Who Are Plus-Size Women Dressing For? The Answer Definitely Isn't Men.

In honor of Fashion Week, Vogue's September Issue, and all the fun the comes with fall fashion, we'll be talking about plus-size fashion — otherwise known as "fatshion" — throughout this next week! Plus-size style boasts its own beautiful, unapologetic brand of contemporary fashion, and we've curated a range of writing that aims to capture both its political roots and unique aesthetic. Find the rest of the stories featured in The Fatshion Conversation here.

“Where are you going dressed like that? Who are you trying to impress?” My husband has a habit of saying this whenever I get ready to leave the house.  

I look down at my clothes. Today’s dress is from Pin Up Girl Clothing. The shoes are from Fluevog. I’m going to a meeting for work and after that, I’ll have a drink with a girlfriend, and then I’ll head home. I don’t think I’m overdressed. I’m wearing a dress that I feel confident in and have received compliments on. The shoes are comfortable but stylish. He thinks I’m dressing to meet a man somewhere, to show off or to get attention.

In this instance? There is no other man. But I am going for something long denied plus-sized women. I'm looking to embody myself and my sexuality through my fashion.

Fashion is after all, about attention — be it the attention you pay to an ensemble or the attention that ensemble garners. Plus-size women have had to adhere to a strange unspoken rule for far too long: If you’re going to be big? Be invisible. But in that invisibility, you must wear clothes that do not hug your curves or belly. You must not call attention to yourself. You must not be sexual. 

You may only look like someone’s mother. Someone’s tired mother, wearing tent dresses with garish prints like pineapples and elephants right over the behind. Something no one will notice or see, no matter how bright or how striped because the world busy is looking over at the thin girl in the trendy clothes instead. This is the only conventionally acceptable way of dressing for plus-size women. And many of us with boyfriends or husbands can attest to the troubling remarks that result when we dress outside of convention.

“Where are you going dressed like that? Who are you trying to impress?” 

Over the last 16 months, I’ve interviewed nearly 40 plus-size women about their relationship with modeling, fashion, and burlesque dancing. Nearly everyone at one point or another has broken down and said that one of the more difficult parts of being into plus-size fashion is dealing with others' questions and hang-ups about bigger women looking or being sexy. They’ve been asked these questions by both the men in their lives and by people waiting in checkout stands at grocery stores. 


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A plus-size mother of two is wearing a pin-up style dress to go out to lunch with her friends. Her hair is styled and her lipstick is perfect. It is immediately suspect.

What women have told me, however, is they aren’t necessarily dressing to meet someone — in most cases, their "someone" was already in their house. They weren’t necessarily out to impress anyone either — except for themselves.


Reclaiming fashion is a powerful statement and, yes, a political move for plus-size women.


Fashion makes some women feel good about themselves. And not unlike any other reclaiming of space by those who’ve been forced to the outer edges, reclaiming fashion is a powerful statement and, yes, a political move for plus-size women. It says that feeling good about one’s self in what one is wearing is not just for the young, nor the thin — but for everyone. That sexuality can be claimed in public and private space by anyone. It’s enough to turn society on its head.

What does it mean to be trying to impress no one but yourself? What does it mean to be walking outside one’s house dressed to the nines to meet friends, go to work, or run errands? For many of the women I’ve talked to, it’s about empowerment through fashion. If I can pull off wearing this dress that accentuates rather than hides the roll of fat I acquired when pregnant with my second kid, what does that say about me? If I can wear a short skirt regardless of what a millennial website dictates towards gen-Xers' fashion decisions, what does that say about me?

It says I’m kind of a bad ass and not to be messed with.

I’ve asked plus-size women when it was that they started dressing the way they do. When did they get into pin-up clothes? When did they decide to wear a bikini in the summer? When did they give up on tent dresses? If they were thin in the past, how did they dress then? Do they dress the same way now? How did they dress when they were younger? What’s acceptable at work?

Most plus-size women have told me that their interest in fashion has not been lifelong but a product of the last few years — maybe five, tops. A combination of things led to this new interest: designers suddenly figured out that there’s life (and money) beyond a size 12, and the "I don’t give a damn anymore attitude" that seems to hit women sometime in their mid to late thirties. The growing popularity of body positive politics doesn't seem to hurt, either.

It’s an easy concept: Women. Big women. Dressing to impress themselves and no one else. There’s no going back now.


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