The best argument against the evidence of democracy in fashion is a conversation with a fat woman

27 July, 2010

Over the last few weeks I’ve had the thrill of being involved in an arena of fashion I have never sought to enter. Threadbared have been discussing the issue of democratisation of fashion recently, and my invitation to cover fashion awards as a blogger could well be evident of this new democracy in action, but the thing is… I still don’t fit in. Literally. There is a spectrum of people that fashion caters to, and I do not fit within it, so even though I have been an invited blogger and my involvement and views were welcomed and paid for, I still felt like somewhat of an impostor. Let me flesh it out.

One sits quite comfortably within the spectrum of fashionability if one is young, slim, of average height, with no visible disabilities, socially well-connected, and can afford to look fashionable. The fashion industry caters to the spectrum and seeks to make people within it feel welcome and included. Fitting in is not just easy, it’s taken for granted, and that’s part of the privilege people within the spectrum enjoy. It may not be so apparent to those people that there are people outside the spectrum who might find it difficult.

As a tall plus sized woman I might think it’s fairly obvious that I sit well outside the spectrum that the fashion industry caters to. In my mind, it shouldn’t take a great deal of observation to see that I am sized out of straight size fashion. My clothes look different, for better or for worse, and my possibilities for self expression are narrow. However, I’ve been utterly amazed by the amount of people who deny that my access to fashionable garments is limited. It’s not usually vicious either! An acquaintance whose partner runs a vintage clothing store recommended I check it out, and when I mentioned that vintage clothing to accommodate a 52” bust was scarce, well, he was surprised. Those who are catered to by fashion assume that pretty much everyone has the same degree of access – and that’s simply not the case.

Those outside the spectrum on the fringes are Othered and essentially excluded from enjoying the benefits of existing within the spectrum: for those with a disability, clothes may fit poorly or inhibit movement; garments could well be out of one’s price range; language, even a strong accent, may be a barrier to establishing social networks; or one may simply just not fit into fashionable garments due to being too tall/ short, plus sized/ petite. To many operating from within the spectrum of fashion, they might not be aware that many are just not comfortable socialising within the spectrum due to occupying the space of The Other.

Being othered by fashion affects one’s chances of networking further within the fashionable spectrum and in most everyday social contexts too, beyond complaints of clothes not fitting and being too expensive. If fashionable garments are not available, one has to make do with what is available. As a fat lady, I’m painfully aware that I have a handful of clothing options in Australia and online options in the UK and US. Plus size fashion usually lingers a couple of seasons behind the local fashion industry, so the outfits I roll up to events in are likely to draw a few questionable glances, and let’s be honest, a bit of “OMG what is she wearing!“. And that’s what I’m used to. It doesn’t make me feel welcome or included – it makes me feel like I oughtn’t be there. So by not ticking many boxes that gain me inclusion within the fashion industry I’m disadvantaged, but by making do with what is available and still turning up – I attract more derision which in turn makes me feel even more of a fraud! Many may choose not to get to know me further just because what I wear doesn’t meet a fashionable standard, or because my body doesn’t display clothes in a fashionable way.

It might be true that human beings make sense of the world by exercising judgment and grouping human beings together by characteristic, but that doesn’t mean it’s ideal or helps contribute to a better, more inclusive world. Fashion has a long way to go before it is democratised. It’d be great if fat people could wear amazing clothes, shit it’d be a good start if my husband could find a collared business shirt that fit his neck! While some fashion industry participants might be ignorant of barriers to involvement, I know a lot of the decisions leading to othering are financial too. I think we need to talk about that, as a community of human beings that are required by social convention to be clothed, because if we’re going to have standards just so human beings on the fringe can be looked down on – that’s pretty horrific and unjust. By blogging about the problematic parts I hope to contribute to a wider discussion of the issues, because I see democratisation as a pretty nice goal – but it’s certainly not happening right now just because a couple of bloggers sat in the front row of a runway show.

And at the end of the day – I still don’t have anything fashionable enough to wear to the Chambord Shine finals. It’s pretty bloody frustrating and upsetting.

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