I’ve had a ride with my size. I will preface this essay with a disclaimer, I am white, able bodied ( for the most part) cis gendered and able to fit into the euro centric beauty standards upheld by most. I haven’t discussed particular sizes or measurements as that feels irrelevant and potentially triggering for some, but I acknowledge my body is still viewed as socially acceptable even as it has grown.
I spent my late teens dabbling in the modelling industry, and even though 2013 doesn’t sound so long ago, the size 0 stick thin trend was very much still In Vogue. Those experiences left me with plenty of lessons and most certainly a complex about my size. The emphasis on measurements, inches to lose and pounds to drop, has clung onto me. As my size grew and my eating habits changed, a desk job that removed much need for walking and a chronic illness that left me lacking much physical exertion, I entered my mid twenties with a body I didn’t recognise as my own. It wasn’t noticeable at first, things felt tighter but I kept those old dresses, knowing I would get back into them one day (spoiler; I won’t and also don’t want to). I was left feeling adrift from myself, no longer able to associate my wardrobe to my identity as I leant on the uniform of those uncomfortable with themselves; baggy shirts and leggings; oversized jeans and sweatshirts.
The thing with the highstreet, or most fashion brands regardless of their price point, is they lack consistency. One size in Topshop could be two sizes smaller in H & M. This flip flopping between the shop floor and the dressing rooms searching for new sizes makes for a shopping experience destined to harm our heads. The fixation on numbers goes hand in hand with the patriarchal desire our society has to keep women small and timid. In Pandora Sykes’ most recent essay, she discusses constantly buying new items as a way to dress for the person you want to be. Hard relate there. I lost years of self love to buying clothes for the person I thought I wanted to portray, in the size I thought I should be. The constant desire to buy more, in hope it would make me feel better about my body, only to be emotionally (& financially) drained as I left yet another dressing room in meltdown, was a detrimental cycle.
I quit fast fashion in 2017, I did an entire year buying nothing new. Like a toxic ex, I was tempted many times, even adding things to a virtual ASOS basket willing myself to click buy. As I resisted, something changed for me. Of course therapy also helped, but staying away from shops and sizes, removing shopping as a tool to help my sadness, and understanding why i want to get dressed in the morning, accumulated to create a mindset that no longer tethered numbers to self worth. I filled my social media feed with women who were shopping slowly, DIYing their finds or sewing things from scratch. A plethora of different bodies, all sharing the joy of pre loved clothing. They say it takes 30 days to build a habit, so 365 of watching women love their bodies and the clothes that hold them, expressing joy over finding that perfect linen shirt at the car boot or the mega deal on a GANNI dress a friend was selling on, has grown an appreciation of clothes for clothes sake, for the joy of dressing like me, and the love of finding things to treasure.
As I now peruse a carboot sale on a Sunday morning, coffee and croissant in hand, I hold dresses up against my shoulders, test a jean waistband around my neck (which I am still unsure is a true test or just an old wives tale), I don’t look at measurements or numbers. I’m not hit with the pang of upset in a dressing room when the size I was sure I would be, won’t fit over my knees. Instead I am elated with my £1 1980s polyester blouse that was most definitely worn by a fabulous lady in a glamorous bar 40 years prior. I am too busy exchanging stories with the women behind the stall, telling her how I will add a dart here and a stitch there and this piece of fabric that was a her late mother's kitchen curtain will become my new midi skirt, to worry about whether this would have fit me last year or the year before that.
The excitement of the search for new things, the rummaging into piles to uncover that perfect thing you’ve been looking for, are a world away from uniformed rows of identical items, labelled in ascending size order, waiting for you to choose,Or dare to select the one you believe is yours.
Shopping second hand lets the stories and the patterns and the prints be the focus, it lets the numbers fall away and it lets me embrace my fluctuating shape and style, so I can dress for me, every day.