Why can’t a short fat women wear a trapeze dress, anyway?

A lot of fat bloggers have covered this topic, including the fabulous Axis blogger Definatalie (Rejecting the notion of the flattering outfit), but I’ve been thinking about this a bit recently., a US-based plus-size clothing website (that doesn’t ship to Australia, sigh), recently held a runway show as part of New York Fashion Week. This is a pretty big deal, as it’s the first plus-size fashion show to be featured at arguably the most important event in a fashionista’s calendar.

I got my coverage from Jezebel, which I skim over every couple of days to see if there’s any articles of interest.

The clothes generally didn’t do much for me, and judging by the comments, most Jezebel readers felt the same way – although perhaps not necessarily for the same reason. The most common thread of the discussion seemed to talk about how everything was very muumuu-esque, and “unflattering”. Apparently all fat women ever should wear tight, fitted, tailored garments that show off one’s curves (but only the socially sanctioned curves – no one wants to see the curve of my belly, I expect). And short women especially are not allowed to wear flowing, drapey silhouettes, because they’ll overwhelm, and make them look like they’re wearing curtains, apparently.

I don’t wear fitted, tailored garments too often (clothes with a reasonable amount of spandex or elastane notwithstanding). You know why? Because it’s uncomfortable. Waistbands dig in, things ride up or down over my stomach, my arms are constricted. As much I want push the envelope with what’s fashionable in my outfits, I also want to be comfortable. And when my waist expands by several inches when I sit down because of my apple-shape, it’s not a good idea to have wide waist belt cinching my curves into something more acceptable.

Everyone rails against trapeze tops and dresses, because they’re so unflattering (and boy, do I hate that word). I have big breasts, and yes, wearing a trapeze dress creates a boob shelf, yes, it can create the illusion of being bigger than I actually am, but who cares? They’re fun, they’re comfortable, and I think I look good in them – one might say that I make it work, as it were. I’m short and busty, and I love flowing, drapey clothes. I love layers, and weird hemlines. I love things that are challenging. One of my favourite dresses is a dolman-sleeved sack from that’s a blue chintzy print that looks like something you might find on a sofa. I do have and wear clothes that make me look thinner, or more hourglassy, or that highlight my breasts – clothes that are “appropriate” for fat women. But that isn’t my priority when I get dressed in the morning. I don’t want to look appropriate. I wear clothes that challenge people. I want more retailers to make clothes for fat people that are interesting, that challenge what’s conventionally “flattering” for fat women, that are subversive.

I didn’t really like the collection that was shown at NYFW, because it was safe.

It involved colours that I generally don’t like, lots of tight waist belts which I find horrifically uncomfortable, and not enough dresses. It had capri pants. The silhouettes weren’t interesting. It looked like the clothes I could find in Autograph or Myer in Australia, or perhaps Avenue or Lane Bryant in the US.

It also didn’t seem terribly cohesive – there were no unifying elements, it just seemed like a show of “here are some fatty clothes, now walk down that runway!”. Part of the problem was no doubt to do with the fact that this wasn’t the creative vision of a particular designer, putting out a collection. If you’re going to show at Fashion Week, show me fashion. Show me an edited, tight, cohesive collection with a distinctive vision. Show me clothes that challenge, that break out of the plus-size stereotypes.

It’s obvious that can’t be everything to everyone; it can’t be a catalogue retailer as well as a serious contender in NYFW. What’s the solution? I don’t know. In an ideal world, fashion would be for everyone, and designers would make their clothes available in wide variety of sizes. The trends would filter down to stores that stocked garments in sizes 0-44W, and everyone would opt in or out of fashion as they so pleased. People wouldn’t mock others for those clothes they wear, and gossip rags that make a lot of mileage of fashion dos and don’ts would go out of business.

Hey, a girl can dream.

But until the fat hate stops, and the serious cachet that being thin (and white, and wealthy, and all the other myriad privileges associated with having access to high fashion) carries is removed, I don’t think much will change.

In the meantime, I’ll keep buying straight-size stuff and making it work, wearing trapeze dresses and flowing layers, and being happy while doing it.

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  • Sonya

    What a boring collection of clothing. Ugh. I’m disappointed. Especially when I know of certain designers that could have done so much more with a runway show opportunity.

    As for trapeze dresses and “unflattering” silhouettes, honestly, I’m all about comfort myself. My “nun dress” is probably one of the most “unflattering” things I own, but I love it because I’m comfortable in it. It makes me look bigger, it hides my shape and is practically ankle length. Don’t care. I can sit, eat and walk in it without trouble, and that’s what I care about.

  • Caity

    YAY! My all time favourite dress is a trapeze with ginormous patterned flowers on it. My (thin) SIL is always after me to “wear a belt with it, it would be so much more flattering”. Never mind that a belt would sit above my belly and make me look a very odd shape indeed – so much nice to have a flowing trapeze. (Sadly, I think that pattern is out of print – it was super easy to make and didn’t even need the zipper recommended in the pattern.)
    I think I’ll make another couple of trapeze dresses this Spring – you’ve reminded me how much I like them!

  • Frances did not deserve that spot at NYFW. A website?! At a fucking fashion week? God, how embarrassing.

  • jackie

    I think Nikki Blonsky rocks a trapeze dress in Hairspray!

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