Another thing I’m sick of: blaming fat women for our lack of clothing options

rack of floofy betsey johnson dresses

Give me the pretties, pleeeeease.

While I’m on a roll of ranting about things that piss me off, here’s another one: the recent trend of blaming the lack of plus size clothing options on the supposed buying habits of plus size customers. This piece in TIME, and this one on Fashionista are two examples, and they make me so viscerally angry that it’s hard to respond articulately–but I’ll try.

“[R]eal change for plus-size fashion will come when customers make more conscious purchasing decisions,” claims the TIME piece. Hahahahaha, no. Real change will come when companies realize that fat women are people and start making clothes in our size. It’s kind of ridiculous to insist that fat women’s shopping choices must be the issue, when our whole problem is that we don’t have enough options to choose from in the first place.

In the Fashionista article, a blogger named Sarah Conley claims that plus size women are unwilling to buy higher-priced items. I’ve seen this claim so many times, and it annoys the shit out of me for a bunch of reasons:

1.) How can retailers know that plus size women won’t buy higher-priced items if they almost never offer them? It’s like giving a group of people a choice between peanut butter sandwiches and spaghetti with meatballs, and then claiming that group has no interest in filet mignon.

2.) Plus size clothing already tends to cost more than straight size clothing. Women who wear straight sizes may be more likely to invest in the occasional expensive, high-quality statement piece because they can get the rest of their wardrobe cheaply; women who wear plus sizes have far fewer truly cheap options. A lot of plus size clothing (I’m looking at you, Torrid) is both pricey and low-quality. And most stores that sell both straight and plus sizes charge more for the latter, even though the cost of the extra fabric is negligible.

In addition, plus size women often have to pay more to find bras in our size. I’m lucky that the Playtex 18-hour bra fits me comfortably and is super-cheap on Amazon, but most fat women I know spend ridiculous amounts of money to get bras that fit, while big-box stores and department stores are full of cute, cheap bras in smaller sizes.

3.) Fat people, especially fat women, face workplace discrimination–so we make less money and therefore have less to spend in the first place.

4.) Even if it’s true that fat women genuinely have no interest in high-end designer pieces, that doesn’t explain the lack of affordable options in our size range. 

Is it really so much to ask for this to come in size fat?

Further down in the article, Conley huffs that “many women are spending money on cheaper things that they don’t necessarily like just because they’re available in their size rather than waiting to spend more money on a few special pieces they really love.

What are we supposed to do while we wait–walk around naked?  Most fat women don’t have the luxury of waiting around for the perfect, high-quality piece–we need clothing right now for work, or to wear to a friend’s wedding, or to work out in.

She mentions tailoring as an option that more plus size women should take. Although I’m pro-tailoring, I think it’s ridiculous to expect that all fat women should do it rather than, you know, ask for clothing that fits us in the first place.  Why should we have to put in the extra time, money, and energy to get our clothes tailored when straight size women can walk into almost any store and find clothing that fits them?

That brings me to another factor that always gets left out in these victim-blaming discussions: the extremely limited availability of brick-and-mortar plus size options. While the online options for plus size clothing have expanded dramatically in the last few years (and I will be the first person to celebrate that with balloons, confetti, and cupcakes), our options for in-person shopping remain–pun intended–slim.

As a woman who usually wears a size 22, I’ve pretty much given up on in-person shopping except for thrift stores, because there are so few stores in the Boston area that carry my size. I’m lucky that I can find clothing that fits me online relatively easily–I know what shapes and sizes tend to fit me, and as long as I stick with them, I don’t have to return many of my purchases. But for a lot of women, online shopping is an exercise in frustration that involves returning almost everything they buy. And then there’s the cost of shipping and returns, which is prohibitive for many women, and just annoying for others.

An anonymous blogger quoted in the Fashionista piece complains that plus size fashion “[has] become such an angry section of fashion,” as if fat women are just irrationally mad. It’s not like we face discrimination and harassment for our size, find few representations of ourselves in the media, and pay extra in both time and effort for the limited, lower-quality clothing options we do have, or anything…no, we’re just whiners who refuse to be grateful for whatever crumbs the fashion industry throws our way.

The lack of plus size clothing options is a direct result of society-wide fat-phobia, full stop. It’s not the fault of fat women, whatever our buying habits.

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190 thoughts on “Another thing I’m sick of: blaming fat women for our lack of clothing options

  1. Thank you for saying what needs to be said. I will add one more item. Why do clothing companies assume that every plus size women wear black? Of course I have basic black pants, who doesn’t but I love colour and can’t wear black at my face. Are we suppose to be in mourning because we are fat?

  2. Perfect. All of it. It’s all true. I HATE, HATE, HATE walking through the clothing department, and on my way to the fat section, I see all of these super cute clothes that I would love to wear, but when I get to my sizes, they all look like they were made from discarded curtains from the 60’s or my grandmother’s old bed sheets. AND, just because I’m a larger size does not mean that I have huge boobs, really long arms or super long legs. I think there is exactly ONE plus size form that every “designer” of plus size clothing uses and it isn’t ANYTHING like me! Anyway, thanks for the post!

  3. Try Penningtons. They sell a brand called MBLM, that is made just for plus size people. Smaller sized people will not be able to buy the stuff. It’s cute, it’s fashionable, and I love it. Penningtons.com is the website.

    And no I don’t work for Penningtons, but I’ve been shopping there for years, and with the development of MBLM I shop there exclusively.

  4. I totally agree… I will confess that I was not always a plus woman in fact I use to be a size 2. I never realized until now how hard it was. My mother was a plus woman and I often thought why she would refuse to buy anything for herself. Now I know, the options are not there. What bothers me the most is that many have grown to be depress and insecure about themselves. Being a size 2 or a plus size is does not define you. I am still learning to shop, I hope that we don’t all give up, specially those that are now coming to realize that we can’t keep putting away those size 2 pants.

  5. As a size 22 myself, THANK YOU!!!!!! I’m so tired of paying over the odds for poor quality items that have about as much longevity as a chocolate fire guard.
    As it also happens I’ve had the pleasure of owning a few bridal suites, one that specialised in ‘normal’ sizes *rolls eyes* and one that specialised in gowns for ladies sized 16+. One thing that used to drive me absolutely mad is the countless number of bridal designers who think it’s acceptable to slap on eye-watering surcharges to order a gown in a larger size that has been built and designed around a size 6 frame. It’s downright disgraceful. One sales rep for a well known bridal manufacturer actually emailed me a few years ago for my personal opinion on a situation where a brides bodice snapped as she was walking down the aisle. Of course they tried to wash their hands of the blame rather than accept a plus size girl had paid over the odds for a garment that wasn’t reflective of why she had handed over the extra cash for something so pitifully made. But if indeed we are expected to pay more for being ‘fat’ shouldn’t it at least be wearable and reflect the extra cost for such an item? It’s a simple case of being milked, simply because we have such a dreadful lack of options available.
    As for the high street, the options are beyond limited and anything that is available is usually unflattering or made from the same design pattern as a 6 man tent. Apparently the larger a person is less fashion conscious they are. Maybe it’s just best to drown us in poor quality fabric, add a few beads to jazz it up and think of a number to stick on the price tag? That seems to be the only remedy they can come up with.

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  7. Hey if you see such a huge gap in the market why not fill it? Your ideas can be made reality, it sounds like a great idea to me. Start with getting someone to make you a few patterns, source some great fabric and make a short run, open a boutique Titus & Tiny Hats is a great brand name. My passion is writing & I dont fall quite into your size stats but I started a line of 60’s frocks the same way & I am not a dressmaker.

  8. Hey if you see such a huge gap in the market why not fill it? Your ideas can be made reality, it sounds like a great idea to me. Start with getting someone to make you a few patterns, source some great fabric and make a short run, open a boutique Titus & Tiny Hats is a great brand name. My passion is writing & I dont fall quite into your size stats but I started a line of 60’s frocks the same way & I am not a dressmaker.

  9. THANK YOU, for writing this. It is all so true. There are so many of us out here that would love to wear beautiful clothes, trendy clothes, cute clothes….but just do not have the options. I didn’t start out plus size….but even when I was small, I was a curvy girl wearing a D cup by the time I was 16. I never was able to find things that fit. I took up sewing at an early age and made a lot of my own clothes. As I got older (and larger)…and became a mom, I found that I had less time to do that. Now, if I am lucky enough to find something that tends to fit comfortably, I buy one of every color nor print. It gets even harder because I am short….and even the plus size stores (Lane Bryant etc.) assume that plus size also means tall. I once found a pair of capris that fit beautifully in my hips….but came down to my ankles. Because of the cut, I couldn’t even alter them and have them look right. I wish designers would understand that we come in all shapes and sizes and we deserve to be cute, too.

  10. I am not a plus size but I can still relate with your post. I have a jeans problem because I don’t have a flat bottom, and my bottom is not huge either! But to get a pair of jeans up past my hips I have to get one or 2 bigger sizes, which means they will inevitably be too long and really wide around my waist. A belt won’t fix it because it will just look shit and wrinkly and bulky. Moral of the story, I’ve pretty much given up on jeans.

  11. I’m a bit reluctant to comment as this is aimed at plus sizes but I completely agree with the lack of choices however for a different reason to yours. I struggle massively to find clothing that fits me. I am short so it’s hard to find jeans that fit perfectly, it’s also a mission to find a maxi dress that isnt so long I just trip over it all the time. Also, I have a big chest size so finding tops is near impossible, if they fit on the chest then they hang everywhere else or if it fits around my tummy then my boobs are hanging out. I also struggle massively with finding bras as retailers seem to presume that a big bust means you don’t want a stylish and supportive bra. I wish that fashion would be more flexible and that fashion would understand that every woman (and man) has a different body shape. Why isn’t there more choice? Why isn’t there more styles for every shape and size?

        • Can’t say I’ve ever experienced that, I have always been over weight (medication) and outgrew children’s sizes by the time I was in 5th/6th grade. But at least kids clothes tend to be at least somewhat fashionable casual wear. Most Petites I can find in stores are either too business-y for me to want to wear all the time, or have big embroidered flowers. Objectively they’re kind of cute, but I wouldn’t want to wear them.

  12. I agree, would it be so hard – my personal pet peeve is that there are no fun shoes that aren’t sky high – I have no desire to teeter on 5″ heels but I would like to have some cute and trendy 1/2″-1″ heels – that’s my gripe!

    • Oh my goodness yes. I can’t handle more than an inch/inch-and-a-half in a heel, but everything in that height range looks like old lady office or church wear. No offense to older women or anything, they’re cute for the age bracket, I suppose, they just aren’t looking for the same things as I am. And ballet flats anymore are ridiculous. They’ve made the cut out too low. I have a bit of a foot deformity and where the opening ends now is past where my little toe is. What was wrong with them when the opening ended where your large toe knuckle was?

      and they don’t have a lot of cute stuff in larger sizes in the shoe area either. My mom wears a 12 wide in women’s, and she’s lucky to find sneakers that fit, and normally ends up going to men’s for those. In the last ten years, I think she’s bought 2, maybe 3, pairs of shoes that weren’t sneakers or work boots.

      On a side note, I’m a firm believer in them creating universal, at least at national level, standards on what constitutes what size, in both shoes and clothes. I loath going to one store and wearing a 10 and going to another and wearing 14 in the same style. Or finding a really cute pair of shoes in a normal width, but when I put them on are clearly a Narrow by most other company standards. I got screwed on that a month ago on a nice pair of flats that didn’t open too low. >_>

  13. I have always had a fast metabolism and am a ‘straight’ size. My girlfriend is not, however. I never really understood why she was so upset about not being able to find bras in stores, or why she came out of fitting rooms angry and upset. I figured every women gets annoyed trying on clothes. Thanks to you post, I understand her frustration and can be a more sympathetic partner. Great blog.

    • Ok, I suppose I can understand you not getting the fitting room frustration thing, but seriously? You didn’t understand that ‘not carrying bras in the right size’ parts? I’m sorry, have you never had to try on a bra? They’re something you need to try on because apparently there is no industry standard on how they size them. I have bras that fit me perfectly, that range in size from 34-38 band widths. You can’t just order one online in your size and know it will fit. Which means if you order it online you have to a) pay for the bra, probably an outrageous price than a normal store price, b) pay to have it shipped to you not knowing if it will fit, c) try it on. And then if it doesn’t fit, d) pay again to ship it back. And possibly a ‘restocking fee’ meaning you’re really only going to be refunded about half the price. And that’s if she’s not up into custom sizes which are non refundable, and very expensive.

      • Yes, I’ve had to try them on. I’ve never had an issue with sizes, and I care little about bras save their basic function. It doesn’t even matter to me if it’s slightly too large or small. So at first, no, I didn’t understand why it mattered buying them in-store vs online. I’ve never experienced that and the subsequent exasperation it causes. I just wanted to say I liked your blog and I appreciated the gained perspective.

  14. These attitudes are so funny! Once whilst trying to buy size 13 shoes for my husband we inquired why they were so hard to find. Surely if they ordered more they would sell more? It was a national shoe chain and the salesperson said they would try to order more for us. Head office said they didn’t have any to send, no one wants that size. Then they pointed out that the store only sold one pair of that size last season so that’s all that was provided. (Hard to sell more if all you have is one pair!) And this is what’s happening here. You can argue forever that larger sizes don’t want this or that and if you never provide them with that choice you will always be right.

    • My husband is the same way. I bet if they look at stores that *do* sell size 13 (14, too!), they’d see that people do buy them. If you corner the market, that one store selling them will make all the money. I, for one, would like more options in more stores for my man. I shouldn’t have to go to one store for something. Do we do it? Yes, out of necessity. Do w like it? No way! Would we use other options if they were available? You bet!

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  17. Reminds me of an episode of Drop Dead Diva (Season 1 Episode 9 “The Dress”) where Jane, a plus size lawyer, sues a store for discrimination over not carrying plus sizes. Wish more people could make a case like that now, especially since obesity is considered a disease now (American Medical Association). I think citizens should push for more laws and amendments to include weight discrimination like Thomas Mathieu and Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. Very enlightening post!

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  19. “What are we supposed to do while we wait–walk around naked?” is exactly how I feel! It’s so frustrating finding clothes that are A) affordable (if I literally don’t have the money for it, what can I wear?); B) something that I can wear to work (we have strict standards of professionalism); C) Suitable for the extremely hot weather of my state (I could wear short sleeves in Feb. here–even Dec., if I have a good jacket); D) going to last for a long time. I’m not going to pay $60 for pants in the first place, especially if I think they will wear out in some way in less than a year or two. I was really frustrated when I walked into LB the other day and saw that everything was *white* (umm… no, are you dumb?) or way too casual– it looked like the whole store was for talking a walk on the beach. I have a few work-worthy pieces that I love, but they’re not going to last forever, and the store I bought them at doesn’t make them anymore. I absolutely can’t buy my size at Target, because it’s all long-sleeved or sleeveless, or t-shirts, and I don’t step foot in Wal-Mart.
    I have to go to thrift shops or hope that if I randomly pop into LB or Avenue (now that Fashion Bug closed), there will be something suitable. I have plenty of t-shirts. I don’t wear sleeveless, period (and a cami under a sleeved shirt doesn’t count). I’m not going to the beach. Nor a party. I’m going to *work* and I have to look *professional*. I am trying to put on an educated image and I can’t do that with what’s on shelves right now. I don’t want a dress or a muu-muu. I want pants that don’t wear out between the legs (or bust in the tush) while the rest of the fabric is perfect, and shirts that *don’t* look like they were made for a wet t-shirt contest (I loathe the thin material flooding the market right now). I don’t even need polos; if my employer used polos for uniforms, they would just give me one, and it would have their logo on it, like at Taco Bell. I don’t need jeans–I can’t wear those to work.
    I am short and round–and as I’ve been saying ever since my shopping frustrations began, I exist!! There are others like me, and we shouldn’t have to “lose weight” just to find clothes that fit. Even if we wanted to, we need something to wear in the meantime.
    I totally agree with you: If you don’t put steak on the menu, don’t say that people don’t want steak. Thanks for posting!

  20. Have you gone to Bloomies and Nordstrom latetly? The price is high but you should see the styled! Wall Mart has better choice! Shame on the byer who makes assumptions!

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