A Personal Piece: Gaining weight, and perspective, in the fashion industry

posted on: Monday, 14 November 2016

This year has not been an easy one, by any means. After back surgery on five slipped (herniated) discs, and various other medical problems, I have seen my life turned upside-down in so many ways. Probably the most difficult change, as a woman, has been the weight gain. Oh, the weight gain. Amazing how you could probably tell me any other side effects of being ill, but gaining weight would be the one I would dread like no other. I say "would," because said change in my life really has altered the way I look at everything.

Don't get me wrong, I have never ever been skinny. I'm 6'2, as most of you already know, and I've never in my life worn less than a size 14. Ok, well I wasn't born a size 14, but it certainly feels like I went straight from kids clothes to a size 14. I had never been ok with this. Not only was I born taller than everyone else, I also had to have a bigger ass as well. Universe, you are cruel indeed. As a teenager, I do believe nothing could be harder. Kids are cruel when it comes to anyone that looks different and I'm afraid that will never change. My mother will attest to the fact that rarely was there a day that I did not come home crying. Again, this isn't meant to be a sob story. I look back now and have great perspective with all of this. I do believe that gave me some incredible rhino skin right from the start, which is oh so useful in surviving the big bad world. 

But, just when you think high school is the high point of torture, when it comes to size issues, I decide I want to be in the fashion industry. Am I insane? I remember talking to my mom on the phone the first time I got a comment on twitter calling me fat. The oh so cool twitter troll had said that I didn't belong in the fashion industry, that I was too large to represent the woman looking to be a part of this world. Let's keep in mind I was two sizes smaller at this point as well. Argh. My mom supported me, said all the right things and then, I'm sure, wondered if this was the right move for me. Rhino skin or not, no one person can take being put down continuously. 

That was five years ago. Since then, Fashion Foie Gras has grown and has been read by over 12 million people. If I could find that twitter troll now, I'd love to say... "so I didn't represent the fashion lady, eh?" What I've learned over the course of seven years of writing FFG has been incredible. The people I've met, the women that have encouraged me to keep going, the young ladies who have said they're happy to see someone the same size as them being a part of the big brand conversation. It's all been a little overwhelming, to be honest. 

But, again, in the last year, it's all moved to a different level. Going up two sizes in your clothes ain't easy, and it has kept me from working with a few of the usual suspects because, well, they don't choose to carry over a size 14. I won't lie. I have felt completely torn up about the whole situation. I've been down on myself. I've gone through a number of emotional rollercoaster rides and have threatened to just leave it all behind and find a new career path in the wake of it all. 

Saying all of that, if I have learned anything in this lifetime, it is this - what will be will be and nothing can stand in the way. There's always something that happens that keeps you on the path you were intended for. Yesterday, Boden shared, on Facebook, a blogpost we had collaborated on together. I had been asked to put together a series of layering looks (which you will see on FFG over the next week). They shared said blogpost on their Facebook page and only this morning did I notice that over 600 women had left comments under the post, and most of them were relating to Boden's decision to showcase a woman that looked like them. I won't say "real woman" because all women are real and I won't say "plus size" because no one has any idea where that size begins or ends these days. I'll just say that I seemed to be something that they hadn't seen before. The comments left me in tears. Truly, I couldn't stop reading, smiling and looking back in disbelief.

I guess the thing that shocked me most was in recognizing that these women commenting were saying out loud what all of us are always thinking. Where's the representation? In this world, the average size of most women runs between a size 14 and a 16. Yet, the average size represented in fashion campaigns, in the magazines women of every size read, is most likely around a 4-6. Anyone else spy something fishy there? Yet we all carry on in our normal way of digesting these catalogues of women, without saying much. Should a model that is a 14-16 come around in the fashion world, she is celebrated for her curves, and more often than not placed in lingerie or put on the page nearly nude with full flesh on display. Women that are above a size 12 want fashion options too! 

And here's the good news. While brands won't shout loud and proud about their extended sizes, they do exist. Why they don't openly campaign to let people know this, I will never understand. But, I wanted to give you a run down of the brands I know and love that carry a wide range of sizes, since so many women I have met have said they never buy from certain brands because they don't expect to find things that fit them!

So here's my official top ten shopping list for all size shopping:

1. Boden
Naturally, we were going to start there as they are the folks that prompted this whole piece. Boden offers a classic, while also fresh, approach to fashion. The pieces are timeless, great quality and oh so fabulous. They also carry up to a size 22 in clothing and up to a 42 in shoes. Ace. And for those of you that aren't Boden customers, let me redirect you to a piece I wrote two years ago about them being the most beloved brand in fashion today. 

2. ASOS
When it comes to online ordering this is a favorite. Not only do most of the ASOS collection pieces run up to an 18, but tall runs up to size 20 and ASOS curve is available up to a size 30! Amazing and definitely not a retailer to be missed! They also carry shoes up to a 43.

This is the luxe life brand. Marina Rinaldi is the creme de la creme for extended sizes in fashion. They carry size 12 and up and it's a brand I work with a lot and love, from top to toe. Saying their pieces are luxurious would be the greatest understatement of all time. And over the past year, they have been a brand I've worked with more closely than any other. They are truly about fashion for all women and their appreciation for women and what we need in our closets is unparalleled. 

4. Gap
This is a surprising one because I feel everyone's frustration when they go into Gap stores. The only extended sizes are the ones you find on the sale rack. It's because they are online returns and online is the treasure trove of the Gap community. Not only do they have talls and petites, they also go up to a size 20 and XXL. I have more Gap jeans in my wardrobe than any other brand. They are a great staples brand and at a great price point. 

Oh how I love M&S, and for American readers, I'm sorry this isn't a brand available to you just yet. For UK readers, I'm sure I don't need to tell you much about good ole Marks & Sparks. But I will say that most of their clothing comes in up to size 22. For as much as they produce each season, in looks, that's a massive offering and I rarely, if ever, go into an M&S and leave without a bag in hand. 

6. Cos
The high end sister of H&M, this brand not only comes in sizes up to 18, but also features elaborate and magnificent shapes in their fashion that really makes everything oversized! It's a great Swedish brand that is simple, trendy and looks good on everyone. 

7. J Crew
This may surprise a lot of people, but J Crew is actually quite good when it comes to sizes. Only they carry up to a US 16, while in store they are pretty much still catering to the tiny tots. However, there are also gems to be found on the factory store site, with many shirts coming in at XXL and definitely showing off a generous fit. 

8. Boohoo
While the regular Boohoo collection only runs up to a 14, their curve department works up to a size 24! This is definitely the fast fashion option. It's not the best quality stuff but works a trend like crazy. 

Speaking of trends, Eloquii is officially the best place for anyone looking to find trendy extended sizes in fashion. They run up to size 28 and feature renditions of all the hottest trends we are seeing on catwalks around the globe. I tripped onto these guys a few months ago and it's an addiction! Be careful. Their sales are insane. 

Ralph Lauren Women's collection is not a line that is shouted about from the brand. But, you know what? The word should be spread far and wide. This is a great collection of clothing with sizes that goes up to a size 26. It's definitely worth a peek!

And two more... River Island! Yes, they have started carrying plus sizes! And Studio 8, the extended sizes range from Phase Eight - great for formal wear.

So there you have it, I've said what I needed to say and given some online shopping advice along the way. Just another day on FFG, right?

What I really hope you take from this can be summed up in one line: We are all a part of the fashion world. That's it. Maybe it's just time, as consumers, that we speak up just that little bit more about what we would like to see and what we want to be able to buy. The brands will listen. We have work to do, ladies.

I'll also just say this. Most of what I wear on the blog is available for all sizes. I'm talking size two to size twenty two. I do that for a reason, and it's for the same reason I write above. We are all a part of this fashion blog. I've never made FFG about being plus sized or tall sized, or any size. This is just a place where you see a girl everyday who loves what she does and the brands she gets to work with. And the more my body changes and sizes change, the less I'm thinking about size at all and the more I'm thinking about how I can be a part of the conversation on behalf of all women looking for representation in this stylish universe.