I’m in love with fatshion (fat fashion). Members of the fatshion community are mostly women, and they wear truly amazing outfits, impeccably accessorized, that emphasise their glorious bodies and gorgeous looks. Fatsion isn’t about minimising or hiding anything, about making bodies look more normative and non-threatening, but about finding and celebrating style. I follow a bunch of fatshionistas on Instagram and elsewhere, I read fatshion sites, and I admire from afar.
The thing is, I lack the sense of taste and eye for fashion that these ladies (and gents, and genderqueers, and people of other genders) have, so while I can appreciate their work, I can’t necessarily replicate similar looks on myself, as much as I study and as much as I’ve learned. For example, I’ve embraced wearing bold, colourful outfits rather than trying to hide my body in dark colours. There’s also the fact that for many, it’s not possible to find clothes off the rack. That means buying more expensive clothing from companies that specialize in fatshion or at least carry larger sizes, actually requesting custom work from seamstresses, or making your own, if you have the ability and skills. Being a fatshionista is actually a sizeable (sorry) commitment, and one I tremendously respect.
Companies like Target also seem to be catching on to the idea that there are fat people in the world, that those people like to buy clothes, and that they would like fashionable clothes. So they’re specifically hiring designers with an eye to developing ‘plus size’ (eyeroll — what exactly is being plussed here, except my wallet?) garments. Of course, such clothes aren’t necessarily carried in all stores and they may be hidden on the company’s website, but hey, at least they’re trying, right?
Er, except, no, not right. Treating fat people like some kind of special population that do not deserve the right to come in, try clothes on, and buy them off the rack like smaller people is ridiculous and it’s offensive. Fat people should not have to go through the painstaking and expensive process of ordering clothes to try on, inevitably shipping things back, sometimes going through multiple rounds of ordering and shipping to find something that fits, and so on. If a medium-build or slender person needs to run in to pick up a dress in an emergency to attend and unexpected event while traveling, she can. If a fat person needs to do the same, good luck.
There’s more to it than that, though. Sometimes these fashion lines just fail, and people often seem to throw their hands up in the air, unable to explain why this should be. Stumped, they resort to claims that fat people don’t really like fashion, that the audience isn’t really big (sorry) enough, &c. Nowhere does there appear to be any self-examination. Like maybe they didn’t publicise and distribute well enough, so people weren’t aware of the new line or couldn’t access it in their communities. People can’t really buy clothes they don’t know about and can’t find, you know?
But more fundamentally, sometimes this fashion is just bad. That can include garments that are poorly designed, pieced, and sized, with fundamental design flaws that make them uncomfortable and poorly fitting on almost everyone, or features that severely limit their life and function. It can also, though, include garments made from shitty textiles that everyone hates, as though the only thing fat people deserve is itchy, sweat-inducing polyester — it is extremely difficult to find fatshion in natural fibers like cotton, linen, and silk. If you do find something like a silk dress, the probability that it will be lined with a synthetic material is almost inevitable. Not everyone minds the lack of natural fibers, but some do, and it can be challenging to find fatshion you like to wear if you’re limited to natural fibers only.
In addition to poor choices of material, bad patterns can be a problem too. Not everyone is into pastel florals. Some people want aggressively bright and eye-popping textiles. Or solid blocks of colour. Or anything in between. There’s a tendency to assume, though, that fat people want to mute their bodies and take up less space, which can make it challenging to choose the kind of clothes you want if that’s not your intention. Try finding something with horizontal stripes, for example, especially at the upper end of the size range. The assumption is that no one that fat wants to wear stripes because they would, uh, make you look fat.
And we haven’t even gotten into the fact that some of these collections are, bluntly, ugly. No one would buy fashion that isn’t personally appealing — at least, not one should be forced to buy it — and many fatshion lines are not terribly attractive. When it comes to ‘flattering’ clothing, the assumption is usually ‘clothes that make you look smaller,’ rather than clothes that fit and drape well. Clothes that are comfortable. Clothes that even underscore your body to make your features stand out more. Clothes are often not designed for fat bodies or they assume a universal fat body, and not everyone looks good in all things. A maxi that can be absolutely smashing on someone who’s two meters tall would look ludicrous on me (er, once it was hemmed so it didn’t pool around me), and with good reason: my shorter body isn’t really the maxi type.
Everyone has personal taste. Including fat people. That taste includes personal preferences, an eye to what’s on point and in mode at the moment, and the knowledge of how clothes feel on your own body. When fat people reject plus size collections, maybe they’re not doing it out of capricious willfulness or stupidity: Maybe they’re doing it because those clothes are ugly, poorly made, and insulting.
Image: Stripes, Sirja Ellen, Flickr