Let’s Talk Classism in Plus-Size Clothing

Published February 17, 2016 by Fat Heffalump

Wow.  In the past 24 hours I have seen some of the most disgusting displays of classism in discussions about plus-size clothing that I think I’ve EVER seen in the fatosphere.  Wait until you see the doozy I just screen capped.

As most of you probably already know, Beth Ditto dropped her new plus-size clothing line this week.  It’s gorgeous.  I would love to own almost every item in the range.  But a lot of fat women have quite rightfully raised that they are priced out of the range because it aims at the high end market.  This isn’t a criticism of Beth herself, or her new range, but an important message about how one high end fashion range is not a victory for fat women in general, because MOST of us are not able to access the range (let’s acknowledge the cut off of larger sizing too, but that’s a conversation for another post).

My main comment was that for many fat women, the cost of just one of those garments is equivalent to a week’s rent, or filling their car with fuel for the month, or paying their utilities bill.  When it comes down to choosing which gets paid for, the necessities of life have to come first.  Even after necessities, if looking at value for money, for the same cost as one Beth Ditto jumpsuit, I could buy air fares to New Zealand and back.

But the pushback against anyone raising this issue of affordability and access has been swift and it has been pretty disgusting.  Mostly because affluent fat women are assuming that the statement “All fat women deserve access to clothing that they need and want.” as “Take away the rich lady’s Beth Ditto clothes!!”  Which is NOT what is being said at all.

It’s all well and good to tell fat women to shop ethically, to invest in high end fashion and to buy local, but in a world where fat women are openly discriminated against in the workplace and in education, this is a moot point.  Don’t believe me?  Look at this little screen shot @kiddotrue shared on Twitter…

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Now, it would be great if we all had access to the kind of funds required to dress in Beth Ditto’s gorgeous range.  But the reality is, most of us don’t and yet we still need clothing.  And when I say need clothing, I mean we need a range of clothing to suit our lives – which includes clothing that is to our taste as well as meets our practical need.  The ability to express oneself via clothing is as vital to our humanity as it is to cover our bodies.

Unfortunately, so many people have NO IDEA what “budget” actually means.  They say “ditch fast fashion and invest in yo dress” with no regard to whether or not many fat women actually CAN fork out $120 – $400 for one garment.  Others cite the availability of mass produced clothing brands – like Lane Bryant – as evidence that there is “affordable” clothing available to fat women, completely dismissing that at full price, many of those brands are also outside of a lot of fat women’s price range too.  A cursory glance at Lane Bryant’s website shows full price for many garments up over the $100 range.  Admittedly, you’re more likely to get a discount code or pick up sale stock from a mass produced range than a designer one, but even then, when compared with what is available in straight size ranges, plus-size fashion is extremely expensive.

This also assumes that everyone has access to brands from the US and UK – not all fat women are white Western women, let’s not forget that.

Of course, there are also those who cite the deeply problematic nature of mass produced clothing lines, from both how and where it is produced and where the designs come from.  I agree, there needs to be a radical shakeup of the fashion industry in general to ensure that all clothing is ethically produced to a minimum level.  But that is not going to help your average fat woman with a limited budget to clothe herself for her job, her education, and her other day-to-day life.  If there are no ethically produced clothes available at an accessible price point, then fat women have no alternative than to buy the mass produced budget product.  And the problem lies in that there are little to no budget options for fat women.

The problem I see is that there is a deeply entrenched classism that assumes that women who want and need fashionable clothing all have access to the kind of disposable income that is required to afford the clothing that is currently on the market – from mass-produced through to designer ranges like Beth Ditto’s.  And on top of that, there is an assumption that poor fat women are not interested in being “fashion forward” or don’t have or want careers that require a certain look or standard of dressing.  As evidenced by this gobsmacking comment left on a Facebook thread on the topic earlier this morning, I’m feeling generous and won’t name the commenter…

Some of us want to be/are/are on a career track to be creative directors, ad execs, media professionals, or other life choices where we want to look a certain way.

The assumption that poor fat women have no ambition and don’t want or need to look a certain way is frankly, disgusting.  Firstly, many of us who don’t have the money to drop on the currently available clothing are ALREADY in professional careers where we have to find suitable clothing to present ourselves for our work.  I am so myself.  Secondly, both poverty and fat stigma regularly hold women back from achieving those career goals, and partly so because we cannot access the clothing we need to dress like our peers.  When you cannot access the same type of clothing as your peers, it is often a hindrance to progression in your career.  We all know that fat women are often considered “sloppy” and “lazy” – how much of this is because of the dearth of reasonable quality, stylish clothing which prevents us from achieving the same look as our thin colleagues?

I see my straight-sized colleagues turn up to work beautifully turned out in clothes from Target and other budget options, but for me to wear clothes of equivalent quality and style, I have to spend twice as much money.  Just Target alone has a vast chasm between the quality and style of what they offer straight sized customers and plus-sized ones.  They have garments of every type and style in straight sizes, but one look at the plus-sizes shows an ocean of poorly made t-shirts, loose pants and weekend/casual wear – none of which is suitable for my workplace.

Not to mention that fat women have other financial responsibilities as well as clothing themselves – be they funding family needs, education costs, or high living costs in general.  It is well known that the cost of living has skyrocketed in the past decade, particularly for those at the lower income levels.  We are paying double the rent/mortgage as we were in the late 1990’s on almost exactly the same salary.  Fewer and fewer of us have room in our budget to spend on anything outside of absolute necessities.

I also had one woman patronisingly citing “industry terms” about availability of budget clothing as though that somehow dissolved the issue of accessibility to affordable clothing for low income fat women.

Look, I know that the clothing industry is complicated and problematic.  I know that it’s not easy to produce quality garments in plus-sizes at a budget range in the current industry climate and that the whole clothing industry needs to be radically changed.  But that’s not solving the problem that is here and now – accessibility to suitable clothing for ALL fat women.

So, while many of you are squeeing over Beth Ditto’s beautiful range as being a victory for fat women, remember that through no fault of their own, not all fat women are as fortunate as those of you who can afford those clothes and that they have a legitimate reason to feel excluded from the happy buzz that many of you are enjoying, and are rightfully feeling hurt at being excluded yet again.

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