Some Thoughts on Plus Size Clothing
Lately, I’ve been exploring new brands, figuring out sizing, and figuring out what I like now that I’m a different shape than I have been in the past.
As a thinnish teenager, I loved showing my body. I remember clearly the day I discovered I could see my hip bone peek out over my denim waistline as I reclined on the gym floor during a CPR class. I loved scouting out offbeat clothing from thrift stores and clearance racks, pairing them with chunky jewellry and bright shoes. I petitioned my mother for a bellybutton piercing at 15, and had fun showing it off. I felt attractive, sexy, and desired, all the things I thought granted me power as a young woman.
Later, when I gained weight in college, I started to feel that avenue of expression and confidence closing off. Of course it wasn’t just the weight gain, but it was an easy proxy for my emotional turmoil and mental health issues. I retreated, metaphorically and physically, into oversized sweatshirts and my boyfriend’s pajama pants while refusing to leave the apartment more than was absolutely necessary to keep my head above water for school and work. Through college and the years that followed, my weight, and specifically the clothes I felt I was able to wear, continued to act as a barometer of my ability to engage fully in the world around me.
Part of this manifested as fierce loyalty to certain brands. In high school it was thrift stores and clearance racks. As a poor college student, I was happy shopping in stores like Forever 21, H&M, and occasionally Walmart, but I longed for the disposable income to upgrade my choices. In my first full time job out of college, I started spending my clothing budget elsewhere in the mall. One of my first working-world purchases was a nice pair of black leather pumps from Dillard’s, followed by some stylish jersey work shirts from Banana Republic. I lusted after Anthropologie’s pretty blouses and cheeky retro dresses.
Of course, I had a complex network of internal rules and projections. Certainly if I wore horizontal strips/too-big patterns/tucked in shirts/etc., people would look at me and wonder at my delusion. I didn’t want to be one of those women that tricked themselves into thinking they looked good when anyone could see they didn’t have the body for whatever it was they were wearing. In part because I felt so hemmed in by what my body did and did not allow me to wear, I began to identify more with the brands than with the clothing itself. Maybe I couldn’t find as much in thrift stores, but if someone complimented me on what I was wearing I could drop in “Oh this? It’s Anthropologie” and feel like that said something good about me. Typing that out feels silly, but it’s true.
One of the (many) continuing difficulties of recovery for me is navigating the world of clothes and fashion. As I mentioned in a previous post, as I’ve progressed to a point where I’m no longer starving myself or purging, I’ve gained a lot of weight. For most of my life I was in the women’s 10-14 range. Sometimes 16. Now I’m often a 20, although as any woman knows sizes vary so much brand-to-brand I’ve got a pretty big size range represented in my closet.
What this means in practical terms is that some of the brands I most strongly identified with are no longer options. Banana Republic’s XL shirts may fit, but their pants and dresses top out at 18 and emphatically don’t. Same for J.Crew’s “extended sizes,” which include only 18-20. Tops yes, pants, no. There are a few Anthropologie lines I can get away with an XL in, but almost nothing in the store fits. And this is getting long, so let’s not even talk about the next-to-nonexistent options for outdoor clothing. I felt the loss acutely
—after all, if I was a person who wore ____, who was I now that I was no longer able to wear that label? If affinity to a brand builds self-worth, what does it mean to be apart from it?
None of this is helped by the bafflingly complex world of plus size clothing. What is a 0X? Why does Torrid use its own numbering system? What’s the difference between an 18 and an 18W? For most of my adult life, I seriously thought the W stood for “Wide” like it does in shoes (it’s for “women’s sizing”). Add in the “camouflaging” details, weird “forgiving” shapes, and built in control panels (ugh ugh ugh) and I can hardly stand browsing through those sections of clothing. So, I’m still working on it. Exploring new brands, figuring out sizing, and figuring out what I like now that I’m a different shape than I have been in the past.
A few years ago, when explaining why I would no longer fly with their company, I wrote to United’s Board of Directors, “I have money, and I have options.” That line has become somewhat of a personal mantra when I’m frustrated by bad service or corporate practices. And it’s one I’m saying now to clothing makers that don’t carry my size, or who try to play off of people’s insecurities: I have money, and I have options. I will not be satisfied wearing drapey solids that “skim over” my “problem areas” and trying to distract with loud jewelry or a kicky bright handbag. I’m not stupid. No one is going to mistake me for a skinny girl, no matter how brilliantly accessorized. If I’m going to wear loud jewelry, I’m going to pair it with a big graphic print or at the very least with some chic skimmers and a t-shirt with a deep neckline. And yeah, I may splash out for that handbag, but it sure as hell won’t be because it’s the only thing you offer in my size. //7×35