Welcome back to The Fat Femme Fashion series! A 4-part series of roundtables, where four Autostraddle writers talk about how being fat affects the clothes we wore in the past, and the clothes we wear today.
Dani Janae: Last week we talked about shopping for clothes in our childhoods, but what’s it like for y’all shopping now?
Shelli Nicole: LET’S TALK ABOUT IT BECAUSE I FUCKING LOVE SHOPPING TODAY!
Vanessa: Haha YESSSSSSSSSS!
Valerie: Yes and I don’t so I want to learn from y’all how to love shopping haha!
Shelli Nicole: I bought the cutest two-piece right before this call from a local Chicago shop and bitch I am so ready to look like a slutty but sweet picnic blanket.
Dani Janae: LOL yes Shelli!
Vanessa: SHELLI LINK US
Shelli Nicole: All the pieces are cute but I am SPECIFICALLY talking about the outfit in the 7th picture, like, COME ON!
Vanessa: Oh YES
Dani Janae: Okay, so If you do shop fast fashion — how do you feel about it?
Shelli Nicole: I have — a lot to say about fast fashion.
Vanessa: Ok, I want to hear everything Shelli has to say and I also have some thoughts!
Dani Janae: I try to avoid fast fashion as much as I can, but it is often what I can afford as I go through my wardrobe and get rid of pieces that are too small for me now. I recently saw a thread on Twitter, the thrust of it was that if you can afford to spend $300 on a Shein haul, you can afford to support a more ethical business with that $300.
“Hey, it’s bad a idea to spend $300 at Shein.”
“But I’m so poor I can only afford to spend $300 at Shein.”
Like…do you hear yourselves?
— Cora Harrington (@lingerie_addict) April 23, 2022
Dani Janae: I agree with this on its face, many smaller boutiques also now offer things like Afterpay so even if you can’t pay $300 upfront, maybe you can afford maybe $70-$80 at a time. BUT, well-made, sturdy clothes are more expensive than they’ve ever been, especially clothes that are made with environmental concerns in mind. Many fat people rely on fast fashion like Fashion Nova because they have extended sizing that other places do not.
Shelli Nicole: I have absolutely used fast fashion sites (Shein, Fashion Nova, PLT) and I have got some pieces that fit me beautifully and have lasted to this day. My favorite item in my wardrobe is actually nearly 4 years old and from a fast fashion spot. The practices on how the clothes are made, what it’s doing to the environment, and so much more are horrid but I think it’s unfair to put so much blame on some of the folks who shop there—specifically poor folks and fat folks.
So much of fashion is about access. Fat and poor people don’t have easy access to clothing that is not expensive AND has the ability to make us feel good. And I know that may feel hokey to say—and I’m not like some fucking huge advocate for these sites—but those are big parts of their appeal to those two groups that we simply can’t ignore. These places give those folks the ability to feel and look good like our rich and thin counterparts have had the means to do for years. Are some people abusing it? Yes. Like, should you spend 150 bucks on a Shein wardrobe just for your vacation that you plan on throwing away before you even make it back home? No. But are some people using it to create wardrobes filled with things that make them feel good about themselves for the first time in their lives AND have money left over? Yes—and isn’t that something to consider in this debate about fast fashion? Why are we the first to get called out when most of us are just trying to do our best with what we’re being offered?
Vanessa: I agree with Shelli — to me fast fashion and the ethics around it are more about the practices that go into making it (which I do not condone), not how I view it for myself. I never buy anything that I don’t intend/want to keep around for years and years. And honestly, even stuff that is not great quality (like Forever21 or Fashion Nova) has lasted me a very long time.
Shelli Nicole: I recognize my privilege in how I use fast fashion. I buy pieces to support the rest of my wardrobe that is from other places. I am lucky enough to have built a wardrobe over the years that is a mixture of a few high-end pieces, vintage pieces, and pieces that have lasted from retailers like H&M, Gap, etc. I have used pieces from fast fashion to support those pieces and not create my entire wardrobe BUT that is because I am privileged in both size and finances to be able to do so.
Vanessa: Yes, Shelli exactly. I have the financial resources to spend a lot of money on clothes once in a while. My favorite dress company these days is Selkie and they’re incredibly size-inclusive and ethical in how they make their clothes. Their cheapest dress is also $250. That is not realistic for most people to spend on a dress.
Vanessa: I also do think I have to admit a level of ignorance in some ways — I know Shein is bad and I don’t shop there, but like, I buy all my swimsuits from Swimsuits For All, and I don’t know anything about their practices.
Shelli Nicole: I agree with that, there is a level of ignorance that I have to totally admit to as well no matter how well-intentioned I think my shopping processes are, it’s like — what don’t I know?
Dani Janae: I’ve signed up for Fashion Nova and I regularly shop ASOS because they usually have cute stuff that fits. I also use ELOQUII quite a bit, which is owned by the folks that own Walmart, and it’s like do those billionaires need my money? Absolutely not. But do they carry clothes that fit me? Yes without a doubt.
Shelli Nicole: Yes Dani, very very that.
Vanessa: Are they the same as Shein? Worse? Better? What about ModCloth? I’ve grown out of their styles a bit but I used to shop from them a lot, even when they got bought by Walmart, and I just accepted it. I try to not shop from Amazon but occasionally I do purchase something from them. This is a problem that I haven’t deep-dived into, and I admit that. I’d like to change my behavior and also I wish every single store stocked clothes I could easily fit into and feel good in.
I really never think of buying something and then thinking “and then I’ll trash it in a week when I’m done with it,” but I know that how I personally interact with the clothing I buy from problematic companies is not the only component of what it means to buy from them. But to Shelli’s point, if I could go into any store and find my size in a cute outfit, I would. I still cannot buy clothes from MANY stores that my friends shop from. They simply do not have sizes for me.
Dani Janae: Yeah, places like Shein and Fashion Nova, their business practices are becoming more well known so people can comfortably critique them, but sometimes I feel like unless your garment is being hand-sewn by one person who sees all the money from it, how do you know all their business practices are ethical?
With all that in mind though, where else do you find yourself shopping?
Valerie: Currently, my wardrobe consists of Old Navy jeans—because if I find a pair of jeans I like I just buy 3 pairs and wear them until they shred in the thigh area—and graphic tees. I will say before the pandemic I bought my first button-down top and I was like OKAY I like THIS, this I like!
Shelli Nicole: Old Navy curvy jeans fit incredible!
Vanessa I do a lot of fat fashion swaps, shopping at vintage stores, etc.
Shelli Nicole: I love fashion swaps and swapping with friends is a big way that fat folks over the years have been able to make their wardrobes feel complete and happy!
Dani Janae: I’ve been trying to incorporate more slow fashion items into my wardrobe because I’ve gained weight over the pandemic. I shop at this place called Mien, I’m wearing a dress from them now that is so well constructed and comfy but it cost me $150 which I had to split up into 4 payments. Also, a lot of slow fashion stuff doesn’t go past L-XL which does not fit me. These brands really like to pat themselves on the back for being environmentally friendly but only size 4’s can shop at your shop!
Valerie: I would love to go shopping in a thrift store but I feel like the odds of me finding something in my size AND “style” (using that term loosely as it’s still a WIP) would be low, and then I’d just leave feeling bummed.
Vanessa: Valerie, you have to go to thrift and vintage shops that specifically stock fat girl stuff! There’s a place in Portland called Fat Fancy that I love. Also, my best friend just opened a shop called Hello Sunshine that specifically caters to ALL sizes — really truly — not just SAYS they cover “plus” and then has like, one XL piece.
Dani Janae: Valerie, I’ve had good luck with Poshmark! Some of the items are recycled fast fashion but other items are vintage, really nice, and durable clothes that will last you a while.
Valerie: Oh, that’s the worst, when something says “plus” and they just mean XL.
Shelli Nicole: Yes Valerie I agree with Vanessa, finding thrift and vintage stores that are specifically for fat folks is key. One of my FAVORITE places to shop is a place here in Chicago (also online) is LuvSickPlus, the spot I got the cute outfit from I mentioned earlier. It’s a blend of vintage and new things and just like 2 weeks ago I went in and spent some cash on some new rotating cute ass staples.
Valerie: I didn’t even know those existed, I’ll have to find one near me, thank you!!
Vanessa: Oh Valerie, another thing, I now have an abundance of fat femmes in my life and we DO share clothes and it’s like… been deeply soul shifting. Like all my childhood fantasies realized. And also just, I have a nice hand-me-down wardrobe now, lol.
Valerie: I love that!
Vanessa: I’m not familiar with the NYC thrift scene but I feel certain there must be some options. Do any of you follow Nicolette Mason? I’ve found her to be very aspirational when I think about how to approach fat girl fashion. Like her budget does not always align with mine, but her outlook on the industry and her suggestions about where/who to support are really useful for me when I am able to make a big-ticket purchase.
Dani Janae: I think I do follow her! I have to be more intentional about following fat people with good fashion advice because right now I’m mostly thirst-following fat hotties lol.
Vanessa: Also, this is obviously specific to how much time you want to spend on social media, but I follow a lot of very fashionable queer fat people and they often do clothing sales. I just got a really cute second hand J. Crew button down for $40 from a friend (size 3x), and I went to try on a Selkie dress that a person in Portland was selling yesterday—tragically it didn’t fit but if it had I would’ve bought it in a heartbeat.
Shelli Nicole: Following hot fat people with great fashion sense is one of the biggest pieces of advice that I can give to fat folks looking for inspiration on social media. It also just makes your social media experience more fun and keeps you less in your own mind about comparing yourself. One of my personal favs is Simi, we be on the same vibe of colors with a minimal vibe, big bodi benz, and huge hair.
Vanessa: Shelli 100%! My feed has sooooooo many hot fashionable fat queer people, and it is The Inspiration!
Also, I find fellow fats are very into sharing where they got stuff, which I really appreciate! And if I buy something from an individual—like this amazing lingerie maker who makes custom work — then I try to promote them on my story so other people know about them!
Shelli Nicole: Yes to all this advice! Also, Also, side note, we mentioned Modcloth earlier and I don’t shop with them anymore but I remember my 2-year long Zoey D phase where I was MODCLOTHED DOWN HUNNY!
Dani Janae: LMAO!
Shelli Nicole: I was broke but at least I had my bangs and my peter pan collars to feed my soul—thank goodness for growth of all types ammirite?