A Month of Clothing Philosophy: Be the Handsome Villain You Want to See in the World

I’m wearing a repeated and remixed Comino Cap dress for the final day of Me Made May 2017, along with my eShakti cardigan and my favorite vintage scarf.

A Month of Clothing Philosophy — Part Thirteen
Be the Handsome Villain You Want to See in the World

We’ve reached the final day of my Month of Clothing Philosophy, and there was so much I meant to say that I didn’t. I may add a few more essays along the way in the future, but never with this level of saturation. I really want to thank you for reading these pieces, and I hope that I’ve encouraged you to think about your own wardrobe.

I wanted to do something a little different to end the month, so I decided to share a list of my current fashion inspirations. I’ve been following a few of these people from all the way back in the days of the Fatshionista LiveJournal! I often wish that I’d had some source of street fashion when I was a kid. Sure, I subscribed to Vogue as a teenager, but these days I can open up Instagram and see real people wearing awesome clothes and looking fabulous — a far more interesting thing, in my opinion.

First off, a couple of exceptions. Buttercup’s Frocks isn’t on Instagram (as far as I know), but her Tumblr is still going strong. One of the very few over-50 outfit-of-the-day bloggers, she proves that a cardi and dress combo needn’t be twee, but can be an explosion of color and creativity. I would also like to give a shout out to Australian blogger Kath Read, who I admire greatly for both her fashion sense and her role as an activist, but her Instagram is private.

My Current Instafaves:

Shannon describes herself as “dandy femme” and makes me long for a well-fitting waistcoat.

I simply love Yvette’s style — her dress game is on fire.

Sonya Philip is an artist and sewist, and the originator of the 100 Acts of Sewing Project. She is a fearless mixer of prints in a lagenlook style.

Tasha is known for her amazing vintage style, mostly self-made — both sewn and knitted.

Margot Meanie wears all of the things I would want if I were 20 years younger and still 100% goth.

Amina Mucciolo is both a unicorn and a mermaid in human form — and either way she is gorgeous.

Rachel Jayson is a very fashionable musician with a Fluevog collection so extensive and fabulous that it makes me want to weep.

Tanya Maile is one of my favorite sewists on the entire World Wide Web. Everything she sews is fantastic, especially her vintage-inspired stuff.

Cynara Geissler , the originator of “Toddler Grandma Style: The Fashion Approach That Will Set You Free,” is probably my favorite of all time. I would pay to raid her closet. She is the best. Really.

You might notice something about my Instagram inspiration list. Sure, some of them primarily buy ready-to-wear, and some of them sew…but only one person in that whole list is straight sized. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not disgusted by thin bodies. (You guys are beautiful, too! Besides, as the saying goes, some of my best friends are thin.) But representation is important, and one of the ways I learned to stop hating my own body was by surrounding myself with images of people who looked like me.

I turned to “regular” people who posted pictures of themselves online because — with very few exceptions — every pop culture representation of bodies that look like mine are meant for comic relief or are villains. When a fat body appears in a story, you can be pretty sure that you’ll either laugh at them or be afraid of them — or both. Sometimes it feels like there’s a fine line between Mimi Bobeck and Ursula the Sea Witch, you know? So I think it’s especially important for regular fat people to be visible — even when the culture at large wishes we would hide away.

I may look like a villain, but I’m just a regular person — well, a regular clothes-obsessed person. And although I may long for a glorious plaid suit in the style of TV’s Hannibal Lecter, I’m not actually a bad guy.

There’s no need to vilify my body or others like it.

A Month of Clothing Philosophy: The Failures of the Marketplace

I wore a very old (but still good) Sewing Workshop eShrug for Me Made May today.

A Month of Clothing Philosophy — Part Eight
The Failures of the Marketplace

One of the biggest challenges of being a plus sized woman who wants to buy ready-to-wear clothing is finding clothing to buy. That probably sounds insane to you — if you’ve only ever worn straight sized clothing — but I can pretty much count on two hands the total number of brick and mortar retailers from which I can buy clothing in person here in Houston. Besides the anchor department stores’ very small plus sized sections (sparsely populated with ill-fitting and extremely overpriced — not to mention ugly — garments), there is exactly one plus size retailer in the mall nearest my home. One store. One. And I’m a smaller fat person — I’m not sized out of any plus size retailer, some of which only go up to US22.

It’s true that online retailers have started to fill in the gaps in the plus size market. Modcloth was one of the first to really expand their size range (though they made some other boneheaded moves regarding their extended sizing as time went by), and lots of other more mainstream retailers have extended sizes available online (that are definitely not available in their physical stores). But what that means is that instead of taking two or three sizes to a dressing room, a plus sized person will have one of two scenarios to deal with, especially when trying an unfamiliar retailer:

  1. Order the size they think will fit best (fingers crossed that the retailer’s size chart is accurate), pay for shipping, try it on at home, and see whether or not it needs to be returned for a different size, pay for return shipping if it does, hope that the alternate size is still in stock, and wait for the replacement to come in the mail before they maybe have to start all over again.
  2. Or order two or three sizes of the same garment (who can afford to do that with every single piece of clothing they buy?), pay for shipping, decide which one fits best and hope the retailer will accept the other garment(s) in return — after you’ve paid for return shipping, of course.

Yeah, that all sucks. When you take into account how awful most ready-to-wear plus size clothing is, it’s even worse. It’s often poorly constructed and made of subpar fabric — while still being far more expensive than equivalent straight size clothing, sometimes even twice the price. There are fewer options for almost everything, and most of those options are of a lesser quality.

It’s even tougher if you already have a firm sense of your own style. I’m beyond picky when it comes to color palette and fit, and most of the time I no longer settle for “almost-but-not-quite.” I buy very little ready-to-wear clothing these days. I do thrift some things, but I’m just as likely to walk out of a resale shop empty handed as with a purchase. I buy the occasional t-shirt at Target, basic cardigan sweaters at Old Navy, and most of my workout wear from Rainbeau Curves online. I mainly buy work clothes and party dresses from eShakti, which carries every single design in sizes 0 – 36W, and can customize to your measurements for only $9.95 more. I cannot stress how much I love them. I know I sound like a commercial, and I’m sorry for that, but the first time I ordered a custom dress from them and saw how well it fit at my shoulders and my hips, I very nearly cried. It’s the best compromise between ready-to-wear and having your own seamstress that I’ve ever encountered.

That being said, of course I also sew many of my own clothes.

However, it’s not fair to expect sewing to compensate for the failures of the marketplace for plus sized women. There is a real — mostly unseen — classism inherent in sewing as a hobby. (I highly recommend Tasha Fierce’s essay “The Class Dynamics of DIY Clothing” for a more thorough examination of these issues.) Besides the time and energy involved in learning to sew, there is also a large monetary investment in a sewing machine itself and the various other tools needed. Fabric isn’t cheap, either, and many self-made garments are more expensive than their ready-to-wear equivalents — especially if it’s a basic, like a t-shirt.

Factoring in time spent can make a garment seem astronomically expensive, too. Using a new-to-me pattern, a simple, uncomplicated woven dress can take 4-7 hours to make, counting all steps: tracing off the pattern, making and adjusting a muslin (test garment), ironing and cutting out the fabric, and actual construction and finishing. That’s quite a time investment when you’re busy or exhausted. It’s just not realistic to think that everyone can be expected to make that sacrifice just because they can’t find something to wear from a clothing retailer.

For me — and I’m only speaking for me — I choose to take that time and sometimes to pay more to make my own clothes when I can, but it is a choice and I own my privilege in this area. I have the necessary equipment, skill set, and time and money to do so. It’s only a partial and personal solution to the failures of the marketplace, but it allows me to feel less helpless in the face of an inherently oppressive system.

A Month of Clothing Philosophy: History, Honesty, and Body Acceptance

Today for Me Made May I’m wearing a highly modified April Rhodes Staple Dress, though it’s mostly buried under an eShakti cardigan. Sorry, I was chilly today!

A Month of Clothing Philosophy — Part Five
History, Honesty, and Body Acceptance

At my thinnest I weighed about 125 pounds and measured 35-25-37. I remember this clearly both because I sewed and because I was — to my eternal, only half-joking sorrow — never a perfect 36-24-36 Brick House. I was never quite mighty, mighty, and I was never allowed to forget it. “Just lose 20 more pounds,” they said.

No matter how small I got, that’s what they said.

I had been, as I explained previously, a chubby kid. Not enormous, of course, but big enough that I was sometimes the butt of jokes — and big enough that my aunts often lamented that I “had such a pretty face.” I started studying acting seriously when I was 15 years old, and I was accepted into a prestigious regional program for young actors. One day one of the instructors pulled me out of class to tell me that I was both too fat and ugly to make it in show business, so I should go ahead and give up now. She said this to my face. She pulled me out of class to say this to my face. I’ve never really understood her motivations, but I can tell you that it wasn’t an act of kindness.

I was 15 years old, and maybe a size 10.

I went to college on a drama scholarship, though. Talent was never my issue; it was always my appearance. I realized, of course, that I would never make it as a performer if I didn’t somehow get thin. So I started to do just that.

I had been dieting since I was 14, but this wasn’t dieting. My relationship to food got more and more disordered, but I seriously didn’t care because for the first time in my life I was getting small — really small, socially acceptably small, almost real actor small. I started getting leading roles instead of supporting roles. I was finally doing it.

What I was not doing was eating.

My main trick was to eat when people were paying attention, so it seemed like I ate fairly normally. But most days I was eating one very small meal a day, often consisting of celery and a quarter of a sandwich. Some days I didn’t eat at all. I also exercised a lot, but I had to cut back on that because it exacerbated my tendency to faint. But I was getting thin, and that was the only thing that mattered.

During a period of unusually high stress I stopped eating altogether. It had been about 5 days since I’d eaten anything and I couldn’t get out of bed. My Mom had figured out what was going on by then, and she gave me an ultimatum: either I ate something immediately or I was going to the hospital.

My fear of doctors won. I ate a cup of yogurt and spent the next three years being watched like a hawk by my family. But as I ate that sugar-free low fat yogurt — it was Key Lime Pie flavored — I knew that I had failed. I was never going to stay thin. I was never really going to be an actor.

I wish I could say that I had been wrong.

I never actually got thin enough to meet the BMI qualification for an anorexia diagnosis, but my behavior was definitely anorectic. An EDNOS diagnosis was tossed around by an early therapist — that’s Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified — but I never received treatment for it. I barely got treatment for my depression.

The pounds came back, of course, and brought some friends with them. Roles dwindled as my dress size got larger. I eventually gave up.

I never stopped dieting, though. I lost the same 50 pounds at least 4 times, but I could never keep the weight off for more than a few years. No matter what I did, it always came back. The last time I tried to lose weight I started to regain when I was eating 1500 calories a day and exercising a minimum of 90 minutes a day — and usually more like 2 1/2 hours. I was eating fewer calories than what should have been a maintenance level for my goal weight, and exercising strenuously, and I was still gaining weight. I cried a lot.

And then I gave that up, too.

I gave the universe a great big existential middle finger and said, “Fuck you, universe. I’m just gonna be FAT.” I stopped dieting, and I will never diet again.

I cannot understate how freeing that was.

It has taken years, but I genuinely don’t hate my body anymore. I am 5’2 1/2” tall (though I always round up and say I’m 5’3”), and given how my clothes fit right now, I probably weigh somewhere between 195 and 205 pounds. (I can’t say for sure, because it’s not safe for me to have a scale at home with my history.) My measurements are 45-39-51 and I no longer care that I’m not a Brick House.

I do relapse into disordered eating sometimes, particularly when I’m stressed, but I don’t hate myself now. I love my creaky, socially unacceptable fat body. I’m not a separate entity living inside a corpulent meatsack, you know. I am the corpulent meatsack, and I’m much more fond of it than the name implies.

Now, what the hell does this have to do with clothing? A lot, actually. When you stop hating yourself and thinking of your body as an enemy, you find that your relationship with clothing changes. Treating my body with respect not only meant feeding it when it was hungry, but also included covering it with clothes I genuinely liked, instead of just hiding it with whatever was handy and sort of fit.

Sewing really helps with this, but in order to be a successful sewist you have to be honest. You have to take accurate measurements or the clothes you make won’t fit. On the one hand, looking at the actual measurements of your body is more abstract than looking at a simple dress size, but it can also be a scary, confrontational process. Sewing pattern sizes often have little to do with ready-to-wear sizing and that can be daunting if your self-esteem is wrapped up in wearing a specific size.

But I think it’s more difficult to feel ashamed of yourself when you’re wearing something you’ve made with your own hands — something beautiful that you really like. And maybe if you do that often enough you’ll come to love the body inside the clothing, as well.

It has definitely helped me.


As a quick aside, I don’t do Fat 101. It’s not my job to convince you that fat people are real people worthy of respect, but I will say that it’s virtually impossible to make a fat person thin. That’s the actual science of the matter, regardless of how much you want to wring your hands about “calories in, calories out” and “won’t someone think of the fat children.” All forms of dieting (even when you call them “lifestyle changes”) have something like a 95% failure rate over time. I can recommend some reading, though:
Rethinking Thin by Gina Kolata
Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon
Lessons from the Fat-o-sphere by Kate Harding and Marianne Kirby
Two Whole Cakes by Lesley Kinzel

A Month of Clothing Philosophy: The Power of Frustration

Today for Me Made May I’m wearing a modified Made by Rae Washi Dress in an excellent fat cat print. And yes, I specifically matched my accessories to the cats’ glowing eyes! The fabric was part of a Halloween collection of prints, but I wear this dress all the time. It’s always Halloween in my heart, you see.

A Month of Clothing Philosophy — Part Two
The Power of Frustration

I realized something in kindergarten: I didn’t dress like the other kids. There were only six of us in my class, but five out of six — boys and girls alike — wore jeans and t-shirts almost every day. I always wore a dress. Always. Rain, shine, snow — it didn’t matter. I usually wore shorts under my dresses for the sake of modesty, because I was just as likely to jump, climb, and run around like any other kid, but I don’t think I owned a single pair of pants from ages 4 to 12.

This wasn’t something my parents forced on me; it was just a preference. And seeing other kids dressed differently didn’t change my habits one bit. I genuinely didn’t care that I stood out, and if you think peer pressure eventually changed my stance…you would be very wrong.

I was already a pretty eccentric kid, but in my teen years I eventually went a little…well…goth. Size wasn’t as much of an issue yet (though I was always near the top of “straight” sizes, usually a misses 12 or 14), but living in a rural area in the late 1980s limited my clothing choices pretty severely. My family was also, frankly, rather poor — which was also a consideration. So even if Hot Topic had existed, I wouldn’t have been able to afford to shop there.

I was already thrifting some of my clothing, but except for one trip a year to the city, all of my new clothing (and that wouldn’t amount to much) came from JC Penney and Walmart. So, yeah — I could find a black t-shirt, but not a cool black t-shirt. Not the black t-shirt I really wanted.

I love to explain to people that I very nearly failed the sewing module in home ec in junior high, but only four years later I was working in theatrical costuming. This is all true. The difference is that at 13 I didn’t care about sewing, but at 15 I did. I was so frustrated that I couldn’t find or afford the kind of clothes I wanted to wear that I became very motivated to learn how to sew.

I started out with simple projects, using my grandma’s sewing machine. I finally convinced my family that I was serious about sewing, so my parents and grandparents went together to buy me a sewing machine for my 16th birthday. My grandma worked in a garment factory that made postal uniforms, and could get lots of scrap fabric for free — some of it uncut yardage — so I had plenty of material to practice with. My main problem at that point was stretching my allowance to buy other fabric.

I was fearless then. No one told me how hard zippers were or buttonholes — I just jumped in and practiced until I could do them correctly. And it really paid off. I was finally able to make my dreams of sartorial darkness a reality.

One early success was a pair of black (of course) crushed velvet shorts that I wore with tights and chunky boots. I remember how hard I worked at getting the buttonholes just right on a princess seamed floral sundress that had red roses on it the exact same color as my favorite lipstick. And I remember the first fitted skirt I made (also black, of course) because it was the first skirt I ever owned that fit at both my waist and my hips. Even at that size, there was a 12 inch difference between my waist and hips — and almost no ready-to-wear garment would work for that, unless it had an elastic waist.

Sure, sometimes my skills fell short of my imagination, and sometimes I just plain failed. But just trying was satisfying, and when things really did work, it was amazing.

My frustration had opened a window of almost endless possibilities.

A Month of Clothing Philosophy: The Metaphorical Elephant in the Room

I’m wearing a Comino Cap top for Me Made May today. The fabric is a tentacle patterned knit from Spoonflower.

This is my second year participating in Me Made May, and I want to do something a little different this time. I will spend this month not only wearing my own handmade clothing, but also examining my relationship to clothing in general, and why it’s so important to me, in a series of essays.

A Month of Clothing Philosophy — Part One
The Metaphorical Elephant in the Room

Long ago, in the halcyon days when my beloved E.K. lived right down the street instead of across the country, she once called early on a Saturday morning with some spontaneous plan for the day. She said she would be right over to pick me up and I said, “Give me 30 minutes — I have to get dressed.”

E.K. laughed and said, “You actually do that, don’t you? You ‘get dressed,’ but I just put on clothes!”

It was true then and it’s true now: I get dressed. I dress with thought and purpose, and spend more time thinking about, making, altering, and spending time with clothes than many do. (You’ll notice I don’t spend much time shopping for clothes, but we’ll get into that later.) And yet I’m not a fashionista. I don’t usually post OOTD snaps on social media, and although I often receive compliments on my outfits in real life, I’m not especially flamboyant or colorful. It’s likely I’ll never sport the candy colored hair and exquisitely chosen accessories necessary for social media success amongst the clothing elite.

I do get derisive looks from strangers, however, and have been on the receiving end of unpleasant stares far more often than I would like.

You want to know why? It’s simple enough: I’m fat.

I’m what I think of as “medium fat” — mammoth by Hollywood standards, of course, but completely functional in the real world. I’ve never needed a seat belt extender on an airplane, for instance — and being spared that particular indignity may be what brought home the concept of relative privilege for me. I may get less abuse than many fat people, but I still get some — you know? I “read” as thinner than I am, which also gets me better treatment. I have a strong jaw and prominent chin, so my double chin is less apparent. I’m not very busty (and am in fact three dress sizes smaller at the bust than at the hip), so I seem smaller than I might otherwise. I’m pear-shaped with a definite, smaller waist. I have a lot of relative privilege. I know that.

But I am definitely, demonstrably fat. I am plus sized, if you want a coy term. I am not euphemistically curvy, “overweight” (over what weight, exactly?), or — god forbid — fluffy, a term I despise more than almost any other. I’m simply fat, and when I use that word to describe myself I mean it just as a physical descriptor — like short, or pale. I don’t mean it as an insult.

It took me years to find this level of self acceptance, but fat is finally a neutral term for me, and it’s what I call myself.

So, now that we have that out of the way, we can begin to examine why I come to clothing with a different perspective than many, and why dressing well is both a creative and a political act for me. I’m not only here to shock the bourgeoisie (as fun as that can be), but I’m here to be visible, to represent an unfairly vilified segment of society.

Clothes can be a serious business, and they’re serious to me. Representation is important.

Clothing is important.

Ban clowning.*

The next person who attempts to disparage my (assumed) eating habits had better do so in a way that is grammatically correct, because the phrase “eating healthy” is wrong unless the word “healthy” is followed by a noun.

Because adjectives don’t modify verbs, people.

The phrase you’re looking for is “eating healthily,” using the correct adverb form of the word. Or even “healthy eating,” because in that context “eating ” is a noun.

I don’t mean to be pedantic (except, of course, I really do), but this is basic grammar. Basic. And it’s true that I have also been shamed for being an “elitist” for my grammatical tirades, but there’s nothing wrong with using correct speech or good manners. Neither my grammar nor my manners are perfect, but I will always strive to correct these shortcomings.

If that makes me a monster, then fuck it. I’m a monster.

A monster who knows the difference between an adjective and an adverb.

*Title is unrelated to post, although as a coulrophobe, I really do support the ban of all clowning activities.

Shout out to fat brides.

“I have never in my life been fatter than I was on my wedding day, I have never shown my body in such an uncompromising way, and I have never felt more at home in that body. I was fully myself, and I was happy. We are happy. This life is yours, fat girls. Eat it up.”
— Lindy West, in this fantastic article about her wedding.

Can I just say how much I loved Lindy West’s article? Reading that right after this article about Instagram being asshat-ish to fat people (no shocker there, really) and banning the search term #curvy, it was such a breath of fresh air.

When we got married five years ago, I was also the biggest I’d ever been, and it didn’t diminish my happiness one tiny bit.

Cheers to all the happy fat brides (and husbands) out there! Hopefully one day there will be nothing remarkable about us at all. We’ll just be happy, no disclaimer necessary.

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Making lemonade, sewing-style.

Although I generally wait to buy new sewing patterns until I have seen them sewn on a wide variety of body types (read: not just thin people), I took a chance and bought a brand new indie sewing pattern last week.

And now I regret it.

I don’t want to name names here, because A) I would just be needlessly throwing shade, and B) It’s mostly my own fault, and could have happened with any other indie pattern. But anyway, I paid upwards of $15 for a pretty wonky pattern, and I feel a little burned.

Part of the problem is that some designers do not give enough information about the pattern itself. I have not been able to find really basic info on the pattern in question, like what height the pattern is designed for, or what cup size. Somewhere on the designer’s website it says, “for average height,” which could mean anything, especially since average heights vary from place to place. Maybe they think average height for women is 5’6″! (Here’s a hint…it’s not, at least not in the U.S.)

Now, I’m a fat person. I’m sized out of many indie sewing pattern ranges, and I’m at the tippy-top for most of the others — as in the largest size, and then maybe outsized at the hips. I know how to alter for that; it’s not a big deal (no pun intended). I have narrow shoulders, and although no one would call me busty (I wear a 42B, you guys), I have a 4 1/2 inch difference between my upper and full bust measurements. In sewing terms, not bra terms, that makes me a D cup! Most sewing patterns only have 2 inches difference between the upper and full bust measurements, so the first pattern alteration I ever learned to do was the full bust adjustment. I am accustomed to making “regular” patterns fit my “plus” body, but…I need some basic information to know where to start.

I have only sewn one other dress pattern by this designer, and I had trouble with it, too. And it was a sewing blog darling! I had seen it on women of many different sizes and shapes, and thought it would work for me, too. But the fit through the shoulders was terrible, the neckline gaped a bit, and the exaggerated A-line in the skirt seemed to have been drafted incorrectly at the largest size, as it was comical in its inflation. I wore it twice, then donated it to Goodwill. I hope someone with strong, wide shoulders found it, and is happily wearing it today.

In that case, I did blame myself. I didn’t make a muslin (test garment), and suspected that I should have made a smaller size at the shoulders just by eyeballing the pattern. But I thought, it’s a knit, it’s forgiving — and I was in a place where I had sewn several frustrating things in a row and I just wanted to finish something simple. But that dress was undeniably a dud.

I had hopes for this new dress pattern. It was breezy without being too voluminous, and had a nice modern look to it. But it also had a tulip skirt, which seemed like a strange choice for a pattern that obviously called for drapey fabrics. I took the plunge and got it anyway.

I made a muslin the day after I bought the pattern, which is light speed for someone like me. For example, I still haven’t sewn a Colette Moneta dress, yet I bought the pattern pre-release! I am not on the cutting edge of sewing, generally speaking. Anyway, the muslin had Problems with a capital P. At the largest size, the tulip skirt was straight up ridiculous looking. I mean, it looked like jodhpurs in skirt form! Even in a drapey fabric, that was going to look bananas. The sleeves were okay, though I didn’t personally like the length on me — and I cut the neckline for a much smaller size, so it was A-OK. I ended up drafting a completely different skirt — just a plain, knee length A-line. Maybe, like the fictional Leslie Knope, I just needed to learn that tulip skirts weren’t for me.

Or maybe, just maybe, there is a problem with the method or computer program this particular indie designer is using for pattern grading. Because the largest size seems to be too exaggerated — everything is blown out of proportion. You can only grade a couple of sizes up or down from any set size before this starts to happen, though most clothing retailers and many pattern designers do not bother with the extra expense of drafting two separate sample sizes and grading them both. (By the way, that’s why most women’s t-shirts are XS-S-M-L-XL — medium is the base size — and why many clothing lines only came in 6-8-10-12-14 back in the day.) Believe me, this shows on the largest sizes — and maybe on the smallest sizes, too. I have no idea about things on that end.

Anyway, having made an altogether new skirt, I did finish the dress over the weekend, and although it’s not my favorite thing in the world, it’s wearable. I took my lemons and made some sewing lemonade. But I also learned my lesson, and I will not be buying that anonymous brand of sewing pattern again. Sigh.