In response to ‘Don’t: An Evolution of Personal Style’ by Meggings Marie Metzer
Oh, how I loved this piece. So much so that I ended up writing a veritable dissertation in response, so I thought I’d better turn it into a story of my own instead. For those who don’t know me or haven’t noticed in real life, I am a fat Englishwoman in my late 50s with a strong signature style.
During the warmer months I wear colourful, retro-tastic, full-skirted frocks paired with boleros or shrugs because most manufacturers would rather die than give grown women sleeves and I haven’t been a spaghetti-straps or halter-neck kind of gal since I was 15. FFs yo. Me and strapless bras don’t really get along.
Once it gets too wintry to rock a slightly warmer variation of my spring/summer steez, I favour a roomy sweater for layering purposes teamed with one of my ever burgeoning collection of boldly patterned neoprene pencil skirts. Oh – and in common with many fat women, I accessorise like a boss.
Until I hit my early thirties I’d always been borderline Plus; one size larger than whatever the high street was offering. But I’d managed to clothe myself well enough with some skilful dodging and diving. But then long term debilitating illness and medication with a side effect of weight gain consigned me firmly to the realm of Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here. Or Evans, as it’s more commonly known. For over a decade it was almost impossible to find a size 20+ dress that wasn’t a blah, slate blue, sleeveless, ankle-length, cheap viscose sheath with a high neck and a soppy little tie-back. In fact it was hard to find anything at all that wasn’t a four hundred quid taffeta ballgown or the most basic basics imaginable. And, after twelve years, it left its mark on my psyche. The looks I’d sported as a girl that still inform my personal aesthetic – thrifted cocktail frocks as daywear with vintage beaded cardies; playful, graphic pieces from the likes of Bus Stop and Fiorucci – were impossible to channel now. It wasn’t enough that I was ignored by mainstream ladymedia, it was the constant reminder on the high street that I’d forfeited the right to express my personality through my clothing. And lord knows there was zero way of doing that with most of the dreck that did come in my size. Hence the honing of demon accessorisation skills.
I tried my best but over time I lost myself by degrees. My skirts got longer, my elasticated-waist trousers baggier, my tops schlumpier, and my jackets boxier. And colour, so joyful and mood lifting, so critical to my sense of well being. Well, I could whistle for that too. Essentially I wasted the entirety of my textbook sexual prime looking like I belonged to some modesty-fixated religious sect.
Then suddenly, after twelve long years in the sartorial desert, things changed. Styles came in for thin people – empire line tops and trapeze dresses, bold Pucciesque prints – that plus-size manufacturers decided we might like to wear as well. My favourite high street store, which had in the intervening years reinvented itself as a purveyor of retro-flavoured posh frocks, also significantly extended their size range. After stumbling across a flickr group I found my way to Fatshionista, the radical, politicised online community that eventually spawned the plus-size fashion blogging movement that’s now edging its way into the mainstream. At first I felt like Rip Van Winkle, jolted out of dreamless sleep to find myself peri-menopausal and in my mid forties. But after a year of getting to grips with my internalised ageism and some tentative experimentation, I stopped lurking and started sharing outfit posts. My confidence grew, nourished by positive feedback, and gradually I reconnected with my sartorial self. It was like that Twinings ad but, you know, without the tea. To cut a long story short I now have a bangin’ wardrobe well-stocked enough to last me into my dotage. And I won’t give a monkey’s if neoprene is unhip then either.
One day, one of my fellow fatshionistas, (the divine Cynara Geissler), raised the alarm that some of us had had our outfit photos stolen and liberally plastered all over a blog that, if you please, purported to make plus-size women feel good about themselves – as examples of Fashion Don’ts. Two of mine made the grade as examples of fat-woman-forlornly-hoping-to-divert-attention-from-heinous-fatness-through-use-of-loud-colours-and-wacky-oversized-prints. I’ve never felt so outraged – or so perversely proud – in my life. It’s happened a couple of times since then and I always feel the same way. They’re jealous. Straight up, they are – not of our looks or our style, heaven forfend, but of the freedom we allow ourselves to dress as we wish heedless of public censure, and the no-fucks-given confidence we exude in doing so. You’d best believe they are pea green over the nerve we have, wanting – nay, demanding – to be seen in all our imperfection without a suitably craven attitude. See also, “Ooh, you’re so brave wearing that. I could never pull that off.” Get outta here.
I did, of course, stick it to the website with both barrels, as did several of my fellow fats. Some threatened legal proceedings correctly citing copyright infringement. They took the entire shit-show down in short order but I saw the screen grabs. I told them I didn’t give a monkey’s if they liked my clothes but making erroneous assumptions about my character based on my style was out of line. Not least because it was calculated to shame me and, by extension, others on an allegedly pro-woman website. The editor subsequently asked me how I’d feel about working for the site myself as some kind of alt-fashion maven. Not even if you offered to pay me, sunshine. Which of course they didn’t. For a start the clothes they actually approved of and promoted on the site looked exactly like the stuff I was forced to wear for years.
I loathe fashion rules, be they size, shape or age based, and while I may have my own, for me, I never want to contribute to a culture I consider deeply misogynistic. I’m for wearing whatever floats your boat, workplace permitting, and I sincerely hope Ms Mtezger doesn’t wait till she’s got one foot in the grave before re-connecting with her punk self. Life’s too damned short.