by Angie Littlefield
I used to joke, as a young woman of German heritage, that I had never seen a German woman past middle age who had a waist (with apologies to those who do!). I am now well past middle age, and a combination of sway back, poor posture, and weight gain has created a significant circumference challenge, that of the extra-large kind. Although I am not heavier by more than twenty pounds than before the pandemic started, I look eight months pregnant, and most of my clothes do not fit well.
Just when I need stylish clothing for comfort and to pep me up, the pandemic has restricted access to my prowling sites for fashion. Some of my favorite boutiques have even shuttered permanently due to lack of business. I have, perforce, discovered big-name on-line vendors—like Amazon. These vendors make returns easy, but I miss my preferred designers and their high-quality items. I search the big-name websites for hours looking for brands I like, but instead I am offered strange names, materials, and looks that I know are made somewhere remote by offshore vendors using different iterations of famous brand names to offer the same products. I ordered two such tops, and neither came with a label or washing instructions. The material felt like re-processed automobile tires. These items were serviceable but did not meet my desire for stylishness.
Oh, how I miss “fashion finds” which in Canada I tend to discover in stores like HBC (or “The Bay”), Winners, or The Rack and which have their U.S. equivalents in the Marshalls, Nordstrom’s, and Macy’s. I also miss the smaller stores in malls and fashion districts where scouring sales racks reaps quality items at good prices. I love my shopping marathons with my friend Sarah, an Olympic gold-medalist in the shopping field. Trying on twenty, thirty, or more items to confirm that what I finally settle upon does make me look good is always well worth the effort. There is a huge trial-and-error process involved in finding the right items for a particular figure. Ah, to return to those days!
When SSM author Lucy Black and I drove to Pennsylvania for the first Silver Sage Summit in 2019, we stumbled upon a lovely clothing boutique in Jerusalem, PA, where the salesperson patiently waited for us to try on quite a few things, even though she had been headed out the door when we arrived. I bought a Color Me Cotton top and two Margaret Winters tops, U.S.-made for the plus-sized woman—lovely. The personal boutique attention and the high-quality selection were wonderful.
Reflecting on these satisfying purchases, I decided that I would take the time to take stock of what in my closet might work best with my current figure and then try to track down ways to purchase versions of them in larger sizes online. It would not make up for lost shopping experiences but, I want to adjust to the new normal times, feel comfortable and flourish in my new larger circumference look. I came up with the following brands to pursue:
- Vivian Shyu, a Canadian designer who understands that clothes need to float and flow past the middle. In particular, I love her linen tops and jackets;
- Spanish designer Elena Mirò, who designs specifically for larger woman and whose clothes I envied on well-turned out European women (when travel was safe);
- La Chine Classic by Galinda Wang. I have a very old, long, (heritage by now) 100-percent silk blouse of hers that I wore when I was size 8 and that still flows nicely over my current extra-large form;
- More USA-made Margaret Winters and Color Me Cotton designer tops for practical living because they wash and wear well and have nice details;
- Some of those off-beat over-jackets or tunic-like tops by Kaliyana, an Ottawa, Canada, designer who uses linen and linen blends;
- I love to find fashionably cut Alfani items (at Macy’s in the U.S. and at HBC in Canada);
- I absolutely adore my new Habitat top, another U.S. fashion house original which I bought at a Canadian online vendor
My closet inventory, a cabinet of secret desires, led me (very excitedly I might add) back to the internet where I had success in locating most vendors for direct purchases of their brands (mostly pricey without the advantage of discounts). For the vintage items and ones not sold in Canada, Thredup and Poshmark, two fashion re-sellers, came through with items in my size. I have only minimal experience with E-bay and Etsy, and thus I am at this point wary of resellers such as ThredUp and Poshmark, but I noted that they garner good reviews in social media and the prices are much better than those from the original vendors. I am hoping that returns for both original vendors and resellers go well if there are fitting or quality issues.
I have budgeted $500 for a mixed approach for a new wardrobe for the pandemic me. I will get three or four pieces from the name-brand on-line stores. I love the spring Habitat 2022 lineup and will get at least one item there. I am going to purchase at least one ThredUp and one Poshmark item from my list of desires to see how that goes from a quality and return perspective. One thing the pandemic has improved upon is returns.
If all goes according to plan, I will get to try on five or six items, hopefully make a few fashion finds, and end up feeling that I am dressing with style. Living through a pandemic is horrible, but, little by little, one adjusts in size and ingenuity.
Photo credit by Flaunter (Australia).
Angie Littlefield is an author, curator, educator, and editor. She has written three books about Canadian artist Tom Thomson, the most recent of which is Tom Thomson’s Fine Kettle of Friends. Her eclectic interests include curating art exhibits in Canada and Germany and working with children from Nunavut and Tristan da Cunha to produce their books. Her other books include Ilse Salberg: Weimar Photographer, Angelika Hoerle: Comet of Cologne Dadaists, and The Art of Dissent: Willy Fick. She co-created www.readingandremembrance.ca, a website with lesson packages for Ontario educators. Angie lives in Toronto, Canada.