Monday, May 19, 2014

Wandering a Clothing No (Wo)Man's Land

The other day, a friend of mine posted this reflection on accepting shopping in the Women's section of a clothing store rather than the Junior's or Misses'.

It made me think about my own experience with clothing size categories, one that recently culminated in a frustrating realization: clothing designers seem to think I don't exist.

I haven't been able to shop in a Junior's section for a very long time, probably not since middle school. Even then, I was always broad shouldered and top heavy (apple shaped, as "they" call it), so even when Junior's clothes technically fit my body, it was clear they weren't quite meant for it.

Here I am, wearing nothing but a shiny coat of wax. 
Since adulthood, though, the clothing categories in which I belong have gotten more and more limited. I'm stuck somewhere between "regular" sizes and "plus" sizes. Every single shopping experience I have, regardless of the store, seems to go something like this:

Step 1: I pick up stuff that I think is cute based on the way it looks on a hanger from the regular section. I go and try it on, realize that it looked cute on the hanger or mannequin because the hanger and the mannequin have roughly the same amount of curves, and stick it on the return rack. For a while, this is where my shopping experience ended, often with mounting frustration and feelings of failure on my part, but since I've gotten into a much better headspace about such things, I now either skip this step or move on to the next one without much fuss. 

Step 2: I pick up clothes from the regular section that look a little ridiculous on the hanger or the mannequin, understanding that they will likely look better on my own body. I take them to the dressing room, and I find that they do look better, but they don't look quite right. They fit, for sure. There's nothing stretched too tight or busting at the seams, but I look like I'm trying to wear clothes that weren't made for me. I almost always have to have XL tops, and the extra material always looks like it was added as an afterthought. The cut isn't flattering, and dresses just sort of hang circus-tent like. There was a point where I would stop at this step, either buying a bunch of clothes I didn't really like and probably wouldn't wear or leaving empty handed and, once again, frustrated. But once I swallowed my ingrained fear of the "plus size" section, I moved on to step 3. 

Step 3: "I'm a grown woman, damn it. Clothes are made to fit my body, not the other way around. What's the point of buying clothes that don't make me feel good? This is hard-earned money I'm throwing around, and who cares what the label says if it fits?!" 

This is the pep talk I had to give myself the first few times I moved into the plus-size section. I know it's not right to have to give oneself a pep talk to simply walk over four aisles and look at a different selection of clothes, but I blame the patriarchy. 

So, I swallowed hard and took the plunge. I was immediately struck by two things. First, the clothes that I thought were cute were much more flattering in their cut and designs. Stripes were placed at curve-hugging angles. Things flared and hugged in all the right places. Secondly, there wasn't that much that I thought was cute. A vast majority of the clothes seemed to be made for someone attending a wake or a job interview . . . in a very conservative town stuck two decades in the past. Still, there was a selection of things that I found worthwhile, so I grabbed some 1x shirts from the racks and headed to the fitting room. 

They hung off of me like drapes. At this point, I'm not ashamed to tell you, I really did cry in frustration. Here I was facing my fear of being literally labeled "plus size," ready to accept it if it meant I got to wear these flatteringly cut clothes, and I was being rejected. 

Later, I'd find a few stores that carried shirts in a size "0x," a fact that still perplexes me, but one that I thought would solve all my problems. Nope. They hung off my shoulders, bunched up in all the wrong places, and generally screamed to the world that they didn't fit me. 

Step 4: A few weeks ago, I went shopping for a dress to wear to a wedding. This is a particularly frustrating part of the clothes buying experience because the bulkiness of the top half of my body and the fact that I am only 5'3" means dresses are a problem. As I was walking the mall, I happened upon a Torrid proclaiming itself "Fashion for Sizes 12 to 28." I wear a 14 in dresses, and I had some vague memory of Torrid being a Hot Topic offshoot, which made me all nostalgic for 30 seconds. I went in. 

The woman working in the store was an amazing salesperson. She was friendly without being aggressive, and she immediately gathered up four dress/sweater combos I would never have picked out for myself. They fit! The dresses fit! Then she talked me into trying on some (gasp!) skinny jeans, which also fit . . . in the store. 

I had to get the smallest size jeans they had, and I realized upon wearing them to walk around town a few days later that they stretched with wear. I'm going to have to belt them, which isn't the end of the world, sure, but it does mean that buying pants from Torrid, despite their wonderful styles and body-friendly cuts, probably isn't a good option for me, either. (But I'll be coming back for some more dresses. Believe me.)

I was talking to the woman at Torrid, and she explained that while most clothing stores create a dress in a size 6 and then scale up and down from there, they cut it on a size 16 and then scale from there. In other words, instead of my size 14 being scaled up 4 sizes (and losing a lot of shape and detail in the process), it had been scaled down one (and cut for curves in the first place). The dress was the same size as other dresses I had tried on and even owned, but it was simply made with bodies like mine in mind.

This did leave me in a weird spot, though. I'm training to run my first half marathon in October, and--since I have some time off in the summer--I'm hoping to work a little harder at roller derby skills in order to hopefully get cleared to scrimmage by the end of the summer. I'll probably lose some weight. That's not really the goal of the running/skating, but it is a likely byproduct. If it's enough of a byproduct, the cute dresses and belted jeans I just finally got to fit won't fit anymore. And then I'll once again be stuck in a No Woman's Land of clothes. 

I don't think my body is all that oddly shaped. I believe that there are other people in the world who look like me. Surely we would all like clothes that fit us. Make some! Take our money, please!

Do you have any tips for shopping in the gray areas of clothing sizes? Stories of your own clothing sizing frustration? 


  1. As an actualfact fat woman and not an inbetweenie like yourself, I have different issues with buying clothing. As you point out, fat women clothing is ugly and frumpy and not cut for actual human bodies. But even with stores like Target, Old Navy, etc cutting out their plus size line and making them internet only, I still have stores dedicated to me. Women your size don't, sadly.

    One of my biggest problems with plus size pants/jeans is that a lot of times the pants aren't cut for a big calf. Fat women have big calves because we walk, and our calves carry a heavier load than a more slender woman. So we have this big dense wad of muscle that can't be squished down AND we have fat over that. I have pants that are loose in the waist, seat, and upper thigh (and I have big thighs), but that are so tight over the calf I can barely pull them up. I've been losing weight recently, my body is changing, so while I need to get new clothing i want to wait until everything stabilizes (I started taking a prescription medication that alters my metabolism AND the places my body stores fat). My wedding ring is loose on my finger, my bras are too big, my shirts are starting to hang funny.... and I still can't pull those dang jeans comfortably past my calves. It's like I'm strangling my lower legs every time I pull them on.

  2. I definitely have the calf/jean problem, and I've been keeping an eye on the Barbell jean project, as it claims to be making jeans for muscular legs.

    I've seen so many mainstream stores cutting out their plus size line and making them online, or only offering a tiny selection in store. Is it just a mean-spiritied elitism thing? I just don't understand it from a profit making point of view?

    I also really relate to your point about wanting to wait to buy clothes. It's such a tough balance: you want clothes that fit because they help make you feel confident and are just functionally important, but you also don't want to throw a ton of money at something that will only last a few months. So frustrating.

  3. Another in-betweener with similar frustrations.
    I pretty much gave up on tops/pants and wear dresses almost all the time because finding shirts and pants that fit right. (biggish boobs, not as big natural waist, round belly) is a nightmare. I have literally two pairs of pants that fit... acceptably.

    I found that knowing the measurements of different parts of my body to be helpful in realistically assessing clothing on a hanger as well as on-line. I know my 40in chest is not going to fit in a top that lying flat is just over a foot across. It's just not mathematically possible. Those numbers seem to have less power to trip me into a hating on my body mindset than size tag numbers/letters.

    I often have better luck finding something that fits at thrift stores than I do in any other in person store. Maybe it's the random assortment from who knows how many stores, maybe it's magic, but I have found some dresses that fit perfectly in thrift store land. It also helps me get over the, 'but it might not fit in 4 months' thing (also doing my first half marathon this year!) if I've only spent $5 on it to begin with.

  4. I can't really think of any reason for a "mainstream" store to NOT carry plus size clothing, considering how many people in the USA are fat. That number also continues to rise. so... why refuse to take money from those people? I refuse to shop only online because that winds up costing me time and money when I have to return stuff that doesn't fit/is shoddily made/etc. I have a policy of not shopping at places that have moved their plus size lines to internet only. So I haven't shopped at Old Navy in YEARS (and I have a growing child whose entire wardrobe I just replaced) and am quitting Target because 1) their plus size section is smaller than ever (and has been super disapponting for years) and 2) they're moving "extended sizes" online only. Like, ok, you don't want my money? Fine. You don't get it.

    Oh, btw, you might want to check out eShakti (I've heard both good and bad reviews of them), igigi, and SWAK designs. eShakti has an option where you can enter custom measurements, igigi has a thing where you can shop by body shape, and I believe SWAK was founded & is run by an actual fat woman. Igigi & SWAK both have fat models, which can give a kind of better picture of the fit of the clothing. Pretty much everyone I know who's shopped these stores is fat & not inbetween, but it looks like they carry inbetween (12 & up) sizes so it might work for you?

  5. Thank you so much for the suggestions! I'll definitely look into all of them.

    And you make an excellent point about alienating plus size shoppers. They don't just buy their clothing at those stores, but often their kids' clothes, too. You're throwing away a lot of potential money! That's not smart business!

  6. That's great advice! I probably could get a little more familiar with my own measurements for sizing purposes.

    Good luck on your half marathon! When are you running it?

  7. Until recently, we'd buy my clothing, my husband's clothing, household linens (table cloths, towels, etc), plates, decor, kid clothing, etc. My kid's entire room is decorated in Target (bedding, wall decals, rug, alarm clock, lamp, etc). We have literally spent thousands of dollars there. But if they don't want fat money, that's fine.

  8. Last weekend of August. I probably won't feel ready, but I'll be able to finish which is all I'm aiming for.

  9. My weight has varied quite a bit in the last year or two, what with pregnancy and now nursing &etc. But I tend to fall into that same inbetweenie land, wearing sizes from 14-18 depending on brand and the current state of my body.

    It is somewhat less of an issue for me because I sew. I learned how to do pattern alterations first thing and now I can make things that work well. The non sewn portion of my wardrobe is thrifted, and consists of elastic waist skirts and fitted knit tops, which I find comfortable and flattering, especially in my new life as nursing mother to an infant.

    I also haven't worn pants (except yoga pants for exercise) since elementary school, which goes a long way to avoiding fitting woes.

    It is something of an indictment of the state of affairs that I have to go to those lengths though.

  10. I have always had a relatively easy time with shopping. Right now I am between a 10 and a 12, but even at 14 I had few issues with fit or finding attractive clothes. Have you ladies heard of Fashion to Figure? Ashley Stewart? Marshall's or TJ Maxx? The first 2 offer only plus size. Marshall's always has some amazing full figured clothes. Always. While I would be the smallest size in Fashion to Figure, they have some of the sexist clothes I have seen anywhere in a long, long time. Give it a try!

  11. I'm right in that gray area. I am a 14/XL in most misses and a lot of brands don't even go to 14, but if I go over to the plus size section the clothes expect me to have way more flesh in front than I actually sport. I started buying all my clothes from a schmantzy bespoke place because I am her sample size and every single item I buy fits perfectly.

  12. I'd definitely love to give the stores you mentioned a try. However, Fashion to Figure appears to be East Coast only. Ashley Stewart, while wider spread, still doesn't have a location within 500 miles of me. And while I'm glad the Marshall's/TJ Maxx/Ross/etc. stores near you have awesome plus size stuff, at the ones in my city, the plus size section is generally about half a rack of printed T-shirts and elastic waist skinny jeans. :/

  13. I so wanted to love Torrid. I appreciate that for a long time, they were one of the *only* fashion-forward plus size stores. (Where I live, this is still true.)

    Unfortunately, one of the problems with larger sizes is that there's room for greater discrepancy in where and how much any given individual curves. And whatever model Torrid is using to design their clothes, well, that model curves totally different than I do. So I end up with tops that are strained across the bust while having gaping fabric in the back, as well as pants and fitted skirts that gap in the waist while being too tight through the hip and thigh.

    I have not bought pants since Fashion Bug closed last year. Wait, scratch that. I have purchased one pair of pant-like... things from Target's plus-size section. (Really. I have Walmart yoga pants that are better constructed than these are.) For shirts, I generally end up layering a wrap or cowl neck top (have purchased two in the past couple of years, both thrifted) over a tank top (boobs plus 5'8" means I need a lot of front torso space, and most women's shirts are too short on me).

    At this point, I have enough clothes to wear every day (without a stealth load of laundry in the middle of the week), so I'm now getting more comfortable with the idea that my best bet for future purchases is probably going to be to purchase the best quality garments I can afford (which for me means paying serious attention to the clearance rack at Nordstrom Rack) and factoring tailoring as a necessary part of the overall cost.

  14. I'm something of an inbetweenie, especially at stores where the straight sizes end at 14 and the plus section doesn't start till 16W. I've found that UK retailers are a little better at covering the "gap" that US stores tend to have - Dorothy Perkins is a favorite, and ASOS has some good stuff too (though Curve, their plus line, actually tends to run a little big and I find the smallest Curve size is sometimes too big. Good luck!

  15. It sucks to not be in the majority of clothing sizes, no matter what size you are. Clothes really run through a limited size range, even if it seems like they fit everyone but you.

    I'm sized out of the bottom of women's clothing. I am a small person. Kids and Juniors run too short and aren't shaped for post-puberty curves. Not to mention, I would really prefer not to pull off Hello Kitty decals or search through "trendy" already full of holes jeans. I need a 26/28 bra band, the former is not even mass produced and the latter I can only find online.

    I wasn't aware this grey area between regular and plus existed. I get it though. Clothes don't always scale well to the ends of the bell curve. If you are always at one side, you know when things just weren't made for your proportions.

  16. I cannot tell you how frustrating it is to be 'in between' but I can remember even when I was bigger and much thinner be so overly frustrated with the way clothing is sized but I don't think that's really any fault of the fact we're in between but much more to do with the fact that the clothing industry breeds on insecurity, if something doesn't fit right it's your fault not the clothes. The clothes are meant to be that way, you're not.

    It's appaulling and horrific and one of the many reasons clothes shopping still haunts me.