I am a big fan of “Project Runway”. I wasn’t on board from Day 1 but my friend Sue raved about the show so I started watching in Season 4 and I’ve been hooked ever since. This season, a miracle occurred when a designer who creates chic clothing for “real women,” not pin-thin models and socialites, finally won! Ashley Nell Tipton had her ups and downs and probably shed more tears than anyone I have ever seen on “Project Runway,” but she was a most deserving champion. I am certain we will see much more of her beautiful, innovative designs in the months and years to come. She is a true talent, at age 24, unafraid to use vivid colors and unique materials and bold enough to put crop tops and sleek catsuits on big girls. Big girls deserve to look cute too, you know!
My fondness for “Project Runway” is a bit contradictory, though, as I am probably the least fashion-conscious person of anyone I know. As mentioned in last week’s blog, my personal style could be most accurately described as ragamuffin. On any given day, I could be easily mistaken for one of the Little Rascals. Frankly, it’s highly unlikely that my distinctive non-fashion, which I’ve been rocking for nearly my entire life, will ever be supplanted unless a friend or family member arranges an all-expenses-paid “make-over” for me on a show like “What Not to Wear” or “Ellen”, in which case I’d suffer the re-do with a smile on my public face but would inevitably fall back to my old-standby style a day or so later in the privacy of my own closet.
The primary wardrobe concern for me is COMFORT. If clothes are not comfortable, I do not want to wear them. It boggles my mind how women torture themselves in a misguided attempt to “look good”, but evidently there are psychological and sociological reasons at the root of the teetering high heels and skin-tight skirts and push-up bras that working women seem to feel the need to wear every day. (And that doesn’t even take into consideration “evening wear”; I wonder sometimes if these women have to stand all night in their stilettos because they literally cannot sit.)
Not long ago I read the first volume of an impressive, meticulously researched tome by Marilyn French called From Eve to Dawn: A History of Woman in the World, Vol. 1: Origins (The Feminist Press, 2008). At the risk of handing over the reins of my blog to a far superior writer, here is French’s assessment of women’s fashion:
“To escape this general disparagement [from men, primarily, but also from other women], women try to present themselves as above criticism or contempt. Such presentation is fostered by apparel that is clearly not designed for everyday life …. Women who adopt uncomfortable attire are desperate to distinguish themselves from the scorned common run. High fashion turns women into works of art, and women have always been willing to sacrifice freedom for the appearance of transcendence. What power is to a man, illusion is to a woman. You can count on this: in any society, in any period, whatever style emerges to distinguish the elite from ordinary women will physically constrict.”
But what of those who are NOT elite, who fall into the “other” categories (including, in the words of French, “fat women, old women … women with pendulous breasts or bellies or buttocks” and “little old ladies in tennis shoes“)? Well, if they’re not being subjected to ridicule, they are otherwise completely unseen. In a very amusing article I read recently, “The insults of age: A one-woman assault on condescension” [The Monthly website, 5/28/15, https://www.themonthly.com.au/issue/2015/may/1430402400/helen-garner/insults-age], writer Helen Garner points out that such invisibility carries hidden benefits: “I had known for years, of course, that beyond a certain age women become invisible in public spaces. The famous erotic gaze is withdrawn. You are no longer, in the eyes of the world, a sexual being.” But Ms. Garner finds this oddly liberating: “Oh, the relief! You have nothing to prove. You can saunter about the world in overalls.”
I long ago decided I didn’t care what I looked like. It might have something to do with having sworn off romantic relationships but, truth be told, even in my “randy” years, my outfits may have been edgy (and of course comfortable) but not in any way sexy. I’ve always had slim legs, so I didn’t mind wearing short skirts, but high heels just weren’t in my repertoire. They’re still not. I prefer boots in the winter, sneakers for walking or working at the shelter, and flip-flops basically from April through October. I only wear stretchy pants that you don’t have to hold your breath to button, although I recently purchased a pair of Jennifer Lopez “boyfriend” jeans that are at least two sizes too big, so I don’t even need to open them to pull them up and down. T-shirts – both short- and long-sleeved, depending on the weather – and sweatshirts are my go-to top wear. And the less said about bras, the better – the ones I wear offer little to no support because otherwise they would be too pinchy and restrictive; even with my loose, saggy bras, the first thing I do when I come home after wearing one all day is to TAKE IT THE HELL OFF.
Even though I’m admittedly on the large side (especially in the breastal region), I have a tendency to wear clothes that are oversized and baggy, perhaps figuring that big clothes will somehow make me look smaller than I actually am. It might even be a subconscious attempt to make myself – or my body, at least – disappear into a mass of cloth. My body has always felt alien to me – not in a Caitlin Jenner kind of way, but that’s another blog post for another day. The idea of exposing this strange corpus to the light of day is mortifying! Ergo, the larger the clothes, the more I am swallowed up and the better I feel.
And please don’t get me started on clothes shopping, not only because I despise spending a lot of money on my attire (and yet I’m also troubled by the fact that the cheapest items of clothing are made by children in Southeast Asian sweatshops) but also because the fashion industry seems to think that fat women only like to wear loud prints and vertical stripes and pants in varying shades of black made of fabrics not found in nature which make skin-crawling squeaky sounds when the ladies’ legs rub together (as they will).
So thank the stars for Ashley Nell Tipton and her plum-colored crop tops and lacy rompers and flirty little skirts with comfy waistbands! Finally, a designer who thinks that even big girls – ESPECIALLY big girls – should feel good in their clothes!