The Great Vest Debacle

 

Vest1via lesbian-a-la-mode.tumblr.com

I knew I had a problem when my resale shop visits began to conclude with me buying men’s vests that didn’t fit me. It only happened twice; and each time I felt first exhilarated and then crushed when I realized that while I cold put them on, the  fit was still too awkward for functionality. The problem wasn’t that I was so-called straying into the men’s section–although I have yet to get over the tiny nagging feeling that I shouldn’t be there–rather it is that it has been nearly impossible for me to find the sort of androgynous and masculine-of-center clothes I would feel most myself in.

vest2

via andro-genes.tumblr.com

But the issue goes much deeper than not easily finding clothes I like; it is about access and how the denial of that access defines the cultural meaning of my body. Some of the most obvious instruments I would use to express my gender identity are largely denied to me (or at least made scarce) because I have a body that does not conform to cultural definitions of what the androgynous and/or masculine body should be. The lack of availability, therefore, sends a message that I can’t be genderqueer or do masculinity, that they aren’t identities open to me–because of my body. These identities are significantly more complicated than the clothes I wear, but how I dress myself greatly affects how I am read socially.

Vest3

via tomboyfemme.com

My search for a vest has led me to make some observations about how intensely many plus size clothing sellers  are invested in a binary gender system and so-called biological determinism, which can trigger feelings of disphoria in anyone who doesn’t fit their limited scope. I am no longer comfortable doing high femme or pin-up, and I certainly don’t feel good about matronly; but those seem to be the options I have in such stores. I began to read the approach of store associates, and the inevitable “Can I help you?” or “What are you looking for today?” Can you help me feel visible? I am looking for myself. But none of them can help me, and they don’t understand the look of panic in my eyes when I see lacy, animal print camisoles.

I’ve all together stopped going into places that make me that uncomfortable, as a St. Louis-based resale shop has rescued me from that retail hell. Not only do they usually have a variety of more masculine-of-center clothes in a plus size range, their proceeds also go toward supporting area students through the Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis. (Learn more about the Scholar Shop here.) Just last week I made away with a gray blazer and a houndstooth, button-down sweater vest. There is often only one of most items, but the affordability and actually feeling like I exist makes up for that challenge.

Vest4

Eddie Bauer Blazer $7 and CJ Banks Sweater Vest $3.50

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2 Comments

  • Great article. I read it feeling understood – I have the same issues with women’s plus size fashion, and I tend to wear women’s jeans and unisex t-shirts – rather than sporting the more handsome fashion that I long for – because of the difficulty in finding dapper clothes for a curvy body.

    However, I’m not sure I understand how you resolved this issue. Did your favorite resale shop sport a wider variety of women’s clothes that fit your taste, just by virtue of not being restricted to the current fashion trends? Or did it make you feel more free to cross over into the men’s department? Because a portion of my own issue is that men’s clothes that fit my girth do not fit me in so many other ways – in addition to the issues lots of women have with men’s clothes (sleeve length, neck girth, shoulder lines), I am also 5’3″ and lots of men’s clothing was simply not made for my short stature.

  • Hi there–I definitely want to address your questions and clarify. For one, your challenges with men’s clothes are very similar to my own–in addition to being curvy I am also 5’2″.

    Finding appropriately fitting, masculine clothes is still a major, ongoing challenge; however, I do have some strategies/tips that have worked off and on. With vests, I’ve found that ones made of sweater material fit way better because there is a lot more give/stretch to the material (great for larger busts). I’ve gotten two button-up ones that I love from Lands’ End online–not cheap, but they often have sales.

    I highly recommend resale shops–especially if you can find any in your area that carry plus sizes. It’s often hit or miss, but go back often! The plus size industry is highly problematic–as noted above. However, I’ve found that the plus size clothes in resale shops are not necessarily of the same ilk as what are found in stores. Also, everything is a lot cheaper, which might allow you a small budget for tailoring if something is awesome but doesn’t quite fit right.

    I haven’t had any real success in the men’s section aside from ties and other accessories–it just doesn’t fit (not even enough to make tailoring an option). But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a possibility for you. Try on a bunch of things and see if anything works, that’s what I did anyway. I have yet to try men’s sweaters and I think I may have more luck with those.

    I hope those suggestions help. Feel free to ask more questions!

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