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I could give two shits about fashion, but I will say this for it: fashion is easy.* You buy a magazine, you watch a television program, you read a website, you keep your eyes open when walking past shops with window displays, you hang out in the common areas of any accredited undergraduate institution, and ta da! You now know what is in fashion. You may not like it and you may not have the knack for making it look effortless and you may not be able to find it in your damn size, but at least you know that skinny jeans and high heels that lace up and kind of look like boots but are also open-toed and over-sized watches are on trend.**
But what about style? Not what the fashion industry is excited about this season, but what I am excited about every day? For some people, those two things are the same, but alas, not so for me. The problem is that after, shit, nearly a lifetime of having to subjugate my own personal style instincts in the face of a dearth of off-the-rack, at-least-semi-well-fitted, affordable clothing, I had no idea what my actual style preferences were. In the same way that in a patriarchy, women are strongly encouraged to ignore their own instincts regarding hunger and eating, in a capitalist society, everybody is encouraged to ignore his or her own personal taste and preferences regarding consumer goods, because capitalism feeds on the constant dissatisfaction of the consumer base the way Pennywise the clown fed on little kids’ fear. If the consumers stop chasing the brass ring of the Next Great Thing, capitalism stops working (or at least starts winding down (presumably; it’s hard to say what those in power will do to keep the status quo chugging along)), so consumers shouldn’t worry about what they actually like, because if they buy it and hate it, they can just buy something else!
So my first step was to figure out what I even liked, style-wise. I could have followed Plumcake’s reasonable directive to make an inspiration board, but I have this thing where when I get an idea and I know it’s good, I’m all, “FULL STEAM AHEAD” and “DAMN THE TORPEDOES” and many other naval metaphors and creating an inspiration board was going to take FOR-EV-ER and GOD I just wanted to do this WARDROBE THING, OKAY? So instead I started by thinking about stuff that I like, the kind of stuff where when I see an item that is representitive of said stuff, I say, “Ooo!” and run directly toward the representative item, leaving my companions standing around, brows furrowed in puzzlement. For me, this list includes (but is not limited to):
The Arts and Crafts Movement
Jane Austen Novels
The English Renaissance
Norma Desmond’s bedroom in Sunset Boulevard
While there are a few outliers, this is a sufficiently cohesive list from which I can tease out a general aesthetic trend: bookish, proper, and correct yet unrestrained and unpretentious, and a little witchy with a crypto-goth streak a mile wide. The cool thing for me was realizing how right freaking on this general aesthetic trend actually was. I looked around and saw this aesthetic on my bookshelf, in my DVD collection, on my iPod, around my workspace, and to a lesser extent in my home decor (I do live with another person whose preferred aesthetic is best summed up by the concrete and stainless steel modular home that this dude in Japan built that was featured on the TV show Small Space, Big Style a couple of years ago, in which you can slide big, blank, dully reflective walls around to hide your kitchen, bathroom, living and bedrooms, and which, in its native state, looks like a big, empty concrete and metal box, the mere thought of which makes my chest tight). The one place this aesthetic does not appear? My closet.
Unfortunately, another place in which this aesthetic is absent is on the racks and webpages of most plus-size retailers, unless Victorian Dress Reform included a hidden period of enthusiasm about polyester and plastic bedazzling. And so, now familiar with my personal style aesthetic, I bought this dress in every color and spent $5,000 at Holy Clothing and called it a day.
Just kidding! For me, there is a lot more to creating a capsule wardrobe than just selecting clothes that satisfy a particular aesthetic paradigm. I also have to consider the logistics of why I need to wear clothes. There are obvious environmental considerations: I live in Chicago, which while sometimes as hot and humid as a hobo’s armpit, is mostly temperate to colder than batshit on a witch’s tit. Then there are professional considerations: I am a legal professional and while my current job does not require a particularly high standard of dress, I am a believer of dressing for the job I want, and I want a job where people won’t ask me if I am going to be on TV or something because I happen to be wearing a tailored black dress and pearls. And finally there are general, practical considerations of personal preference: a strong preference for natural fibers and dresses more so than pants, a unabashed love of cardigans, a white-hot hatred of constricting clothing, the need for durable and easy-care garments, and a tragic lack of closet space.
The bigger challenge for me was taking this aesthetic, and all these logistical considerations, and turning them into a style. I actively and intently thought about this quite a bit. Eventually I settled on the following characteristics: evolved from an Anglo-Western tradition; was fairly modest without being timorous; relied on smart tailoring and a wee smidge of stretch to achieve a fit that emphasized simple lines yet was comfortable and non-restrictive; had a decidedly yet subtly old-fashioned vibe; was minimally embellished and then Morris over Mondriaan; and constructed, whenever possible, of natural fiber fabrics. Think an episode of Project Runway as hosted by Lady Dedlock and Aubrey Beardsley, with special guest judge Queen Elizabeth I, in which the designers have to create a plus-size look appropriate for presenting oral arguments before the US Supreme Court, and Stevie Nicks wins.
And thus was born My Personal Style. The next step is to apply this nascent personal style to my fantasy capsule wardrobe.
*Well, in some respects. In other respects, such as the respect of actually finding those on trend items in your actual size, it’s fucking hard as hell as Gabi and many other excellent fatshion bloggers can tell you.
**Actual trendiness of the listed items not guaranteed.
About two months ago, a thought exploded to the forefront of my little brain with all the ferocity of a supernova: I could give two shits about fashion.
And it’s true. I could really, seriously give two shits about fashion. I don’t care about what’s “on trend.” Sometimes trends and my own personal taste will intertwine, but 90% of the time as I pass store windows or read fashion blogs, I wind up just shaking my head in puzzlement or dismay.
Now, please do not mistake me. By “fashion,” I absolutely do not mean “style.” Style is extremely important to me. Style is what makes me feel confident enough to push my way onto a crowded train. Style is what helps me stand up to misogynistic jagoffs in a professional setting. Style is what supports me when I am feeling a little deflated in the ego department but still really want or need to appear in public.
Style, however, is not fashion. Which isn’t to say that fashionable people lack style. I merely realized, in a moment of cerebral detonation, just that one need not be in style to have style.
Though simple, this realization was startling.
I have been struggling valiantly to develop a wardrobe of clothes that suit my style and my personal distribution of fat for at least the past year. And friends, I have been failing spectacularly. Sure, I have (and wear, fear not) clothes, but clothes, I would posit, are no more synonymous with style than fashion is. Getting dressed is just something I do because the alternative is hypothermia or jail or both. Getting dressed for me is a routine, a desultory start to my day. And you know, I totally deserve better.
Over on Shapely Prose in the comments to a post that I will never be able to identify at this point, A Sarah mentioned that she was looking for a tailor to help her construct a capsule wardrobe. What is a capsule wardrobe, you ask? Let me provide this excellent definition from Shop Talk, a blog I just found by Googling “capsule wardrobe” and that also happens to sport the eerily relevant tag line “Fashions fade, style is eternal”:
It is what’s left when you downsize your closet to the bare essentials. It is the actual backbone of your wardrobe and as such should work with everything. For that very reason it must be based on timeless, best-quality items (think cotton, cashmere, silk) with the most flattering cuts. Think of it as a style investment as these pieces will transcend fashion trends, year in year out. Finally your Capsule Wardrobe will be built around key pieces in neutral colours that suit your natural colouring.
I don’t give a shit about fashion, I thought. A capsule wardrobe, I pondered. Clothes that excite me, that fit, that reflect my personal aesthetic, that make me want to get out of bed and go out there and knock ’em dead, I enthused. Could I, fat woman looking down the barrel of 40, have and embody… style?
Yes, I thought, I absolutely can.
And so, what I have been calling in my head My Own Personal Wardrobe Project was born.
Imagine, if you will, a moderately curvy fat woman of average inseam length sitting at her desk, pausing in her professional tasks to peer out the window and idly muse, “I wonder if Lane Bryant has the right fit straight leg jeans in stores yet?” Then imagine this fat woman calling her local LB and discovering that YES, Right Fit straight leg jeans ARE in stores, or at least average-length, Right Fit Reds are in one particular store, and then imagine this woman squealing in a fairly uncharacteristic way and waving her arms around like a Muppet and then grabbing her pursing and running out the office door, barely slowing down to tell her coworkers, “I’mgoingoutotlunchnowandmaybesomeshoppingI’llbebackbye!!!” and you will have imagined me at about 12:30 this afternoon.
I’ve been waiting for this moment since Colleen first announced the immanent arrival of LBRFSL jeans. I’m currently unhappy with my jeans array (I have three pairs, each of which is wrong in some small yet fundamental way) and straight leg jeans offer a very appealing middle path between boot cuts and skinny jeans. Although I could have ordered the jeans on-line, I suffer from extreme size-chart cynicism and decided to grit my teeth wait until I could try on the range of sizes necessary to figure out which pair worked for me.
That turned out to be a pretty wise move. LB’s Right Fit size calculator recommended Red 6. I normally wear an 18/20 (I am, in fact, wearing a pair of size 20 non-Right Fit LB pants right now, and they are a little big) so 6 seemed large to me. Having now tried on LBRFSL jeans from a 3 to a 6, I can confidently say that the size calculator is smoking a special kind of size-distorting crack. I ended up buying the jeans in a size 5, which someone younger and trendier than I am might feel were too big on me, but the 4, while comfortable, just fit too… sleek. Yes, these are probably going to loosen up with some wear, but I own a belt and I’m not afraid to wear it, plus I was edging a little close to camel toe territory with the 4s.
I basically agree with everything Colleen had to say about the waist band and the detailing and the cuff and the fit. I’m particularly pleased with the waist band, and with the rise. These are, thank Maude, NOT low rise, which I am like so way over from a basic comfort standpoint, I can’t even tell you. I didn’t notice any stinky dye smell, but I never noticed such a smell before, either, so I’m probably not the one to ask about that.
ETA: I just smelled the jeans after showing them to my coworker, and they do smell like something, but whatever it is, I think it smells kind of good. Chalk it up to that brief but unfortunately inhalant phase I went through in the mid-90s.
I did end up buying two pairs – one blue, and one black. The store was offering a buy one, get one half off deal, which made the price a little more palatable (I do disagree a little with Colleen that $54 is a fair price for these jeans because I just don’t think the denim is all that great, and also because I’m a cheapass Yankee). I had always intended to purchase two pairs (pro tip: if you do not share a dwelling space with your own washer and dryer, having two pairs of working jeans can save you some drama and stress and public shame) but was skeptical about black jeans generally, and find “whiskering” to be vulgar in a way I have trouble really articulating. Once I tried on the black pair, though, I was pleasantly surprised at both the fit and the look of the jeans.
So, in summary: don’t trust the size calculator, comfortable, attractive, not vulgar, potentially on sale, and just in time for casual Friday.
This must have been the three-day weekend for symbolically moving on.
I was about a size ten when I got married four years ago. My wedding dress, which was just a white cotton day dress that I bought on super sale at Marshall Field’s, might have even been a size eight. Whatever size it was, it doesn’t fit now and hasn’t fit since my first anniversary.
I remember the day not just because it was my first ever wedding anniversary, but also because, although I was unaware of it at the time, it was the day I took my first shaky step towards fat acceptance. And by “first shaky step,” what I really mean is that my first wedding anniversary was the day my carefully constructed world of “permanent lifestyle changes” and atypical results collapsed down around me in a spectacular heap.
Like I said, my wedding dress was a white cotton day dress. I was in law school at the time, and unsurprisingly, had very few occasions for which a white cotton day dress was a suitable garment. About six months into marital bliss, I decided that I would wear my wedding dress when my husband and I went out to dinner to celebrate our first anniversary. It’s a cute idea, and it would have been a lovely and appropriate sartorial choice, except of course when our first anniversary rolled around, the dress was way too small.
I’m sure I’ve written about this before on this blog, but in the interest of not making anybody dig through archives, let me offer a bit of back story: Like most people, I yo-yo dieted to varying degrees of success starting at about age eight, up through and including my penultimate diet, a stint on Weight Watchers beginning in 2002, which resulted in my losing about 80 pounds (still never made my goal weight, though). I then went to law school, and realized that the level of intellectual, physical, and mental stamina required to perform at an even remotely acceptable academic level necessitated that I eat more than 1000 calories a day. I also resented using my precious free time counting stupid points, and let’s face it. Sometimes when I was on my fifth straight hour in the library, denying myself just about everything that I loved the only thing keeping me together emotionally was cookies. So, while on some level, I recognized that staying on Weight Watchers and academic success at law school were completely incompatible, on another, deeply denial-laden level, I was sure that, having lose eighty pounds, there was no way I would gain them back. I had made a Lifestyle Change! The Fates of Weights wouldn’t be so cruel as to render all of my hard work and self-deprivation for naught. Surely, the fact that I was suspending my Weight Watchers account for law school, and not for a love of cheese cake or abject laziness or some other fundamental moral failing, meant that I would find myself on the “right” side of that ninety-five percent when everything was said and done.
Yeah, sorry, no. My first anniversary fell the summer after my second year of law school, and that wedding dress was too small by at least two sizes, and let me tell you. I completely lost my shit. Here is my beloved husband, dressed up and ready to go out to dinner at an expensive restaurant, and here I am, sitting on the couch in a t-shirt sobbing my face off because I had failed to do what nearly every other human being who manages to lose weight by simply eating less and exercising more had failed to do. I didn’t see it like that at the time, of course. All I saw was failure. Sure, I had great grades in law school and had secured a fantastic summer clerkship and had, concurrently, just successfully completed one year of marriage to the love of my life but I was also FAT, and thus a FAILURE, and thus WORTHLESS, and thus the money it would cost to feed me at a fancy restaurant, not to mention the cost for labor, materials, shipping, etc., that a new dress in my dreadful new size, would be utterly wasted on me. Oh pathos, up yours!
Eventually, I got it together and donned a skirt and shirt that I derided at the time as “fat clothes” (which I have long ago jettisoned as too small) and actually enjoyed dinner. Not long after, I got a prescription for anti-depressants and then some therapy and then read Rethinking Thin by Gina Kolata and then got turned on to Shapely Prose by a friend who will always hold a special place in my heart for that very reason, and while I still have my moments (had one on Friday that I might write about related to the realization, shocking to absolutely no one but me, that I have back fat) I’m doing okay.
But I still hung on to my wedding dress. At first, I had an idea that I would return to Weight Watchers with that hoary goal of Fitting Back into My Wedding Dress. When that didn’t work out, I decided I should keep the dress because it was my wedding dress and that seemed like something I should keep, even though it was far from the kind of heirloom quality, bespoke garment that I would wish to force, I mean, pass on to my hypothetical children. Then I kind of forgot about it until Saturday when my husband and I tackled the long-delayed but very necessary task of cleaning out the larger of the two closets in our apartment and there it was.
I took the dress, entombed in four-year-old dry cleaner’s plastic, from the back of the closet and regarded it at arm’s length for a minute before stuffing it in a hideously floral and broken wheeled suitcase that my mother pawned off on us last Christmas with the probably undeserved benediction, “Stupid dress, you made me have a nervous breakdown on my first wedding anniversary!”
And just like that, it was gone.
I should probably get my wedding ring resized (again), too, but I can still get it off with the aid of some lubricant (oh hush) so I think I’ll wait until October and see if summer is making me as puffy as I suspect that it is. And congratulations and high-five to Spoonforkfuls.
My clothes are wearing out. They are pilled, stretched, faded, misshapen. They have lost buttons. Hems are fallen and seams are torn. My t-shirts inexplicably developed pin-holes in weird places. My pants completely explicably developed tears in the inner-thighs. I have babied my clothes, repaired them, dyed them, and patched them but I can only delay the inevitable disintegration for so long.
In other words, it’s time to shop. And that’s where the frustration starts, because Spring 2009 Trends? I am just not that into you. I wasn’t that into your older sibling, Spring 2008 Trends, either. The year before that? That was my Magical Year of Shopping While Fat. Unfortunately, because I’m fat, and because plus-size, high-quality, timeless pieces designed to last more than one season are the Unicorns of the Fashion World, my clothes are wearing slam out, as some of my country relatives would say.
Dear dingy, pilling Target dress, hang in with me for one more year and then I will give you the royal send off you deserve for three years of loyal service, which is two and a half more years than you were created to offer.
Of course, some retailers do make clothes that I love. I have a life-long, tragically unrequited love affair with Anthropologie. Back when I could wear their clothes, I couldn’t afford them. And now that I can afford them? They have decided that I am Too Fat. And don’t even get me started on Ann Taylor, which used to be my never-fail go-to for professional clothes. They are selling clothes that I love, but they are not selling clothes that I can wear. The retailers that are selling clothes in my size are stuck in this whirlpool of Boho-animal print-polyester-bedazzled-South Beach colored horribleness that is to my personal aesthetic what right-wing evangelism is to my political leanings.
And so Twistie’s post here spoke to me, right to my fat, discontented heart. Twistie calls us all to action:
People, it’s time for a revolution. Not a dreary one nor a bloody one. We need a revolution of fabulousness. I want each and every one of you to stand up and do something about this. We are not a tiny minority. We are a mighty community and we are not being served.
I want every person reading this blog – fat or thin, tall or short, male or female, every color of the rainbow and all stops in between – to refuse to be invisible. Write to a retailer or manufacturer and say that you want clothes in your size. Wear something down the street that makes people stop and stare in wonder. Laugh in the face of someone who tries to shame you into ’slimming’ colors or ‘weight appropriate’ cuts.
We. Deserve. Nice. Clothes.
And she’s totally right. And so I wrote to two retailers – Anthropologie and Ann Taylor, natch – and not only told them that I want clothes in my size, I provided them with a sample order of what I would purchase, today, as I sit here on my lunch hour, from each of them. And friends, it’s a significant amount of money. An amount of money that I am extremely privileged to have at my disposal were those stores far-thinking enough to offer anything in a women’s size 20. An amount of money that instead will stay comfortably tucked away in my checking account, patiently awaiting the clothing trends that plus-size retailers are willing to embrace to come back around to my way of thinking.
After the cut, I’ll provide you with the text of the letter I sent to the corporate office of Anthropologie so you can use it as a template for the letter you write to the retailer of your choice.
I read somewhere (maybe Fatshionista, or Fatshionista, I can’t remember – ETA: It was in the comments of this great post by my pal the Pretty Pear) that a number of mail-order purveyors of women’s plus size clothing, such as The Catalogs, insist on using straight-size models, despite the fact that doing so often makes their clothes look ridiculous, out of some misinformed notion that fat women won’t buy clothes that other fat women are wearing. And, you know what? Fine. Whatever. Go ahead, pin those 12Ws to hell and back on a size 6 model. These retailers are usually so fashion tone deaf anyway that getting them to jump on the Fat Pride bandwagon by using fat women to model their plus-sized clothes is akin to teaching a puppy to drive a car before you even train it to stop peeing in the house.
So it’s not the fact that Chadwick’s is using a straight-sized model to display its plus-sized dresses that bothers me. It’s the fact that they are manipulating the photos of these straight-sized women to turn them into impossibly spindly, spaghetti-shaped, wire hangers, like so:
If either of those two models are naturally that shape and size, I will not only buy that dress, I will also eat it.
Employment Law Tip of the Day: Want to create a company policy that will ensure all your personnel decisions are fraught with racism, sexism, ablism, ageism, gender normativity, and size discrimination? Try rating your employee’s looks on a scale of zero to five, and put the ones who don’t conform to an “all-American, clean, wholesome, or the girl or boy next door” look in the back room folding clothes where they are unable to disgust customers and dilute your brand image with their nonconforming presentations.
Make sure that you claim, loudly and often, that you are working on diversity, by providing managers with a “look book” of appropriate faces that include Black, white, and Latino/as. You know, all the races! When somebody points out that you have no Asian faces in your look book or in your marketing campaigns, just point out that for some reason, Asians just don’t like A&F so hiring and marketing to that demographic just doesn’t make good business sense.
I love Project Runway. Does anybody else love Project Runway? The new season (and final one before the show jumps ship to Lifetime) starts this Wednesday, so let’s talk about Project Runway and how much we love it.
I’ve been reading through the bios on Bravo’s site (warning! The website features “round ups” of future episodes that may be considered spoilers for some folks (for an explanation, see here) but the bio section is pretty spoiler free) and Korto is my clear early favorite:
She is inspired by rich fabrics and textures and says her designs are intended for real, full-figured women.
Heck yeah! She also appears to be the fattest designer ever on the show. And she has fantastic hair.
And if my eyes and memory do not deceive me, this is the first season that Bravo has featured two black women in the competition. Let us all say a little prayer to St. Saint Laurent that Bravo will avoid the reality TV race/sexism habit of editing Black women to appear bossy, bitchy, and mean, and then kick them off to great fanfare sometime in the first two episodes.
My early least favorite contestant has to be Suede because HE GOES BY SUEDE. And because Madonna is his biggest fashion influence. Ugh.
Okay, take it away.