Puff Piece

A dishonest melange of irrelevant and empty arguments

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Better life through appliqué

“She was wearing one of those outfits I always thought of as fat-lady chic: leggings and a tunic top in soft, periwinkle blue, with silk-screened daisies across her chest. A beautiful outfit, and not cheap either, but play clothes. It’s as if the fashion designers decided that once a woman hit a certain weight, she’d have no need for business suits, for skirts and blazers, for anything except glorified sweatsuits, and they tried to apologize for dressing us like oversized teletubbies by silk-screening daisies on the tops”

Jennifer Weiner, Good In Bed

Personally, I've never had any problem with finding plus-sized business wear. Unfortunately, (or maybe not, since I’ve had a pathological hatred of having to wear uniform of any kind since school), I’ve little use for it. A good, simple, denim dress does me proud for work; smart without being frumpy, easy enough to jazz up with funky accessories, also practical, given that I spend a fair bit of time in scuzzy, paint-spattered studios. It took me seven years to find one at all, let alone one that fitted, flattered and wasn’t a shirt-waister, (soooo not a good look for a short-waisted apple like me). What’s more, I had to schlep all the way to the US to get it. Don’t get me wrong, I love shopping in America; not only is the quality of affordable plus-sized clothing vastly superior to its equivalent in the UK, the choice is superior too – and exercise be buggered; there is nothing like the endorphin rush this body gets from being let loose in a department store with multiple racks of duds in my size. All the same, the phrase ‘play clothes’ often comes back to haunt me.

My first denim frock, a classic loose-waisted Elisabeth number, has long since died on me after many years of sterling service so I sit here resplendent in its successor, a $15 bargain from Cato. While it can’t boast silk-screened daisies, it does have a row of cheerful little embroidered teacups across the front. This kind of frippery was all the rage the year I bought it, though only on plus-sized garments, I noticed; the latest in a long line of condescending gestures made by manufacturers who, God forbid, would ever stoop to asking us what we want to wear. I can just picture them, CEO and minions, not a clue or a fat arse between them, trying to get a handle on their target customer, “Well, we’re pretty sure she hates herself, rarely goes out and never has sex. Damn it, she deserves to have some fun so let’s give her... a royal purple and mustard two-piece covered in miniature appliquéd seed packets!” (Oh yes. For real. That particular ensemble will give me nightmares till the day I croak).

I’ve an American friend who has developed a morbid fear of beading. While spangles have been de rigeur for every sized bod on my side of the pond for quite a while I couldn’t, during a recent shopping trip, persuade her to try on a gorgeous deep purple Monsoon wrap top that would have hugged her pear-glass figure like an ardent lover – all because it was trimmed with teens-weensy, deep purple bugle beads. To her those beads might as well have been honking great rhinestones, so inured has she become to the scourge of fat-lady consolation glam. Despite all this I’m quite fond of my Cato dress; it’s appropriately arty and reflects my fondness for decorative ceramics. It’s also infinitely preferable to looking like an ageing goth slut, (no end of plus-sized items available if I wanted to, I’ve noticed), or, worse still, Mother Of The Bride, (ditto). Besides it’s not as if I’ve a violent aversion to cute; my bugbear lies with cute being imposed on me as some halfwit’s idea of compensation for being fat.

Meanwhile what do others make of us in our gratuitous frills and furbelows? Let’s face it, being at the mercy of designers’ chronic lack of imagination is frustrating enough in itself, but projecting the wrong sort of image in an image-fixated society could cost a body anything from a well-earned promotion to a date – especially when that body happens to be fat. And given the fact fat people make up half the population of the western world, that’s not only a pathetic state of affairs but fantastically short-sighted on the part of the fashion industry. I don’t need pity, thanks, much less compensation. What I need, pure and simple, is the same variety of choice my slimmer counterpart takes for granted. Yesterday.