even knows who they are.

    Tashsa Fierce, I love clothes, but haven’t the kind of fortitude it takes to get through the fashion mag BS in order to enjoy the things I do like in them. So, I am looking forward to the day you’re editing a fashion magazine we can all enjoy on the endless, endless layovers that seem to make up modern living.

  20. Somehow, I can’t see Haute Couture d’Maison Chicy Chicy telling the multibillionaire woman she’s too fat for ostrich skin trousers and hand-stiched suits from hand-woven vicuna wool. One does wonder how much Anna Wintour gets to dictate to women who can afford those kinds of clothes. If she even knows who they are.

    Yeah, it’s a pretty stealth group of people – some who are plump – and their money spends just as well (if not better) than anyone else’s. Also given that many of the kajillionaire spouses aren’t in fact – white (in the ways read by folks in the US based on ethnicity and country of origin) or American – it stands to reason their cultural body norms might be entirely different than what is presented to us via Western ladymags.

  21. . I DEFINITELY feel that the insistence on the part of fashion “experts” for fat people to wear clothing that’s “flattering” and for them to care about how they “present themselves” is just thinly veiled fatphobia. I can understand wanting to wear clothes you feel comfortable in and not highlighting parts of your body you may not want to highlight but the push for plus size women to wear certain types of clothing is not, I think, meant to really make anyone feel better but people who can’t handle looking at fat.

    This makes my head asplode. Because it seems I can’t even read one fashion bit without someone immediately saying something about how such-and-such makes someone’s ass look big or whatever. And if that isn’t body- and women-hating, I don’t know what is. Yeah, it’s subtle, but it still bothers me. My solution is to avoid the world of fashion. It just makes me too crazy and irritated.

    What is the line between saying one wants to wear clothes that flatter oneself, vs. others should wear clothes that flatter? Are there any fashion blogs or persons who talk about things NOT in terms of “flattering”? The whole flatter/optical ILLUSION stuff about clothing makes me go ugh.

    I sew rather than buy clothes. Stitching ladies seem to be more realistic about body size, but I see so, so much fashion / fit “policing” in those worlds.

  22. I was shocked the day I walked into a Neiman Marcus (sp?) naively looking for a quick, emergency, out-of-town shoe purchase, and discovered that much of their display inventory was in the $180-$400 price range … for shoes that looked like things my grandmother would wear to the grocery store. These were some of the most godawful ugly shoes I’d ever seen. Who knew there were so many shades of taupe? Sure enough, I looked around and realized I was the youngest person in the shoe department – by at least 20 years. And most of the ladies in there were definitely of matronly proportions. And they could have used some better fitting clothes.

  23. As an in-betweenie/smaller fat who also loves clothes, I really got this post. Yes, the cognitive dissonance is huge….why do I yearn so much to grab a part of something that wants no part of me? Especially after embracing FA?

    Miuccia and Karl have both gone on record stating something to the effect that they don’t want to see anyone over a size 10 in their clothes. So why do I even want to give asshats like that my money?
    Even though those price points are way out of my league-I admit to longing for a classic item or two.

    I worked in the business for my twenties and most of my thirties, and my experiences moving through that system as a size 4/6 were vastly different than my experience as a size 12/14.

    It just pisses me off to no end that women size 12/14 and up don’t have access to high end designer fashion. The plus size market does not even come close. Do they think we have no money just because we aren’t thin? WTF? I know successful women with and great personal style who would love to have access to fashion-but can’t.

  24. It just pisses me off to no end that women size 12/14 and up don’t have access to high end designer fashion. The plus size market does not even come close. Do they think we have no money just because we aren’t thin? WTF? I know successful women with and great personal style who would love to have access to fashion-but can’t.

    Reminds me of Kate’s posts on Gabby!

  25. ohh I love this post & discussion (I missed SP during spring break!) and welcome Tasha, love your energy and your Dubois quote. I often feel dismayed and conflicted bc it seems I “should” dismiss Fashion altogether but there is still so much art and creative exuberance there!

    And Snarky, love the class analysis in “right to fluff” – that turn of phrase so aptly slices into a great many hipster-entitlement Issues. Am totally stealing it (will give a shout-out!)

  26. Note: I think the point of my rambling recollection was that people with money come in different sizes (and ages). Now the shoes were pretty ugly and I don’t know why, but the point is, these women were willing to shell out hundreds of dollars for them. Maybe they’d be willing to pay as much for clothes that actually looked good. I saw way too many high-waisted high-water stonewashed jeans in that store.

  27. Note: I think the point of my rambling recollection was that people with money come in different sizes (and ages). Now the shoes were pretty ugly and I don’t know why, but the point is, these women were willing to shell out hundreds of dollars for them. Maybe they’d be willing to pay as much for clothes that actually looked good. I saw way too many high-waisted high-water stonewashed jeans in that store.

    The point I took was even at the high end, the choices for fat women are no different than what is offered at any discount department store, yet they are expected to pay 1000x the price.

  28. …it stands to reason their cultural body norms might be entirely different than what is presented to us via Western ladymags.

    I suppose if they are the wives of Saudi oil industry types, as the article suggested, women are wearing those clothes in private, domestic spaces. Or under chador/ abayahs. Or, they are if they are wearing their haute couture in their home countries.

    That changes up the place such clothing would have in society in interesting ways, for sure.

    I used to work in retail at A Famous Mall, in a sort-of-nice shop. Occasionally, women who were covered and spoke Arabic would come to the store and have bags from the nicest places in the joint with merchandise aplenty in them. My colleagues used to ask “why would you buy Gucci shoes no one will ever see.” I always thought that was missing that those women were buying high-end goods for their own reasons, not for the exact same reasons we Middle American women would.

  29. True. Also, uh some of our first ladies have been rather hefty women. I’m pretty sure they didn’t scour the racks at Dress Barn for their clothes. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

  30. @AnthroK
    As someone who used to live in Saudi, the answer is simple – tons of other people will see your shoes. They’re usually visible in an abaya, for starters, and even the clothes underneath will be seen by female friends and family members of both sexes every day, as the abaya is only worn when one will be around men who’re not part of the family. As soon as one enters a private space that’s women-only, it comes off.

  31. @cassandrasays – yep. Just because strangers won’t see your fancy duds, doesn’t mean no one will.

  32. Nicely put. I especially liked your mention of “double consciousness” which is something I hadn’t heard of before.

    In many ways, I think the best people to go to for clothes are independent designers. I live near Glebe in Sydney and my favourite designer sells at the local saturday market and makes, bless her soul, commission clothing. Which means if you have a body shape that doesn’t fit mainstream clothing, she’ll make something that suits you. Not that her regular clothes don’t.

    I think there’s a lot to be said for designers who aren’t part of the haute couture world, they certainly seem to pay more attention to their customers and the indie sphere seems to be more likely to embrace diversity.

  33. My solution to finding pretty clothes in my size was to learn first to sew and then to make my own patterns. It’s worked out pretty well.

  34. “How can these people who don’t meet the ideal create and uphold this ideal?”

    Fashion, as it currently exists, is, in many ways about exclusivity and social hierarchies. If you’re in the position to create and uphold ideals, it confers upon you an “insider” status that, in turn, provides you with a certain measure of social cache that you wouldn’t otherwise have because you yourself do not meet the aesthetic ideal. It’s just another way to climb the social ladder; if you can’t ascend high enough based on your looks/wealth/social standing, then maybe you sneak up by being the “plump” designer who makes clothes that everyone wants, but only a small few can actually attain. This is an imperfect analogy, but it reminds me of all of those mean-girl movies where the plain, ordinary girl gets “accepted” into the mean, beautiful girls clique, and then starts treating all of the other plain, ordinary girls just as terribly as the mean girls do. It’s about how we define who is “worthy” in this society and what we’re willing to do to be included amongst those ranks.

  35. Here in the Uk we do have a certain amount of choice and there are shops that are there solely for the larger lady (i prefer the term non-conformist hehe) Some make an effort to create decent wardrobes with variety with perpetual new ranges, and other decide that they should encase our bodies in man made fibres like polyester which for a overheating body like mine is not an option. (yeah – let me buy something that makes me sweaty and maloderous- puhlease)
    One thing i do find universal is that the upper size range of clothes is not shaped for curved women. Apparantly we have no definition in our figure and straight vertical lines or draped fabric seem the only two options. God forbid we could actually be proud of how we look and want to flaunt and flirt a little.

  36. I worked at a clothing retail chain for a summer a couple years ago. I was going to a wedding for a friend of my then-fiance (now-husband), so I utilized my employee discount to pick out a dress for the occasion. It was a store with a regular line of clothing and a line of plus sizes, and there was a particularly pretty dress that they had in both sections. One was a 16, the other was a16W. The 16W was certainly roomier, but it had absolutely no support, whereas the 16 was a little bit tighter on me, but it had sufficient support for my rack. The neckline and back were cut in such a way that a strapless bra would have been visible, so I ultimately went with the 16, because having the support was that important. The point of this experience is that it was really the first time my eyes were opened to the very unlevel playing field of fashion. The 16W should have been designed with just as much support as the 16, unless the “support” was actually supposed to be “padding” to up the cup size of the wearer, which is problematic as well because that’s still reinforcing negative body image.

  37. LOVED this post! I am a fat fashonista, who is also middle-aged (46) and find that it’s hard to not look matronly..which is something I’ve had to deal with since I was 26! It seems in so many ways, fat fashion still = grandma clothes, especially in lower end stores. I am fortunate to have a Nordstrom in my city and I love the Encore shop – but I still find that they buy very litte in my size (22 or 3X) and there will be but one on the racks ..and then 25 2x and 30 1x. Or some such craziness. The message is STILL – you are too fat for fashion. I used to manage a clothing boutique that carried sizes 12-24 and the mindset from many of our customers was “I can’t buy this now because I’m losing weight” so in many ways the “fault” (and I hesitate to use that word – we are doing the best we can) lies with us. I firmly believe when we buy it – they will offer it. But I also think we are punished for not buying what’s offered (especially when it’s crap) Great post.

  38. I love this post and this topic and I’m glad to have been pointed to “I Fry Mine In Butter.”

    I’ve been experimenting with my “look” more, and it’s for a few reasons
    – a better self-image due to a longtime journey with fat acceptance and fatosphere and therapy
    – the Fatshionista Flickr stream
    – realizing that there are some clothes that definitely look “better” (in my own personal subjective view certainly not slamming slimmer women) on rounder women
    – tossing out some of my own fashion rules
    – creating some new rules (comfort is near the top of the priority list, if wearing a pair of dressy shoes to work means I can’t dance that night, forget it)
    – The knowledge that several people I admire consider me a “stylish dresser”

    I am less respectful of “intellectual property” when the motives of the property owners are so contemptible — as in with the pharmaceutical industry wanting to prevent generic drugs from hitting the market. Similarly, if designers who can make really nice clothing “knock off” designs from lines that don’t carry anything above size 10 — I’m not appalled.

    I love IGIGI for the reason that their fashions do look better on rounder shapes (and a variety of shapes) — when I wear my IGIGI clothing I get a strong positive reaction. I know this isn’t nice but I am waiting to be able to say to someone “sorry, I don’t think they carry your size” when asked by a someone who wears something smaller than a size 10. But I probably would only do that followed by a multi-hour search online for comparable clothing in the exact size and color that the person inquired about — I penalize myself harshly for meanness.

    I am also noticing that in my office, some of the best dressers/makeup wearers/accessorizers are women who are fat — there are a few very fashionable not-fat women. I work in a somewhat “diverse” office — and if we were to do a photo lineup of the “best dressed” — there would be many of the most “diverse” (by size, ethnicity, gender, same sex partner-having, age, and all the combinations of these) people on that wall.

    Thank you, Tasha Fierce, for encouraging me to reflect on this. My preferences for what to look at, when it comes to people in clothing, have shifted. It’s fun to look at the latest designs (I’ve never been someone who really loved to look at fashion magazines). I would rather see everyday human beings of all the possible flavor combinations using fashion to express themselves freely. Fashion anarchy!

  39. And Tasha Fierce, thank you for this:
    “I love beauty in all forms, and there is beauty in fashion, just like there’s beauty in fat bodies and the way we dress them.”

    and the DuBois quote, which captures the hypervigilance I carry around from being tormented by the same few boys from K-6th grade — which bled into being ostracized from everyone else for fear of catching my “social disease” — i.e. my friends would play with me in private but wouldn’t walk to school with me for fear of being targeted, too. It’s not the same as racism, lacking the institutional/societal/historical/economic/more context, but the confusion of “what in the world was wrong with me?” and the conclusion I drew that it had to be something about what I looked like or who I was that repelled people, haunts me still. I have a “sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity” — all the more confusing and infuriating these days as my competence is clear to everyone around me. I don’t know how other people feel, but there’s this awful self-perpetuation of that vigilance that something must be wrong with me, and an irritation when other people don’t get why I get so upset/defensive/up in arms. There must be a name for this — the realization that the construct that requires the vigilance is corrupt and false, and yet, the reaction to the need for vigilance is totally understandable and human. Maybe it’s about people (white, male, slender, straight, cis-genedered, more) only seeing the present moment and not the context (like those who complain about affirmative action). How could anyone know my personal context? — they can’t. But they can certainly know (or educate themselves on) the broader context of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, fat phobia, more.

    If I’ve gotten it wrong or overgeneralized, I am ready to hear it.

  40. I became fascinated with fashion and changing visions of what it means to be beautiful in Western society when I was nine. As with every other interest I’d shown up to that time, my mother encouraged me by buying me books on the subject.

    When I was fifteen (and a size 5), my mother found and got me a book on one of her favorite haute couture designers of all time, Charles James. She adored the amazing construction of his evening gowns and their opulent flair. I quickly fell in love with them, too. Then I read the introduction to the book. The author recalled an incident when he was with Charles James and a woman came up to him to ask him to dress her. The author thought it was charming that James managed to inform the woman that she was far too old, fat, and ugly for him to dress, but in such a way that she left smiling.

    Even as a skinny teen, I was mortally offended for that poor woman, especially the way that she became complicit in her own mistreatment. Later I began to wonder if she smiled for the Important Fashion Designer and his friend only to go home and cry at his cruelty.

    Charles James made some of the most amazingly gorgeous gowns I’ve ever seen, but I can’t look at them now.

    I still love fashion. I still hate the way it’s used as a bludgeon against women – particularly those who fall outside an increasingly narrow vision of what loveliness is.

    Thank you, Tasha Fierce, for a wonderful article. I hope you’ll never stop fighting for our right to fluff in any damn way we see fit.

  41. This post & thread has helped me unpack some recent episodes involving where fashion (as in one’s sense of style, not haute) intersects with size, class & race. (Disclosure -on matters of each, I have privilege.)

    My office is in a professional and conservative setting. However, as my office is more behind the scenes, we were not much subjected to the dress-code; certainly, no one ever said anything to my knowledge. My two former colleagues were both plus sized*, one white, one black. My black friend mostly wore leggings and loose, long tunics that harkened back to her family’s history in Ghana (her description). My white friend wore stretch jeans and longish polo shirts most days.

    Then we got a new, face-time-by-the-book-key-jingling-control-freak supervisor. The kind who likes the fact that there are rules, so they have something to hold over other people’s head. She’s also fat-phobic (based on both comments and behaviors) and a completely privileged ass. Well, our whole office got The Dress Code speech individually, and comparing notes, the speech was the same for each of us. How it played out for each of us was vastly different, according to our privileges.

    My black friend was harassed about not looking “professional enough”, despite the fact that NOTHING she wore was against the dress code, the salient points of which are no jeans, no exposed backs, bellies, or upper thighs, tats covered, and no flip flops. My friend was both unwilling to change her dress style, b/c she felt (rightly IMO) that it was race-and-other-biases driving our sups’ behavior, AND b/c she was older, large, and an amputee who was often wheelchair dependent and had range of motion issues. Her wardrobe was comfortable, was easy for her to put on and take off, and MEANT something to her personally. She didn’t HAVE OTR options that met her needs, even supposing she wanted to buy office-wear. She was the first laid off when the budget cuts came. There were certainly other issues at play – being part-time here makes you particularly vulnerable to cuts – but I absolutely KNOW that how my sup perceived her made her THAT MUCH MORE a target.

    My white friend got spoken to and a verbal warning about her stretch jeans. Besides the fact that professional separates in xxl+ sizes are hard to come-by, is the fact that she was a single mom, without the cash to invest in a “for work” wardrobe. Few OTR options, less money to pay for them. She did make this clear to the sup; but eventually (and for lots of other reasons) she wound up taking another job.

    In my case, having options meant heading to Marshall’s for a few work pants, and relegating my jeans to not-at-work days. I’ve had a couple of instances where the sup emails me the dress-code in response to an outfit she doesn’t like, but nothing like either of my friends.

    The whole episode reinforced for me a bunch of things – like how if you have privilege, you can’t UNHAVE it; I did nothing to earn differential treatment, but I got it anyway. Doesn’t matter that I don’t want approval from my sup, nor that I neither like nor respect her. Even the fact that I could and did use my privilege to be an ally & support both friends where and how I could only pointed out that bitching from me was treated differently from their complaints*.

    But it really reinforced for me that (duh truck alert) CLOTHES ARE NECESSARY to daily function! The discrimination by the clothing industry in higher sizes means real!fucking!hardships! that affect real people’s real abilities to live their real lives for!fucking!realz!!!!!! And now I appreciate that while this was going on, my friends were surely experiencing that “double consciousness” intensely every moment at work. How fucking god-awful!

    Given this, I find it particularly insidious that “clothes for people of all sizes” gets reframed into “fatties want fashion, how frivolous”. It’s a rather neat (where neat=despicable) repackaging of a necessity for marginalized person(s) into a pointless and useless endeavor.

    @hsofia – you can always just call it what we do, Needless Markups – it’s easier to spell.

    (* I’m not comfortable using words like fat or bitch for others. I can’t reclaim or be ironic about shit that don’t apply to me.)

  42. Awesome illustration of how the system of fashion works, against women, Twistie. Makes me feel sad for that woman, and for the countless others who are excluded.

  43. Whenever I get irritated at the increasingly narrow definition of what is Fashion Acceptable, and upset at the inability of so many women to participate in fashion and style for lack of access, I re-read this essay by Erin McKean.

    http://www.dressaday.com/2006/10/you-dont-have-to-be-pretty.html

    It’s good to be reminded that Wanting To participate in fashion and style is meaningful because We Shouldn’t Have To. Being told You Can’t by industry machinations and social standards is a vile twist on the whole game. You’re Supposed To, You’re Supposed To Want To, And You Can’t. It’s a extra-whammy of exclusion. Bleargh.

    I like McKean’s vision of a world where participating in fashion and style worlds is an exercise of choice underpinned by access. It keeps me in a tolerable mood.

    (Apologies if I have posted that here before. I can’t remember who all I evangelize with the essay, but it’s a good essay.)

  44. This post touches on so much that bothers me about the fashion industry. I’m another person who loves clothes and has a deeply troubling attachment to makeover shows.

    One of the things that bothers me most about makeover shows and the idea of being made over is the notion that you should use fashion to express yourself…as long as it’s in the accepted box that the culture prefers you stay in. For fat women, it means always being in clothes that “hide” “slim” camouflage”. It’s never about taking joy in the clothes and your body but in making sure you never forget in what way you don’t fit the accepted beauty standard.

    And Tasha, I think you are spot on that the idea of dressing in “flattering” clothes is really just code for “try to make people as comfortable with your body as possible.” And it’s bullshit and very frustrating.

  45. @hsofia,

    Neiman Marcus is known as “Needless Markup” among my friends. While their prices are ridiculous for most things, I can recommend their underwear department as a good place for larger size bras. I needed a strapless bra for my brother’s wedding. I’d gone around to Macy’s, David’s Bridal (who told me over the phone they had what I needed, but didn’t. After I’d driven to Colma. But I digress.) A lady at David’s Bridal suggested Neiman Marcus, which I was skeptical about, but it’s here in the city, right downtown, so I tried it. I was shocked. I tend to think of that store as catering to very slender ladies who lunch, not girls my size. I was mistaken-not only did they have bras that fit, but the service was great. They have a twice yearly sale, which is when the prices become realistic and I stock up on bras.

  46. AnthroK8…even if you have posted it before, it doesnt matter because its fabulous and worth posting many times. I’d like the whole post to be written on a huge chocolate- dispensing airship that would park up at schools once a week to remind all the girls inside while they chewed thoughtfully. Its a shame that being reminded that “You don’t have to be pretty” still sounds surprisingly subversive.

  47. The sentence “Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked “female” “,is just eye-wateringly perfect.

  48. Tasha Fierce: I re-read the post and I think it’s time for me to re-visit Du Bois.

    Cassandra Says & hsofia: Thankyou. Exactly! Yes!

    Paintmonkey: I am having the individual woman’s version on the chocolate dispensing plane. In the form of:

    Fruit salad.
    Cadbury’s mini-eggs.
    Coffee.
    Fantastic purple wedge-heeled sandals.

    To celebrate Spring.

    The rent you pay… etc should be on a T-shirt.

  49. Thank you for the comments, you guys. They’ve all been pretty insightful and I’m glad we’re able to talk about this on an intelligent level. I wish I could respond to every comment but I’m at work! I’m happy to be introduced to y’all, though.

  50. Throwing out mad love for Norma Kamali, who dressed the entire cast of The Wiz including fatties Thelma Carpenter, Theresa Merritt and Mabel King! One of my first fatty role models was my mom’s bff Dee and she cloaked her bod in all kinds of Norma Kamali goodness.

  51. Anyone remember the episode of “Roseanne” where the snotty male designer basically told her that she should wear a sack and she hauled off and kneed him where it counts? Tasha, thanks for helping me to remember that. :) Ahh, classic television.
    I’ve never been able to get it quite right with fashion. Like Gilda Radner, I base my taste on what doesn’t itch.

  52. @IrishUp: Thank you for mentioning the fact that disability can affect one’s wardrobe options! I am an inbetweenie and I have severe, intractable epilepsy. Some mornings, just getting out of bed is a major victory. Putting together a stylish, pretty outfit and makeup takes way too many spoons*, much as I would like to have a more individual look than jeans and tees. I hope that I can find a job in an environment with a relaxed dress code, because I’m not sure if I would be physically able to put on an ‘office appropriate’ outfit and cover up my acne with a full face of makeup every morning.

    *The Spoon Theory: http://butyoudontlooksick.com/navigation/BYDLS-TheSpoonTheory.pdf

  53. At 5’6″ tall and 135 lbs, I could wear high fashion if I wanted to (I’m guessing??), but I wouldn’t have the first clue what that is. I subscribed to a homemaking magazine (recipes, how to get stains out, etc. ) and the publishers sent me a complimentary copy of a fashion magazine, and right into the recycling it went.

    Why do you read these magazines? Isn’t there any other way to enjoy and access fashion without subjecting yourself to such cultural indoctrination? I understand a love of cloth and color and drape and lushness and just pretty pretty pretty. Are magazines really the only option?

    What about projects like the Sartorial, or just people watching?

    I’d learn to sew, personally. If I gave a rat’s patootie, which I don’t.

    I do love lipstick, though. Chanel. Mmmmm. So pretty.

  54. “Why do you read these magazines? Isn’t there any other way to enjoy and access fashion without subjecting yourself to such cultural indoctrination? I understand a love of cloth and color and drape and lushness and just pretty pretty pretty. Are magazines really the only option?”

    Of course there are other ways to enjoy and access fashion. The real question is why are we made to feel unwelcome not only by the magazines, but by stores. The real question is why we are constantly beat with the stick of being considered unattractive and simultaneously told that we do not deserve the tools to make the most of ourselves. The real question is why magazines have turned into exercises in masochism when they ought to be a pleasant diversion, should one enjoy fashion.

    I shouldn’t have to be an expert seamstress in order to get clothes that fit me reasonably and flatter my body. I shouldn’t have to find a way to lose half my body weight in order to get clothes that fit me, either. All of us should have the option to choose whether we wish to participate in fashion or ignore it or actively rebel.

    I demand the right to participate in fashion with the body I happen to have right now.

    I also demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty.

  55. It seems like it often comes to this question of integration or segregation? Do you strive to be included in a fatphobic industry that currently posits thin as the superior body and hope to eventually subvert the fatphobic patriarchal lookist nature of that industry for all people, or do you seek alternative routes to getting your fashion needs met by supporting FA designers, distributors, stores, and tailors in the hopes of building up a viable counterculture? I honestly don’t know the right answer.

  56. Exhausted due to crappy day, but I wanted to comment and say that this is a truly excellent post that does a wonderful job summing up some of the vague and nebulous thinky thoughts I have also had on fashion and fatshion. Bookmarking Red Vinyl Shoes right the nows!

  57. I want to second Twistie’s comment that, “I shouldn’t have to be an expert seamstress in order to get clothes that fit me reasonably and flatter my body.”

    It seems like every time fashion for fatter/larger women comes up, someone chimes in with the value of sewing one’s own clothes. Now, I totally respect the skill and talent it takes to make one’s own clothes well, but that is not something that I feel personally compelled to learn/develop.

    That’s a solution for SOME women, who have the time, skill, inclination, and money (my friends who sew tell me it’s usually NOT cheaper to make one’s own clothes), but I’d rather buy my clothes off the rack and spend my leisure time reading and scrapbooking. Oh, and reading SP :)

  58. I want to echo what others have said regarding sewing one’s clothes. It is often suggested to folks whose bodies – for whatever reason – exist outside the margins. While on the surface it appears to be a reasonable suggestion I have come to believe it is not.

    Firstly it makes a lot of assumptions about a person’s ability, class or level of interest. Secondly, it does nothing to resist the cultural instruction around bodies and access to clothing choice and sounds an awful lot like telling those in food deserts they ought to leave that processed food alone – meaning it makes sweeping generalizations about the choices available to those who do not see making their own hot pants as a viable option.

    In addition I’m not supportive of prescriptive measures which still allow assclowns to engage in their fuckery unabated. That’s not how change gets done.

    Also, as person who has do a lot of extra stuff she doesn’t feel like doing in order to get a shot at being seen as “not as good” in terms of physical appearance I’m not really too jazzed about suggesting it to others.

    And for folks who seriously think they can “opt out” of fashion and feel smug towards those who don’t possess their magical powers.

    Here’s your fatty wake up call…

    unless you get to spend 100% of your time booty buck nekkid in all your activities, you haven’t opted out either. Don’t get it twisted.

    In the words of a terrible sweatshirt I owned in 1984: Fashion is a maze in which we are all lost.

  59. Something I haven’t thought about for a while is the unfairness of poorly paid “Pink collar” jobs having dress codes that require an expensive work wardrobe, while many better paying jobs have uniforms (health care) jeans and tees (tech) or dirty old work clothes (trades)

  60. Good points re: sewing. In this thread at least I didn’t see anyone using “sew yer clothes” prescriptively (except perhaps Dray?). But I have seen it used before.

    As someone who does sew, daily in fact, I agree with Snarky’s points here but also I feel like, “Why don’t you sew your own” weirdly devalues the efforts, expertise, etc. of us who actually do sew.

    Back to fashion: I have a friend who is an inbetweenie and won’t shop at the fashionable/fat ladies stores as a form of protest. She thinks the shops that have the up-to-size-14 trendy stuff should carry a larger size range so she keeps shopping there. To me her protest doesn’t make sense but… I also don’t have any better advice for that sort of thing. I did ask her what she’d do if she ever got too big to fit in what was offered in the under-size-14 shops and she didn’t have an answer.

    I do appreciate reading how other people vote with their dollar.

  61. “I still love fashion. I still hate the way it’s used as a bludgeon against women – particularly those who fall outside an increasingly narrow vision of what loveliness is.”
    Thank you for this, Twistie. What a beautiful and fitting sentiment to follow on Tasha’s great post. It was especially interesting to me coming at the post as someone who is very much into “fringe” fashion and isn’t really big on what 17, Vogue, etc, say is trendy, because I saw so many parallels to what I’ve encountered browsing alternate fashions online. I’ve been especially discouraged at the amount of fat-shaming I’ve seen in (to a lesser extent) the Gothic subculture and to a huge extent the Lolita subculture. I always kind of hoped that there would be a lot more fat acceptance in general in cultures that are all about emphasizing and embracing what is differnet and unique in all of us, but sadly, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Lots of Gothic brands make their clothes tiny tiny tiny- Heavy Red, for example, makes beautiful dresses and corsets, but a 37″ bust (my size) in some of their corsets is considered XXL, and Lip Service and Shrine both keep their stuff in the pretty-damn-small range as well. Which might not be EXACTLY the same thing as saying “Fatties keep out” but is pretty close in my book. In Loli culture, the clothes (in addition to being enormously expensive) are very small, and lots of the skinnier girls make constantly make hugely derisive remarks about “fatty-chans” and “Cabbage patch dolls.” Honestly, though I love the style of Gothic Lolita, I just couldn’t stand the fat-shaming and disgusting attitudes I saw all the time directed at anyone who wasn’t 5’0 and 90 lbs, so I left. Between the fat-shaming, the racism (u r brown so u can’t be anything but ita!11! Real lolis r WHITE! *pukes*), and the classism (Girls who have homemade and can’t spend $500 on one dress are ITAS and stupid!) I was pretty thourougly disillusioned with Lolita by the time I left- for a subculture that’s supposed to be all about being sweet, kind, and lady-like, most of the prevailing attitudes were none of the above. Fortunately, I’ve found my home in Steampunk, which is just about the most wonderful and accepting culture I’ve ever been in. As long as you love your gears, goggles, and ray-guns, they’ll take you as you are. No one ever makes snide comments about someone being “too fat” to wear bustles and corsets, and the top-hats are simply divine. If only all of fashion was as nice as the folks at the steamfashion comm over on LJ are, I might be a lot more into it. Sorry for my rant about subcultures that most people probably don’t care about, but I just thought it was an example of how pervasive fat-shaming is in our society, that even groups that are all about being very dedicatedly non-mainstream still buy into it. Very sad. :(

  62. Oh, no! I’m sorry to leave another comment after the rampaging teal deer I just let loose on you all, but I did want to make one comment about the sewing:
    I hope I’ve never come across badly in the posts I’ve made on this site encouraging people to sew. When I encourage people to take up sewing, I do it because I believe firmly in the power of wearing clothes that make you happy, and I have found personally that I am happiest in clothes that I have sewn. However, I do agree that it is completely unfair that, as Snarkysmachine put it, “folks whose bodies – for whatever reason – exist outside the margins” are told to sew in such a way that basically says “You are fat and thus have no right to pretty clothes unless you have the time, energy, and effort to invest in making your own.” Which is completely and totally Not Cool in so many ways. Sewing is difficult, takes a steep learning curve, and requires significant investment in patterns, a good machine, a serger, thread, notions, fabric, etc. I’m blessed enough that my parents were willing (and able) to make that investment for me, but I would never dream of forcing someone else to do it. It’s a lovely thing-if you feel inclined to it. Basically, you should sew your own clothes if it’s what you want and what makes you happy. If it isn’t and it doesn’t, than no one should be making you, regardless of your size.

  63. @ Jamie – Heavy Red, and goth brands in general…grr. I usually take a sz XL or XXL in their corset-type things, and I wear a sz 6. Isn’t that, I dunno, a little silly? Given that the average American woman is a sz 14? The goth loli brands are a whole different issue for American consumers, since most of them are made for the Japanese market and thus automatically size out most Americans. I don’t even mean weight – Moi Meme Moite, for example, isn’t going to fit you even if you’re a sz 0 if you’re tall or broad shouldered or very curvy. However, this is actually much less unreasonable than the sizing of American goth brands in my opionion, since the goth loli brands aren’t really aimed at the American market. It’s a whole lot more absurd to produce garments that are automatically not going to be wearable for 75%+ of your potential intended market, which is what American goth brands are doing.

    The expectation that people not well served by the clothing options currently avaliable sew their own clothes is ridiculous. Sure, if someone wants to do so and it capable of doing so, that’s great…for them. But I’ve tried to sew and hey, it’s HARD to produce anything that actually looks nice and is well-finished. And it’s not fair to impose that extra burden on a specific set of people and then act like you’re offering them a marvellous opportunity for self-expression, because that’s not what’s actually going on.

  64. As someone who does sew, daily in fact, I agree with Snarky’s points here but also I feel like, “Why don’t you sew your own” weirdly devalues the efforts, expertise, etc. of us who actually do sew.

    YES! I have attempted to sew my way out of fashion limitations and much of it has resulted in a whole lot of awful. It’s not something I would suggest if a person didn’t already have some kind of natural aptitude for it or a desire to develop the skill. It’s a lot work to sew clothing and requires a lot of time folks might not always have.

    And my post was not to dismiss sewing as viable alternative to off the rack, but to point out it’s just not feasible for a lot of people for a variety of reasons and that’s OKAY.

    That said, unless you’re like Derek Lam or Oscar De La Renta it’s unlikely most folks will be able to sew their way into a wardrobe suitable enough for many “professional attire only” spaces.

  65. @Jamie I just had to chime for a second with a “Say WHAT” on the loli stuff. Holy cultural appropriation, Batman, particularly the whole ‘real lolis are white’ – I don’t know, did this women miss memo that the Gothic Lolita subculture originated in Japan? Good grief.

    (For the record, there were quite a few fat EGL women in Harajuku, and sewing/making your own costumes, whatever cosplay you take part in, is highly regarded there).

    The rest of this post is big AMEN. I wholeheartedly agree. Also I am slowly learning to sew, and it is pretty fucking hard, even with my very skilled mother helping. It’s expensive (decent fabrics and patterns do not come cheap), and there are significant sizing limitations. :( It isn’t the panacea a lot of people seem to think it is.

  66. @cutselvage – I was gonna say, real lolis are white? Oh really? But sadly that particular brand of racism permeates pretty much the entire subculture of American kids who’re into Japanese pop culture. They’re even worse at concerts.

  67. @Cassandrasays “Also, does anyone suggest that fat men make their own clothes?”

    Yes! Bang on..no they bloody well don’t. Imagine if fat men had to make clothes for themselves – it would just be one global toga party as men the world over did that man thing of saying “This’ll do me fine” and just setting off for work with the bedsheet wrapped round them and a couldn’t give a shit grin. They would get away with it too.
    Hilariously I knew a man when I was a little kid who was a very large and very wealthy man – a classic English posh type. He use to have his underwear specially made by his tailor (!), who would always write down “VSP” next to his notes. He assumed this meant “Very special Person” until one day he overheard the tailor on the phone saying “Very Stout and Portly.” Not quite the air of sophistication he was aiming for….

  68. paintmonkey, that makes me want to start a VSP movement — or undergarment line. I claim “very stout and portly” and would proudly wear a clothing line with that tag.

  69. Good call – I like the idea of “VSP” being picked out in diamante with no explanation.

  70. Jamie, if you don’t mind mail ordering from outside the US, Dracinabox does stock some plus size stuff with corsets up to 38-in waist and some custom ordered stuff going up to a UK size 28. (The larger end of the plus size stuff does cost more, annoyingly.)

  71. paintmonkey, you are totally right about the global toga party if men were expected to make their own clothes. That or public nudity would gain widespread acceptance.

    I like the idea of sewing if you’re so inclined, but totally agree that it’s not a solution, or something someone should be asked/required to do as if that made being shut out of fashion okay. (Snarkysmachine, I like the food deserts analogy.)

    Heck, I can sew and own a sewing machine and everything and still don’t see myself making too many of my own clothes. I want to try making skirts, because I love skirts and they seem fairly simple to make, but no way am I going to venture into more complex territory than that, unless it’s a costume for SCA wear. (And even then, I’d much rather bribe a talented seamstress with brownies than do it myself.)

  72. I can’t sew for shit. I tried to sew a button on to a shirt a few weeks ago and stood up to discover I’d sewed the button and the shirt to my jeans while I was still in them.

  73. Re: Sewing Fail

    I’ve tried to learn. Three times. THREE. Once in 8th grade, again in 11th grade, and the last time 7 years ago in college. My cumulative knowledge is basically knowing how to sew on a button, and my dad taught me that when I was 9.

    The first attempt was entirely hand sewing and quilting. A pillow that was supposed to be heart-shaped came out shaped like Michigan.

    The second attempt was my first time with a sewing machine. Our big project was to make something “simple”. I was the dumbass that picked a dress when everyone else in my class did boxer shorts. My dress didn’t have any more pattern pieces than the boxers, but it took me 6 weeks of class time to finish when everyone else was done in 3 weeks.

    The best part was that it was one of those “Sew Easy”-type patterns that say I could make the dress in 24 hours. Not to mention that I only had to deal with interfacing while everyone else had to learn how to sew elastic waistbands.

    The third and final attempt was a sewing class in college. After attempting to sew a zipper onto a piece of fabric for practice, I realized exactly what my problem was.

    I can’t sew(or cut, really) in a straight line, even with a line to follow. I pretty much gave up on it when I figured that out, and I dropped the class.

  74. I really have very little to add to this thread. I’m an inbetweenie, so it’s very frustrating to be sized out of many “regular” stores, but still too small for many “plus” stores and brands. I actually wanted to mention that, even though Igigi technically carries a size 12, the measurements for said 12 are closer to a size 16 at, say, Old Navy, which means that I’m sized out of brands that should technically carry my size.

    Sadly, Tasha, I also have trouble breaking my habit of reading fashion magazines. I will say that my first choice is Lucky, which still has very thin models (for the most part), but does not contain any weight loss crap because it is a true fashion mag, rather than a “lifestyle” magazine.

  75. To tack onto the sewing comments… in the past year, I’ve really picked up on sewing, even though when I was younger I despised it. And, really I sew for the love of color, texture, and different prints that are hard to find in +++ sizes (I usually wear anywhere from 24-30 these days.) Also, it allowes me to be different from everyone else, which I esteem highly. I make a lot of dresses, shirts, and skirts. But the reality is that pants are the hardest for me to find in my size, and when I do they don’t fit well. And they are the hardest thing (for me) to sew. So it really doesn’t help my problem with finding clothes. Especially when I have to wear khaki pants as part of my work uniform, and they can be difficult to find in my size. Also, what about sweaters, underwear, and the like? All hard to find in +++ and the simple, “just sew it” doesn’t really apply. And whoever said it isn’t always cheaper is right. Just depends on what you’re making. (I did make an awesome xmas dress for $20 that would probably have cost a lot more to buy.) Not too mention that you do have to invest in a quality machine and supplies. And, above all, sewing can be very time consuming and sanity stealing. I make my own designs and don’t use a pattern. There’s a lot of math that goes into it. And since a body, obviously, is not straight lines, you start to feel like you should know calculus to make it just right. It’s hard work. I enjoy it, it is rewarding, but if my two jobs were any more taxing, and I had a family, or any other demands on my time, sewing would be a lost hobby.

  76. Another thing about sewing is, it can be hard to make fashionable clothing that fits well without having considerable knowledge about garment construction.

    Shopping off the rack, you can at least try things on and think “This doesn’t fit” or “This style looks terrible on me” or “This looks great”. When you sew something from a pattern without altering it (or after altering it incorrectly), you get the same results after several hours, days, or weeks of work.
    And if you are sized out of the patterns that are available, have a rack of doom, or wear different sizes on different parts of your body (especially if both sizes don’t come in the same pattern packet), you may have to re-draft the pattern.
    Finishing following the directions in sewing patterns also tends to be less than fashionable, without a few modifications.

    I would love to see a fat positive version of project runway with all plus sized models. It would be a bit more of a challenge, especially for designers who are used to thinking in terms of runway models. I think it could be an opportunity for very public experimentation with fashion for larger bodies, which could have awesome, beautiful, unpredictable results.

  77. In the continuing small world of the internet: Dress A Day had a post ages past about how becoming an atelier-quality sewist takes 10,000 hours of sewing practice. The designer example she used to discuss this was Charles James, as mentioned above by Twistie.

    Dress A Day’s point was that she’d estimated that she’d sewn 5,000 hours in her time so far, and could imagine being able to reach 10,000 in her lifetime. While her post was about encouragement for those who *do* love to sew, the subtext is, it takes a lot of work doing something you really love to acquire a skill like fine tailoring.

    Snarky’s is so right. It is a huge investment of resources to be able to sew a suit. I’ve been sewing for 20 years and I wouldn’t trust myself to make an interview suit. Telling women to sew their clothes because they can’t shop at Gap is like telling someone they should learn to carpenter because they can’t afford to buy a house. Or learn how to rebuild an engine because their car crapped out. Or make crafted goat cheese instead of buying Kraft extra-sharp cheddar to avoid hormones in the dairy.

    I mean, it’s great if you can do that and all, but it’s not something we expect everyone to be able to do. In addition, great, creative patterns don’t always come in larger sizes. So a person can end up having to jerryrig and tweak even unmade clothing to make them fit a fat body.

    The commenter who says their sewist friends point out it’s an expensive hobby? They are also totally right. If you don’t have quite a bit of money to spend, it is an inaccessible past-time.

    This’d be why mass-produced global market 8-dollar T-shirts exist in the first place, that whole division-of-labor thing is for real.

  78. If you don’t have quite a bit of money to spend, it is an inaccessible past-time.

    Um, wow. Nope. So the last two things I finished the last couple days were a choli (1/2 yard from a $2/yd cotton fabric) and a double-layer tank (made from two 50 cent high-end brand t-shirts at our local Thrift World). P.S. the things I sew last far longer than anything I’ve purchased which adds to their value, P.S. my machines were gifted to me, P.S. those who love a hobby find the hobby can flow to them piece by piece. Clothing item by clothing item, I definitely save money sewing. BUT! Only because it’s time I want to spend and because I know what I’m doing.

    I think the sewing-as-an-easy-and-prescriptive-solution-to-fatshion has been thoroughly debunked here, and well done by all who put in. But as a Craftivist and I think it’s gross when people who don’t craft try to cast it in an elitist light.

    My apologies for any derail. I’m thinking the community wants to empower Fatshion, and sewing can be a part of that for those who want to give it a go – for all people, not just laydeez sitting on golden tuffets.

  79. My apologies for any derail. I’m thinking the community wants to empower Fatshion, and sewing can be a part of that for those who want to give it a go – for all people, not just laydeez sitting on golden tuffets.

    No derail from my perspective. The sewing conversation is very important in the context of clothing fat bodies or other bodies on or outside the margins. I admire folks who can sew and enjoy it. Just as I admire folks who can play the cello or sing or paint, but I wouldn’t suggest folks take up those activities either if they didn’t find them useful if they couldn’t find music or artwork they felt suited their needs.

    It’s a bad analogy, but you get my point.

  80. Is it possible that the sewing comments are in response to love of fashion, not size, per se? When I really really really wanted a Uhura costume (just because) I couldn’t find one that looked exactly perfect. So I hired a seamstress, and got what I wanted.

    You can be any size and not find perfect goth/gingham/leather/poufy skirts, and the solution might be sewing.

    I don’t think it’s specifically about size. Although I trust what people are saying about finding nice clothes that fit. When I was 170 lbs, I wore maternity clothes. Those are horrid enough.

  81. @Dray do you have pics? I too have a Uhura costume that I pieced together myself. I already had the boots and the fishnets and the hoop earrings. It was hard to get an exact shade match on the read, which sometimes seems more tomato than I like wearing.

    Basically, mine’s two pieces. A ringer tee and a cheerleading skirt.

  82. “But as a Craftivist and I think it’s gross when people who don’t craft try to cast it in an elitist light.”

    I sew.

    “BUT! Only because it’s time I want to spend and because I know what I’m doing.”

    Hm. I think I should have said “if you don’t have quite a bit of capital to expend, it is an inaccessible answer to making appropriate clothes when one needs them for the occasions one wants them.”

    There are a lot of built in costs to projects that can prevent a non-sewist from being able to turn out the garments like the ones you describe as efficiently as you can. These include:

    A sewing machine.

    Other hard goods, including scissors, sizing tools, unserweite. If you’re making tailored clothes, a form.

    Notions. A suit would need shoulder pads, a smackload of interfacing, zip, buttons, lining.

    Knowledge. Tailoring is hard. It includes a range of skills, and finicky ones like understitching. And to get the materials you are talking about takes acquired knowledge and time- on the internet looking for deals, in fabric stores looking for appropriate stuff.

    Time.

    I have all these things stashed away in my closet. I even have a cloth stash with suiting material in it. That I bought in 1998 so I could test drive suit-sewing when I finished grad school (hollow laughter). And I have a nice sewing machine in good repair. You can make a suit with an end of the line machine, but having used them to make stuff, I also know a nicer machine is easier and therefore less time consuming to work with.

    All I would need to expend is the effort. I also would have to, since I can’t show up to a job interview in a double sided tank top and not much else.

    I agree, it’s not elitist to prioritize investing the resources required in sewing as a viable alternative to shopping at Macys. But, I don’t think it’s elitist to say it’s not fair to dismiss womens concerns about shopping with “solve the problem in this complex and time-consuming way; in fact, that solution is BETTER.” It’s only better if you want it, and have the resources to commit to it.

  83. @Dray: Yes. I think dressing fat bodies with clothes produced en masse in a global market place is part of a bigger picture of producers producing things that aren’t nesc. appropriate for consumers.

    This is a conversation for another day, but things like sizing inconsistency and limited fit options come along with simplified patters, less complex construction, fewer details, and less high-quality finished products than were previously available.

    Kelly is absolutely right that a well-made something will last much longer than a poorly made something. If you can sew, chances are good what you make will be better than what you would buy.

  84. [I]t’s not fair to dismiss womens concerns about shopping with “solve the problem in this complex and time-consuming way; in fact, that solution is BETTER.” It’s only better if you want it, and have the resources to commit to it.

    Agreed, 100%.

    I also hate that kind of “advice”. I hear: “Just work harder than EVERYONE ELSE and leave the status quo as-is. And make sure to SMILE!”

  85. Kelly is absolutely right that a well-made something will last much longer than a poorly made something. If you can sew, chances are good what you make will be better than what you would buy

    I disagree! I have cheap shirts purchased in ’89 that are still looking good enough to fool fashion “snobs” and it is largely a matter of maintenance and that of course comes back to class and access.

    You can have a great piece, but if it is not properly cared for due to ignorance or willful neglect it’s not going to last any longer than the same quality of care applied to cheaper stuff.

    A lot of theories about the long lasting powers of well made garments often lack class analysis (not suggesting you’ve done that!) in the sense it’s not simply a matter of how well an item is made, but also how often it’s used and how it is cared for.

    People who can afford “better made items” probably have a lot more items PERIOD, thus they’re conflating the effects of low rotation with quality of the garments, when that might not be the whole story.

  86. People who can afford “better made items” probably have a lot more items PERIOD, thus they’re conflating the effects of low rotation with eternal lasting powers.

    No kidding! Thank you for saying this.

    Also: what do people DO in their clothes. Certain jobs/work are hard on clothes – period. I worked in a pulp mill and sure, you wanted decent work clothes – but they weren’t going to last forever in any account.

  87. Also: what do people DO in their clothes. Certain jobs/work are hard on clothes – period. I worked in a pulp mill and sure, you wanted decent work clothes – but they weren’t going to last forever in any account.

    Seriously! Worked as a barista and it was HARD on my clothes. I had to watch my uniform (nice polo shirts and khakis) and within a year they were rags and they started out quite nice.

  88. Kelly: RE: I also hate that kind of “advice”. I hear: “Just work harder than EVERYONE ELSE and leave the status quo as-is. And make sure to SMILE!”

    Do I laugh or scream… I’ll go with laugh, since I am in a coffee shop. Oh boy. Speaking of things that belong on a T-shirt, this is exactly the thing that is uber-frustrating. URG!

    Snarky’s: I have a question and a comment.

    Question: Where’d you get that T-shirt?

    Comment: Thank you for making the point about hard-wearing and maintaining.

    I can’t remember where I read it, but a study done a while back of trash from wealthy people’s neighborhoods showed that folks in those homes bought initially very expensive things and repaired the shit out of them. Lamps with re-wired cords, shoes re-heeled and suchlike. In the same city, trashed goods from lower-income neighborhoods showed things thrown out with less wear, but were less-fine quality to begin with. The kinds of things that would take as much to repair as they did to buy.

    Now that I think about it, it might have been the famous Tucson AZ garbage study, a longitudinal study on the city dump.

  89. Sorry- yeah, that wasn’t a complete thought. The idea was, buy-to-last assumes you have the kind of capital to expend in the right amount at the right time.

    It’s easy to save up for 200.00 boots when you can make due with your other pair of sturdy shoes while you wait on the next paycheck. But if you need boots NOW and don’t have boot-appropriate shoes to sub for you while you save, and know the NEXT paycheck will go to bills or prescriptions… you’re SOL.

  90. Even in an oversized T, I’d have turned the pits of that shirt into sweat stain paradise. Not the shirt’s fault, just a fact of glands. I envy whatever non-staining magic you work.

    The hardest wearing garment I have had yet was my high school uniform jumper. Wore it school day for 4 years and still own it since it subs well for a Hogwarts student costume. I think they must have made them from, I dunno, teflon AND light weight, pleatable Kevlar.

  91. School uniforms are virtually indestructible. Most things should be made the way children’s clothes are made, which is a lot more reflective of the range of activities the clothes might be used for.

    But there’s no money in making clothes that last forever, which is why ones which trade on that claim cost so damn much!

  92. Oh! And my “Naked Hippie College” Women’s Week 1996 T with “fuck the patriarchy” down the sleeve. That thing just wears and wears and wears and wears- it survived being used as a potholder and fire-flamer on long canoe trips.

    “which is why ones which trade on that claim cost so damn much!”

    I am currently mystified by the wedding dress industry, the other Really Expensive Clothing end of the spectrum. We pay how much for some synthetic Duchess Satin we wear once?

    The world… it mystifies.

  93. Ha. I have a “Mr. Chubby” tee, which I have been led to believe was a failed hamburger venture circa ’81, which I got a thrift store and that thing has been bleached, burned, splattered in grease and detonated with a nuke and is still going strong for 18 years!

  94. Oh, AnthroK8, you must be my sweaty sister! *high fives you*
    And I also offer you high fives for this:
    “I am currently mystified by the wedding dress industry, the other Really Expensive Clothing end of the spectrum. We pay how much for some synthetic Duchess Satin we wear once?”
    I SO feel you on this- most of my fabric I get for between $1.50 and $4.00 a yard. This is for the dresses, blouses, and skirts I wear every day. I usually use pretty simple patterns and can turn out a top or skirt in 3-6 hours, a dress in 10-15. On the other end, for my upcoming senior prom dress, I got the cheapest (price-wise) dressy fabric I could find, and it was still $45 (For all of it, not per yard, thank GOd, though I’m sure that somewhere there is fabric that costs that much per yard *shudder*.) Add to that my dress pattern in a Vogue and Advanced Level, it’ll probably take me 30-40 hours to sew- for something I will wear for about 4 hours and probably never wear again. So I’m investing 3-4 times the time and about 4 times as much money into this single-use dress that I usually do into ones I wear multiple times. I’m stupid like that, I guess. :) Formalwear, I dub thee Dame Antithesis of Common Sense.

  95. @ CassandraSays

    I’ve been wearing lolita fashion for awhile now, and I just wanted to mention that I definitely want to agree that the western community has quite a few people who are classist/racist/and sizest. However, I’ve found that many of the brands fit me better than western brands because their clothing usually has shirring panels that will fit a wider range of sizes.

    I’m an inbetweenie, so I can’t find many clothes in most US retailers that fit (straight stores are too small, and plus size stores are too big) , but I’ve purchased dresses from many japanese brands that fit me well (including a few dresses from moi-meme-moitie.) I think it is interesting because it seems like the average japanese lolita is smaller than the average american, yet their clothing is made in more accomidating sizes.

  96. PREACH! And lets NOT forget the lack of models of color out there, which pretty much lets people know who is supposed to be the target audience for such snobbery. It’s a kind of silent message that says “People of color? HA! You’re already worth less than white people. What do YOU need to wear nice clothes for????”

  97. @ Miss Rosie – It’s interesting how Lolita clothing is cut, for sure. It’s not a style I’d wear, but I tried on some dresses at Baby The Stars Shine Bright and they were super comfortable, and I’m a curvy girl with a rack of doom.

    It’s particularly interesting to me that Moi Meme Moite works for you since the clothes were designed/conceptualised/whatever by a man, and based on stuff he’d wear on stage. (I’m sure Mana doesn’t do any of the nuts and bolts design work, but it’s definately based on his vision.)

  98. “School uniforms are virtually indestructible. ”

    Shit, yes they are, and I tried everything in my powers to wreck mine, and the sod just wouldn’t die.

  99. The idea was, buy-to-last assumes you have the kind of capital to expend in the right amount at the right time.

    The Sam Vimes ‘Boots’ Theory of Economic Injustice!

    “School uniforms are virtually indestructible. ”

    Except girls’ skirts, for some reason. My best friend and I both managed to accidentally split ours up the the seam (she by high-kicking a cupboard, me I don’t remember) and then “forget” to sew them for a few weeks to beat uniform regulations. I also sewed some kind of rose pattern on mine and thought I was rock and roll. Why, high school me? Why?

    I had the same experience with barista clothes. My black polo shirts were grey and the bottoms of my trousers in rags by the time I’d been in the job six months.

  100. @Jamie: Believe it or not, you may find other uses for your prom dress. A lot of groups at my college had formals, which a lot of girls reused their high school prom/Homecoming dresses for. So it’s definitely worth holding on to.

    Wedding dresses, on the other hand, are pretty difficult to reuse!

  101. Jamie: Just don’t look at the armpits of my T when I lift my hand for that high-five.

    Uniform sabotage is a great and noble art, if you ask me. Destroy it just enough to do some damage, but not enough that Sra. Mary Ferocious sends you home to change. It is a highwire act, oh yes.

    Snarky’s, I’ve been thinking about your indestructable T, and am wondering if you think it’s a nine-dollar T and not well made but magically long lasting? Or is it a nine-dollar T that was well-made and has lasted and lasted and lasted? Just thinking about the relationship of cost-to quality.

    I love people crafting, at all skill levels and with a wide range of outcomes. I like that people make stuff and that they’ll try and make things outside their skill range (Aside: Kelly’s craftivism is a good thing in the world- make things! Yay!). The consequence of skill-pushing bravery (or lack of patience, or lack of time to be thorough and detailed) means there’s a lot of not-great-construction out there. I’d rather see hand-made jumpers with zippers put in badly than no hand made jumpers at all.

    But I know from my own misadventures that hand-made does not equal long-lasting and high-quality. Similarly, a nine-dollar T could be a sturdily-made garment with good quality construction. Which leads one to observe that whole built-in redundancy thing is a hell of a racket to get into.

  102. Snarky’s, I’ve been thinking about your indestructable T, and am wondering if you think it’s a nine-dollar T and not well made but magically long lasting? Or is it a nine-dollar T that was well-made and has lasted and lasted and lasted? Just thinking about the relationship of cost-to quality.

    I think it was reasonably well made, but I do recall for the first couple of years I mostly hand washed it because I liked the drape-y, Flashdance-y look it got when it dried. I’m sure that was part of it and the other is probably all that rayon/tricot.

  103. @Caitlin I also split my school skirt all the way up under similar circumstances. Being of the “Genetically Unable to Sew” division (I did take sewing class, but my teacher got so frustrated watching me try to do anything that she would end up doing it for me…) I used my initiative and got a load of different sized gold safety pins and held it together with about 25 of those going up the outside of the skirt. I think I got away with that for about a week and then got dragged up to the front of the class by a scandalised teacher…

  104. @ School uniforms, if only the shops that sell them made more stylish clothing, because they really are virtually indestructible. I kept my school’s sports uniform for, um, recreational purposes, and the skirt is still in perfect condition. It was purchased when I was 12, and I am now 36. The only maintenance it’s needed in that time is having the button on the inner waistband replaced (with the spare that helpfully came with the skirt). At this point I’m sort of wondering if kevlar was involved in it’s construction.

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