Because you can't have depths without surfaces.
Linda Grant, thinking about clothes, books and other matters.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Happy Chanukah and all the other festivals of light

Chanukah's first candle is lit tonight

Here are some already lit

The Thoughtful Dresser Poll - which nationality?

The Thoughtful Dresser poll asks which are the best dressed women in the world - American, British, French, Italian, Japanese or Russian (in alphabetical order and with apologies for those countries not included.) Vote on the right

Beautiful shirts in literature

Dave Hill quotes Daisy in The Great Gatsby on the appeal of a beautiful shirt

Recovering himself in a minute he opened for us two hulking patent cabinets which held his massed suits and dressing-gowns and ties, and his shirts, piled like bricks in stacks a dozen high.

Can you dress well at any size? Poll results

The Thoughtful Dresser poll this week asked the question whether it is possible to dress well at any size. The results - 67 per cent said yes, only 32 per cent said not at my mall - show that most of you believe that style does indeed come from within. However a simple push button poll of this kind does not do justice to the complexity of the question.

The first thing to say is that being catwalk size is little guarantee of good taste. You can have Kate Moss' body and still look a mess if you have no eye for colour. Still, if you are size 0 and wealthy you can have a stylist do it for you, and every department store these days will have an in-house service to help you shop.


The first problem anyone above the so-called normal size range will confront is finding something to buy in the first place. The UK size range found in most high street shops is 8-14 (US 4-10) though of course the actual size of clothes will vary from store to store with a Top Shop 12 being considerably smaller than a Jaeger 12 because they size from a much younger fitting model. For purposes of disclosure, I'm in the top end of that range. I couldn't get into a Top Shop 14 but I do fit a 14 from M&S and Jaeger. This means that theoretically I should be able to walk into any high street shop and buy what I want. But take yesterday, when I saw a dress I rather wanted to try in Zara. There were plenty on the rack but they were all small and medium; when I asked a salesgirl for a large, she said they had sold out. Because the larger sizes always do (thought it is the opposite situation at M&S, I've frequently been told.)
good legs

Now if you are outside that 'normal' range life will become much more difficult. M&S' regular range goes up to size 22 and its Plus range to size 28 , increasingly on-line companies are getting much better at carrying a wide range of sizes, but if you want a choice of clothes, you'd better live in the USA. Gap and Banana Republic, both brands that I rate for style, go up several sizes. Until it opens its doors at the old Dickens and Jones building on Regent Street in 2008, we in Britain have never had access to Banana Republic, and their online site does not ship internationally. We've had Gap for several years, but recently, having bought a pair of jeans in their Friendship Heights branch in Washington, I asked in the flagship Oxford Street store if they had another pair. I was told that the stock was somewhat different, and one of the differences being that they did not sell larger sizes in Europe. Ask any plus size expatriate about buying clothes in France where no-one appears ever to gain any weight, and you will be told to go west, young woman, to America.

As for clothes above say, size 22, there are fewer opportunities outside the US, fewer still at the higher end. Italian women will not stand for being badly dressed, and so it is Italy which has produced some of the better designer clothes in large seizes, such as Marina Rinaldi, one of MaxMara's labels. But it goes without saying that a larger woman will never be able to wear any of the major houses: no Chanel, no McQueen, no Dior, no Philip Lim, no Lanvin. Armani Collezioni goes up to UK 18, but I don't think its younger line, Emporio Armani does. Whenever I see Suzy Menkes, she seems to be wearing the expandable Issey Miyake Pleats Please or the now sadly defunct label Jean Muir.

That is not to say that larger woman do not look fabulous, or as the Manolo would say, superfantastic, of course they do, but it is my observation that larger women who look amazing generally have the characteristic of having bodies in proportion. It is far easier to look good if you are an hourglass than if you are a pear. Dressing really well is having clothes that fit you properly. In my case, a pear, (or as Trinny and Susannah now tell me, a skittle,) with a pronounced waist, big hips and narrow shoulders, I take a larger size in trousers than in tops, and dresses and jackets are often tight around the bum and loose on the shoulders and under the arms. Not a good look.
the right shoes

I have also noticed that larger women who are tall, and who carry the weight on their shoulders, chests and stomachs but who still have great legs, can look more elegant than the petite woman who carries it on her stomach, hips and thighs.

Nonetheless, having said all of this, it is the truth that if you can find something to buy, and if what you buy fits properly, it is the woman with the strong sense of inner style, with the iron self-confidence of a Beth Ditto, with the insistence that she will be seen, the woman who knows colour, who understands accessories, who has a sure feel for fabric and who will have no truck with the fascist nonsense that fashion is not for big girls, who will outshone the size 10 woman in an oatmeal fleece, beige drawstring trousers and Crocs.


My sister telephones to point out that one of the most heartening experiences is being at the gym and seeing a woman with a perfect, toned body and then watching the transformation in the changing room when she covers it up with boring, badly fitting clothes.

Thought for the day

Fashion is a craft, and an expression of a period of time, but it is not an art. Bill Blass