I don’t know if you all have noticed, but I have a very narrow aesthetic for myself. I wear lots of black, lots of bodycon, lots of pattern, and lots of drape. I find comfort in looking severe. I have a very specific idea of what I think looks good on me, and in order to save myself time, energy, and heartache, I tend to stick to that and choose clothes that I have grown to feel safe in. I’m sure the majority of people are the same way.
But here, listen to this scenario. Have you ever gone shopping with a friend – maybe it’s that type of friend who has very outspoken ideas about what you should be trying on (they’re the actual best) and picks out a bunch of stuff for you (full disclosure: I’m totally that friend, guys). This person might pick out things for you that make you cringe with fear and doubt. But you’re going to be a supportive friend right back, and you’re going to dutifully take these items into the dressing room to try on. You slap these things on that body of yours, and your head is SPINNING because this stuff actually looks good on you. And you realize that all it takes to widen your style breadth a bit is your favorite pushy friend!
In this post, I play my own pushy friend. I dragged myself to Forever 21 in Union Square*** last night and confronted the plus section. I saw boho, I saw babydoll dresses, I saw lots of white. My heart was telling me to run away and never come back. And friends, being the intrepid explorer I have pledged to be, I ran toward it all. I walked right up to that pair of navy blue sailor-inspired pants and picked out my size. I met that mustard-colored lace tank top right where it was, and grabbed that too. I walked through the entire plus section, looked at every piece of clothing, and if my heart/brain/insecurities told me to cast it away, I picked it right up. With a pile of clothes so large it was obstructing my vision, I waddled on over to the changing room. After a negotiation with the attendant where we both acknowledged that the “6 items at a time” rule simply did not make sense here, I hauled ass into my stall, got out my phone, and dove right in.
(***Note here: I did not buy anything in this shopping trip. I try not to buy clothes from F21 as much as possible, because I am trying to live my personal reality that I do not need a huge haul of cheaply made clothes produced in sweatshops once every 2 months, and I can instead buy clothes less and from more ethical brands. I realize this is a unachievable for a lot of folks, and because of realities of class, ability, and accessibility, I am certainly not prescribing this to anyone. I just think that in a sea of cute fat girls with varying degrees of access, ability, and resources, ALL buying clothes from F21, we need more voices saying that there are other options that are ultimately kinder to you (the clothes last longer, so you’ll get more bang for your buck), to other folks (tons of POC living in poverty working on this shit for grossly unfair-to-nonexistent wages), and to the environment (smaller brands = less waste).) That being said, F21 is totally a glorified clothing amusement park, so here we go.
Your intrepid explorer, READY TO ROCK:
Okay, let’s dive right in.
First outfit: this floral skater dress. Bearing all the marks of something I do not pick for myself, I thought it was fitting to be the first item. Confront your fears! Things about it I do not like for myself: the too-cheery floral, for one (I like very specific moody florals). The skater cut as well: makes me skew a bit fat-baby, I think. So, here’s the result of my findings:
Okay, so I felt a bit Julie Andrews. Turns out, I don’t actually like this dress. I like it for others, I think the model looks great in it on the site, but it’s just not me. I don’t experience the way it’s laying on my body as flattering (for me, this word means thoughtfully considering my body shape, showing off my actual body shape). Perhaps it’s about the too-tight belt (that puppy was on the very last hole). I dunno, whatever it is, it wasn’t a “wow” for me.
Onto the next! This baby pink wiggle dress.
Okay, so I was kind of working it. The reasons I wouldn’t usually choose this for myself is the color. I’m a Warm Autumn™, baby. As much as I love pastel pink intellectually, it usually doesn’t do me any favors. I think we can all see what I mean here. Totally washed out. But that being said, I am glad I tried it on! I really love the cut, I feel like a sexy jazz singer. With the right underwear, and in black (sorry, not sorry) it would be pretty killer.
Next: this cocktail chiffon number with sequinned epaulets.
This was okay. The reason I wouldn’t choose this for myself is the cut. I love black and I love gold sequins, but this cut was a blousey one with a smocked front (me trying to illustrate the smocking 2 pictures up). This dress had 2 layers: a slip underneath, and chiffon on top – pleated on the bust and a regular gathered skirt on the bottom. I think the loose-on-top-loose-on-bottom really got me here. I love a good blousey, flowing thing, but I prefer to go big or go home in these situations – aka, get that belted waist out of there. If I could fix this dress (hire me as your consultant, F21, you’ll go far), I would keep the epaulets, get rid of the belted waist, and just have flowy pleated chiffon all the way down, in a very loose swing style. Better, right? Plus size clothing doesn’t always need to have a big aerial landing strips to show everyone where your waist is, thanks. Fuck flattering. Anyways.
Next: this crocheted cami dress.
I don’t know if you can tell from my stoic face, but this dress left me cold. I think the proportions for where the waist should be weren’t appropriate for my actual waist. Also, again, on my complexion, the color is a problem. I would have liked this to be super formfitting in the bodice and be delightful all around and prove me wrong, but alas, I was right, woven cami dress, I was right.
Next! Something uplifting. I think we can tell that I’m kind of working it in this 2-piece set.
I know, I know what you’re going to say. You’re going to say “But TheAmple, this is definitely not really any different from what you’d normally wear!” And well, maybe you’d be right. I do love a slutty stomach-baring ensemble with lots of VBO. And, granted, the color is the only thing about this set that I’m not in love with. It also came in blue, which is much more my deal, but I promised myself that this post would be genuine and I wouldn’t try to squeeze something in there that clearly aligns with all my regular nonsense, so here is the white one.
The thing is, it’s not terrible. Throw some tights, sneaker heels, and red lipstick on ‘er and it’s a go, amirite? I feel like this is the first time on this shopping trip that I’ve learned something, folks. And of course – I want to say that this goes without saying, but I don’t think it does – all these guidelines I’m citing that I follow for myself – they’re all bullshit of course, and anyone is entitled to wear anything they want. Things like a specific set of colors, silhouettes, and aesthetics are my own personal preferences. And I’m sure some of you will have different opinions when you read this – that’s cool too. You’re even entitled to have different ideas about what clothes I should be loving in this post!
Onto the next! This lil’ mustard colored skater number.
Feeling myself a little. Not a huge fan of the cut or color, but I do indeed like the cage-lite strappiness on the neckline. You’re all gonna hate me, but if it was in black, things might be different.
Next, this floral belted free-flowing piece:
Eh. Can you tell I’m not thrilled? It’s FINE, I suppose. I kind of feel like whoever was designing this just gave up (they might have, you guys). “EH I DON’T EVEN KN– JUST PUT A SASH, LEAVE ME BE.”
Okay, here’s a complete lace maxi dress. Kids, shield your eyes. Adults, leer on:
I mean, do you blame me for getting a titty shot in there? That’s what this dress is ABOUT, I would be amiss in my journalism if I didn’t give an accurate portrayal of this piece!
Okay, so here’s an ensemble that I wouldn’t choose for myself from ALL ANGLES– sailor-inspired pants in a navy polyester, and a mustard lace crop-tank.
Okay, so this probably isn’t the worst thing that could have happened. The pants go on my body, the shirt goes on my body. One thing tucks into the other, it’s all behaving in the way it’s expected to. But…do you ever feel just blah? I feel just so ambivalent about this. Well, no, that’s a lie. I feel Sergeant Pepper about this.
Alright, get ready to laugh. Some tight-ass shorts and a sleeveless polyester sweater, all combined to convey both the military and a tennis club:
Um, yeah. I’m just not sure, you guys. This is another thing where the clothes are indeed…clothing my body. However.
Okay, here’s something uplifting and unexpected for the final piece! This fun, grandpa’s-bathrobeesque cardi.
So, I actually really like this. It was incredibly comfy and soft, and it totally goes along with my sometimes aesthetic of pretending I’m an artsy freelancer. Also, I like that it’s powder blue, instead of, like, mustard. Or brown. Or even black. The cool-toned color is a weird little twist on this cozy thing. I like it! It did not pass my criteria for actually purchasing it, though (“Do I need this?” “Is this one of a kind?” “Will I wear the shit out of this?” “Does this make me feel good?” “When is the last time I bought clothes?”), so it stayed in the store.
Alright, y’all. Fwew.
So, what did I learn?
I was actually surprised at how many items I felt right about. “Right” meaning that I know myself, I know my body, I know my aesthetic, and so I was right to dismiss certain items as not for me. I think I have a fear that I’m being too narrow for myself sometimes, that I should open my mind up to other aesthetics, and this will make me feel more joyful as someone who is interested in fashion. And I still believe that, generally. I believe in actively trying to see the beauty in things that do not make up my immediate environs. I think, also, some brands are worth really delving into more than others. As I mentioned briefly above, Forever 21, being fast-fashion, is a good place to explore with aesthetic choices because it’s so cheap. However, because it’s so cheaply made and developed, the pieces you find at Forever 21 will not be…revolutionary. They will generally not be “must-haves.” They will be fast fashion. And that’s fine, there’s a need for that. However, if you’re looking to really deeply reckon with your personal style, and you have the resources to do it, looking into more creative slow-fashion brands would be my recommendation. There, you’ll find the “must-haves.” You’ll find pieces that are actually creatively thought out. You’ll find stuff that is indeed one of a kind and unique. Because of the way Forever 21 is structured, everything is a quick derivative of something else. This extends to fit, style, quality. Some of the pieces in the pictures above are just a tad bit “off.” Don’t worry, I see it too. This is not really a mistake. Forever 21 doesn’t produce staple items because they aren’t supposed to last long enough to become staples. They’re supposed to be trendy to the extent that they will not make sense after 1 season. An incredibly trendy item of clothing will also go out of style just as quickly – and that’s not a mistake. It’s designed that way, so you will buy as much clothing as possible, on a regular basis. So, yes – if you’re looking to experiment with clothes, Forever 21 is a playground of cheap stuff that runs the gamut of style. But once you’ve got an idea of what you want, and you have the means, I recommend looking to a brand that produces fewer, more unique and well-made items. I am very much not interested in telling poor and working class people how to spend their money, and you shouldn’t either. If you have allotted yourself $20 every few months to buy a new item of clothing, obviously, you need to buy whatever you feel is accessible for you. You are not the problem. However, folks who have more resources and ability, who can drop, say, $150 at F21 every little while on a ton of fast fashion (a group of which I am a part), let’s talk. Most of us can afford to adjust our habits. Also, I think it’s very worth mentioning that the way fashion is produced is a huge structural issue. It’s totally built-in. It sucks that well-made, ethical fashion that is ALSO priced whereabouts in the same league as F21 isn’t really a reality. I absolutely do not fault folks for buying fast fashion. I do it myself (every single pair of leggings I own, ahem.) I think we owe it to ourselves and our activism to add to that conversation, though.
Whewf! I didn’t really expect this post to go that route, but here we are! However, I think that my dissatisfaction with a lot of what I tried on is inextricable from a discussion of structure. I realize this is a complicated and loaded subject, and I am certainly not saying that someone buying clothes from F21 is unethical. Absolutely not. I just think that these conversations don’t happen enough, as the structure of fashion isn’t common knowledge just yet. God, do you guys feel like you went on a goddamn journey with this post? Because I sure do. Call me if you need to cry together and we can negotiate it.
Anyhow, tell me what you think! I am absolutely interested in deepening the discussion of this, so if you have thoughts, let me know in the comments below!