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

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

I've got nothing to wear corner

The Guardian's women's page editor, Kira Cochrane, has been monitoring the process of her slow weightloss. She has not weighed herself but used her own clothes to work out if she's heading in the right direction. Now she's down to UK size 16, US 12, she has discovered that she can't find anything to buy in the shops:

The reality is that as you get bigger, your clothing options get much, much smaller. Once you reach a size 16 or more, buying brilliant - or even just marginally attractive - clothes on the high street is markedly more difficult. This is ridiculous. Just because you've gained a few pounds, it doesn't mean that you're any less likely to want clothes that are colourful, exciting, flattering - in fact, buying fantastic clothes that boost your confidence becomes even more of a necessity in the face of rampant anti-fat sentiment. What you're too often faced with is a mountain of frump and I'm convinced that someone could make an absolute killing by setting up a boutique selling clothes in size 16 and above by cutting-edge young designers. There are those who argue that fat people should be stigmatised, that by offering them nothing but ugly tents to wear, they're more likely to lose weight. Actually, the opposite is true. Deprived of easy access to threads that make you feel presentable, finding solace in the fridge is the obvious next step.


greying pixie said...

It's amazing how guilty designers are! I'm surprised no one has blamed the latest financial crisis in the US on them!

Now we are to be blamed for women being fat!

Linda Grant said...

Would you like to offer an insider's explanation for why women over size 16 are condemned not to participate in fashion?If the blame does not lie with designers, who does it lie with?

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised no one has blamed the latest financial crisis in the US on them!

--They're too busy blaming African

Toby Wollin said...

Linda - I'm not 'cutting any slack' for designers - I think that one of the issues behind this is that designers come from a self-selected group. These are the people who as youngsters are tearing pictures out of fashion mags, doing sketches on the backs of their school notebooks and so on. From the time they get into coursework for the field, they are surrounded with people from the fashion industry and models -- the whole standard is extremely tall, extremely thin and young. Their 'eye' is trained to look for and appreciate that shape and that youthful appearance: there are no lumps, bumps or curves to interrupt the line of their clothing. I think it is like any other cultural norm - their world is inhabited by the tall, thin and young - that is the standard of beauty for them. The rest of us might as well be Pygmies or Eskimos. Any female that is not tall, thin and young (or at least does not flog herself into the thin and youthful appearance niche)is not even on the radar for designers - they've been trained not to see us -- at worst, we are invisible or at the best they see us, but to them we are ugly and not worth consideration. It is stupid and limiting. It is even anti-entrepreneurial. But I think that is the issue.

Anastasia said...

It might not be the designers - it's the industry as a whole. And marketing and image. Everything is about the image of a label, starting with H&M and ending with Dior. The ideal image customer is young, thin, sexy or at least aspires to be young, thin, sexy. When you're fat and old, noone wants to sell you anything except a tent in greige.
Of course it's wrong, of course some of the blame goes to the media, but this way of marketing and fashion has been working for centuries.

Cal said...

This is totally my bete noire area. Waiting wiht interest to hear GP's response, though Toby Wollin's chime's with my experience.

If I could quibble with one thing - it's the calling of size 16 fat. My understanding is a size 14-16 is now the average size in the UK - therefore it's the middle of the market.

The high street actually isn't too bad - sizes frequently go up to 20+ (mainly at the cheaper end - which may be a reflection of demographic/age and size)

Boutiques are awful - even at size 14 I've had assistants rather snootily tell me there's nothing in the shop for me - and when I'm now prepared to spend money on quality and design as well. No wonder people run back to Primark!

Sadly the ethical fashion brands tend only to run 8,10,12 (those that do larger seem to run smaller if that makes sense!) - presumably because they can only afford a limited size range.

Interesting that she mentions setting up a boutique. I've recently been contemplating establishing up a label designed around a 14-16 (rather than a 10 as is more usual). Any backers out there?:-) Not an 'outsize' label or shop - just one that recognises the average woman and what they want/need.

(Apols for long comment - this totally presses my buttons)

lagatta à montréal said...

I was glad to read this - I'd been avoiding the "Reluctant Dieter" series as I can't bear confessional writing about what a given individual eats, drinks or doesn't consume. I can't imagine anything more boring to any other individual, other than sharing surgery stories.

greying pixie, I do think you misread the column. She isn't blaming designers for anyone's size, but for the lack of attractive garments over a given size. It is very odd indeed, considering that there would be money to be made.

Deja Pseu said...

I'm a size 8-10 US (12-14 UK). I recently tried on one designer piece just for grins in size L. It was too small. It's frustrating to find that when I now have a bit more to spend to upgrade my wardrobe, I can't find anything to fit. If you browse the racks of even the "moderate" designer sections of the department stores, nothing is available above a US size 6. It's an insane business model if you ask me.

mq, cb said...

It doesn't matter that 14-16 is the average size, because high street clothing is designed for Norma Standard - a woman who's between 5'3" and 5'8", a size 10-12 and who has a figure in perfect proportion with no unduly rounded, or skinny, bits. If you fit the description of Ms Standard, then I hope you realise exactly how jammy you are. However, manufacturers and retailers apparently don't care that the rest of us don't, even though we have lots of lovely money that we are willing to spend on nice things - their nice things, mark you. They're confident that we'll make do and buy Norma's stuff anyway because that is what most of us already do.

It's not a problem limited to plus-size women of course. The tall, the bosomy, the skinny, people who want dresses with sleeves - they all have have similar complaints. However, we are our own worst enemies because when they do try to acknowledge that women are not all a size 10 (see M&S' "I am Normal" campaign that featured a size 14-16 pear-shaped wobbly woman), we don't buy.

What I don't understand is why this happens when none of the female designers are like Norma. What do they wear? Surely they don't make do?

Frankly, it's not surprising that women obsess about bags and shoes. Whatever size you are, at least they usually fit.

Sorry, this subject pushes my buttons too.

Anonymous said...

"Would you like to offer an insider's explanation for why women over size 16 are condemned not to participate in fashion?"

--From the desk of the Devil's Advocate:

This blog acknowledges that fashion is superficial ("Because you can't have depths without surfaces."). So it's kind of odd to hear fashion criticized for being exactly what it is, superficial and arbitrary and unfair.

I wear a size considerably smaller than a 16, and there are lots of clothes that I can't wear: They don't fit (maybe if I were 14 and on a hunger strike), they don't suit me, or they're ridiculously expensive.

Participation in the fashion club is for a privileged few.

This is why I'm not into fashion, I'm into style. Give me my little uniform of three or four shapes I feel comfortable in. I don't really care about the rest and even my modest ambitions are difficult to realize.

Glad you found a solution for your dress.

Anonymous said...

I've been taking courses at a very well-known fashion design school in New York and the students are exactly as toby wollin described.

They consider themselves artists, for them to design for a larger, older woman would be the equivalent of a serious literary novelist writing bodice rippers or self-help books.

Is this really surprising? Ambitious people entering a field generally take their cues from the industry and they aspire to whatever is prestigious and sexy.

And why doesn't the fashion industry respond? As mq,cb said, because it doesn't have to.

America has had its share of "real women" ads, e.g., Dove. They're invariably insulting. I'm not surprised they haven't generated sales.

In addition, I think there's a distance between what women say they want and what they actually want (or at least they'd prefer to leave some room for fantasy).

I'm not saying that women should throw in the towel. One would like to think that continued discussion will yield some solutions.

polyvinyl said...

to paraphrase Tolstoy:

"All skinnies resemble one another, each fatty is big in its own way"

I think this is a large part of the problem - big bust or big bum or both, small shoulders, big chest, small bum, large thighs - the combinations are endless. Bigger people are not usually big all over - you can't just make the pattern bigger...

For example - I have very narrow shoulders but a very large bust, large waste but comparatively small bum - nothing fits, including stuff in my "size".

No designer could cover all the vagaries of shape - thin and slightly thinner is easy!!

madame suggia said...

It's not the designers. It's the buyers. Believe me, if a buyer tells a designer (especially a relatively new one) that they can have a big fat order, but we need it in sizes 14-22...9 times out of 10, that order will be taken! Buyers have a lot more clout that you'd imagine-they can (and do) dictate what they want- a different length or color, add or remove sleeves or a slip, whatever they feel will sell to their customers. As a 'plus-sized' designer I've often thought I should just get on with it and do a high-fashion plus sized range, but the investment needed would be huge...but never say never...

Isabellisima said...

Polyvinyl has a point- when clothes are bigger, the margin for error is bigger. After spending 10 years or so thinking about it, I came to realise there had to be a genuine business reason for the lack of provision- it must simply be too difficult.

I'm amused by the remarks about fashion students considering themselves to be artists: from the attire of my undergraduate art students, they certainly consider themselves to be trend setters. I dread to think how long it takes them to get ready in the morning, and wince every time I hear the whine that the Gucci is ruined due to a run-in with some medium previously unimagined in a studio context (charcoal, plaster, oil paint etc.)

Linda Grant said...

This does not seem to apply to men. Harvey Weinstein doesn't have too much difficulty getting a suit that fits.

dana said...

Nor does Harvey Weinstein have to do without sleeves, or in shoes that hurt.

greying pixie said...

Well, just back from a day of meetings at the London College of Fashion. So with head buzzing I will offer the following in no particular order.

I have just spent a whole day with 'self-selected' women (and men) of all shapes, sizes and ages from mid 20s to over 60. Not one of them seemed to have a problem with finding clothes, at least judging from what I could see. In fact I spent the first half of the day admiring one colleague who must be at least a size 18 and around 5ft 3, wearing the star print Jaeger blouse that Kate Moss made famous last year. My colleague wore it with jeans and a huge diamante watch and jewellery and it looked fantastic.

Another colleague, over 60 retired but called back into service, is nearly 6ft and a size 10, has no insecurities about wearing very short grey hair, and hand crafted jewellery, and amazing clothes in the Comme des Garcons style (usually designed with shorter Japanese women in mind).

But my favourite colleague, and the one I always make a point of clocking, is a short size 16, always wears black flowing clothes of the most beautiful luxurious fabrics and ENORMOUS African jewellery.

What all these women have in common is that they feel at ease with themselves and just relax and enjoy clothes. They participate in fashion in their own way but with passion. They are not interested in looking like catwalk models, because they understand that clothes are there to be adapted and interpreted according to what the wearer wants.

Sorry this is going on a bit. My next thought is that I don't think the writer of the article could have looked very far. The sale rail of Jaeger is always full of size 8 and size 18 and 20. M&S also does bigger sizes. In fact I have a friend who cannot wear M&S trousers because she says they are designed for women with cellulite which she doesn't have! 'You can't please all the people all of the time' is the quote that springs to mind.

I feel so exasperated by the comments left by women who will not take some responsibility for the way they feel and look. I do think the media is to blame to a certain extent, but no one is immune from it. Everyone can be made to feel inadequate; I'm sure even Naomi Campbell and Linda Evangelista have had some interference to their faces recently. So if we know the media is to blame, why continue to believe it?

And just to underline mq, cb - the size 16 M&S campaign failed miserably, as did the Dove girls with fat thighs campaign and Evans Outsize. Please, please don't blame designers for that too!

And my last thought - fashionable clothing is not just there for you to put on and expect to look great. You have to bring your own panache, charisma, passions, style and confidence to the clothes and interpret them for yourself. It has to be a happy marriage, or, better still, a boilingly passionate affair!

Fashion for Aliens said...

Some of the posts here are a bit heated and this is one of the most civilised blogs I've read. Why is size such an emotive issue? In particular why does noone seem to address the economic issue. As a UK size 20 I can tell you there is some choice in the high street but I'm too old and too choosy to buy what they sell in my size in New Look, Dorothy Perkins,etc and if I want to go just a bit upmarket then its really just a choice from a few mail order catalogues. Now I understand this is not a deprevation of my human rights but it does make life just a bit more wearisome.

Linda Grant said...

When you have a minute, greying pixie, why don't you go through the sites of say. Browns, Matches or Net a Porter and come up with a few items that are size 16+ so we can see the choice that's out there, which we're evidently all missing?

I am size 14-16, and on the rare occasions I can find a 14 on any of these they sell out the first day or even hour.

I have to say, I really dislike the black flowing robes with big jewellery look. When I was at Ossie Clark yesterday I tried on one dress and as soon it was on, Av said, you like like crazy-art- school-teacher.

greying pixie said...

I agree. I can't wear it either. I call it the fashion academic look, but I guess it amounts to the same. Actually I think you have to be quiet statuesque with an eye for really luxurious items to get away with it. Acres of viscose does nothing for me emotionally!

But my point is that you can't expect the clothes to do it all for you - you have to bring your own style to them. So those outlets you mention don't do your size, there are others that do, eg. Jaeger, Armani. And as someone pointed out, that is not the designer's fault. If anyone is to blame it is the buyers.

My exasperated complaint first thing this morning was really to do with the fact that once again the little jobbing designer gets it in the neck because some poor woman wasn't told she was beautiful often enough by her parents when she was young!

Linda Grant said...

I'm not expecting the clothes to do it all. I'm expecting that I see a dress, say it's empire line, it's purple, my colour, it's by McQueen, it costs a bomb, but I love it and I'm prepared to spend the money on it, but even if he goes up to 14 it's a small 14 and it's sold out to existing customers before it even hits the floor.

that's not the fault of the jobbing designer, it's the fault industry wide. They're making clothes we want to buy and they don't want to sell them to us.

Deja Pseu said...

fact that once again the little jobbing designer gets it in the neck because some poor woman wasn't told she was beautiful often enough by her parents when she was young!

OK, that's just condescending. Maybe it's the entire industry that's to blame instead of the designers particularly, but telling people that if only they had better self esteem they could somehow magically find the styles and sizes they need is a bit much.

Anonymous said...

As someone who has recently gone from a US size 16-18 to a 12-14 I can tell you that yes, you choices increase dramatically if you are below a 12 and are probably best if you're in the middle. My friends who are very small 2/0 have a hard time sometimes too.

I think the conversation gets heated because of comments like those from greying pixie. Clearly if the designers are not to be blamed for fat women the whole problem of fashion for fat women must lie with the fat women themsleves. We aren't trying hard enough. We don't "take responsibility for the way (we) look and feel". It's all our fault.
It's because we weren't told we were beautiful enough.

Oh please. We know we're beautiful. We have style. We'd just like it if when we find something we like it would be available in our size. Perhaps these are your issues and not ours.

I don't personally expect to be fashionable in the way that Linda is. I don't have access to her resources. I only have so much time and money for these things. I shouldn't have to be totally invested in fashion to find basic pants or a dress.

Where I larger sizes are more generally available are usually cheap (Target, Ann Taylor, Gap, Old Navy, (but not Banana Republic which is part of the same company), Torrid and Lane Bryant or stodgy - Talbots.

FYI there is a distinction between extended sizes - same general proportion but bigger and plus size fits.

Cal said...

Greying Pixie said "If anyone is to blame it is the buyers."

Whilst I think there is a huge amount in this, don't forget the role the wholesale agents play in it.

An agent recently told me 'for wholesale we need samples in a size 8'. She claims it's because that's what buyers want to see. But if that's all they're ever presented with then of course that's what they expect.

Her reasoning was that 'clothes look better and cuter in smaller sizes so they sell better, hence no agent will have samples large than an 8' - because after all they're all about the sales, that's their job.

Gaaargh - it's all so chicken and egg.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps in metropolitan fashion areas, one can find quality pieces in a size above 14. However, in the majority of the US, there is a disturbing lack of quality in larger pieces. Walk into a discount retailer for a perfect example; size 12 and below are cashmere, silk, and fine woolens, pressed beautifully and styled creatively. Walk into the "plus-size" section, and you are presented with thin polyester suede, acrylic sweaters that pill, and sweatshirts with juvenile embroidery. This is reality. How is a big girl to create a stylish outfit? Simple. Learn to sew, or find a good tailor. The clothing will be unique, high quality, and it will fit.

Anonymous said...

Well, I just should've scrolled to the end of all the typical, whiny comments, getting to the real gem.

The fashion industry exists for its own sake, patting itself on the back, creating costumes rather than clothes. And, to expect it to cater to a segment of the population that it doesn't understand, let alone the individual, is ridiculous. It's elitist and exclusive. Why give it the attention it doesn't deserve by bitterly arguing over the fact that it doesn't care? Duh!

It's a tiny, exclusive universe that will never, NEVER, allow those of us (I'm a US size 20) on the fringes, slobbering for a hideous dream-come-true life, to take part.

I've got a sewing machine. I learned to sew at a young age. I alter patterns. I wear what I want. And, yes, it's a simple solution that works streaks beyond banging your head against a wall.

I don't blindly lust for what some fashion designer, buyer, or commercial dangles in front of me. In reality, they don't have to care. Whether it's a bad business model or a disgust of plus sizes, these facts exist outside of our lives. This is a ball and chain that you can easily take off because you have the key: rationality. So, get your heads out of whatever worshipful designer's ass it's in.

In fact, the fact that you're upset about fashion's insensitivity gives it power over your life. So you can’t wear a designer’s label or wear the next big trend. I can think of many, many other disasters that could occur in your life that are really worth this amount of worry and wrath. Fashion doesn’t give a shit about us, so why should we give a shit about it?

Furthermore, by fretting over a designer's lack of sensitivity or monotonously arguing over the fact that there's nothing stylish to wear in your size, get control over your lives; rub the pixie dust out of your eyes and quit believing that someone else is in control of what you wear or how you feel when you're wearing it.

However, if you truly care about what designers and stores are selling and desire to shimmy into little sizes (if you're truly helpless), start smoking, become anorexic, ignore the real reason why you're so upset that you're not a size 0 or that you can't find something nice in a clothes store. Then, you can live happily ever after.

This is yet another issue that leads women down an I-hate-myself rabbit hole. Get over it!

BTW, I love this blog. Thanks!

gp said...

Thank you anonymous above - you've put into positive words what I rather negatively tried to explain.