So, I’m calling it. THE INCLUSIVE FASHION REVOLUTION IS COMING. It’s a goddamn miracle, and thanks to designers that get it, my fashion story is murdering right now. *hair flip*
Ready for a secret? Chubby people love fashion! But fashion has not always loved chubby people.
Amanda Needham, the costume designer on Shrill (run, don’t walk to HULU and watch all of it please. I’ll wait….back? You’re welcome. Moving on!), described plus size fashion choices as “an actual desert.” She’s not wrong. But it’s been worse…
As a youth I fantasized about falling asleep and waking up thin. If ONLY my body was different, so many things would be better! I marveled at my 6th-grade classmates with their string bean bodies. (I’m sure they had their self-image issues too, no one escapes.) I haggled with the invisible forces controlling the universe: let me be trim, just for a day.
And, double trouble, I came of age in the 90s. Oh god, do you remember the 90s? And what was the fashion trend of the 90s? Who was the face of that trend? It was Kate Moss, and it was heroine chic/waif. If you were not a human clothing hanger, your body had no place in fashion. And thoughtful, stylish clothes just weren’t for you. BANISH YOURSELF!
It went like this:
Me: “Could I have some fun clothes? Or maybe see my body somewhere in your fashion layouts?”
Clothing Brand: “Here is your muumuu, please go away.”
Me: “Really? This is the best you got? Couldn’t I try on something less, um, shapeless?”
Clothing Brand: “I said GOOD DAY.”
In general, my body type is either ignored (all of high fashion), stereotyped (fat funny girl!), reviled (Karl Lagerfeld), and generally portrayed as a character flaw to be overcome (everything else.) Case in point, I started watching This is Us, and was immediately disappointed when the singular character development point for the fat girl was her trying not to eat cake. EFFFFFFFF YOUUUUUUUUU.
No, NONE OF THAT IS OFFENSIVE. (Not to mention, small minded.) None of that if challenging to protect yourself against internalization. Ugh. Writers of Hollywood, just show yourselves out. I’m over you. (UNLESS YOU WERE INVOLVED WITH HULU’s SHRILL! In that case, I would like to buy you a latte, and forever worship the ground you tread.)
More specific to fashion, designers have made excuses for years about why they won’t design fashion for anyone larger than a size 12, let alone a size 16, or 18, or 20.
High fashion (Chanel, et al) has made a choice. A clear choice. Large bodies aren’t what high fashion is, and that opinion sets the standard for all other designers. (PS – Most of the fashion on Shrill had to be made from scratch because the CLOTHES SIMPLY DID NOT EXIST. YUP.)
Why does it matter? Who cares what a fan-waving creative director says? Because if I learned anything from the fashion documentary, ‘The Devil Wears Prada,’ it’s that fashion standards are set in haute couture and trickle down to the rest of us.
Let’s break these down real quick:
Excuse #1 – Anyone a size 16+ doesn’t care about fashion
Narrative: You just want to cover your undesirable body with something, anything! And probably sweatpants are your favorites. You definitely do not care about the detail, fit and finish of what you wear.
Reality: I LOVE CLOTHES. Holy shit, I remember planning my outfits in grade school. In third grade (and I am not making this up) I called my mom to bring me a different outfit halfway through the day. (I went to school in pants and as the day warmed up, it became clear to me that the baby blue dress with the ruffle front SHOULD be my outfit that day). I still don’t understand how school let me make that call, and why my mom compiled (I might have *accidentally* rolled in some muddy grass), but I got the dress.
I care DEEPLY about the detail, fit and finish of my clothes. As plus sized person the details matter A LOT. A well-cut shirt can make me look and feel like Xena Warrior Princess, whereas a thoughtless piece of fast fashion can make me look and feel like a potato.
Excuse #2 – Plus sized people don’t spend money on clothes.
Narrative: We all want to be a size 8, and if you are a size 16+, you are going to buy the “good enough” clothes until you trim down and become a size 8 and buy the clothes you actually want, obviously.
Reality: Barf. No. My size is not a “before.” It’s not. It’s the size I am, and I like it.
Depending on the brand, I am a size 14-20. I shop on the very end of straight sized brands, GAP, ANN TAYLOR J.Crew, or on the very start of inclusive size brands, of which there are now MANY and I have listed my favs below.
It wasn’t always like this. When I was an adolescent there were TWO stores for me. LANE BRYANT for was one. (Guess where else I shopped? DRESS BARN. Just let that sink in. Someone suggested, and a group of people agreed to, naming a clothing store DRESS EFFING BARN. Terrible store-namers, show yourself out. I’m over you.)
LANE BRYANT and DRESS BARN provide exactly what you would expect them to provide, “ugh, fine” level of fashion. It’s depressing. The clothes fit, kind of, but are so mediocre, there no “HELL YES” moment. There’s no shot of inspiration that one well-made item can provide. The only actual thing those clothes do is make you NOT NAKED.
Shopping at straight-sized brands is annoying. At GAP I must dig to the bottom of every pile, yank forward all the other sizes on the peg hoping to see a 16 or XL lurking in the back. I’m sure there is some nonsense merchandising reason as to why the larger sizes go in the back, but goddamn, it feels like subtext, and it’s lame.
I pile clothes into the dressing room at the Ann Taylor store, hoping *something* will fit. Waiting for that moment, just as I have the largest pant in the store stuck at mid-thigh when though the dressing room door I hear:
“Everything going ok? Can I get you another size?”
“No. Thank you, Susan.”
I have spent my life waiting for my body to be good enough for designers to dress (side note: Christian Siriano is a one man revolution in high fashion rn.), waiting for my money to be good enough for them to take. I’ve cried in dressing rooms, bought A LOT of “ugh, fine” clothes and generally relied on accessories to express myself. Hermes got my money (a scarf always fits!), bracelets that belied my tax bracket, and Chanel eyeglasses (still, eff you, Karl Largerfeld.)
But the internet in general and Insta specifically have allowed me to find my clothing tribe. CLOTHES THAT HAVE BEEN MADE JUST FOR ME. Designers that GET IT. You see, you cannot take a size 8 garment and size it up to an 18 without fit adjustments. IT DOESN’T WORK, it becomes shapeless and tight at the same time, like a sausage in a half blown-out casing. NOT HOT.
Here are the brands I believe in, these are brands I’ve been shopping for a while and they don’t disappoint. (None of these are sponsored links, just recommendations on clothes I love.)
To be clear, this is a good start. There is more work to be done. For example, Universal Standard is the only brand that uses a size 40 model to model their size 40 jeans. I’m not holding my breath on J.Crew hiring a plus size model…however, I’m available, JUST SAYING.
So – this is my basic kit, layering makes these pieces Spring ish and Fall-ish and Summer-ish and I threw in a few sweaters, so we have Winter covered as well. You’re welcome.
Jeans x 2 – Universal Standard – 1 distressed, 1 black
Tshirts x 1 – Universal Standard
Dress x 1 – Universal Standard
Pants x 2 – And Comfort, and Elizabeth Suzann
Button ups x 6 – Old Navy, and L.L. Bean
Tops x 2 – Hackwith Design, and J.Crew
Cashmere x 2 – J.Crew
Knit x 1 – J.Crew
Universal Standard: my go-to for good-quality basics. Their sizing takes a minute to get used to, I’m 14 in jeans, Small in tops, Medium dress.
ALSO – offer size exchanges within a year of purchase. If your size changes, just exchange the clothes. I’m not making this up, it’s no BS because I’ve tried it. It’s called Fit Liberty.
Pants that are wide, short
On purpose, culottes, culottes
Surprise! Not a skirt.
Hackwith Design*: Dolman Sleeve top in white, $90. Here’s another wild revelation – plus size people like to play with the proportions of their clothes. This shirt is perfectly boxy and structured and cropped. It’s sooooo fun to wear. Not appropriate for work, but my date night fav.
J.Crew: Point Sur drapey popover in ivory, $70. If you are not into the crop, this is a great alternative. I’m an XL. J.Crew does sneaky (booo) size – on their .com – many styles (but not everything) go up to 3x.
J.Crew: Cashmere sweaters, camel and gray, $98. Classics. Add the Open-front sweater blazer, $138 if you are into knits. Throw this over any dress, for instant fancy lady lewks. I wear an XL in cas’, and L in the blazer.
Old Navy – Chambray and light wash denim shirts, $30. I wear an XXL. These have held up incredibly well for me and are mom-duty approved. I’ve removed a lot of stains from these, and they are affordable so that your heart wont’ stop when sticky hands come your way. A chambray shirt, Zelma Rose ESTERO statement necklace and black pant is my uniform rn.
L.L. Bean – button downs! All the button downs! Button downs have become my go-to post bb’s. Wrinkle free pin stripe. $55, and linen tunics in chambray and pink stripe. The linen are cut for the French tuck or out, pin stripe is a full tuck. I wear a Women’s 1X. These shirts are crisp and well structured. Throw it on *BOOM* you are put together.
Elizabeth Suzann* – Clyde Work Pants, linen, $255. The Clydes are Elizabeth Suzann’s cult classic. I will wear these pants for the rest of my life. They are UNREAL, and fit beautifully for my heavy-ish hip and thigh. Their high-waist is perf with the Hackwith crop or with the LL Bean linen tunic. Also, linen is not just for the summer! Linen can be worn in the fall and winter, just pair with a cashmere sweater, or turtleneck.
*These are 100% slow fashion brands. If you are new to the idea, that means these are hand made with ethically sourced materials and meant to last forever. The price is meant to make you pause and think, “255 DOLLARS for ONE PAIR OF PANTS?? I could buy an entire wardrobe from Old Navy or J.Crew on a sale. YOU ARE CRAY.”
Firstly, that’s the point. These are the clothes you think long and hard about before buying. You are invested. Secondly, the prices of these clothes reflect the true cost of making clothing without comprising someone’s humanity (see Netflix’s True Cost for more.) And finally, I don’t want only want to wear slow fashion (no judgement, my kids wear a bunch of H&M, I wear Old Navy.) For me, the down side of slow fashion it that the clothes are of one type of silhouette – flowy and concentrate on one type of fabric – linen. Basically you look like my high school art teacher if it’s all you wear. (WHICH IS A LEWK!) I like to mix quality mass market and slow fashion.
I hope my daughters grow-up to love dressing as much as I do and take their empowerment from the universe regardless of what designers say is the ‘right’ body. I admit I nearly lost my mind with happiness when, Veda said to me: “I love wearing beautiful clothes.”
Me too, my child, me too.