When I was a fat kid, the choices I had for clothing were dismal – especially in my teen years. Too tall to wear half-sizes (anybody remember half-sizes?), I was stuck with whatever Sears had in its women’s section – size 18 to 20. Most stores (including K-Mart) didn’t carry anything above a size 16, and the catalogues didn’t go up to my size either – unless you could wear a half size (which would put the waistline somewhere just under my boobs, thank you very much).
So most of my store-bought clothes were plain and dull. Navy, burgundy, and black A-line skirts with “matching” pale blue, pink and white short sleeve blouses; and navy and burgundy slacks. Whoo-hoo. And don’t forget the navy and burgundy v-neck sweaters to go with. Not quite stylin’ in the mod-60s! Sigh.
My (maternal) grandmother and my mom helped by adding home-sewn items to my wardrobe and those were always my favorite things to wear. But sewing patterns in my size were limited and not very stylish either.
In 1971 my mother took me to a clothing store in Detroit. That store was Lane Bryant and I thought I had died and gone to heaven. The clothes were stylish and pretty, and came in lots of gorgeous colors. I was only allowed to buy one dress (which was needed for some special occasion, long since forgotten – the occasion, not the dress); but I was thrilled – oh, and they had cute shoes in my size too!
Then in 1972, a local business woman saw the potential of providing stylish clothes to fat women and opened her own store. I found out about it when they hired me to do a couple of television commercials for them! And they paid me in clothes – just in time for me to start college! The owner was expanding her store to include a Tall Shop and she hired me to work in that section of the store – not only did I have a discount, I now had first dibs on the clothes coming in.
Needless to say, my closet was soon full of great clothes. My closet is still full of great clothes – admittedly, more than I need but having been a fat girl who just wanted to be stylish, it is hard for me to resist when I see something darling in a catalogue or on a hanger. I’m afraid I have a real scarcity mentality when it comes to clothes that I like. I can’t quite believe that there will always be nice clothes for me when I need them.
Lane Bryant eventually opened a store in a nearby mall, and the clothing stores of the local business woman have since closed. Now we have so many options – catalogues, fat lady clothing stores, the internet, and a lot of stylish fat-size sewing patterns for those who have the skill, time and inclination to make their own clothing.
The fat fashion world has changed so much since I was that fat girl who wanted to be stylish. There is still more to be done (like using appropriately sized models), but I’m so glad that fat kids growing up today can find clothes that say “you are part of this world and you deserve to look stylish – we have not forgotten you.”