C'est Cheese!




Fat Chance

I glare. I grouse under my breath. I flick things as I walk by. I wrinkle my nose. I mutter "Oh, for-" and "You've GOT to be kidding!" a lot.

No, this isn't me at Disneyland. I'm not at a family reunion. No.

I'm clothes-shopping.

I'm plus-size clothes-shopping.

People who wear size 12 and under can't possibly fathom the horrors of plus-size clothing. I'll admit, in the last five years or so, things've gotten better; designers like Gianni Versace, Liz Claiborne, Ralph Lauren and lines like Charter Club, Inc. and Jones New York are finally starting to carry a few semi-stylish and classic pieces in larger sizes (provided you can afford them). But by and large, pardon the pun, plus-size designers and manufacturers seem to be operating from another cosmos entirely. Stylish? Trendy? Good quality? Hell, FLATTERING? Fat chance.

It's common knowledge by now that "the average American woman is a size 14" and "62 million women are plus-size" and "the size-zero image perpetuated by Hollywood is unhealthy and unrealistic." Yet go to any boutique or store but Lane Bryant, and it's ALL below-14-sized clothing. Go to any department store here in Los Angeles, and you'll find two floors of the below-14-sized clothing… and half a floor of petite-sized clothing… and, um, about four to six rounders of plus-sized clothing crammed 'way in the far back corner of the top floor, hidden in an alcove behind luggage and tacky formal dresses.

When I lived in NYC, I had half a chance of finding a decent selection of clothing in larger sizes, because the flagship Macy's there devotes the East 8th floor to a Women's Department. For the first time in my plus-size life, I found coats and suit jackets that fit me, jeans and t-shirts and white button-down shirts, all tailored to my curves; for the past ten years, I'd been buying those items in less-than-flattering Big-and-Tall men's sizes. Granted, 99% of the clothing stores and styles in the city were still off-limits to my fat ass… no Betsey Johnson, no DKNY, no Dolce&Gabbana, or heck, even Banana Republic and Gap. But, for the first time in a long time, as I took the elevator up to the 25th floor of the publishing house where I worked, dressed in a kick-ass grey suit with a duster-length coat or an elegant black turtleneck sweater and sleek trousers with a black leather jacket, I felt like I had some possibility of expressing myself through my clothing; I had fashion choices other than the XXL sweatshirts from the men's section of Ross Dress for Less.

Then I moved back to LA.

Have you ever tried shopping for plus-size clothing in LA? Okay, many mall department stores here don't even HAVE a plus-size department! Why? Because Fatty isn't supposed to EXIST in LA! In NYC, if you were well-groomed and nicely dressed (admittedly, according to NYC standards… black, black, and more black), you could go into almost any store or restaurant in the city and be treated relatively well. But LA? I mean, if you are Someone, Anyone in LA, surely you can afford gym membership/a personal trainer/personal chef or nutritionist/The Zone, right? I've never experienced Lookism as much as here in LA. Time and again, when I've been poking around Melrose or Robertson for whatever reason, I've had the same experience: the hip, trendy boutique staff either give me dirty, contemptuous looks or ignore me altogether … only to fawn all over the cute, tiny, Taut Brown LA Grrl that comes in after me.

Trying to find a simple item like a black sweater or a denim jacket or a pair of flattering navy pants in a plus size is a feat that requires a Godzilla-thick skin and Herculean will. Don't even think about the more demanding tasks, like, say, finding a dress to wear to an evening wedding or a nice black suit. I'll bet you a dollar that most of the larger-figured women you see in oversized sweatshirts and old stretch pants are just wearing them because they can't find another damned thing to wear in the clothing stores. A shopping trip for a full-figured woman is demeaning and frustrating enough to even make the most patient soul want to scream "Fuck this shit!" and go home and throw on a Big-and-Tall-Men's flannel shirt instead of having to deal with the inanity of finding something, ANYTHING wearable with our limited choices.

Don't believe me?

To wit: It's time for me to shop for a few more Professorial Clothes, as I'm teaching some late-summer term classes. I, as usual, have managed to dribble something on my one white button-down shirt, and my black pants - thanks to a too-hot hotel iron - are now marred with a lovely triangular-shaped shiny patch right on the right leg, complete with steam holes. I currently have a choice of MAYBE four non-slobby-clothes outfits to wear. Envy me. So last week, I took myself to various LA shopping spots where, from experience, I know I can find plus-size clothing. With shopping list (needed: grey trousers, navy trousers, white shirt, black suit, track pants) in hand, I made the rounds.

Stop 1. Macy's, Beverly Center. I run the gauntlet of perfume-wielding salesfolk on the main-floor cosmetics department to the escalator, and go up two floors and then aaaaaall the way to the back to their meager section of Women's clothes. Awesome. Here's a rack full of long-sleeved tailored shirts in white, pink and chambray… but upon pulling a few out to examine, I can see that they all feature, um, "decoration" on them: sequined poodles, kitties and horsies all over the breast pockets. No. There are a few navy trousers, but they're polyester, elastic-waistband, gathered and decidedly old-ladyish. No. Hmmm. A few floral-print skirts. But these aren't groovy brightly-colored Betsey Johnson florals; these are washy colors and gaudy prints more suited to a Kountry Kute slipcovered chair than a wearable item of clothing. Major Old Lady. No. Okay then. Blouses. Again, we've got a selection of ivory, pink and grey… again all senior citizen shades… not to mention rayon and tent-styled. No. More blouses… this time in pastel plaids. No. A sale rack, crammed with flower-print shorts, two blazers in screaming turquoise, oodles of cotton elastic-waisted loose black pants, several "dressy" shirts paved with colored swoops of sequins, tons of striped (read that: HORIZONTAL striped) shirts and sweaters, the usual assortment of Old Lady Print shirts- Boy, this is riches. Ha. A rack of dresses: sheath-style, sleeveless, in a large floral print… but hey, there're choices: you can pick the blue floral OR the pink! No. Ah! A rack of "coordinates"… which means a straight black skirt, a button jacket-shirt, and a short-sleeved pullover shirt, all made out of the same crappy black textured rayon weave and trimmed with rows of beadwork fringe in shades of browns and reds. No. Really. NO! Tunic-style pullovers, which, simply put, means "big tents of fabric with long sleeves." How flattering. Or not. Ditto the zebra-printed tunic short-sleeved blouses, again in that fabulous polyester-rayon fake-silky material. Who BUYS this shit? And the dress rack. Look. Various floral- and other-print fabric, short sleeves and rounded collars with lacy and ribbon trim, smocked waists, and skirts that start somewhere around the armpits and just get wider and wider. More sleeveless sheath-style sausage casings. "Tiered" dresses with layers of varying-patterned fabrics. One black bias-cut dress, but in a shimmery-weave, clingy rayon-knit material. A v-neck wrap-around dress in some turquoise-based 70s fake Pucci print. No. Small wonder I'm outa this place within 20 minutes, empty-handed.

Thank God earrings and make-up aren't a plus-size issue.

Stop 2: Nordie's "Encore" section, Westside Pavilion. [Wendy of poundy.com fame made an astute observation: "Encore?" You mean like in opera? The fat lady sings! I get it. --W.] Again, top floor, far end, and half the size of the petite department. Nordstrom, though, carries the line of clothing by Emme, the gorgeous "plus size" model who prolly weighs all of 140, but is at least better than the Kate Moss/Giselle school of beauty. I head for the Emme display first. Well. There's a scoop-neck plain black pull-over short-sleeved shirt, but only the size 3X is left, and it's been marked down (yes, down) to $89.00. No. A boat-neck sleeveless jersey dress in melon. No. Some pants-and-shirt combo in an espresso-brown tone. No, not my color. Even if it wasn't over $200 for the two pieces. Okay, so much for Emme. Over to Ralph Lauren, where I generally have the most luck. And hey! A sale! Well…. More flowered shorts. Polo shirts. Pastel flowery skirts that, while okay, aren't my colors either. No, then. Hey! A beautiful black cashmere turtleneck- but darn, it's short-sleeved AND $113. No. Ditto the same garment in cream. Onward. The requisite RL Country Weekend garb. Nope, not my style, not my color, not Professorial. Tailored black jacket, just what I'm looking for! I try it on, and, of course, it hits me right at mid-hip, and makes me look blocky. Ditto the navy jacket. One more rack of button down shirts in pink and yellow. Nope. So much for Ralph. Three more racks of assorted brands. Brown suede skirts and black leather pants and magenta leather blazers and pale blue raincoats, all in the two-hundred-dollar price range. No. More sets of "coordinates": asymmetrical skirts in both rust and black, made from chiffon-like material with ruffles around the hem; the matching shirts tie at the waist and have more ruffles. No. And a long straight aqua skirt and matching long tunic shirt that looks like it's been tie-died with white, and features six inches of a "contrasting" navy trim on the hems of each. Wrong. Another rack of blazers. I try two more black, a grey and a navy, and, despite small variations in lapels or length, they all button across the boobies and hit me in the hippal area just enough to make me look straight-lined from shoulder to ass. Thanks, but no. And dudes, what is UP with the Mongo Shoulder Pads from Hell? Do plus-size women REALLY need to be adding that much bulk? Geez. Rack of black trousers, but, alas, they're more of the same large, elasti-wasted cotton things. Wait! Here's a nice pair of flat-waisted boot-cut black pants… but upon closer inspection, I see it's a size 10 mistakenly crammed in with the baggy fatty clothes. (Well, in Carré Otis's universe, size 10 IS a plus size.--W.) A rack of plain tailored shirts… but they're all priced at almost a hundred dollars each, and have elbow-length sleeves I don't care for. Huh. Business-like skirts. I try a black and a grey, but, like the jackets, they're straight up-and-down, and hit me just where it makes me look like a big block. Denim overalls. Wrong again. I make another pass at the Ralph Lauren section 5 minutes before the store is supposed to close, and, miracle of miracles, unearth a pair of flat-waisted boot-cut grey trousers - no pleats, no gathers, no puckers, no bulky pockets - that look good. Of course, they are about the only thing in the RL section not on sale. They cost me $79.00. But I consider that, having spent under a hundred bucks on a pair of classic and flattering grey trousers, I've still gotten some kind of a bargain.

The next day:

Stop 3: Lane Bryant, Century City. Okay, I really appreciate Lane Bryant in theory. You know, a variety of clothes, professional dress separates, "heavy women can still be sexy," blah blah blah. But whenever I go there, I remember why I renamed Lane Bryant "the Fat Hootchie Store." (My grandma says, "In my day, [Lane Bryant] was where the sluts bought their clothes."--W. ) Seventeen million piles of t-shirts and tank tops trimmed with sequins and rhinestones. Super-low-cut animal-print wrap-around dresses. Capri pants. Shiny pleather pants and skirts. And okay, yeah, the basics, like jeans and sweater sets and scoop-necked cotton shirts in twelve different colors… but all in that really chintzy, really cheap, really poor-quality fabric characteristic to chain stores like Lane Bryant. This trip is no exception. Yup, right in front are the oodles of sexy Bedazzledä t-shirts and tank tops. Admittedly, I wouldn't mind one, you know, for the two nights a year I find myself in need of something fun and hip and amusing to wear. But one red t-shirt with sparklies that spell out "HOTTIE" can go a long way… and that ain't to the office (or the classroom, as my case may be). So I bypass the 27 piles of sexy-wear to check out their business casual stuff. Well. 3 racks of the same black pants and matching jackets, in that aforementioned so-not-high-quality cotton-Lycra-whatever blend. (If you've ever bought anything from Lane Bryant, you know what I mean: they fade and develop fabric pills after two washings. They lose their crispness even if dry-cleaned. They fray and unravel and have buttons that go missing almost immediately. There MUST be a scientific name for the condition that occurs in Lane Bryant clothes when they shrink up in length yet STILL get all stretched-out and baggy looking.) Identical button-down shirts in a rainbow of colors, again, in that niiiiice fabric. Miniskirts. MINI-miniskirts. And short-shorts. Oh, for Gawd's sake! More of the asymmetrical-chiffon-print-type separates, replicated this time in Lane Bryant's Special Quality Fabric. Gah. On my fast-paced break for the front door, though, I find myself smiling when faced with a black jacket trimmed with metal studs and a superfluous sideways zipper across the front. Thank you, God. The 80s are back.

Stop 4: Macy's, Century City. Hey, WOW! They've actually EXPANDED the women's section here! Yeah, it's on the top floor behind luggage and formal dresses, but it's easily twice the size of the lingerie department now! Gee whiz. This ALMOST makes up for the time a year ago when I came to this store and was informed "Oh, we don't HAVE large sizes here. You need to go to the store in Sherman Oaks for that." I actually spend long minutes salivating in delight as I look around before I realize that… sadly… despite the increased floor-space, there really isn't anything new and fab here, dammit. I spend over an hour - OVER AN HOUR - looking for a plain black suit… any kind of plain black suit; pants, long skirt, short skirt, I don't care! Heck, I'll even settle for a grey or navy suit! But again, not a single jacket out of 7 different designers comes in any style other than "big, wide, hip-length and blocky." Not a single fitted jacket in the world. Here we go again. Coordinates in gaudy old-lady prints. Horizontal stripes. Baggy ballooning pullovers and dresses with no waist definition whatsoever. Bulky, heavy sweaters. Cutesy flower prints. Tons of sequins and beadwork and ruffles. I take a bathroom break, freshen my lipstick, and then try again. Nope. Still the same. After almost two hours, I can't take anymore.

Stop 5: Bloomingdale's, Century City. The Women's Section at Bloomie's couldn't be more hidden if it tried, and I spend a good five minutes staring around the china department before I follow a walkway around… and back… before FINALLY finding it tucked behind and walled off from the rest of the store, literally the only department here that is completely out of sight. (Oh, but they figured it was OK, since the fat chicks are always shopping for more china to hold all the stinking food they eat. --W.) The displays here're shabbier, the light is worse; downstairs even the sale racks look nice, but here in Fattyland, the sales racks are crammed a la Sears outlet and crowded too close together, and stacked shirt and sweater displays are riffled-through and messy. But I see something as I squeeze my way past hanging baggy sweaters and old-lady jackets that keep trying to do a clinging-vine routine on my various limbs: over in the far corner, why, there's DKNY AND Gianni Versace for Women! What fun! Well-l-l-l … sadly, unlike my NYC experience, here the Versace stuff is aimed at the Gaudy Old Lady/Nouveaux Riches set. I mean, screaming pink super-size floral print? With gold trim? I am NOT Jackie Taylor's fatter sister, dammit! Okay, then, DKNY. Ahhhh. This is it? Wait! WAIT! Lookit THIS! Ohmigawd, it's the jacket I've been looking for! Black, single-breasted, fitted in the waist, mid-thigh-length! I try it on, and DAMN, I look hot! Elegant! Sophisticated! This is the type of jacket that you can wear over a skirt or trousers, with a tailored shirt or a bustier, classic enough to last a lifeti- I look at the price tag. It's four hundred dollars. FOUR FUCKING HUNDRED DOLLARS! Even I, who have rationalized $200 for a flattering and classic suit with years of wear in it can't stomach a price tag like that. Even if I HAD the money, which I don't. And I'm not about to, like, FINANCE a freakin' SUIT COAT! *sigh * At any rate, with some more digging, I FINALLY find a non-straight black skirt that flares nicely above my knees and looks good with casual and dressy shirts. And, by the same designer (INC.), I also find a pair of non-old-lady black pants, really cute boot-cut ones that look sleek, because they are blessedly lacking those everlasting pleats, gathers, puckers and bulky pockets! And, score three, because I also unearth a plain, sophisticated, classic black turtleneck, non-bulky, non-lumpy, just simple and nice. Woo hoo! Now GET ME THE FUCK OUT OF HERE!

I'm not saying that slimmer women don't have trouble finding clothes. But, dammit, sometimes it seems like the limited kinds/styles of clothes for plus-sized women is a deliberate slap in the face… or on the plus-sized ass. I mean, hello? Not everyone who takes a size 20 is styleless, over 50 years old, and/or into cutesy girl-woman garb. It's like designers try to emphasize every possible flaw with unflattering cuts, unrealistic styles, or fucking butt-ugly fabrics. It's one extreme or the other: dowdy lump or fat hootchie. Contemporary styles that would actually look GOOD on full figured women, like bias cut dresses, flat-fitted trousers and gently fitted shirts and sweaters are almost completely missing… and instead, they cram more lace-trimmed dresses with sixteen yards of billowing print fabric at us.

And the inconsistencies are a little weird, too. I mean, I'll see beautiful things in the smaller-sized versions of Jones New York or Inc. or Liz Claiborne… things like shirts in certain colors or patterns that certainly shouldn't be mutually exclusive to single-digit sizes… yet things that are conspicuously missing when I go upstairs and look at the Women's line by the same designers. Right now, I see pin-striped suits and trousers (which would look FABULOUS on fuller-figured women!) everywhere… except in the Women's sizes. And yet for some reason, the same designers' Women's collections're crammed with busily-patterned (and unflattering) big ol' hound's-tooth and checks instead. The few trendy, contemporary, or "in" items that make their way into plus-size land are the pieces that have little business being there… I mean, there are no gently-fitted t-shirts to be had, but there are skimpy HALTER TOPS? Oooh, how very Ricki Lake Guest a wardrobe choice! The season's "in" colors (like the beautiful lilac I saw everywhere last spring, or the perfect red the fall before) are usually absent from plus-size clothes too. And, conversely, you don't usually see the non-plus-sized departments crammed full of sequin-kitty appliqués, beaded rayon hippy-matron coordinates and Kountry Kute lace-trimmed floral dresses, do you? (Well, outside of Wal-Mart, I mean….)

So designers, could y'all take note here…?

For one thing, full-figured women come in more shapes than just "fat." We, too, have long waists, short waists, small breasts, large breasts, broad shoulders, narrow shoulders, narrow hips, wide hips, big butts, flat butts- Take me. Yeah, so I've worn a size 18-20 before. I still have a curvy, hourglass figure with a decided waistline. Yet all the shapeless, sheath-like, or waistless things on the market make me look horrible, all blocky and chunky. There's a variety of shapes in smaller sizes… why are plus-sizes different?

For another thing, every single full-figured woman I've known is self-conscious about her body, or a part of her body. Again, take me. I won't expose my flabby upper arms. I don't feel comfortable unless something is covering my stomach. And, while yeah, I do have a nice rack, I still don't want it hanging out for all to see thanks to shirts with necks down to nipple-line. Can you imagine the fun I had trying to find a dress for Goddess Caroline's wedding, with nothing but old-lady sequin tents and flowery sleeveless sheath sausage dresses to choose from? One extreme to the other, guys…. Can't we find a happy medium between the tents 'o print fabric and the unflattering sleeveless things?

We also come in different personalities and with different fashion tastes than just "fat" too! I mean, if I had my way, style-wise, I wouldn't be wearing plain, severe classics; I dress that way because it's the best of what's available to me and makes the most sense economically. If I had the choice, why, I'd dress all retro 40s-style (which, incidentally, would look GREAT on my body type). But, unless I have all my clothes custom-designed, that ain't happenin'. So I make my choices between "classic drab 'n dumpy," "cutesy girl-woman" and "fat hootchie."

And, dudes, plus-size women don't live on a separate plane of lifestyle existence from our size-6 sisters! We have jobs. We like to go out. We have social events, dates, picnics. We work out at gyms, go hiking, jogging, to the beach. We like to bundle up in something comfy. We dress up. We dress down. We're fun, sexy, attractive. Gosh, an actual, um, variety of clothes to choose from would be awfully nice for a change … instead of those all-purpose elasti-wasted black polyester Grandma Pants to cover all bases from work trousers to activewear.

So, then, O Designers and Merchandisers! Wendy and I have come up with a list of Helpful Tips:

  • No animal print. Please.
  • No big checks, either.
  • Heck, enough with ALL the big prints!
  • No big pleats or gathers. I mean, right now pleated trousers aren't "in" in the regular departments… and they're unflattering on full figures… so WHY are they the bulk - no pun intended - of the plus-size department?
  • Don't go messing with the way jeans are cut. Somehow you guys think "boot-cut" jeans translate to "big Gumby legs" in plus sizes.
  • And quit with the shoulder pads. The 80s redux has barely started, fashion-wise, yet I've been seeing football-player-sized shoulder pads in the Women's section for YEARS! Stop it!
  • Stop with the sequins (as e.Beth once said, "what, if you're blinded by the light coming off my clothes, you won't notice that i'm fat?")
  • Stop with the beaded fringes and appliqués!
  • And stop with the damned ruffles!
  • And the "sailor" necklines with the big, floppy collars. Crap ahoy!
  • And the piles of lace and ribbons! We aren't eight years old!
  • No "mock" twinsets. You think we can't handle an actual cardigan with a real camisole underneath? Like we'll get all out of breath trying to put on TWO items of clothing?
  • Ditto with the pinafores with the fake shirt sewn underneath. What is this, remedial clothing?
  • No shiny, stretchy fabric. Especially not in clingy garments.
  • A little polyester goes a long way, you know.
  • Ditto the horizontal striping.
  • And the gaudy floral prints.
  • Did we mention no animal print? Or big geometric print? Or big checks? Or big florals? Or ANY big print? Yes. Stop it! NO BIG PRINTS!
  • Can we start seeing some normal colors and fabrics in plus-size clothing? Thank you.
  • And hey, can we see some nice, non-Grandma nightgowns, pjs and lingerie in our sizes for a change, too?
  • Pssst… "nice pjs" does NOT = "cutesy cow print."
  • Did we mention nice, non-Grandma bras in our sizes? Bra. Yes. BRAS! NON-GRANDMA BRAS!
  • Sports bras deserve a special mention all their own.
  • As do workout clothes. You know, larger women DO take part in physical activities, and would appreciate something other that Big-and-Tall men's sweatpants and oversize t-shirts to wear to work out it!
  • Hello, track pants? Non-polyester track pants? Right.
  • And howzibout that eveningwear? Can you start considering "elegant" and "sophisticated" for plus size evening dresses, instead of "flowered parachute" or "lacy sequined mainsail"?
  • Can you consider "elegant" and "sophisticated" instead of "straight tube o' chintz"?
  • Two words: bias cut.
  • Four more: princess-style waist line. Enough with the tents, already!
  • Quit shoving the Women's departments in the darkest recesses of the stores; we aren't pariahs. We won't ruin your store if other (thin) customers see us shopping there.
  • Quit charging considerably more for the plus-size clothes! And don't give us that "but they use more material!" b.s.; you don't mark a L shirt more than a S or M because it supposedly uses more material, do you?
  • And for God's sweet sake, quit thinking that "plus size" is the antithesis of "fashionable" or "stylish!"

Got a tale of plus-size shopping angst? Care to add to our List? Drop Dwanollah an e-mail and get it all off your chest (whether it's plus-sized or not!), and you could win, yes, a fabo-keen prize package! Yowza!

Special thanks to Wendy at poundy.com for her input. Also big smooches to the bflies Sheri and e.Beth for their mad proofreading skillz!