BY HEALTH AT EVERY SIZE® BLOG
A HAES® Approach to Fashion and the Shopping Experience
by Debbie Christel, B.A., M.S., Ph.D. and Susan Dunn, B.S.
think we’ve all heard those infamous breakup words, “It’s not you, it’s me.” Well, when it comes to clothing, this is the message we hear everywhere from yogurt commercials, to runways, to clothing stores: If the clothes don’t fit, it’s your body that’s to blame, not the clothes.
I don’t know about you, but that message has never sat well with me. So, now I want to share with you how many women
default to blaming themselves when a clothing item doesn’t fit. Then I’ll provide some techniques on how to dump (or break-up with) a shopping experience that many describe as “simply awful.”
When I was first introduced to Health At Every Size® (HAES), I was working on my PhD in apparel design and studying sport and exercise psychology to help me understand the role of athletic clothing during physical activity. I discovered that not all women like their work-out clothing. However, to my surprise, it wasn’t necessarily the physical discomfort of the clothing itself that was problematic. Rather, the emotional discomfort of shopping presented a huge headache. Indeed, the major stress was actually in the shopping experience itself. The process of finding clothing that fit well, had simple yet stylish silhouettes, and was reasonably priced and easy to find was difficult for women—especially larger women.
To make matters even more stressful and confusing, different stores have different sizing systems. For instance, Chicos sells clothing labeled 0-3 while Lane Bryant offers clothing labeled 14-28. However, regardless of sizing and labeling, we’ve all had those shopping experiences where we try on a piece of clothing and it just doesn’t fit right.
I was shopping with my friend a few weeks ago who tried on the most adorable orange angora sweater. As the close friend of a fashion designer, she knows better than to let the size tag of a garment have any power to make her feel bad about herself. I thought she looked great, but the first thing of her mouth was, “I just need to have thinner arms, then this sweater would be perfect.” I could tell she felt deflated and, by the words she used, ashamed of her body for the poor fit. I was so glad that I was there with her because I immediately said, “That color looks amazing on you; let me grab you a different size.” Before she could protest, I was down the aisle and found it in the next size up. Not wanting to re-experience body shame, she hesitated to try it on. However, with just a little encouragement, she did, and much to her delight, the sweater fit her body much better.
I repeatedly hear stories like this and know that the shopping experience would be less stressful if women understood a few things about the clothing industry:
Shopping for clothing when it’s hard to find items in your size and style can be kind of a chore, but it doesn’t have to be. Here’s some advice for reducing the stress:Go shopping with a trusted ally. Even if you aren’t the same size, just being with a close friend is so important to boosting your confidence, and they can help grab other sizes while you are trying on items.
Going to shops when you need a specific item can be really frustrating. Try to build up classics and pieces in your wardrobe over several trips. Having a monthly shopping trip with friends is a great way to do this and, if going to secondhand or vintage boutiques, you don’t have to worry about breaking the bank. Shopping online can be a great approach as well, but just remember if the clothing arrives and doesn’t fit, it’s them not you that needs to change.
Reference: Lee, J., & Steen, C. (2014). Technical sourcebook for designers (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Bloomsbury Publishing Inc.
Debbie Christel is an Assistant Professor at Washington State University in the Department of Apparel Merchandising, Design, and Textiles. At the intersections of apparel, functional design, weight bias and diversity, Debbie’s research explores design methods for plus size consumers and other diverse body types. Her research and teaching is rooted in the belief that everyone deserves equal access to clothing they desire and that fashion designers have an obligation to design for every body type. She incorporates plus-size design techniques and weight bias education into her fashion design courses. Dr. Christel is also working to approve Fat Studies as a university diversity core course at Washington State University.
Susan Dunn is a Masters student at Washington State University in apparel design focusing on women’s plus size clothing. Plus size herself, she is striving for changes within the fashion industry as well as advancing research in topics such as weight bias, apparel design for diverse body shapes, and improving the shopping experience for plus-size women. Susan anticipates graduating this May and plans to pursue an interdisciplinary Ph.D. at Washington State University this Fall.
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