In the time that I’ve been blogging about fat fashion, the industry has improved greatly. Where once it was a bleak wasteland of hanky hems, butterfly prints and a lesson on how to blend in, there are now brights, prints, sequins, hotpants, bodycon and all the rest. One area, though, where the plus size fashion industry is quite clearly failing is in basics. Amid all of the fun and froth, where are the staples that are always cited as the foundations of a woman’s wardobe? I decided to do an experiment to see just how easy (or otherwise) it is to come by these supposedly essential items if you’re fat. I chose five, to start with: white shirt, Breton t-shirt, black cigarette pants, grey marl t-shirt and black leather biker jacket.
I searched for these five items on one straight size retailer’s website (I chose Topshop, the most ubiquitous of all high street chains), just to prove to myself that they are perennially available and easy to come by if you’re a size 10. All five were there. I then looked for the same item on the websites of three major plus-size retailers: Evans, ASOS Curve and Simply Be. So what I’m saying is: you can buy all five of these items in one single high street shop aimed at slim women, of which there are many high street shops where you can get the same or similar items. Will I be able to find the same items in any of three of the biggest plus size retailers? Let’s find out!
The white shirt
My criteria were: no front pocket (pockets on white shirts remind me too much of ugly school shirts), long-sleeved, with a collar, made of cotton. Here is what happens when you search ‘white shirt’ on Topshop. That’s how many variations there are. Not all of them fit my specifications exactly, but there’s a massive variety to suit pretty much all tastes and needs. Satisfying!
How many on ASOS Curve? 1. How many on Simply Be? o. How many on Evans? o.
Only one out of a possible three plus-size retailers are currently carrying a similar item. ASOS Curve have what they call a ‘girlfriend shirt’ that meets all my specifications, and are the only brand to have one that does. I don’t really get what ‘girlfriend shirt’ means… surely there are no special design qualities related to making clothes in the proportions and style expected of the gender you’re marketing the clothes at? Oh well. It’s a nice shirt.
The breton t-shirt
I was looking for a jersey t-shirt with sleeves of any length, horizontal navy stripe on white, with no other pattern or design. No random Eiffel Towers, a straight hem, just, you know, a white t-shirt with blue stripes. Here is a serviceable version on Topshop.
How many on ASOS Curve? 1, if you’ll buy it in a two-pack with a navy blue t-shirt. How many on Simply Be? 1. How many on Evans? 0.
This was Simply Be’s offering. It’ll do.
The black skinny trousers
I was looking for a pair of trousers that are black, full-length or slightly cropped, and made of a heavy, matte material (not jersey or pleather) like crepe or polyester at a push. I’m not looking for the moon on a stick, right? Just some sensible but sexy trousers that you can wear with heels and feel trop chic.
How many on ASOS Curve? More than 1! In fact, ASOS Curve had several different skinny black trouser styles. How many on Simply Be? 1. How many on Evans? 0.
I adore these ASOS Curve trousers. They’re maybe not as skinny as I would want them to be, but the shape and the material are spot on.
Simply Be’s version are great too. Well done Simply Be!
The grey marl t-shirt
No specific criteria here, just a grey marl t-shirt. Comforting, easy, oddly sexy. Shouldn’t be too hard to find, right? I mean, it’s only a t-shirt, and Topshop’s is lovely. I wasn’t even looking for a cashmere tee but I won’t turn down luxury bitch vibes. Now, can we find a basic bitch t-shirt in fat sizes? Can we heck.
How many on ASOS Curve? 0. How many on Simply Be? 0. How many on Evans? 0. You can’t buy a grey marl t-shirt in cashmere, jersey or any fabric at all from three major plus-size retailers. Bad times. This is precisely why I thank my lucky stars that I fit into Topshops M/L or size 16 t-shirts. All my favourite t-shirts come from there. If I didn’t, I probably wouldn’t wear t-shirts at all.
The black leather biker
A black leather biker jacket. When I moved to Montreal in 2010, I got to autumn and couldn’t figure out why none of my outfits looked right. I realised it was because I’d chosen to leave my beloved All Saints leather biker in England, deeming it non-essential. Turns out a black leather jacket makes 90% of my outfits feel more coherent, more satisfying and more me. I’m now wearing one I got from ASOS Curve last winter, which is perfect. But what’s around at the moment?
This is exactly what I’m looking for. Gently cropped, black, real leather, biker shape.
How many on ASOS Curve? 2. How many on Simply Be? o. How many on Evans? 0.
ASOS Curve have two at the moment, which is the same as they did last year- one for £100, and another, slightly nicer one for 120. If you want a leather jacket and you’re above a size 16/18, you pretty much have to go to ASOS. I’ve been super happy with the style, fit and quality of my leather jacket, which I’ve worn endlessly since I got it.
So, all told, how did the stores do? Did any one store offer one single version of all five wardrobe staples that you can easily buy from Topshop? Nope. The scores are thus: ASOS Curve with 4/5. Simply Be with 2/5. Evans with 0/5. This is a problem! The thing I hear my fat compatriots saying more than anything else about the macro trends in plus size fashion is “I just want what thin girls have, but in my size” and nowhere is this more obvious than in basics. I’m sure I would suffer the same fate if I did the same experiment with a black blazer, a coloured cashmere sweater and a sharp-pleated midi skirt, but alas these things are quite labour-intensive and I have neither the time nor the inclination. This serious gap in the market only serves to make dressing difficult. These items aren’t extraordinary feats of design, they’re just clothes that make getting dressed easier and serve as good backdrops for other, more frivolous items. Please, fatshion retailers, hear our prayers?
What item of clothing do I love more than any other? Outerwear. I just can’t get enough of coats and jackets. They pull an outfit together, they can make a statement, they can conceal a lazy ensemble underneath. I just adore them. So when Simply Be were kind enough to let me road-test two items from their new collection with Look magazine, naturally I went for the coat as one of them. That said, I actually had my heart set on the skirt and the shirt, but when it came to it, and when I saw the collection in person at an event at the new Oxford Street store, I had a total change of heart. I’ll post the other item I was sent next week when my regular photographer is back from New York (I miss her painfully), but for now here’s one excellent item from the Look collaboration.
I’m not exaggerating when I say this season’s Look // Simply Be collection is my favourite single plus-size offering ever. I would wear each and every piece they’ve made this season, and it’s the most cohesive, design-led selection I’ve seen marketed at fat women. Every item is perfect, and I don’t feel like any of them are compromises to please fats at the expense of pattern or shape. I got so many compliments on my coat this weekend, and I feel so comfortable in it. It’s chic, wearable, well-made, not too heavy, no polyester lining, big square pockets that I can fit a book in (currently reading: Victoria Glendinning’s biography of Vita Sackville-West). I just love it. Maybe that’s why I’m smiling so much. Or maybe it’s because my friends Laura and Leah were doing sexy dancing behind Ellie while she was taking my picture. Maybe.
While going through a breakup earlier in the summer, I decided to give myself some light at the end of the tunnel and make sure I had something to look forward to. I booked to go to Gothenburg for a few days towards the end of September, knowing that by then I would be back on my feet and in the mood to enjoy it. And how right I was! I spent last weekend in Sweden and had an absolutely wonderful time, sitting on trams, sitting on boats, learning stuff, eating cake, drinking coffee, reading, strolling in the sunshine, looking at art, chilling in the harbour. I also did some quality hangouts with my pal Fiona who lives there, including a spot of shopping, where I picked up some excellent items. I’ll post the accessories when the temperature drops (a perfect baby blue scarf and a black beanie hat with a net veil!) but I’ve already put a couple of the items into wardrobe circulation.
I adore this light jacket. I’m naturally hot as hell (in body temperature as in looks) so having very lightweight outerwear makes the beginning and end of summer much more bearable. It comes in various colours (from plain black to a pattern reminiscent of fireworks) but I thought this one was the best of both worlds. And I love wearing it over a midi dress of the same length, so it’s a good job I also got my hands on this useful black jersey midi dress. I noticed Swedish H&M had a lot more basic pieces in XL than I’ve ever seen in London branches, which is why I bought it while I was there rather than chancing they’d have it or something similar when I got home (which I bet they don’t). A comfy, easy autumn outfit.
I’m sure I’m not alone in having a Dress Hall of Fame. Dresses I’ve owned over the years that stay in your mind long after you’ve outgrown them and sent them to the charity shop or consigned them to the bin. My greatest hits include the one-shouldered lemon yellow dress from the first Kate Moss for Topshop collection (2007), a black dress with yellow flowers and a tulip-shaped skirt, again, from Topshop (2009) and vintage lilac and white dogtooth (2012). I have a feeling that this very dress is going to enter those ranks. A bright yellow shift dress with huge leopard print? It’s perfect. I included it in my wishlist post last week and had been deliberating over it for weeks and weeks (maybe months, at this point), so when my sweet, lovely, girlfriend told me she had 25% off on ASOS with student discount, I decided to bite the bullet and just make it mine once and for all. Boy, am I glad I did! I felt so good wearing this. It’s just so me- it’s attention-grabbing but sweet and feminine at the same time. Perfect.
I don’t often talk about personal stuff on this blog, but I figured once in a while it might be good, so this is a post about how I’ve found it useful and helpful to navigate online dating as a fat woman. Nearly three years ago, I decided I didn’t want to have monogamous relationships anymore, for the simple reason that they didn’t suit me. This means, though, that even though I spent two and a half of the past three years in a relationship, I was still dating the whole time. I’ve had a lot of dates (a bitter regret of mine is that I never catalogued them, but I’ve easily had 200 or more first dates since 2010), and my dating style and approach has become improved and refined over time. My weapon of choice is OkCupid, because the design is great, I love the matching algorithm, and it seems to be the most populated by interesting, thoughtful, attractive people, and is especially dense with nonmonogamous folk.
Since my first tip is ‘be the boss’, and I hate doing a post without a picture, please enjoy this photo of a young Bruce Springsteen. You don’t need to be the Boss, though, just be your own boss.
Be the boss
Don’t be at the mercy of everyone else: ask out the people you fancy, not the people you think will fancy you. This is my most important piece of advice. For the first year and a half-ish that I was on OkCupid, I had loads of dates, but 99% of the time, I didn’t fancy the people I was meeting. Why? Because I was letting my fat fears rule my choices, and going, primarily, for the ‘sort of people’ I thought would want to date me. I wasn’t even thinking about what I wanted, beyond ‘are they, like, at least 40% attractive?’.
My own internalised fatphobia and anxieties about how other people perceive my body (often rightly-held, though always useful to unpack) were clouding my judgement to the extent to which I was not allowing myself to be an active agent in my own love life. Then one day I just thought ‘fuck it’ and started messaging the people I wanted to date. I took control of my dating fate, and took steps towards having the experiences I actually wanted. And, what do you know, my luck changed overnight. I can’t fully articulate how much more fun I started to have when I was the one doing the digging around for interesting people, proposing dates and meeting babes. It was so empowering, and is something I’m never going to let go of. It’s a cliche, but confidence is so sexy. More than that, people believe what they’re told: if you message someone you find hot, the vibe that surrounds that action is ‘we are a good match, we are on the same page, we are a good fit’. Take control of your own narrative.
I identify strongly with a tweet by my darling pal Leah, all in lower case, simply saying ‘do wot i want’. It makes me laugh and is a generally good mantra. I ‘do wot i want’ and there’s always been a steady stream of people to do that with me.
Have shots of your body
If you’re a fat who’s embarrassed about the fact she’s fat, it’s a natural instinct to want to only show carefully-posed selfies with flawless contouring to conceal it. In the long run, though, this will do you zero good. Before every date you’ll find yourself wondering ‘but do they know I’m fat? What if they’re such a shitty person that that’s a deal-breaker for them? What if they spot me outside the bar and do a runner?’. If you have photos showing your fat body is fat, you can at least be secure in the knowledge that anyone who arranges a date with you is pretty cool with that. Your body is great, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Being fat isn’t necessarily a miserable, abject experience, and the more you try to reinforce that with your behaviour, the truer it becomes. So proudly post your body shots alongside your flawless selfies, and the body-positive babes will come your way.
My dating profile makes various references to the fact I’m fat, but none of them are apologies. Nowhere on my profile do I beat myself up about being fat, or apologize in advance to the people that are going to meet me. You are a beautiful, exciting, interesting person and anyone would be honoured to date you. That’s almost certainly the truth, unless you’re a mean ol’ thing. Never apologize for taking up someone’s time, never be grateful that they’re on a date with you, never buy into the myth that they have the upper hand because you’re fat and you should be happy they turned up. They have as much of an obligation to be delightful and interesting as you to, and to be honest, if you’re dating men, then never forget how mediocre many men are allowed to be: you have nothing to worry about.
Use technology to your advantage
These are quite OkCupid-specific suggestions, which is possibly an indication as to why it’s the best site, but anyway. There are two really useful ways you can make OkCupid a more fruitful and pleasant experience for you as a fat. Firstly, if you’re not using Chrome, then get Chrome, then install this plugin. I’m not going to say it’s life-altering, but it is life-enhancing. Now I’m using the plugin, this is what appears when I go on the profile of someone nice (this example taken from a hot date of yesteryear, who clearly matches perfectly with all the things I find appealing in a partner!):
This means I can tell straight away that the person whose profile I’m looking at probably doesn’t hate fat people. Whereas! If I’m scrolling through my potential matches and think ‘Ooooh, looks cute, let’s check ‘em out…’ and it turns out they’re a wrong ‘un, this is what I see at the top of the page instead:
This means the answers they’ve given on body type are B – A – D and they are not someone I want to date. This saves me the trouble of either blithely messaging them and wasting my precious typing energy (which I conserve for blogging and bitchy tweets), or having to trawl through the answers to their questions, looking for specific tweets about their attitudes to bodies. Basically, it streamlines the whole experience. You can customise the plugin to reflect things that are important to you, so obviously the ‘weight nondiscriminating’ category isn’t standard across everyone’s.
The plugin is free, but another thing that can enhance being a fat babe on OkCupid is having a paid account. It’s not actually super expensive, nothing on your profile exposes you as having a paid account, and in addition to all the other excellent benefits (being able to creep on people’s profiles without them seeing! knowing whether someone’s read your message or not!), you can filter your matches based on their answer to specific questions. So I’m now able to filter the list of people I see when I search for people in London, in the age range I prefer, who have answered positively to the two major questions that OkCupid uses to determine compatible body politics (If one of your potential matches were overweight, would that be a dealbreaker? and Can overweight people still be sexy?). If you’re someone who would prefer a partner that explicitly prefers fat people, you can search for people who have given that answer. Both the plugin, and the ability to search by answer to a question, are just great timesaving approaches, and mean I personally feel more secure as a fat woman doing online dating.
Personally, people who aren’t 100% positive about fat bodies are one of my hard limits. I’m not going to reward them for their bad politics by dating me. It’s not hard to rise above fatphobia, and if someone can’t do it, then I don’t want them to make a special exception just for me.
Don’t buy into the bullshit too much
Yes, fatphobia is rife, but no, it’s not literally everywhere. I’ve been dating at a range of fat sizes (like, a spectrum of 5 over the past few years), and none of them have prevented me from dating top-quality humans. A lot of people are a lot less motivated by oppressive body politics than fear might lead you to believe. You are attractive and worthwhile in your own right, but also in the eyes of other people, and being fat doesn’t dim the light on all your other amazing qualities (whether those are great hair, raucous laugh, excellent storytelling abilities, wicked cooking skills etc). Anyone worth dating will be able to see that, and will think your fat body is totally babely.
Go forth and date!
A lot of these tips and thoughts are transferrable to people who aren’t fat, but more specifically, my truly excellent friend Fornicatrix has written a similar post for sex workers, if you think that would be helpful to you.