Many years ago now, within the span of a few days, I got my first big girl apartment and my first job that paid more than the bare minimum. The night I got my first-ever 4-digit paycheck, I cashed it, bought a bottle of wine, and got my friends together for a good old-fashioned roll around a pile of money on the living room floor. I remember feeling such awe that I could be such an adult-ish type person.
Over the course of the next few years, I filled that 2 bedroom apartment almost completely up. Hilarious bowling nun figurines, hilarious platform shoes, paisley housecoats, frilly hats, record albums, home-sewn aprons, daisy-covered kitchen canisters, and a mantle display of a mylar fringe curtain framing a 3 foot tall Virgin Mary — I could resist none of these amazing, amusing items.
And so I’d bring them home and find a spot for them nestled in amongst everything else, where they’d immediately start attracting grime.
Eventually I realized that I didn’t have any more potential homes for weird things, which meant that I couldn’t buy everything in the world that I wanted. I slowed down my rate of acquisition, then started getting rid of stuff. And as white space began to appear between my tchotchkes, I discovered that I liked it.
This was huge, because like a lot of people who grow up in a not-that-financially-secure environment, I’d never before experienced enough quantity to understand its relationship to quality. When you feel a persistent sense of lack, you don’t stop to think too much about what you’re grabbing for — you just grab.
But as I started to outgrow the grabbiness, I started paying attention to different things. Do I need this? Is it going to add to my life or just sit around? And as my environmental consciousness grew, other questions came onto the list, too. Where did this come from? Who made it? Is it going to last?
My standards started to rise, and I got a lot pickier about what I brought into my life. My apartment still looked cute and prominently featured hilarious stuff; there was just a lot less of it.
I noticed myself going through this process in other parts of my life, too. I allowed my standards to rise for what I ate, who I hung out with, how I spent my time … But it didn’t really happen with clothes until much later — in fact, it’s still a work in progress.
Even now, as I compost and recycle and buy almost exclusively happy meat and fair trade coffee, I still find myself guiltily standing in line at Target with a tank top or a pair of tights in my hand. For some reason, the disconnect between my ideals and my behavior seems to show up in fashion more than anywhere else.
Why? I think it has to do with those feelings of lack and grabbiness I described earlier. Because, honestly, unless you are one of the few people who falls right into the narrow band of proportions that mass marketers design for, there truly is a distinct lack of clothing for you in the stores.
Here’s how it breaks down. Let’s say I need a pair of pants, so I go to a store, gather up a dozen or so pairs to try, and proceed to the dressing room. Of my dozen choices, one pair fits. Kind of. They don’t make me look or feel particularly cute, and they’re maybe a little short? But they do button up without causing a massive muffin top, which is more than I can say for any of the other ones.
At this point, I can decide to keep looking, go gather up another dozen pairs, and take my chances on another ride through the process, and often I do. But other times, knowing how my shopping experience tends to go, I just go ahead and buy the 60% okay pants, because I need them, and these work. Kind of.
The point is that, as a body proportion outlier in 2012 America, my choices are so limited that I have very little space to think about where they were made / their fabric content / whether or not they make my butt look cute. I’m expected to just be satisfied that it’s covered.
And this is how a person ends up with closets full of clothes that they don’t want to wear, a depressing but fairly common state of affairs. We have soooo many clothes in this world, and almost all of them suck.
Of course I think we can do better than this. I think we can have more options. Better options. Instead of tons of sucky clothes, we can have just a few absolutely perfect ones that we love and want to wear all the time. Instead of hustling to cobble together a look from a bunch of garments about which we feel decidedly “meh”, we can decide how we want to dress and then dress that way, no matter our size or proportion.
I don’t want to be stuck with 60% okay clothes made in a sweatshop from the world’s most pesticide-laden fibers, and I don’t want you to be stuck with them either. What I want is for all of us — fat or skinny, apple or pear — to have the privilege to dress to our most fully realized vision of cuteness AND to our highest standards and morals. No more lesser-of-two-evils compromises in the dressing room or anywhere else. Let’s figure out a better way.