The other day, I was digging through old photos (like actual photographs!) for my upcoming 30th high school reunion. I came upon this gem, from my junior prom in 1991:
What an experience that was. Because I didn’t have a date, I was the ninth wheel in this group of friends. While that was hard enough, what made it even worse was how awful it was to shop for a dress. Everything I looked at in my size looked like something a matronly woman would wear to a fancy cruise dinner—the dreaded “mother-of-the-bride” ensembles. Thankfully, I (really, my mom!) was able to enlist the services of a local tailor, who made me a dress. (The same thing happened the next year at the senior ball.) The embarrassment I felt was real, y’all.
So, let’s flash forward thirty years. I have two weddings to go to this summer. Sure, I have some dresses in my closet that could work, but after two years of no reason to dress up, thanks to the pandemic, getting something new sounds great. Well. The more things change, the more things stay the same.
I started my shopping at Kohl’s, because that’s where my sister wanted to look for a blouse to wear to an upcoming bridal shower. I was surprised to see that the plus department wasn’t where I remembered, but the store was remodeling, so I thought maybe it had moved temporarily. Here’s what I found:
To be clear, all of the stuff on the left side of the photo is petites. The back of the right side? Athletic wear. Yep, in the year 2022, Kohl’s downsized the plus department to a fraction of its original size. Unlike when I was 17 and embarrassed about my size and my inability to find something pretty to wear, nearly-50-year-old me was furious.
I asked for a manager. I gave the store the benefit of the doubt, asking if it was a temporary situation during the remodel. No, it was the permanent size and location. When I mentioned that the majority of American women wear size 16 and above, I was told that there were some XXL options in the straight-size department—which was enormous, of course. What good does that do the people who wear above XXL? I was told we could shop online, and that that is what the corporate office would tell me. I asked the on-duty manager if she could get me contact information for someone at corporate. She went to the back, but returned empty-handed. I’m sure she thought I was another demanding customer out to make her day miserable. In truth, I just want to try on some wedding-appropriate dresses in the store like thin people can.
Next up: Macy’s. After failing to find the plus department (a male employee told me all plus sizes had been moved online, which nearly caused my head to explode, but a woman colleague quickly corrected him and pointed me in the right direction), I discovered this:
No thank you. After finally locating the decent-sized dress department, I quickly realized that the highest size in the section was a 16. The same woman who told me where to find the plus sizes happened to pass by, so I asked where I could find the plus dresses. She told me, sheepishly, that they did not carry any plus dresses in store anymore—except for… separates. Cue the cruise dinner music!
And on we went to Von Maur. I don’t typically shop there, as it’s pretty fancy, but hey, we were in the neighborhood. By this time, I was really angry, as I’m sure you can imagine. I walked up to three clerks and said: “Do you believe fat people exist, and if so, do you sell clothes to fit our bodies?” Those poor women, ha! They were incredibly kind and tried to be helpful, but ultimately came up empty. The plus department only had a few dressy items, and they were all—surprise!—matronly (and mostly separates—are fat people forbidden from wearing dresses and I missed the memo?).
So here we are. It’s been thirty years since I felt the rush of color to my cheeks, the shame of being too fat for fashion. Even in just the decade that I’ve been talking about fat stuff (happy 10th anniversary, Big Fit Deal!), a lot has changed for the better. Heck, I’ve changed so much—I’m no longer focused on body positivity and promoting “good fatty” behaviors centered on eating and movement, but instead think of myself as an anti-diet fat activist. But the fact that I still can’t find a stylish, pretty dress to wear to a special occasion is mind-boggling.
Fat people exist. We have money. The plus fashion market is estimated to be worth $40 BILLION. Why don’t companies like Kohl’s, Macy’s, and Von Maur want some (or more) of that money? Why are Kohl’s and Macy’s actively pursuing strategies that turn shoppers like me away? Can someone get me the names and email addresses of the shareholders of these companies, so I can reach out to each of them and ask if they are okay with leaving billions of dollars on the table, if hating fat people is more important than profits? I literally can’t understand what goes through the minds of companies like this.
Fat people aren’t going anywhere. In fact (cue the “but your health!” hand-wringing), there are more of us all the time. Fat people exist whether the fat-hating thin people running clothing companies like it or not. We deserve—we demand—better options.
Please contact these stores to ask why they’ve made these decisions. Tell them it’s unacceptable. Nothing will change unless many voices—including thin voices—take up the fight.
Von Maur contact (choose Give Feedback from the left-hand column)