Emma Hermon | Contributing writer | Wednesday, 28 January 2015

The Realities Of Shopping On The High Street When You're A Size 24

The Debrief: What's it like to go shopping when standard sizes just won't fit

Illustration by Marina Esmeraldo

This week Tess Holliday, a plus size model who is a size 22, was signed by modelling agency Milk Management having launched her campaign #effyourbeautystandards in 2013 and been named as one of Vogue Italia's top six plus size models in the world. This is awesome news, but in truth it will be a while before us non-model mortals will be able to go shoppping on the high street and not struggle. 

You see, whenever I get an invite, whether it’s to a house party, a wedding, or just a drink in the pub and it would be nice to have something new to wear, my heart sinks. It means I have to do the same old battle on the high street - trying to find something that will fit me, at a size 24.

Forget your usual jaunt to Topshop and H&M on a busy saturday. I hate – hate – shopping for clothes when it's busy, when hoards of slim girls saunter into the changing rooms, arms overflowing with 50 or so pairs of skinny jeans and fun dresses while I've only managed to find a measly 3 items that MIGHT fit me. It’s also pretty crap when shop assistants have to tell me that they simply don’t stock anything big enough to fit me - it embarasses them and humiliates me. 

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New Look offers some relief because their Inspire range caters to size 18-28, with a useful mix of everyday stuff and dressier things, but it’s not always great quality, and can be expensive for what it is. My next best option, I can’t believe I’m saying this - at the age of 29 - is Bon Marche. My grandmother used to shop there FFS. But actually, they’re good for jeans and jumpers that don’t take the automatic approach to dressing bigger bods - what I like to call ‘tent chic’.  

There’s an assumption with larger sizes that we’re all just massive, and that there isn’t the same fluctuation in body shape, but I have a small bust and I often find many things from brands that cater to plus size, like Evans, are just way too big on the thighs too. 

I’ve tried shopping online to make the process less painful, but on sites like Simply Be, the sizes 20-26 are sold out. Asos’s Curve range has helped me find things that are more appropriate for my age, but my size varies greatly depending on where I shop and I can’t always predict the sizing, meaning I have to send a lot of stuff back. Plus I’m still dealing with all the usual perils of shopping online - wrong colour, doesn’t look like it did in the picture, blah blah blah. By the end of one IRL shopping trip and a failed online attempt, I start to wish I’d just said no to going out in the first place. 

If I thought buying jeans was hard, I had no idea what was in store when I had to find myself a wedding dress. Forget the champagne-fuelled frivolity you see on TV, finding my dress was a nightmare. Out of the eight stores I went to, only one had a size 22 dress, which I was shoved into. It already cost £1200, and to make it in my size would add another £100 to the bill. 

In the end, I had to travel 80 miles to Liverpool to find a dress that would fit, in a store that had a whole 11 dresses in my size. I could actually try a choice of dresses on, and for once I didn’t feel excluded.

Another thing is underwear shopping is hell. I cannot be the only woman in the country with a 42inch back and an A-sized cup! Department stores are definitely missing out on offering tailoring services in store that could help alter clothing and underwear to fit. 

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So what's the answer? Well I'm thinking of heading to a local seamstress and having good quality clothes made to fit - clothes in styles that I love, with colours and prints that will flatter me, instead of the over-priced badly fitting stuff on the high street. 

I still don't understand why there are no larger girls modelling for designers (the plus size models are often only a size 12) and why there are so few high street stores catering not just for my size, and women of all sizes and heights. Standardised sizing isn’t working.

I guess we just need a designer who is brave enough to regularly send size 20 plus models down the runway. Without it being tokenistic, because that doesn’t help either - you can’t just wheel out a fat girl once every five seasons and be hailed as catering to all shapes and sizes. It’s time we stopped pretending that there’s one mould and one size in fashion. One size doesn’t fit all. Or even come close when it comes to me.    

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Follow Charlie on Twitter: @Charliebyrne406 

Illustration by Marina Esmeraldo

Tags: Getting Ready, Shopping