Let’s talk about trying things on.
Yes, with plus size shopping, it’s kind of a bear. A lot of places only do mail order, or (like Old Navy) they only do mail order for you, you moocow. If every place were like Zappos, it’d be one thing, but they’re not. Shipping things around is expensive, and you never get that shipping money back. Besides, if you have a pretty good idea what looks good on you, why would you bother going outside your comfort zone?
Well, obviously if shipping costs are prohibitive for you, you shouldn’t risk it. But I’m finding that even at my advanced age, I can be completely surprised by what ends up working and what doesn’t. Case in point: I needed a fancy dress for a work function. I’ve always liked Kiyonna’s take on the LBD, but figured it would never work on me. See, I’ve got some rules — not Cosmo-style “never wear horizontal stripes” type rules (I totally do), but personal guidelines that I’ve developed over many years of wearing clothes. A few years ago I swore off V-necks in favor of scoops, on the theory that V-necks make me look like Agatha Trunchbull. The empire waist, I reasoned, is distracting in combination with my stick-out belly, in a way that’s likely to engender awkward questions. And I figured that a straight skirt would make it impossible for people to tear their eyes away from the lumpiness of my hips. I don’t need clothes to distract from my fat or the way my body is shaped; I don’t go in for that “camouflage,” “draw attention away,” “hide figure flaws” bullshit. But my cardinal rule is this: I want people to say either “what a vivacious girl” or “what a pretty outfit.” If what they’re saying is “what lumpy hips,” I’ve failed. I don’t need to hide my hips, but neither do I want them to be the star of the show. That’s my role.
Well, when it came to the Kiyonna dress, I turned out to be totally off the mark. (See photo — sorry about my Headless Fatty status, but right now I prefer to remain strictly pseudonymous, and the headlessness is me being paranoid.) Everything about this dress was wrong, at least as far as my preconceptions; it should have made me look like a distractingly broad-shouldered, big-bellied, lumpy person. Instead, I looked and felt like a freakin’ bombshell.
(Incidentally, those shoes are great, don’t you think? I love Mary Janes but the shtetl ankles look so much more graceful when the strap is lower on my foot. The black version is currently on sale at Nordstrom, in my size only. Do you think that’s a sign?)
Emboldened by this experience, I thought I’d try a dress from Igigi, with the typical Igigi shape. I’ve been in love with a number of their designs, but always held back because I assumed the empire waist would be terrible on me. Fresh off buying a Wrong In Every Way dress, though, I contacted Ozlem and offered to review the Brush Stroke Dress.
Now, let me say first that I basically love everything about this dress. The material is substantial (and it’s lined, too — it’s not at all see-through even though white), the pattern is just gorgeous, and I could see it being incredibly versatile. Plus it comes with a little shrug, which maxes out the versatility — I actually ran off and ordered a shrug from Torrid immediately after trying this on, because I suddenly realized it was a necessary wardrobe element. And as soon as I put the dress on I could imagine it looking great on any number of fatties of my acquaintance. The Rotund, who’s a bit more pear-shaped than I am, could ROCK it. Kate would need to have it shortened, but it would play up the Rack of Doom while still offering decent coverage. But boy, did it not work on me.
I suppose there’s a chance that I just needed a bigger size — it feels like it fits great (and, I would have thought, true to size), but on the website model it seems to have a much fuller skirt. But if you see me in it, you don’t say “that’s a girl I want to know” or “that’s a dress I want to buy.” We don’t make each other interesting. I look blocky and matronly, because of where the waist and hem hit on me. So the dress, in turn, stops looking edgy and chic and starts looking a bit matronly as well. Even the super shoes don’t save it.
But now I know. I know that sometimes I’m right about empire waists on me, and sometimes I’m dead wrong. I know I would have to have Igigi dresses shortened, even though I’m taller than Kate. And most importantly, I know about this dress. I loved this dress in theory; I tried it; it didn’t work; and now I’m not left guessing.
Because of course, it’s not all about rules. Fashion rules, even your personal ones that you made up all by yourself with no help from magazines, are wrong at least some of the time, and you can’t know that unless you try. Of course, if you want some rules, there are places online that will help you figure out what will work on you before you buy — Igigi itself has its shape calculator, though there are only four questions, they’re a bit subjective, and Igigi tends to recommend most pieces for most shapes. On the other end of the work-intensiveness spectrum, MyShape wants tons of data from you about your measurements and style, at which point it spits out a bunch of shape recommendations and suggested clothing items (it reminds me of OkCupid that way — the more questions you answer, the better your matches). Their stuff is expensive and only sometimes cute, but they’ve got a reasonable number of plus options (at least in my size; someone bigger should try it out and let us know), and they have smiling glowing plus-size and inbetweenie women featured on the site. But even MyShape, with its numerous questions and probably complex algorithm to determine your size and shape and what will work best on you, offers a list of items “that fit you, but may not be your shape or align with your preferences” — just in case you feel like shaking it up.
So if you love something, try it out if you can — even if it breaks your personal rules. If online shopping is too costly, remember that this applies when thrifting too. Go out of your comfort zone; there are some brilliant discoveries out there, even if there are also a lot of flops. And if you want to try the Igigi dress above, you can use the code WRAP for a 10% discount (which should cover the cost of shipping it back if you don’t like it!).
Now I’m off to order this skirt, which I’m in love with. I think A-lines are pretty good on me, historically. I know Cosmo would say a fat girl shouldn’t wear white skirts, lest they embiggen their asses (and that YM would say it guarantees that I get my period while at the mall with a total hottie, which I’m much more concerned about). I don’t know what either of those are going to mean for this particular skirt. But I’ll find out.