Clothes doth proclaim the woman

7th grade? Wearing my dad's polo and a sad bra.
Every woman's best friend and style guru, Tim Gunn, wrote a scathing article of the fashion industry's size-ism and my inner fat girl (from age 8 onward) is cheering loudly.  Mr. Gunn says:

Have you shopped retail for size 14-plus clothing? Based on my experience shopping with plus-size women, it’s a horribly insulting and demoralizing experience. Half the items make the body look larger, with features like ruching, box pleats and shoulder pads. Pastels and large-scale prints and crazy pattern-mixing abound, all guaranteed to make you look infantile or like a float in a parade. Adding to this travesty is a major department-store chain that makes you walk under a marquee that reads “WOMAN.” What does that even imply? That a “woman” is anyone larger than a 12, and everyone else is a girl? It’s mind-boggling.

It was mortifying when I was a pre-teen to have to exit the Juniors's section and venture into the Woman's section to find clothing that would fit me (anywhere from a 14-18, and a solid 36C), but would be unable to find anything because it was too mature for me.  Same thing went with shoes.  I was a size 9.5/10 in the 4th grade.  I would quite often end shopping trips with more tears than clothing and a frustrated mother.

8th grade, Goth Janet Reno
The summer before 8th grade, my mother took me a plus-sized store at the local mall.  There we bought leggings and tunics in every size and color (mustard and burgandy were big that year).  Though they made me look like a 60-year-old lady, they at least fit and covered my body.  Eighth grade hadn't even started before my mom got sick and within a month she had died.  Then came the task of finding a dress to wear to her funeral.  My father might have been more stressed out by shopping than he was at planning the funeral.  We finally found a black jumper-like size 20 dress at some store in the next town over with this green shirt to wear under it.

Coupled with the deranged haircut that I got (nb: never get a drastic hair cut while you are in mourning --Aunt Christina should have stopped me from doing that), I think anyone looking at me would assume that I hated my body, didn't want to be fashionable, and didn't care about the clothing I threw on my body.  On the contrary, I was desperate to fit in and have clothing that fit.

 I didn't shop much after my mom died.  I think partly it was just awkward to ask dad to go shopping with me (he always suggested the prep school look of plaid skirts and oxfords). I also wasn't the kind of kid to just ask for money and to be dropped off so I could do it myself. Nor was I the kind of kid to ask the women in my family for help (it comes loaded with their opinions as well). I do remember going shopping one time for my brother and asking to purchase a pair of boy's skater jeans -- you know the kind where you could fit a village in the legs.  I wore them all through 10th grade. But outside of that I just wore my mom's old clothing (her rainbow collection of turtlenecks) and hand-me-downs from dad (his plaid shirts).

With Steve S.  Ah, what a crush I had on him.
Shopping for myself was always an ordeal.  My Sweet 16 dress was a disaster of epic proportions -- a long white dress (it was only one that fit my body that was in my price range) with a crush velvet top and a chiffon bottom, at an event where we were serving Italian food buffet style. It just begged to get sauce on it.  I had tried desperately to find an age-appropriate knee-length party dress.  But when you're a 16/18 in 1997, that's a tall order. Also note the terrible hairdo (Thanks, Aunt Kathie, for taking me to your hairdresser who ignored my "don't give me bangs" mandate).

I had to have my Sweet 16 early (the problem of having an August birthday is that no one is around to come), and without any semblance of a tan, I look like a bloated ghost looking to haunt all my friends and family.

My brother's friend's younger brother, Dan.
Pity date? Cause no one asked me.
Shopping was no better in 1999 and in order to circumvent the heartache of having to shop for a dress, my dad offered to have one made for me.  Why I thought a 15th-century Italian Renaissance dress was my best option, I'll never know.  But I will say that no one else had the same dress. Go me?

But somewhere in my delusion about style, I did find some peace in knowing that I wouldn't have to go to the store and find some hideous mother of the bride dress that was the only thing in my size, but still cut on the bias, with too many sequins in the wrong place, and no idea of how to make the wearer feel beautiful.

I'm actually wearing this dress today, the main difference is my pink hair.
It took a long time to know how to dress my body, and in what fabrics/cuts/styles, etc.  But it took even longer to give up feeling like the fat girl in a sack.  Sometimes that's really just looking at myself long enough until the self-criticism is replaced with a bit of self-adoration, and sometimes it's a bit of brass ovaries that don't give a fuck and knowing that I look and feel good.

But I will say this to Tim Gunn -- you're 100% right.  It's not just the clothing that's the issue for plus-sized women -- it's the whole shopping experience. I can go into a store and be ignored or directly insulted, but the worst of it all is when I go into a store and I'm not even represented.  And this is what I would want to say to designers and companies -- if your excuse is that your fashion wouldn't look good on my body, that's the fault of your design, not my body.  Cause I can make a Snuggie look sexy as hell.  If you can't step up to the plate, you lose my respect, my money, and my support.

Yes, that's a Snuggie.

(Oh and Tim -- if and when I ever get married, I'm totally going to ask you to help me find a dress.)


I know what you mean! I've struggled with my weight for years, and it's hard for me to find clothes that fit me. I often buy loose clothes, because although there are some outfits that fit me, I often feel worse about myself once I see what I look like in them.


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<3 Robby