One of the things I’m stumbling across since starting a plus-size fashion blog is the proportion of design to self esteem. My first issue in writing about fashion is that plus designers didn’t always respect their target market – Lane Bryant in fact had been notorious for that attitude, as reflected on one blog I saw where a manager sent a letter to the blogger saying basically “it’s us or weight watchers.” That paired with visits to Lane Bryant stores over the course of that year that left me insulted and furious at the very sight of the clothing offerings is a major part of what inspired this blog, especially since their most wearable-in-real-life clothing is relegated to their clearance outlets. Two years later, Lane Bryant is still looking at how to get the most money out of their target market rather than how to best serve their target market, despite the latter being in the long run consistently more profitable. At least, with the Fit-Rite jeans, there were real strides forward in the service side of business – I can only hope that they’ve found a way to do something about the weird smell. Seriously, is the chemical that produces that truly necessary?
Nowadays, I’m finding the designers I’m seeking – people who are plus themselves, and know that being heavy or larger framed is infinitely more complex and personal than what certain media folks would have you believe. They know our bodies are more complex. Not every plus size woman is large-busted. Not every woman over size 14 has a gut. Not every size 20 is unathletic. It’s just not that simple. And these designers know it’s not that simple.
So, while there is a sector of the market place that is still all mumus or hoochie wear, there is another sector that I would classify as “seems like a good idea at the time.” Leggings, which do not belong on women with large bellies, are one example of this. They’re showing them on flattened size 0s, they’re heralded as “in style” and admittedly they are comfortable – but the end result on someone with a build like mine? I’d be better off wearing a barrel and suspenders. Here’s the thing: there are plus sizes with flat stomachs. On those people, they probably work – assuming that the wearer is not letting the number attached to their size falsely inform them about the shape of their own body. It all comes down to self-esteem.
There are some clothing choices made purely out of low self-esteem. That is why there is still a market for mumus. There is also clothing that gets designed out of low self-esteem. Designers are artists, and the clothing they create can often be an extension of themselves. A plus designer designing for plus often starts with the question “How would I feel?” The end result is frequently something shapeless and baggy. Someone more advanced in the psychological process can ask the valid question, “How do I want others to feel about me or my clothing?” This is a safe place to work from when designing office wear, especially when you’re trying to fly under the radar – getting noticed as a fat person can be a dangerous business. It can take years to get to the point where the designer learns to ask “How do I want to feel?” The end product is always entirely different, and while not always successful, does challenge people in the way they think about themselves – making true art as plus-sized clothing.
These are questions to ask when shopping and when creating – it’s hard to work with what’s true to you when your feelings and the people around you are telling you lies about who you are and how you feel about yourself.