It is an oft quoted fact that the average size woman in the UK is a size sixteen. I feel like I’ve known this all my adult life. It’s usually followed by the information that despite this, most clothes shops stock a really poor selection of plus size fashion. Like many things to do with women and their place in the world, the change to stocking decent, beautiful clothing in every size has been as glacial as the gender pay gap. I’m forty six this year, and still, on the high street, is a fairly parlous choice for plus size women, for a problem that was identified over thirty years ago.
Last year I had a personal shopping client who was a size 16. Again, let me stress, the average size for a UK woman. She had very specific requirements for her new wardrobe, and my job was to cater for them. I was up for the challenge.
Here’s what I learned. Years of shopping in charity shops for myself and my children has always yielded fruit. I rarely ventured to the plus size of the rails, because I didn’t have to (this is not bragging. This is just fact). Extolling the virtues of charity shopping to friends and family I was repeatedly told that it is much harder to find plus size stuff, and that it is depressing to scan rail after rail and find nothing. I could only take their word for it until last year when I had to look for my client, although I believed it.
First of all, let me tell you that I did it. I shopped a wardrobe with her, and for her, that was exactly what she wanted, and at a fraction of high street prices. She was delighted. I was delighted. It was all good. But, I have to agree that it was much harder to do, and not just because she had very specific needs and didn’t want to compromise (understandably).
Here’s what I found, which is probably obvious, but I sometimes find that the obvious needs saying anyway.
The further up the rails you go in size, the less there is. So shopping for a size 16 is much easier than shopping for a size 18, or 20 for example. Yet, 16 is the ‘average’ so it stands to reason that there must be a considerable number of women looking for these sizes and who are not being catered for in an appropriate way and who should be getting choice, rather than a resigned, ‘I’ll have it because that’s the only one they have.’
There seem to be two ends of the spectrum for plus size in terms of quality, really shoddily made, or really great quality. There is very little available in the the middle. So, heaps of mass produced, Primark quality stuff, or the odd piece by Boden. Rarely anything at a say, Zara type price point. Don’t even get me started on designer clothes. It’s a black hole of despair.
There also seems to be two ends of the spectrum in terms of the look of items. At one end of the spectrum they seem to be going for what I call the Princess Diana maternity wear idea (i.e. hide everything with an enormous Peter Pan collar and hope nobody looks at the rest of you), which means endless colour clashes, terrible florals, lots of glitter, ‘hilarious’ slogans, cutesy animals etc. At the other end, we have just black. Everything in black, black or black to be more slimming.
The cut of things is mostly terrible.
There is too much nylon.
Why do they always assume that larger women have larger boobs? Mind you, they also assume that small women have no boobs.
Why do they always assume that larger women are also tall? And conversely small women are short?
It strikes me that too many men are in charge of designing, buying and stocking women’s clothes, or too many women who have bought wholesale into toxic ideas about women’s bodies and are happy to perpetuate them.
This infuriates me. Absolutely incenses me.
What I have also noticed in charity shops is what I notice when I’m sourcing boy’s clothes. That a lot of it I have to discard because it is absolutely worn to death. I assume that it is so unusual to find plus size clothing that someone loves, or that fits properly, that they wear it to death and give it away only when they absolutely have to, because the chances of finding something else that is as nice, or fits, is miniscule, and the shopping experience on the whole is depressing and degrading.
Am I wrong about the conclusions I have drawn here? Tell me, if I am. Please.
Here’s my current take on it.
Fat shaming, for let us call it what it is, is happening at a mass consumer levels, with the buy in of most people in the fashion industry.
I find this astonishing (not in a good way) at two different levels. Firstly that people are so fricking judgmental. Secondly that purely from a business perspective, you would be aware that you are missing a key market sector, and even if you were a total fat shamer, on a greed level, you’d want to make money, no matter what size someone is.
I am determined that this should change. I do not see why any woman, no matter what her size or shape, should have to put up with rubbish to wear, should have to be punished in any way, or feel degraded by the simple act of opening the wardrobe and getting dressed.
A few days ago, whilst on my usual, treasure hunting rounds, I found a whole wardrobe of clothes had been donated to a charity shop I visited that were plus size. As I sorted through the rail I was delighted to see a whole array of really rather beautiful items. I bought everything I could lay my hands on. I was chatting to the lady behind the till as we bagged stuff up, and I said that I thought the clothes were fabulous and it looked as though they had all come from one home. She confirmed this for me, the lady is a regular customer, who has just moved house and had a clear out. I thought about how carefully she had curated the things she had bought, and compared to standard high street shopping, how long it must have taken her to source all these things. And she was lucky, because we live in an internet age where you can simply order stuff now. Fifteen years ago, what I took home with me, would have been impossible to find.
The tide is turning, it seems, if you’re prepared to hunt stuff out, and mail order. On the high street, things are still lagging behind.
I posted some of my finds up on Instagram, and within hours, had already begun to sell pieces, which is good for me, and good for my buyers. As I have washed and ironed over the last day or two, I have decided to focus a lot more of my hunting on finding good quality, plus size fashion, not only because I think it’s business savvy, but also because I think women deserve to be able to find well priced, beautiful clothes, whatever size they are. Everyone deserves to feel fabulous.
As you know, I am not a plus size woman. This is not down to hard work or an enviable life style of coconut water and spiralised courgette. This is down to sheer luck*. I come from a long line of plus size people, and one day I am fairly sure that my ‘luck’ will run out. I am not bragging. I do not feel superior to anyone. I genuinely want to help, but I know I might put my foot in it with the language I use to try and help, or things that I might not know, or things I might not understand, so I would like your help.
Tell me, if you are a plus size shopper, what is good and bad, what would help and what wouldn’t, what I can do, if anything to help you and other clients have the best shopping/buying/wearing experience possible.
N.B. I am posting this on both my regular blog and my Boostique blog as I’d like to get a decent range of responses if possible.
*I am amending the post as I go. For example, I know saying that I am ‘lucky’ in terms of my size is not the right word, as someone has kindly pointed out. I don’t mean that it’s brilliant to be thin. I mean that I am lucky that I have naturally fallen into society’s idea of what is a desirable body shape. I need to find a better way to talk about it, so I will have a think and edit when I have come up with something.