I spent Saturday afternoon shopping with my cousins and aunt at the Corpus Christi mall. Shopping, since I was in high school, has always been a non-event. Only a handful of stores sell my size (ahem, 18), and so I spend most of the day enjoying company and shopping the accessories or shoes. On occasion, I meander to a Lane Bryant or Macy’s.
Today was really no different (though it was of course wonderful to see family), but as my waistline shrinks, I start to see little glimmers of possibility. As I stepped into Francesca’s, I felt like I was in Jessica Day’s (i.e., the New Girl’s) closet; everything was bright and colorful, and easy like Sunday morning. Of course, the largest size was “L.”
I expected no less (or rather, no more) from boutique-like places, or the likes of Buckle, Victoria’s Secret, Forever 21, and all the other places my cousins shop. At the end of the night though, I made my way to my trusty ol’ Macy’s “Women’s World” department. I was discombobulated, as it has been moved to a new floor. But, I can almost always find a great deal here, in my style, in my size. The thing is, with the new location, and my near-regular sized butt (well, regular, in my head at least, is sizes 0-16), I find myself dipping into the regular-sizes departments (for tops and full-skirted dresses).
As I looked out upon the vastness of the department floor, and my general experience with shopping Saturday, I became quickly overwhelmed at where I’m going to be in a few short months (in size 16s, that is). I will be able to shop at SO MANY new stores, and be able to shop an entire floor of a department store, and not just my little department.
And it hit me – just how comfortable I had become in plus sized clothing.
I remember a time in sixth grade (yes, sixth), my mom tried to take me shopping in a plus sized women’s clothing store at the mall. I refused and was likely completely bratty about the whole thing. I was mostly concerned of being seen in such a store (as the mall was THE most likely place to run into a classmate). In fact, thinking back it is silly that I had such a strong reaction, as any person could see I was overweight. My mom was just trying to find clothes that fit me, and I was in complete denial of my size, I suppose. Anyways, the clothes were tacky (I could tell from the ear piercing kiosk I scorned the store from).
At that time, I was a size 18, but I picked up tennis around then and leveled out around a size 10. In high school I can remember being a size 14 in my tennis skirt, and in college I remember some Limited crop pants I had in a size 12. What I don’t remember is the day I crossed into the plus size department. I don’t remember the day I went to the Gap, tried on some 16s (the largest they sold in stores), and went “Oh crap, these don’t fit.” I can remember in 2003 – 2005 (post college), ordering clothes from Gap.com in 18s, then 20s, but I really, truly, cannot remember walking into a plus size store or department for the first time.
Back then, plus sized options really, really sucked. But now, recently, oh my. That department and those stores have become SO easy for me. When I was in sixth grade, I had some incentive to lose weight – the plus sized clothes were terrible, and I didn’t want to get caught in one of those stores But these days, the clothes are on-trend, made to flatter, and not frumpy. I can see how it is just so easy to stay at a larger size when the options are pretty good.
Still, the department is small. The stores that offer sizes over 16 are limited. And so Saturday night, as I allowed myself to dip into the “regular” sized clothing, I realized how much freedom I will have. Even though my options in plus are good, if I found something that remotely flattered, I had to buy it because the number of stores are limited.
I feel like I’m contradicting myself a bit, so let me explain. 18 or so years ago (when I was in sixth grade), a dress option might be rather moo-moo like. Today, I definitely have more options of cuts, colors and prints, but there are still maybe just three A-line cut dresses, and one may be an unflattering color, while the other might be too short. So, the dress I end up with is far better than a moo-moo, but there was still just ONE. Better options, but not limitless. Regular sized clothing feels limitless. And thus, wonderful and overwhelming at the same time.
One of many challenges with plus-size clothing is that since so few stores sell it, you’re stuck with the style of clothing available to you. It wasn’t all that long ago that plus size women’s clothing meant frumpy, baggy, and shapeless tops and bottoms. The waist of the pants sat inches above the belly button, and likely had elastic in it. But as retailers have recognized obesity in this country (the MEDIAN sized woman is a 12 – half of women are over, half under), they are more keen to buy the big girl version of regular sized fashions. Still though, the options were limited. And comfortable. And finite.
So plus sized clothing is double edged sword these days. The increase in availability makes it easy to look modern up to a size 32 or something; you are not incentivized (as you once were, in the early 90s) to lose weight in order to maintain some sense of fashion. And, since the finite selection of stores/options for plus size clothing was limited, your choices became easier.
As I lose weight though, I’m both excited and overwhelmed at my upcoming options. Excited because there are even MORE opportunities to find clothes that suit my fancy, overwhelmed because there are so many opportunities to find clothes that suit my fancy.
My friend Tracy tells me she finds department stores overwhelming, and only Saturday did I get a sense of that. With the plus sized department moved to another floor, I was able to dip into the size 16 dresses across the aisle and became quickly engulfed in options.
I’m so curious to see how my shopping habits may change over the next year. Will I shop more stores, or limit my stores to a select few to keep a similar experience to Women’s World? Will I discern my purchases more, knowing that the next store very likely WILL have more options (rather than wondering)? Will I ever be able to buy off the rack again at Gap?