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Revenge of the Pencil Skirts (and Other Fashion Woes)

September 19, 2012

I’m not one to lecture people about what they wear, but I am one to bitch and moan to high heaven about not having a choice in what I wear.

Here I am, job-hopping once again and trying to find decent interview and work clothes that won’t break the bank. I didn’t think it would be too hard. I could stop at a department store or two and find everything I need.

Not so.

I’m an in-betweenie. When I’m trying on clothes, I can fit into anything from a size 10 in misses to 1X in plus sizes, depending on the clothing item, the size, the cut, etc. In that respect, I’m fortunate because I can almost always find SOMETHING that fits me that I will like, even at high-end retail outlets.

What I can’t stand is the selection.

Granted, I live in semi-rural Maine, which is NOT the place you want to be if you’re shopping, no matter WHAT size you are. The selection is just non-existent, but as all plus-sized women know, it’s worse for us fat women.

My personal style varies, but for dressy clothes, I love anything classic, schoolgirl-ish, or retro. In fact, my favorite skirt of all time is a plaid, pleated skirt, which very much looks like it could be part of a uniform. I bought one at Target in fall 2010 and I never saw them again. I see great contemporary styles too, but it’s hit or miss. Anyway, it’s next to IMPOSSIBLE for me to go to a brick-and-mortar store and find the kind of clothes that I like. Tops aren’t that hard to shop for, but finding good bottoms, especially skirts and dresses, is a total nightmare.

I went to FIVE stores today looking for professional-looking skirts, of which I found plenty, even in my size. There was only one problem. They were all pencil skirts.




Sure, there were other styles for casual wear, but they were too casual for work, so I was stuck rifling through the racks checking labels before I headed into the fitting room.

Pencil skirt.

Pencil skirt.

Pencil skirt.

Pencil skirt.

I even asked a sales person if she could find me ANYTHING that wasn’t a pencil skirt. By this time, I was desperate. She actually cringed and said that would be hard, because just about everything these days is in pencil form.

Sorry, but I’m not a fan of pencil skirts. I’m not a fan of that style, and I’m really not a fan of how they look on me. Even if I was a pencil-skirt-wearing kind of girl, sometimes I want to wear something ELSE. Something flowing. Something with pleats. Something that’s not pencil. Looking through the junior section, of course I could see plenty of skirts — flowing, pleated, etc. — that were not pencil. I guess I’m too old and fat to have variety and attractiveness in clothes, I guess.

Then it happened. A breakthrough. I found a cute skirt with a belt and a long zipper (not one of those tiny ones that barely allows you room to slip the skirt on). I went to the fitting room, put it on, and looked in the mirror. To my horror… it was a pencil skirt.

But it didn’t say that on the label. It said “pointe.” It’s a pencil skirt.

Damn it.

Damn it.

Damn it.



I banged on the wall in frustration and cursed to myself. There’s NOTHING in any of the stores I have been to that suits me (and doesn’t cost a gazillion dollars).

I can’t prove this, but I have a theory as to what brought about the revenge of the pencil skirts. We are all about “slimming” clothes these days, even in straight and petite sizes. I see jeans and dress pants that have “tummy control.” I see Polos that “instantly slim you!” And in most of the pencil skirts I checked out, it advertised that they were cut specifically to trim you down. They even included “before and after” graphics on the tags demonstrating the thin-making miracle that is the pencil skirt.

I guess retailers want all women, but especially fat women, to wear pencil skirts to save their precious eyes from our offensive fat rolls. In their eyes, everything for us is too frumpy and makes us look too fat for their liking.

I finally found something that I like, but I wish I had more options (and much less frustration). When I get the chance, I’m heading to a couple of malls and maybe even cyberspace for better luck. For now, all I can say is, I’ve seen enough pencil skirts to last me a lifetime.

By the way, is it just me, or are retailers these days downsizing their clothes? I have two pairs of size 16 jeans that I have worn for two years. Yet when I try on size 16 jeans lately, it is crap shoot whether they will fit or not. It is the same with button-up tops or any top other than a T-shirt. I can fit into my clothes at home, but try on the same size at a low-end retailer like Wal-Mart and it’s too small.

Forget shopping in the men’s department. I love men’s clothes, but it’s next to impossible for find clothes that will accommodate my figure because men’s clothes are designed for MEN’S figures, obviously. Whenever I pick out a shirt, it fits great everywhere, but won’t close over my rack of doom. I go a size bigger and I’m swimming in it.

Pants are even worse. I find pants that are long enough, but that do not accommodate my hips or my ass at all. I go a size bigger so they fit around my waist, but the pants are too long and WAY too baggy every place else.

Yes, I have some sewing ability, and if I had the materials (and the time) I would make my own clothes. For the time being, however, making ALL of my clothes is not practical. For the record, buying fabric that you like isn’t much easier around here than buying clothes you like.

Shopping sucks.

20 Comments leave one →
  1. September 19, 2012 11:14 am

    Interesting comment about the pant sizes. I have the same issue – jeans I’ve had for years that are size 14 fit, but if I try to get a 14 over my hips now, forget it. I guess we could argue that jeans stretch over time?

    But also, if you bring this up to the right (meaning wrong) audience, you’re going to get the argument that here in America we have vanity sizing, and that what is now a 16 used to be an 8 or something like that. That’s always confused me. So I’m really, what, a 24? I don’t follow that whole vanity sizing argument at all.

    I’ve been this size for about 9 years now. So why do my pant sizes keep changing?

    • September 19, 2012 3:09 pm

      Clothes DO stretch and wear out over time, but if your measurements don’t change at all in that time, or there is no weight gain or loss, then the problem isn’t you, it’s the clothes. There is this one pair of jeans that I have had for two years. I only wear them occasionally, so wear and tear isn’t an issue. They are a size 16, but when I try to buy a size 16 now, it’s next to impossible.

      As far as vanity sizes are concerned, I couldn’t agree more. Can you say bogus? First of all, to say that designers deviate from standard sizes for vanity’s sake assumes that there is a standard to be deviated from. Well, anyone can sew a pair a pants and slap a label on it. It means nothing. And then there is the measurement issue? English or metrics? How specific? What dimensions were being measured? What cut are we talking about (because different cuts are intended to have different looks, hence different measurements?)

      I can’t read minds, but I would say our pants sizes are changing because the fashion industry is screwing with people’s heads and trying to convince them that they are fatter than they are (not that it matters how fat you are, of course.)

  2. September 19, 2012 12:12 pm

    Ugh, pencil skirts. I hate them. I refuse to wear them. You can’t run or really stride naturally in them (at least I can’t, but I have a naturally long stride). They crinkle and wrinkle when you’re sitting. You can’t SIT comfortably in them!!! My solutions are pantsuits and last year’s Calvin Klein dresses (A-line and fuller skirts).

    According to the Almighty Fashion Knowledge of Project Runway (guilty pleasure of mine) fuller skirts are going to be back en vogue next spring or so, so I’ll probably just wait for that. This year’s fashion is just horrible for me anyway- neon colors, weird print mixes in clashing hues and everything’s either sheer or super short. I’d be completely lost if I HAD to find something to wear to work (the classics always work, but even my beloved pantsuit pal Giorgio Armani has hopped onto the too-short bandwagon 😦 ). As it is, I’m anxiously eying one of my three perfect business suits that’s about to become a little threadbare and urging it to hold on just a liiiiittle longer, please?

    I’m always a little flabbergasted at what fashion people think we should/can wear to work.

    Concerning sizes: I have no idea. I have a size I use for reference and then just go up or down depending on whether it fits for that particular design. Pant sizes are a source of frustration, though. Big butt and thighs, small waist=nothing fits. And no, I will not wear either jeggings, leggings or 7/8 length. Refused to as a kid, won’t do so now.

    Maybe I’ll try out having pants tailored? I read somewhere it’s not that much more expensive than off-the-rack clothing… Did anyone here try it already?

  3. vesta44 permalink
    September 19, 2012 12:26 pm

    I just bought some new ponte knit boot cut pants and I had to get them in a size 34T – the last ponte knit pants I bought were a size 28T from the same damned company. So the sizing has changed by 3 sizes in the year between when I bought the first pants and when I bought the second ones (and no, I haven’t gained any weight, nor have my measurements changed any in that year). And when I measure the pants against each other – the 28s and the 34s? They’re the same damned size.
    The other thing I hate is that they’ve quit making those pants with pockets in them. I had to go out and purchase ponte knit fabric to match (as close as I could, anyway) to make my own pockets and then alter the pants to put them on. When you’re paying $35 or more for a pair of pants, you shouldn’t have to do that. It’s just a good thing that I can sew and know how to do those kinds of alterations, or I’d be pocketless.

  4. LittleBigGirl permalink
    September 19, 2012 12:56 pm

    I hate the “fat taming” clothes with a white-hot passion. All the pants and undergarments with compression panels – I don’t want to wear a compression garment unless I have a hernia. Usually when something is constricting it means it *doesn’t fit* – with ‘tummy taming’ pants, the discomfort means they’re working! 😛 Arrrrgh!

    I am short with huge hips so…yeah no freakin pencil skirts thanks. I would rather not look like a Russian nesting doll. Or a malformed bowling pin. I adore full tiered skirts (it’s the boho gypsy in me), but if I want to look more formal or professional I will get an A-line skirt before I stuff myself into a pencil skirt.

    I own a pair of ponte pants that I bought at Lane Bryant – they look awesome but they’re the most sadistic piece of clothing I’ve ever owned: they have absolutely no give in the waist, but they are cut full in the hips…so to they fit great once they are on but to get them on and off is an epic struggle that involves pulling and tucking my hips and belly fat out of the way and stuffing it past the waistband. I just can’t believe that the designer, knowing the sizes they were making the pants for, didn’t put in a zipper or so much as a scrap of elastic. More proof that the fashion industry hates us.

    Also as far a sizes go they may as well be throwing darts at a board – there is no universal sizing chart and even within the same catalog one size 1x shirt isn’t going to fit the same way as another 1x shirt.

    This is why I love fashion but avoid shopping like the plague. 😦

  5. September 19, 2012 5:14 pm

    I always have that problem with pants. Gotta go high enough in the size to fit my hips, but everything below the hips I’m swimming in fabric and they’re always anywhere from 3-5 inches too long. Not even close to fitting right! I went to…five? six? different stores a month ago looking to buy just ONE pair of pants, or even just ONE pair of JEANS–and I failed miserably. The cuts all sucked. I found plenty of pants that I fell in love with BEFORE I got to the dressing room, but ended the day feeling totally deflated, in tears, and empty-handed.

    My husband is continually in disbelief over the struggle I have to find clothing, as well as the whole I-am-a-size-X-in-this-cut/brand/material/etc..–but-not-size-X-in-another-cut/brand/material/etc…Lucky him, he’s never had to deal with that sort of thing before. He didn’t even know it was an issue that ANYONE had to deal with, until he met me. Must be nice being a 34-34 pants and a medium-large shirt, huh? Jerk. 😉

    • LittleBigGirl permalink
      September 19, 2012 5:21 pm

      I would love to wear jeans but the last pair I found that fit my hips (I’m an hourglass with a lot of extra sand on the bottom) had a ridiculously oversize waist – looked like clown pants or, and how’s this for irony, one of those stupid “after” pics where I’m showing how many inches I lost! I’m officially fed up, and looking for a good seamstress to alter any clothes I buy…

  6. lifeonfats permalink
    September 19, 2012 6:52 pm

    I refuse to wear pencil skirts. I have very large thighs and not only would I be uncomfortable because I would have no give due to my legs, I would like a sausage ready to bust out of its casing.

    As for tummy panels: I have a pair of jean capris that have them but I bought them because I liked the style. The pants are actually cut loose so the panels don’t do a lick of good even if I wanted them too.

  7. Leila Haddad permalink
    September 20, 2012 4:31 am

    A trick I learned from a very good friend in the costume design biz is to buy a what fits you the most reasonably and then get it altered. It costs a little more but if you’re inlove with a shape or a fabric you can usually make it work if the the fit isn’t quite right. I hear you when it comes to why doesn’t the new size 18 fit me like the old 18 did? The answer my friends is not with the fashion industry that dictates the style of the clothes it is the manufacturing company that decides what country will offer them the cheapest labor. Look at the tag. Colthes that were once manufactured in China? The 18 fit no problem, Cambodia? Your size 18 is now a 17 or 16.5. Absolutely no consistency from style to style. Old Navy is a classic example. The sweetheart style is still fits because it is made in the same place that is was 2 years ago. the rockstar style, no such luck infact the sizing can vary from COLOR to color! While I’m a rambling, how about brassieres ladies? Have you noticed how your comfortable 38 D is now a 40DD and you weigh the same? It’s because the manufacturers figure that if the just skimp a 1/8 inch on the back they’ll save a penny, and if they make 100,000 bras, that’s an awful lot of pennies…

    • September 20, 2012 7:24 am

      I have started to notice that more clothes are being made in Cambodia. This info really helps.:)

      And bras! Don’t get me started! That deserves its own blog post.

  8. September 20, 2012 7:30 am

    When I finally get a job (3 years and counting) I’m going to ask a friend of mine who designs clothes to design a line of clothing with me in mind….seriously…I’ll let her take my measurements, tell her what I like and she can design clothes and make them for me. I’ll pay whatever I need to pay because that is apparently the only way I can get the wardrobe I want. Even if I were a size 10, I hate most of the clothes out there now. Occassionaly, what I like comes in fashion but it’s gone again in an eyeblink. It doesn’t even last a whole season. Stupid fashin designers. They can all go for swim in shark infested waters as far as I’m concerened. Won’t take the sharks long since most of them are emaciated!

  9. September 20, 2012 7:31 am

    It’s funny how we all have different woes when it comes to clothes. I love pencil skirts – anything fuller makes me look so bottom heavy, I feel uncomfortable.

    As for bras, I’m a 40A. Try finding that size anywhere!

  10. The Real Cie permalink
    September 21, 2012 3:43 pm

    I hate pencil skirts. Ever since I hit puberty and developed an ass, I’ve hated pencil skirts. I hate low rise pants too. Is it any wonder that even on my days off I tend to wear scrub pants–at least they’re comfortable.

  11. Annie permalink
    September 25, 2012 1:35 pm

    You talk about how plus sized women don’t have access to cute clothes, and I’m sure that you do, but what about short, thin (ish) people? I’m 4’11.5 and 97 lbs (a perfectly normal weight) and I often cannot find clothes that fit me. I have to hem my pants or wear children sized clothes, and extra small shirts and dresses are not available in every store, or every article of clothing I want. And what if I want a slimming bathing suit? Nope, size 8 or above. Not only larger people have issues with clothing that fits them and they like. I don’t like shopping in child’s sizes any more than anyone else would. And I don’t barge into plus sized stores insisting that they should cater to me as well.

    • vesta44 permalink
      September 25, 2012 2:22 pm

      Annie – Plus-size women wouldn’t barge into stores that carry your sizes exclusively (if there were any) and demand that we be accommodated. We’re demanding that stores carry a wide variety of sizes – sizes that will fit women of all weights and heights. When 2/3 of the female population wear sizes 14 and larger, but the majority of stores carry clothing that stops at size 16/18, those stores are missing out on a lot of sales. There aren’t a lot of brick of mortar stores where I can go and find pants in a size 34T or tops in a 5X – only one that I know of and the closest one is at least a two-hour drive away, but there are a lot of stores near-by that carry sizes from 0 to 18/20 (4 in my small town of 4,000 alone).
      When I lived in Illinois, I sewed for an older woman just about your size – she couldn’t find dresses to fit in stores, so she gave me an old dress that she really liked and that fit her, I took it apart, used it for a pattern, she bought the fabric, and I made her 6 dresses off that pattern. We changed a few details from dress to dress so that they weren’t exact copies of the original – changed collars/sleeves, added pockets, etc. She had me do that for her every year until she passed away.

      • Annie permalink
        September 25, 2012 3:17 pm

        But what if I can’t afford that? I’m in college, I’m stretching every dollar, and I need cheap, comfortable, and hopefully fashionable (to me) clothes. I’m not saying that plus sized women suffer any less than they do, I’m just pointing out that tall, short, and thin people can suffer just as much. I don’t like being told by the industry that all I deserve is clothes meant for a child. And when I go online and try to find smaller clothes, they always seem to be flowy, have horizontal stripes, or, to be honest, too revealing for my tastes.

    • September 25, 2012 2:29 pm

      Annie, I think it’s worrisome that you use the words “perfectly normal weight.” I’m assuming you mean based on height/weight charts, or BMI. But using a word like “normal” implies that those of us who don’t conform to those charts and measurements are “abnormal.” That kind of language makes people feel confrontational and uncomfortable. At least it’s how it made me feel to read it. Thanks for listening.

      • Annie permalink
        September 25, 2012 3:13 pm

        I’m sorry that I put it that way, I just always have to justify myself when I say that I am under 100 lbs. It seems to scare people, who don’t seem to take into account my height. I did not mean offense in any way, I just didn’t know how to put it.

  12. September 26, 2012 6:53 am

    Annie….we here can all feel your pain. And I’m sorry you haven’t been given a forum to express your feelings on the subject, which is apparent by your coming here. It isn’t fun being made to feel like an outsider, is it? And finding affordable clothes that aren’t “children’s” clothes must be hell. I wish I had suggestions on where you could find things to wear, but I do know that many department stores carry lines of clothing called “young miss” or some such thing. These are clothes that are generally for women between childhood (up to age 12) and adulthood (25 and over). The clothes I’ve seen (at Walmart and Sears and in Canada, the Bay) seem to be just slightly different versions of the clothes found in the “womans” department. I know it must feel horrible to not be able to find anything you like, like something from a fashion magazine. I know there are times when I feel like that and I’m a size 22 (sometimes 24 or anywhere from 2X to 4X depending on how the clothes are cut). We can empathize with your story. I also might recommend trying online stores. You might have better luck!

  13. Renee permalink
    May 12, 2015 10:58 am

    Annie, Japanese clothing lines are for smaller, thin people. Try checking out some of the japanese clothing. They have very trendy stuff.

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