I love shopping. Honestly, put me in a shopping mall with a limitless credit card, I would be in my glory. I will happily spend hours traipsing around shops, purely because I love fashion that much. However I also hate shopping. I hate it because I’ve had more experiences of heading home feeling disgusted with myself than I’ve had of heading home buzzing over my latest purchase. As a plus size woman, I rarely find what I want in shops. And by ‘what I want’, I mean, what will actually fit me. The plus-size shopping experience, to be perfectly honest, is a joke.
This isn’t some bold statement, this isn’t me trying to be ungrateful for the plus size brands that take up space in my wardrobe and offer me looks in my size. This is about me being fed up of how fat women have to shop.
The female shopping experience – especially that of the plus size woman – is something that I’ve cared about strongly for a really, really long time. How my feelings towards it have developed has come with age and weight gain. I’ve previously written about how at the age of about ten years old, I no longer fitted into the children’s range, or the teens range, and had to buy a school skirt in the women’s section. The shame and self-hatred that stemmed from that one shopping trip – Peacocks, I’ll send you the therapy bill – has stayed with me, even 15 years later. As I left the store, eyes swollen from crying to my mum in the changing room, I vowed and declared that if I ever won the lottery, I would make clothes that bigger people could wear, so that they never had to feel the way I felt. Ten. Years. Old. As I got older (and larger), I learnt to deal with these unfortunate encounters with size labels and changing room mirrors. And as I got even older, I realised that I wasn’t the only one who felt this way.
I have spent the majority of my plus size fashion evolution sat in front of a computer screen. Why? Because just walking into a shop (unless it’s something like Evans or Yours), and picking up something you like and want to take home with you just isn’t a possibility. Well it is, but it’s a rarity. If I have events, I need to know well ahead of schedule, because if it requires a new outfit, I need time to sort myself something out that can turn up on my doorstep in time.I spend an eternity returning things, or having to temporarily spend more to try several sizes, and the changing room is restricted to inside the four walls of my bedroom. Sure, the mirrors and lighting are a massive improvement to what I used to endure in the changing rooms on the high street, but the experience itself – of walking into a store, picking something up, trying it on, and then deciding whether to spend my money on it – is gone. They already have my money, whether that’s on a permanent or temporary basis. The atmosphere is different. Whilst it can be beneficial for us to have it turn up on our doorstep rather than having to leave the house, it takes a large, and in many ways, vital, aspect away from the shopping experience that plus size women deserve to have the option to choose whether they have it or not.
But Terri, some brands have plus ranges in store! Do you want to get me started? You do? Oh, goody! In-store plus size sections, where do I even begin? I hate them. Let me paint a picture for you: you walk into a store, where colourful window displays, and rails upon rails of clothes greet you. But no, they’re not for you. You head to the escalators, generally headed down to the basement, and see a sign that says ‘plus’, ‘curve’, or whatever other word they’ve opted to use for their fat customers. You head downstairs, where there’s an almighty shoes and accessories section. Sometimes even there’s a returns desk. Then, tucked away in the corner, where the lighting is the worst in the entire store, you see a couple of rails, maybe five or six if you’re lucky, sitting under a sign that may as well have FAT SECTION written on it.
The clothing selection is miniscule, bordering on poor, there’s one, maybe two if you’re lucky, of each piece in stock. And there’s generally always a fucking tunic. When you step within those boundaries, you’re also no stranger to the fact that you’re the only one there, relegated to the murky corner of the store, and the sales assistant that’s headed to the stock room for five minutes of peace and quiet is staring at you, the fat girl that dares to enter the shop. Gone is the day where I could wander into a store at the spur of the moment, and pick up an outfit to go out that evening. Isn’t that what the luxury of shopping is about? The option to try on the entire shop. The option to try it on without having to part with your money first. The option to enjoy the experience. ASOS Premier is the closest I get to a truly successful, sort-of quick shop. Where are our options?
I have multiple problems with the plus size shopping experience as it is. I actually spoke about them fairly in-depth in a Q&A with a student from Parsons New School. If it’s not about size availability, it’s about design. If it’s not about design, it’s about the quality. If it’s not about the quality, it’s about the price. And if it’s not about the price, it’s about the fact that if it’s a half decent looking garment, every plus size woman will be wearing it.
We are paying customers just the same as every other ‘straight’ sized person. We’re a powerful corner of the market; we want the same options, and the same respect. We shouldn’t be relegated to a dimly lit corner in a shop, or exclusively catered to via the Internet. The plus size consumer is a force to be reckoned with. And frankly, we deserve better.