Hand-me-down Haute Couture.

AAAMEN to Lesley at Fatshionista and the The Rotund with their posts on dressing like YOU.
I’ve been thinking about this a shitload too.
I kind of have a problem with “dressing for your shape”. To me it means “tricking people into thinking you’re less fat.” It means forgetting about what you like and tossing out what you want people to think about when they look at you, all in the hope that they will not be thinking about your fat.

Who cares. If they care about fat, they’re going to see it whether you swathe it in jersey or not. Whether you wear all black and structured everything or not, if rolls on other people’s backsides are the stuff that keeps them up at night, IT’S WHAT THEY’RE GONNA SEE. Big deal.
So what? People like that are toxic and wastes of space. Quit trying to make them happy. I say quit trying to make ANYBODY happy. Make you happy. It’s the only thing you can do anyway.

Growing up, I was the oldest, but my family didn’t have a lot of money, so with the exception of 2 or 3 outfits that grandma bought, all of my clothing came in giant garbage bags from the neighbors with older kids.
I mean they were hand-me-downs transported in garbage bags. They weren’t dumpster trophies. Although that would have made a way better story.
Anyway, I thought this was AWESOME. My mom pretty much gave me free reign to dress myself and I was all about wearing ridiculous crap to school just because I liked the texture of the turd colored knee socks. One of my very favorite outfits was a short-sleeved brown floral cotton top with a matching ankle-length patchwork (all patches being variations of brown floral) skirt. The brown was the same color as the haircut I’d given myself, and I was thrilled with the way that everything matched. It was total hippie 70’s, and I wore it to 4th grade in the super-rad late 80’s. I didn’t have a lot of friends. Okay, ANY friends.
The other girls were busy in fuschia bike shorts with little skirts sewn on top, and I had more in common with Laura Ingalls .. or Nancy Drew. Or Trixie Belden, depending which garbage bag I had been pawing through.
I vividly remember Dana Vanderschaaf asking me why I was wearing knee socks and penny loafers. It was because I found them in the garbage bag and they fit just perfectly! They were ribbed and the nylon was squinchy and they had tassels!! “My mom forces me.” That’s what I told her.
She still didn’t invite me to her birthday party.

Anyway, in middle school we moved, and I kept wearing my dad’s jeans and my mom’s sweaters from the 60’s and 70’s and it still didn’t cost me anything, but suddenly I had a bunch of friends!! My clothes were COOL! Or more accurately, I finally met some kindred spirits who could recognize the glory that was a corduroy FFA jacket with my Dad’s name and 1969 stitched on the side. (Dad was the Vice President!)

The moral of the story is: the haters are gonna hate. Shockerooney. Maybe I’m crazy, maybe it’s superficial and naive, but I can’t be the only one who can make people go away by refusing to think about them. I’ve forgotten all my “embarassing moments”. Why on earth would a person dwell on something that makes them feel terrible? If that’s the dress you were wearing when you did something monumentally and horrifically awful, GET RID OF IT! Or reframe the situation or hack it in half and make it into a headband. Just quit living there.

The girls I see on fatshionista and wardrobe remix, the ones who make my jaws drop every time they post their mugs are the ones who don’t ask for permission. They don’t attempt to appease the masses; they don’t assume that anything is off limits. There’s nothing that “shouldn’t be done”, nothing their fill-in-the-blanks are “too big for”. No doors are closed, no options are inaccessible. They shop in catalogs and the old stand by brick and mortars, they scour thrift stores and ebay, friend’s closets and museum gift shops.

For a good 7 or 8 years, once I was larger than a size 14, I gave up on thrift stores. I shoved them into the same category as Wet Seal and Anthropologie. Why on earth would I set foot in a store that doesn’t carry my size? But the fatshionistas and a few real life friends busted me out of my little box.
“Do you think no one was fat before 1990?” “Where do you think old Lane Bryant clothing goes? It doesn’t just vanish out of fat people’s closets…” “Where do you think 6-foot-tall, 300 lb female impersonators find their first sequined dream?”
Granted, I’m partial to obnoxious prints and dramatic EVERything, but I personally think the key to looking frigging incredible is to decide what you want to look like. Who do you admire? What do you want people to be reminded of when they look at you? Marilyn? Diane Keaton? Ally Sheedy, Bettie Page, Richard Nixon? Pick something!
And then shop for things that make you happy. Is it too small? Says who? What if you wore it backwards? Inside out? Make it a dress!

Fat Fashion, even more loudly than straight-size fashion, demands creativity. No, you’re NOT going to find exactly what you want in your size. Big deal. Now, what are you going to do about it?

28 Responses to “Hand-me-down Haute Couture.”

  1. 1 kateharding September 18, 2008 at 3:04 pm

    I so want you to make this a video. Preferably with pictures of you as a kid. 🙂

  2. 2 integgy September 18, 2008 at 4:12 pm

    I would like to second Kate’s motion for a video.

    And, I’m so glad people are blogging about this. Especially people who are known in the fatshion world. 😉

  3. 3 RoseCampion September 18, 2008 at 5:02 pm

    I knew exactly what you meant by hand me downs in garbage bags. We got a lot of those too when we were growing up. Unfortunately, it wasn’t so great, because at that time what I wanted more dearly than anything on the earth was to dress just like all the other girls in my class. Being fat and (comparatively) poor and sent to a private school with no uniform but a very restrictive dress code, wearing the neighbors handmedowns from the seventies during the early eighties was a very very bad thing for me. I think it made a bad situation for me even worse.

    It’s taken me nearly thirty years to recover from it, until finally recently, I no longer want to wear what every one else wears. If you asked me even two, three years ago, what kind of things I wanted to see in plus size clothing, I would have told you “the same kind of styles that everyone else gets to buy.” Now, I’m finally at the point where I want vintage, unique stuff.

  4. 4 Tari September 18, 2008 at 6:57 pm

    Brilliant as usual. Smells like another “Fat Rant” to me!

  5. 5 Karrie September 18, 2008 at 9:42 pm

    I kind of saw “dressing for your shape” as a way to play up your best features. I never really read those tips though because I don’t know what shape I am (there’s a few conflicts here and there), but I make up for it by always keeping a look out for things I like that look smashing on me.

  6. 6 nuckingfutz September 19, 2008 at 3:09 am

    I’d like to third that emotion for a video.

    And I’m not ashamed to admit that MY children get the garbage bag hand-me-downs. We don’t have much money, the people that give us these things are wonderful, and it just so happens that everything IN these bags are not only fashionable, but 95% of them are by big-name (at least in the UK) designers. They get things that I would never – unless we won the lottery – be able to afford to buy them.

    What bothers me about the “dressing for your shape” thing is that while some people DO take it as playing up your best features (as Karrie mentioned), while other people seem to use it as a way to continue the body-hate.

  7. 7 buffpuff September 19, 2008 at 4:17 am

    I can really relate to this post.

    As a very little girl my mother insisted I wasn’t a pastel-coloured, frilly, ribbons and bows type child, refused to let me have long hair and invariably dressed me in jeans, shorts and dungarees or very tailored clothes. To be fair, some of my outfits were quite cute but I clamored to be a girlie girl nonetheless. Fortunately, one of my grandmothers was a dressmaker, and was willing to oblige my fantasies from time to time. (Our first act of subversion was a marshmallow pink satin and tulle ballet tutu). My grandmother also subsequently made a friend with a daughter 5 or 6 years older than me and, as a consequence, I got all her hand-me-downs – and a whole new world opened up to me. My favourite finds were a shocking pink mini skirt, which I used to wear with a black polo neck sweater and a sleeveless orange knife-edge-pleated trapeze dress with a white crochet trim around the neck. I must have looked like a lampshade but I felt like the bee’s knees in it – and my mum couldn’t do chuff-all about my wearing it.

  8. 8 Pet~ September 19, 2008 at 7:02 am

    I wore a lot of hand-me-downs from my cousin as a kid. That, and homemade clothes my mother sewed. The problem was that my aunt (who bought all my cousins clothes natch) and my mom had TOTALLY different tastes in clothing than I did. Mom never let me pick out the patterns or fabric for the clothes she made for me, and of course I had NO say in what my aunt bought my cousin and then handed down to me.

    Thank all the gods for my paternal grandmother who took me shopping every year just before school started! I think our first act of subversion (thank you buffpuff! LOVE the phrase!) was a Laura Ingalls style prairie skirt and shirt. I must be older than the rest of you guys because that outfit was the cats pajamas when Grandma bought it for me! Mom hated it, said it made me look fatter than I was (notice fattER grrrrrrr), and she thought the brown calico was tacky. I loved it and wore it once a week until the Valley Girl phase hit. LOL Then I was all about miniskirts with ballet flats, which Mom said I shouldn’t wear because they weren’t flattering to my legs. ::::eyeroll::::

    What I learned from that has benefitted my kids more than me, in some ways. I sew, but I let my kids pick out patterns and help pick out the fabrics to make them with. I don’t FORCE them to wear hand-me-downs that they don’t like. We’ve reconstructed many a hand-me-down dress, shirt, or pant to make it fit their style, if they liked the fabric. And we are QUEENS (and a KING) at finding bargains on the sale racks, in thrift stores, and at yard sales. DD-the-elder is all about the punk, DS is all about the skaterboi stuff, and DD-the-younger is most definitely the princess. Three very distinct styles to shop for, and I do it gladly (well, most of the time LOL) because my children are individuals and I remember what it was like to feel like MY individuality was being squashed because my parents had different tastes in clothing than me.

  9. 9 jojokaffe September 19, 2008 at 8:21 am

    I’m with Pet and BuffPuff on the homemade clothes.
    We lived in a very new development in the ‘burbs growing up and there were no older girls to hand down clothes, so my hobbiest mother frequently made clothes for us. The low points were the matching outfits for my sister and I, a sailing themed ensemble comes to mind as well as a set of matching bathing suits.
    But once I put my foot down I received more input on the outfits. Resulting in a completely awesome rainbow vest with a unicorn on the back for third grade. I wore it with jeans and a turtle neck. I felt awesome.

  10. 10 DiosaNegra1967 September 19, 2008 at 8:59 am

    ok…i’m chiming in with the rest on a video, joy!

    i woulda been grateful for some hand-me-downs that actually looked clothing that a child would wear!

    i had to deal with shopping at stores with clothing tailored for women old enough to be my nana…..but once, i hit 13 and discovered rock band tees, jeans (that actually fit – yay early plus-size fashion), leather boots AND the joys of a bedazzler (stop laughing y’all)….the rest was history. (much to my mom’s dismay, mind ya….she just didn’t get my desire to look like joan jett)

    p.s.: i managed to wrangle a leather jacket out of the ‘rents for my 13th birthday….squee!!!

    i am definitely glad that it’s much better for fat teens and tweens these days….

  11. 11 buffpuff September 19, 2008 at 12:21 pm

    hah! I just had another flashback. In my very early teens I started raiding my mum’s and both my grandmothers’ wardrobes. Vintage was not cool back in the early 70s. I was actually, by the skin of my teeth, able to wear a straight size L, but I wore these things because I loved the fabrics or the prints and I didn’t have many clothes, (I wore school uniform 5 days a week so my folks reckon I didn’t need that many), or much in the way of pocket money. It never even occurred to me I might look odd in my mum’s fantastic psychedelic silk jersey Carnaby Street trouser suit from 10 year’s earlier, (Skinny leg trousers and a top with a high neck and a keyhole cut-out at the back. Deep green and blue swirls. Damn, it was awesome)… until I ran into someone from school in a shop in town. She was with her mother, and she was dressed like her too, (i.e like an smart, ultra conservative 40 year old) and she looked me up and down and remarked on the “unusualness” of my attire in a really bitchy tone. And that was my first glimpse of the “I’m glad I’m a real person and not a freak like you” mentality, which was rich coming from somebody dressed like her. I think it bothered me for all of 2 minutes, which is probably why I’ve only just remembered it. Fat fashion does demand ingenuity and flair. Conforming, when you have all the choice of clothing in the world at your disposal is, IMO, pretty sad. For that reason there’s a certain part of me that likes being a fashion outlaw.

  12. 12 buffpuff September 19, 2008 at 12:23 pm

    Oh God, I just used a Grocer’s Apostrophe in “years”. My apologies!

  13. 13 J. P. Vonderhaar September 20, 2008 at 2:38 pm

    When I was a wee J.P., my mom made a lot of clothes and stuff. Going with her to the fabric store was just about my favorite thing ever. One time when I was about 8, I saw this sweatshirt fabric with black and white illustrations of the Flintstones characters against a bright tie-dye background. (Whatever you’re imagining, it’s even more horrendous than that. Seriously.) I didn’t even particularly like The Flintstones or tie-dye, but when I saw that fabric, I HAD TO HAVE IT. So, my mom bought it and made me a hoodie and a pair of pants out of that fabric and I loved them. Sometimes I’d wear just the pants or just the hoodie, but a lot of times, I’d wear them together.

    I found that when I was going through some boxes of stuff in my parent’s basement a while back, and at first I cringed, then I realized that I wore this outfit when I didn’t know or care about fashion, when I could get dressed without needing to worry about arbitrary stuff like “being stylish” or “looking good”. That outfit was comfortable, it was warm, it was practical (the print hid stains extremely well) and it was made just for me by someone I love. Why should I cringe at that?

  14. 14 Dan September 21, 2008 at 3:17 pm

    Its so funny I often did that. I would try to cover myself up in the vain hope the someone might not think I was as fat as I was. I remember laughing sometimes because I realised how stupid it was – people would still see me as fat no matter what I did.

  15. 15 Amy September 22, 2008 at 8:28 am

    I 4th the motion to a video!!! I wanna see those knee high socks, lol!
    No seriously, I have to give credit where it is due! Ive always been like 40 – 50 lbs overweight, but muscular, too. I will never be the dainty girl I dreamed of. You have given me the courage to live again and…gasp! Wear nice clothes!!! Life is fun again! Thanks Joy!!!

  16. 16 DaniFae September 24, 2008 at 9:54 am

    Another vote for a new fat rant!

    Oh yes, fat girl fashion at it’s finest!I got a LOT of hand me downs as a kid too, it was awsome, seeing there were at least three girls’s hand me downs I was getting, my closest was loaded. My mom also went through this crafty sewing phase…the ONLY thing I can remember from it was matching shorts and a tank top, with this totally awsome, in the humble opinion of my six year old self, fish print all over. I wore it proudly. I only got stranger as I got older, in 5th grade my favorite outfit was a pair of purple bibbed overall shorts and a teal tie dye shirt (1994 it was actually kinda trendy at the time, if I had been a few years older) I spent the next three years hating myself and trying to cover up…

    Then HIGH SCHOOL, oh dear god, I discovered Goth, not that band shirt black jeans listen to Marylin Manson Goth, no, that vinyl, lace, fishnets, leather, listen to The Cure kind of goth, BUT with no budget to speak of, I discovered that one, Walmart sale racks ALWAYS had black velvet skirts for next to nothing, and thrift stores were god.

    As for me now, my favorite outfit is this fantastic 50’s style black halter dress, paired with bright red fishnets, and my beloved dr. martin mary janes. Some smokey black eyeliner, and red lipstick and I’m good to go anywhere. Anyone who doesn’t like it, can kiss my size 18 butt.

  17. 17 Krissy September 25, 2008 at 3:20 pm

    Hello, Kate. Thank you so much for your fat rant video. I’ve gained a large amount of weight since I’ve left the military. I was feeling absolutely ashamed with myself for the weight gain. ( and my mother wasn’t any help) I had refused to buy cute clothes because I was determined to lose weight to get back into my old clothes. But after watching your video, I went to Ross and bought $150 worth of clothes ( at Ross that’s alot of clothes). I also, started doing my hair and wearing makeup again. and yep, I’m cute : ) Thank you, Kate.

  18. 19 Alice October 2, 2008 at 7:01 pm

    Hi Joy!

    I run http://plussizefinds.com, and I’d love to get a link on your blogroll – if tour posts are any indication of the readers you have, I’d love to get some of them reading my blog. I’m new though, and getting established is quite a feat!

    Anyway, it goes without saying that you’ve got another reader with or without the link exchange. Keep at it!

    Thanks for your time.


  19. 20 Kori October 22, 2008 at 6:38 pm

    I’m skinny but I always thought that the whole “dress for your shape” thing was kind of… ew. Stacy and Clinton for instance always make me want to kick them in the butt. Like, this pair of pants makes her hips look big? So what? What the hell’s so bad about big hips and what have they ever done to you?

  20. 21 SHADOW November 14, 2008 at 12:00 pm

    Joy, I JUST saw you on Trivial Pursuit! When were you going to tell us!? Congrats, I was grinning and shrieking when I saw you on TV. Congrats on that $$$!!!

  21. 22 Aerik November 14, 2008 at 9:46 pm

    Oh shit. Joy, did you know that your feed is broken? I came here thinking “whatever happened to Joy’s blog?” And there’s new content. But your feed still has 0 new items. You need help.

    I’m glad that here you post the argument that since the haters are prejudiced, capitulizing is worthless. The correct thing to do, and the only honest choice (especially ourselves) is to dress how we like.

    Too often in other areas of activism, I find so-called activists engaging in what should better be called Concern Trolling. They say they’re on your side, but every single thing you ever do about a problem is naive or something. Nothing more than “Yr doin it rong!” all day long.

    Keep up the righteous work!

  22. 23 jasievangesen November 17, 2008 at 9:46 am

    How do I see your new posts? What is happening… Withdrawals!!

  23. 24 Deborah November 30, 2008 at 3:34 pm

    Can we talk? I remember yearning for high fashion when the closest thing I could hope for was some tropical mumu or a polyester dress. Nowadays you can find pretty dresses (if you look good in them), but I prefer separates and think I look better in pants. You can find something for eveningwear in the better department stores, but you won’t find anything sexy to wear to a club, concert or cocktail party, especially if you’re on the busty side. That’s why I made my first piece at Plus Size Plum to address all everything a plus size woman would want in a stylish, flattering piece that accentuated the assets and gace fullness where it’s needed. Let me know what you think, please.

  24. 25 Marie Denee December 26, 2008 at 12:39 am

    All I can say is YOU GO GIRL! If you could see me giving you a standing ovation, I hope you would proudly accept it!

    I completly feel you my love and I can relate to you! Growing up, I have always been “big boned” (what my Nana would sya) and at the same time, I have always had an amazing attraction to fashion. I have this problem… unitl late…
    You see, for a while, and still a little bit now, being fat and having fashion, seemed to be somewhat of an oxymoron. So what I have done (being a glutton for punishment) I started working in retail! Not the Lane Bryants and the Avenues. I worked for Express, Bloomingdales and Nike! As a sales associate, when women who were 14 plus would come in and see someone who looked like them, they were overjoyed, wanting to know what I was wearing and how to pull it all together. I loved it and made it my mission to assist women shopping who, what, and how to find designers, who cut a bit more forgiving, and many times sell them my outfit!
    This was, has, and will continue to be amazing and uplifting- sharing and showing women how to love and care for their curves!
    I saw your video a while ago… girl I laughed my ass off! And I will continue to stay glued to you!
    You Rock!

    Much Love~
    Marie Denee
    The Curvy Fashionista
    “Never let your curves define your style= Let your Style Define your Curves!”

  25. 26 Amy January 21, 2009 at 5:59 pm

    Requesting a new blog by popular demand…he he he! How are ya Joy?!

  26. 27 medo March 12, 2009 at 4:21 pm

    i just came across your website while looking for a halter dress for my daughter who loves to wear only dresses or skirts, now i love the fact that she is who she is!! and she doesn’t care if its 15 degree’s out. i asked a shopkeeper of a 2nd hand store if i could have her throw aways so i could make talla some dresses, well she thought that was just weird that talla only wore skirts or dresses. i was so kinda offended, i don’t really know why. but i love your blog. i am 5’1 and over 200. ummmm we’ll say gravity just loves my smile!! **big smile** and that’s my story!! :’} so i know what ya mean, it can be just downright irritating at times, i don’t want to pay a fortune for ok clothes, notice i said “ok” LOL
    and i don’t want to pay just right money for clothes that make me look depressed or hot not ya baby hot either **grinn** but it seems like they want to make us sweat it all out!! well, some of this just aint coming off!! LOL it has followed me around long enough, i froze my buns off and its still there! **grinn**
    i picked up sewing mine and the kids’s clothes because i’d see how much money they’d charge for a simple outfit, and i know i can make it for alot less than that! 30 bucks for a simple dress! geeze i can make 2 for that! LOL so i said heck!! LOL and i look for free patterns, yes! i’m frugal!! LOL ~Medo

  27. 28 Tupieta June 17, 2009 at 8:29 am


    What a great post. I struggle with this all the time.

    I am not insecure about my weight. But honestly, I’m insecure about my shape. I think, even in the plus size world, the range of shapes are not portrayed either. I always feel bad about my lack of hips and booty. I am mostly large at the top, and pretty much my body is just about straight up and down. How I wish i had that full figured hour glass silhouette I see on plus size models.

    I always find myself wearing stuff that is poofy to give me a silhouette, i have obsession with corsets and vintage fashion because of the great silhouette it provides. I envy curvy big women.

    Anywho, your blog is friggin awesome and I am definitely a fan. I wish you the best in all that you do and hopefully one day to know you *hugz*


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