If you looked at the number of online shopping apps on my phone right now, you wouldn’t believe I hated shopping at one point. Being on the healthier (nicer word for fat) side of body types, shopping for clothes was always an unsavoury task. I loved the idea, but the actual process of trying on garment after garment and having it reject my love handles and tummy rolls was tediously horrible. I’d rather get rejected by autowallahs instead.
The result? In my college years, when teenagers finally shed their uniforms and discover their personal style, I was struggling to piece together what little I could find in my size. It didn’t mean my fashion sense was affected in any way. In fact, when friends went shopping, in malls or the streets, I would cringe at some of their questionable choices in clothes, beseeching them to take better advantage of their ‘regular sizes’. To this day, when a regular-sized individual decides to wear abysmal clothes, I hate their guts for wasting their privilege. Someday… I’d think.
Sometime in 2010, my life changed. The parents went on their first trip to the States, and brought back some choice outfits for me. They told me stories of a promised land, where plus-size clothes weren’t just available in plenty, they were super cheap too! Over the years, on my several sojourns abroad, I got to experience first-hand the incredible ease of shopping for bigger sizes in the United States. My current wardrobe is 90% American clothing, which flatters my figure and, I daresay, is unlike anything that you’d find in Indian fashion.
In fact, their plus size fashion from brands like Torrid is so forward, that my desi sensibilities were positively appalled when I saw how confident these curvy women were about wearing whatever they wanted! I remember struggling to find swimwear for my mother that would not offend any Indian sensibilities and finding a whole bunch of risqué (for us) choices!
One of the most bittersweet discoveries that I made during my trips was how mainstream fashion brands like Van Heusen and Forever 21, or even high fashion brands like Michael Kors would have dedicated plus size options in their American stores, but didn’t see any merit in making them available in India. Even brands that sell denims, one of the most basic clothing item that EVERYONE from youngsters to seniors wear—are not inclusive of bigger waist sizes. Trends, too, were slow in filtering down to India—for example, the whole crop-top, sequins and cold-shoulder hoopla is finally now being seen in the collections of Indian plus size fashion brands! A little late to the party, guys?
Shopping in the United States made me finally come into my own personal style. As a girl who stuck to wearing badly-fitted jeans and tops, I graduated to realising how dresses could actually be flattering on my body type and shouldn’t just be limited to special occasions like parties or birthdays. What’s more, while there were niche brands that catered only to plus size fashion and were slightly on the pricier side, American departmental stores like Ross, Marshalls and J C Penney housed reasonably priced clothing that were still way better than what you’d find in local stores here. Their dedicated ‘Big & Tall’ sections for men’s fashion were lifesavers for my male family members.
Of course, I was a little too aware of my privilege in this situation. I was lucky to haven take these trips and afford to shop in foreign lands. But what about those who couldn’t? I did have female friends suffering from the same fashion dilemmas, struggling to find an outfit that flattered their silhouettes instead of making them look like beach balls. Indian plus size fashion was unimaginative, uninspired and deeply boring. For the most part, the tops were pretty much like pieces of cloth stitched together at ends to look like tents to accommodate any body type. The dresses would stupidly be either of the extremes: too loose or too form-fitting, which meant they would flatter you as long as you were standing in them. The moment you sat down, the ‘tyres’ would roll out and the outfit would lose all its appeal.
Perhaps the funniest encounter I’ve ever had was with their utter failure to do skinny jeans for plus sizes. Paradoxical, I know. But not impossible. The jeans would be the right waist size but pulling them up your thighs was one of Hercules’ twelve labours! Same went for blouses with sleeves that were too tight or hems that were tighter around the hip and would ride up if you sat down. I pretty much gave up on wearing shirts because the peek-a-boo between the buttons was never a fun game.
And don’t even get me started on lingerie and swimsuits! It seemed as if the brief that these brands gave their designers was, “Make them look as boring as you possibly can. Fat people don’t deserve sexy underwear. Nope.” Stripes, horizontal or vertical, were considered unflattering on heavier people, and yet every second item of clothing would have the same pattern. A particular mood-spoiler in men’s fashion, where every second t-shirt option is a copy of that trademark Ralph Lauren Polo golf tees. We wanted comfort; instead they gave us loose and formless as a sort of punishment for being fat.
The cherry on top of this extremely condescending cake is that plus size fashion is always more extravagantly priced than regular fashion. A basic solid coloured cold-shoulder top might cost downward of INR 1000 for a regular size. But I’ve actually brought the almost same one from an Indian plus size store for a price tag of almost 50% more.
Here’s my question for Indian plus size fashion brands: What the f*** are you guys doing? Why so boring? And why expecting us to pay a queen’s ransom for that boring? Why is body positivity merely a charity thought that comes to you during Fashion Week or Women’s Day? (Here’s looking at you, Sabyasachi’s recent Women’s Day post.) Can’t you try and be a little more experimental in your designs? Are you so clueless about Indian women’s bodies that you can’t understand what would look flattering on us? Should overweight young girls and boys in India keep struggling to fit in with their peers because their local brands have failed in keeping up with latest trends?
Recently, the scenario on the plus size front has changed considerably. Departmental stores like Lifestyle, Westside and others now have their in-house plus-size brands. Even online shopping from portals like Jabong, Myntra, Shein, Stalk Buy Love, offer a range in big-size clothing. And yet, the lack of innovation and experimentation is still a dampener. That typical outlook towards plus sizes continues to result in checkered shirts, asymmetrical tunics and formless outfits plaguing the racks. I’ve lost count of outfits that I’ve shopped online and returned because while they fit well in one aspect, they completely sucked in the other. I’m still waiting for a proper plus size lingerie brand like Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty to hit Indian markets and revolutionise how the Indian woman, who has a tendency to be curvy, shops and develops her own style statement.
Until then, I’m just glad to be the Gujju with NRI relations who can get her fancy clothes from Amerika. Screw that iPhone.