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New semester, new beginnings, new frustrations

August 28, 2014
Photo by Kolaya Photography

Photo by Kolaya Photography 2014

Fat Fashion

It’s a new school year, and I’m facing down what might be my last year of coursework before I become a doctoral candidate.  It’s exciting, but this year I’m facing one of my biggest scholarly challenges yet: teaching my own class.

For someone who has always been nervous talking in front of groups, this was a big hurdle I knew I needed to attempt to overcome if I want to try to get a job as a professor (which is a whole different can of worms). Truth be told, after a lifetime of bullying about my size (both height and weight), my clothes (my family started off poor, although became solidly middle class in late high school), my disabilities, and anything else people wanted to metaphorically grab at, I just barely circumvented a series of panic attacks.

I’m teaching what is essentially a first year seminar for traditionally-aged college freshmen to more easily transition from high school to college. It’s a neat experience (and one that I’m thankful for as I’m slowly getting over my fear of public speaking and imposter syndrome), but I’m finding myself stuck worrying about what a lot of people may consider incredibly superficial.

Clothes.

For folks who have been in the Fat Acceptance movement for a while, you probably already know that fat people clothes are an issue. Fat professional clothes are even worse. Fat professional clothes that a graduate student can afford while swimming in medical bills and fundraising for a much-needed scooter … I think we have the Holy Grail, or a unicorn, maybe Bigfoot … or maybe a Bigfoot-unicorn hybrid holding the Holy Grail aloft.

The dress I’m wearing in the photo above (taken by Kolaya Photography for a photo shoot) is one that I wore on the first day of class because I scraped together the money for Gwynnie Bee. That particular wrap dress from Kiyonna runs about $100. While I really love Kiyonna‘s clothes (as everything I’ve borrowed from Gwynnie Bee from that company have fit me amazingly well), there’s no way that I could afford to build a work wardrobe with each dress costing $100.

This is the frustrating reality of almost all plus-sized fashion. Lane Bryant’s $60+ trousers and $50+ plain oxford shirts are another example. Name a company that actually sells plus-sized clothes that are appropriate for a workplace with standards above “business casual” (and even then, you’ll still find really expensive stuff), and it’s likely that you will pay at least $50USD. At least.

It becomes even more of a problem when the statistics are factored in: fat women earn less than either their thinner or male counterparts (even worse for fat women of color). Somehow we’re supposed to both make less money at a job and pay more money to stay looking work appropriate. While I get some leeway as to what I wear in the classroom, my choice of attire as a fat, disabled, young-looking female professor is going to land on my student evaluations, which will impact my future teaching prospects. It will also impact whether I will get offered a tenure track job, especially in a world where people literally think that fat people cannot get doctoral degrees.

While there isn’t an immediate solution, I’m just going to keep rocking my rockstar thrifting and sale/coupon skills to keep me clothed in the classroom. If I’m lucky, maybe I can get them to kvetch about the tattooed prof with weird hair and a scooter…

Casey Sig

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Purple peonies permalink
    August 29, 2014 12:26 am

    I sympathize. I’m grateful that when I was in grad school, I was a chemistry student, so lab teaching attire was casual and lab coat covered.

    Trying to get back into the working world after a long illness, I’ve had to buy some professional clothes. I don’t like dress clothes anyway, but I really don’t like the clothes available. All I want are solid color dress shirts and pants, nothing flashy. I ended up buying “dress pants” at LB for a small fortune, and after a few wearings I’ve realized they’re just glorified yoga pants: no fly, no pockets, plain black stretchy material. They were the only “slacks” that fit and were classic-looking. I paid $70 for freaking yoga pants.

    Plus since I use a wheelchair, it’s hard to find wheelchair-friendly fashions. Shirts ride up the back and bunch up in the front, pants bunch and lay funny, and sleeves drag on wheels and get dirty.

    Clothes for fat people who aren’t filthy rich are a freaking joke.

    • August 30, 2014 10:36 am

      Wheeling-friendly clothes are also hard! My current wardrobe has only a couple pairs of pants that are remotely comfortable to use with my wheelchair, and even those have some issues (if nothing else, butt sweat…ugh). I usually wear open front cardigans with plain t-shirts underneath, but I’ve found out that hard way that the cardigans will get caught in my wheels….can’t win!

  2. gingeroid permalink
    August 29, 2014 7:49 am

    Old Navy’s dresses have some surprise gems. I snagged a ponte knit sheath dress for $17 that I adore along with several sweater dresses. Target makes a plus-sized tight in a variety of colors that makes for easy no-pants dressing. One Stop Plus has button downs that fit among all the sharktooth cut crap, such as this on for $20, I splurged on an Igigi suit for my primary one, but I’ve had good luck at semi-annual sales at Nordstrom and Macys as well. My last acquisition was a skirt suit for $50. I’ve also gotten some good deals at Lands End as they transition seasons.

  3. Nicole permalink
    August 29, 2014 10:34 pm

    Would you please send me an email? I have a nice LB suit that doesn’t work for me, but I didn’t get it sent back in time. If it’s your size, I’d love to send it to you.

  4. Stephanie permalink
    August 30, 2014 8:51 pm

    I feel your pain. I worked part time at a plus size clothing store for the discount. I built up a wardrobe of basics and quit. Nope, not ashamed. I also like old navy for basics and they’re always having a sale. I just wish they carried plus sizes in theirstores. It’s almost like they’re saying our money is welcome but our bodies aren’t welcome in their stores. Booooo. One of the best places I’ve found is freecycle.org. It’s a site designed to keep things out of landfills, but I often post items that just don’t work for me. You can also post requests. Or maybe there’s a plus size meetup clothing swap near you? I would totally participate in one! One of the bloggers I follow just did a post about gwynnie bee but I haven’t been brave enough to give them a try.

  5. September 8, 2014 12:04 pm

    Ah, the nightmare that is finding dress clothes for a fat body. Ugh, you have my sympathies. As someone who’s short and over 400 lbs, I understand the struggle. Your Bigfoot-unicorn hybrid holding the Holy Grail aloft pretty much sums up my shopping experiences, so I tend to go for Bohemian styles and screw the corporate culture. But that ain’t cheap either.

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