Sunday, 7 July 2019

Of tents and smocks

The summer weather (defined as anything above 12 degrees in Scotland) brings with it a clothing dilemma for curvier gals. For once you are a size 14 or more it seems you are beyond fashion too. You pass into the alternate universe of plus-sized fashion or 'fatshion' as I tend to call it.  How I hate the term 'plus-sized'; if you're going to have a separate range of clothes then at least give that range a more body positive name; after all, you would never expect to see 'petite' marketed as 'short'. Some high street brands such as ASOS have introduced terms such as 'Curve' which is definitely better but while it has more positive connotations, it is still a label and still a separate category. Why should anyone have to shop in the segregated section at the back of the shop or shop online only. There should not be limited options and an expectation that less than perfect bodies should be hidden under ugly clothes. All curvier women really really want, is the same clothes selection as everyone else just in their size. 

With fashion, the underlying judgement is that you have to fit the standard to earn the right to buy nice clothes. Ugly clothes are a kind of punishment for not being the beauty ideal and that is slim. But, I hear you say, there's so much more about 'body positive' these days and it's true that I see more variety of models in advertsising that are not model size 8. That's great, and I hope more than a trend, but when you actually look at the clothes on offer nothing has really changed. There's a huge (excuse the unintended pun) market out there for women who want to be able to buy the same clothes as their slimmer friends and not a poor quality tent dress or a frumpy smock. If you've never had to look through the fatshion range then you probably think that there's the same choice as in the standard section. There's not. Rather than go with the fashion, plus-size sticks with the same clichés regardless as to what's in vogue and will charge you more to boot. It's the 'same old, same old' totally limited disarray of unimaginative and often downright hideous clothes. If you don't believe me then let me take you on a guided tour. I've divided this into four 'fategories' with some pictures of actual current offerings from the cheaper high street and online brands.

John Lewis

1. Back to Black
It might be summer but if you filter plus-sized fashion by colour then black is the most common - they might add some scratchy lace or old lady polka dots but essentially black is the colour of choice. Yes, it's often slimming but that's because it disguises any kind of contour; there is a point where it is no longer flattering but instead creates a shapeless black block with no definition at all. What's more, you will absorb all sunlight until you melt into a black puddle. I call this shapeless number - the slug

2. Checks, Stripes and Abstract
At the opposite end of the fat spectrum to black are the truly horrible patterned numbers. You will never see stripes so ghastly or patterns so grotesque as in the plus-sized section. The thinking seems to be 'more is more' rather than something subtle. If you're bigger than average then you obviously need bigger stripes, enormous geometric shapes or cabbage sized flowers.
Yours Clothing

New Look

Simply Be

3. Random Additions
For some reason plus-size also seems to mean plus writing too. You might find something acceptable in style and shape but you can bet if it's plus- sized then it will have the unwelcome addition of a random word or cliched expression - 'Be Happy', 'Paris', 'Diva'... Alternately the addition will be some kind of generally childish applique. Why as a grown woman in my 50s would I want a cute rabbit on the front of my t-shirt or hearts and cherries? It's as though the underlying message or expectation is that curvy equals cutesy chuckles and fun, fun, fun rather than anything mature, seductive or business-like.


Simply Be
4. Unpleasant Peasant
Never has bohemia been so ugly. Frills, florals, tassels, frumpy sleeves and cheesecloth. Apart from looking like Gypsy 'Roly' Rose, materials that inflate rather than drape leave you in real danger, on a windy day, of sailing across the lawn.

It is possible to design something attractive and stylish in a larger size but the key word here is 'design' and that's the missing element. Where are the designers that understand all shapes and sizes? I challenge you to provide a much needed service and banish fatshion for good. Bring on the biggerlicious!

Saturday, 2 March 2019

Close Encounters of the Celebrity Kind

I once gave directions to Van Morrison; on another occasion I was nearly run over by Mariella Frostrup, and, one time, while waiting to pick up pizza, I awkwardly complimented Paul Weller on his shoes.These are just a few of the random celebrity encounters I have had over the last 35 years but they are, for various reasons, some of the most memorable.

There is nothing special about me, I lack the tenacity to be a stalker and I am not in a job where such meetings are inevitable. The truth is more mundane and the result only of coincidence of place and time. Pretty much everyone I know has had at least one such encounter and a quick trawl of  Twitter reveals it to be awash with tales of such incidents that occasionally turn out to be inspiring, but often disappointing.

An 'encounter' is defined in the dictionary as 'an unexpected meeting' and it is this that makes the experience very different from the contrived. Joining the crowds on the pavement at some premiere, going to a YouTube meet-up or handing over a book for signing at your local Waterstones is not quite the same. Casual encounters with A-listers surprise us as they suggest that these earthly gods might, in fact, be just like us - they get lost, drive badly and eat pizza. Glimpsing them unguarded or without the usual entourage reveals them as just people.

Back when I was in my twenties (how ancient that makes me sound) there were no mobile phones to record such encounters and no social platforms to share the proof. Perhaps that meant that celebrities, minor and major, felt less vulnerable and more able to do 'normal' things. Certainly, I can't imagine that anyone remotely famous must be able to eat in a restaurant nowadays without being filmed or being constantly interrupted with requests for a 'selfie'. Much of the reason for this is that the modern celebrity presents themselves in perfect form: the posts on Instagram have been selectively curated and edited, paparazzi carefully prepped on where and when to get the best shot. It is not surprising that we do not recognise the famous as one of us and, perhaps, excuseable that we are either disappointed or delighted when they slip up, depending on how much of a fan we are.

In a media lecture I remember first learning about this so called 'halo effect' - the psychological phenomenon where if someone has a particular talent or is highly rated in one area - attractiveness for example - then we assume that they must be equally superior in all other areas. Of course, promotion and endorsement plays on this skewed perception, fooling us into thinking that if they wear a particular logo or use a certain brand of make-up that some of that 'celebrity magic' will somehow rub off on us; sometimes, in the young, this is to a dangerous degree. A chance meeting, if only brief, gives us a chance to view the famous from a different perspective - this time as a fellow human being with the same foibles and idiosyncrasies.

To me, Van Morrison is an icon - the finest songwriter there is - and so when I met him at the doorway to my local cafe, when I lived in London, and realised who I was giving directions to, my heart thumped right out of my chest, and, not being very good at directions anyway, I then became hopelessly tongue-tied. What I wanted to do was tell him how much I admired him or, cleverly, quote an appropriate lyric; what I actually did is mumble and stutter hopelessly inaccurate directions. It was only when I staggered breathlessly into the cafe and spoke to the friendly Iranian owner that I discovered that Morrison was a frequent visitor; the owner even showed me where he liked to sit and revealed that he was quite partial to a sausage roll! I was stunned. I had been to that little cafe so many times so it was quite likely that I had, unknowlingly, sat on the next table to him. "I treat him just like any other customer," the owner said proudly and I agreed, somewhat disbelievingly, that he was really just like us. I went back, more often than usual, forever hopeful that I'd run into 'Van the Man' again but he never returned. I think my stunned reaction scared him off, either that or he's still wandering around west London...