Vive la Difference: Fatshion for All

By | July 14, 2009

I was not able to attend Full-Figured Fashion Week myself, being in the wrong city at the time. I was fortunate that our own Tara kindly volunteered to operate as Fatshionista correspondent for a few events, and will (I hope) be piping in with her thoughts. For my part, I would like to take a look at the conversations taking place after the fact. Specifically, the conversation that happened in comments to Gabi’s runway report over on Young, Fat, & Fabulous.

Given my experience as a moderator for the Fatshionista Livejournal community, I am all too aware of how difficult and frustrating it can be to hear criticism from the very people you’re trying to support, particularly criticism of a project you’ve poured your heart and soul into. If taken too personally, this criticism can make you feel unappreciated and dismissed, not to mention angry.

The comments to the post linked above did contain a fair amount of criticism, mostly from folks feeling disappointed by the styles of clothing shown at the runway show. Said clothing inclined toward a lot of prints, a lot of jersey, and a lot of synthetic fibers. A lot of folks love these clothes. And that’s great for them – I am among the first to cheer on the happiness of fat folks finding clothing they love in abundance. But frankly, with a few exceptions, the garments shown were bog-standard plus-size style. If you asked me to define the stereotype of plus size apparel in the US? I’d probably say, “lots of prints, lots of jersey, lots of synthetic fibers”. This isn’t to suggest that items that meet all of the above criteria can’t be gorgeous; it just means it’s a fairly limited selection that does not appeal to those of us who aren’t into any of the above.

Christina of The Musings of a Fatshionista said the following, in comments to the YFF post:

me, being 24 and into all things black, rugged and studded, i wasn’t that into it AND THATS OKAY TOO. but i refuse to be made out to be some sort of ungrateful person just becase i don’t like certain types of clothing…. if we don’t push ourselves as a ‘curvy community’ (which honestly doesn’t feel like much of a community if every time there’s a disagreement people react as you and others have) to show designers like D&G that yes, we can wear what they wear and look beautiful doing it then they won’t ever take a second glance our way.

Part of the problem with plus size fashion as it currently exists is the prevailing idea that plus-size women are a monolith, that they all want the same things out of their clothing (namely, it would seem, MAXIMUM COVERAGE), when the reality is that fat women’s interests are as varied and broad as, well, as the interests of any group of women might be. Acknowledging that most fat fashion tends to look the same (prints, jersey, synthetic) is not a slam against those who like it – it’s a raising of voices from those who don’t. And as we should all know by now, no one is going to give us fashion options if we sit by quietly waiting for long enough. As it is we have to scream just to get even the companies that purport to cater to us (or to create “trendy” options) to listen for one hot minute. Trying to draw the attention of designers with no current stake in plus sizes? We’ll have to raise hell just to get a passing glance. Hurt feelings aside, our hell-raising is likely to be far more effective if we’re not getting distracted by the totally unsurprising fact that we don’t all like the same clothes, nor do we all want to dress the same.


Unless you live under a fat rock, you’re probably aware of last week’s launch of the new Beth-Ditto-designed line for Evans, a UK plus-size clothing shop, as it’s been blogged from one end of the planet to the other, and if what I’ve heard is true, certain items are already sold out. Ditto’s designs are heavily (and by “heavily”, I ask you to envision a sledgehammer made of dark matter) 80s-inspired, with many a batwing sleeve and sequin, and even an acid-wash high-waist zip front denim skirt of the sort I might have worn in the sixth grade, and thought myself very stylish indeed. The fat backlash to this extremely-outspoken collection has been intense and vehement in some quarters. Would I personally wear any of it? Not unless I was going to a costume party, nope. It’s not my style. Actually it’s kind of my anti-style. It couldn’t be less my style. Am I nonetheless wildly excited and happy to see it available?


In fact, I applaud it: I applaud Evans for taking the risk, and I applaud Ditto for refusing to do it for Topshop (as was the original offer) and instead going with a shop that carries true plus sizes. The Ditto/Evans collaboration is speaking directly to a small but growing group of younger, more trend-focused fat women who are clamoring for options that are on the very edge of fashion-forward; women who aren’t interested in wearing Lane Bryant tunics and jeans until they reach some arbitrary goal weight; women who want to wear the same damn trends available to women half their size. And why not? While I understand that some find Ditto’s style to be an affront to good taste, it’s inarguable that her collection for Evans represents a major moment in Fatshion History, possibly on a par with what the launch of Torrid, originally a fat version Hot Topic, did for millions of scowling subcultural teens and young adults – it made us feel like we were WORTH something. It made us feel like we had a right to express ourselves through fashion, even if our expression (cough) was how totally outside the “mainstream” we were.

The fat folks who are into the big prints and the flowing cuts have a wealth of choices already. Those who want, as Christina says above, something different, something edgier, are pretty routinely out of luck unless they learn to sew their garments themselves. Let’s not underestimate the power of fashion to make us feel good about ourselves. Stores like Torrid even today are relevatory experiences for many young fat people who struggle with self-esteem; the fact that these options exist can be, curiously, a powerful political awakening for a lot of kids. It’s been said for years now that making plus sizes available to young people only encourages fatness; it doesn’t. It encourages self-esteem. It encourages confidence. And if you’re against that, then I don’t care to know you.

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