The Angst of Shopping Plus Size

Space, prices, styles, locations, dressing room size

Go to all the types of store (use online Coldwater Creek, or steal a car!) and pick a certain type of garment to locate in each. record the journey. record the actual measurements of dressing rooms, etc. record the salespeople’s reactions. etc. weave all of this into what each space does to discipline the body. You may have to ride your bike over T-giving Break.

What about teenage girls and plus-size clothing are there any options? Is this even part of my paper or is it just a random thought? What if I had a teenage daughter who was full figured? Where woudl I buy her clothes? In Muncie? On a limited budget? In style? How could I, as a parent, support my daughter’s self-image and self-esteem? What about teenage boys for that matter? Hot Topic/Torrid?

Does locating the Women’s department next to the Men’s clothing indicate a link of big women with masculine traits? What does it mean: men don’t shop frequently so they get pushed to the back of the store as well? Men’s department in close proximity to further discipline women, assuming that thinner women already have male partners, thereby they don’t need that further enticement to maintain smaller bodies to catch a man? Do they assume that smaller female customers need to be kept safe from larger sizes? What DOES THIS MEAN???

Have you ever noticed that when you go shopping for clothing to fit a fat body at a big box store like Target or Walmart or Meijer that you have to search forever to find the three racks that have clothing in women’s size, big and tall sizes, or whatever they call the clothes that will fit a fat body, which is defined as a body over size fourteen or sixteen. For the purposes of this paper, I will focus on the location of plus-size or women’s clothing (not Misses, which indicates a semantic elitism implying that only women who fit in the smaller sizes can be called misses, not ms. or miss). Initially, I will focus on the placement of plus size clothing in big box stores and department stores, but I will also discuss the placement of such clothing in “rural outfitter” stores, as well as the stores that only sell clothing for big women and those stores that mix their women’s (x) sizes in with their other sizes. To narrow my focus I will write specifically about Target (big-box), Rural King (farming outfitter), Macy’s (department store), Coldwater Creek (integrated display), and Lane Bryant (caters to big women).

I plan to emply a Foucauldian lens of discipline and punishment, as well as discussing some current interior design theories. In this paper, my own observations will come into play as a large part of my research, though I tend to look at cultural spaces as implements inplicit in discipline and punishment. My argument is that fat women’s bodies are disciplined within the shopping act itself, as the placement of women’s clothing is typically separate from clothing for smaller women. I am focusing on different types of stores in order to prove that specialty stores (rural, integrated-high end, and catering to big sizes) are actually increasing the acceptable body size in our culture. Stores like big-box stores and department stores are actually reinforcing cultural discipiline by virtue of locating Women’s clothing in inaccessible areas of the store, hiding the fat women away from other shoppers, and not providing adequate dressing rooms for larger people.

At the Target store in Muncie, IN, the “Women’s” section is at the back of the store tucked behind junior, Misses, and Maternity sections. Surprisingly it is located right next to the young men’s section. The four racks of women’s clothing that this Target store stocks are butted up against the dressing rooms. This may be for convenience, but more likely it is meant to hide away the fat customers, considering that the men’s larger sizes are butted up against the men’s dressing room as well. The room between the racks of clothing is the same as it is throughout the rest of the store, and the dressing rooms are small for anyone. There is one “handicap-accessible” fitting room that is of an adequate size, but using it requires bigger women to usurp any customer with a disability who happens to be in the fitting room at the same time. Or, if that fitting room is full when a big women goes in to try on clothes, she is relegated to changing in room that she may not be able to move around in with ease. Similarly, the prices of Target’s Women’s clothing is on average two dollars more per garment than the Misses clothing. A size sixteen in Misses may cost 14 dollars, but a size sixteen in the Women’s section of the same garment will cost 16 dollars. Target is unique because they do offer similarly styled clothing for all body types, unlike Walmart or Meijer whose plus-size or women’s sections offer muumuus in varying sizes, along with polyester pant suits, and last year’s sweaters.

In their defense the Macy’s that is located in the Muncie Mall, in Muncie, IN has a fairly large women’s section in their store. It is located in the back of the store with its own dressing rooms which are the same size as the other dressing rooms. Is this to keep bigger women separate from teh others? What about the shoe department being right next to the women’s section? Is this to facilitate easy shopping (implying decreased mobility for bigger women) or is this to cloister the big women at the back of the store, discipling them by shame? The racks appear to be jumbled together, and they are frequently located closer to each other than the other clothing racks throughout the store. This presents two problems: bigger women cannot shop with ease, it is implied that bigger women do not desire leisurely shopping room like smaller women. Also, it implies that bigger women do not care as much about their appearance, that they don’t look at clothes with as much admiration or as close of eye as smaller women. They simply pick something off the rack and wear it. The styles of the clothing are aimed toward older (or business) women: pant suits, dress suits, evening wear, casual/leisure wear, some jeans (always stretchy), polyester pants, silk shirts, sweaters with bold patterns or flashy prints. Basically, an elementary school teacher’s wet-dream. The clothing at Macy’s is, similar to Target, priced higher in the women’s section, but the prices may be several dollars higher, and the styles are nowhere near comparable to the other female clothing sections.

Muncie doesn’t even have a Coldwater Creek, probably due to economics because most people who could afford their clothing would go to Indianapolis to shop anyway, but it is on the front end of a clothing store trend. Both in their stores and in their online catalogue, nearly all of their clothing comes in larger sizes and smaller sizes. These are exactly the same clothing styles, but they are shared among all sizes. I could buy the exact same outfit in size 20 as my friend who wears an 8. We can shop in the same store, change int eh same dressing rooms that are of adequate size, perhaps due to the high-end nature of the store. (It seems as if the high-end stores have bigger dressing rooms. Is that because they assume people have more packages or do they seek provide comfort for their customers?) The racks of clothing are adequately spaced as well. The part that I am having a hard time with this store is that I am not sure how it compares to the other stores I am looking at because the clothing is so expensive. What does it say about class and size acceptance? What does it say about class and expected store ambiance? Is this part of the paper, or how can i read the space outside class? How can I read it just through a lens of discpiline of punish? What does it say about the different way our culture punishes fat- monetarily? Check on price differences.

The farming outfitter, Rural King, located in Muncie, IN, organizes their clothing similarly to Coldwater Creek with all sizes mixed together. Rural King carries up to size 6X for men; however, finding larger sizes in women’s clothing is a bit more challenging. Because Rural King carries the expectation that some of their customers will be fat, their clothing racks are widely spaced and there is plenty of room to walk between them. The onyl two sections that do not have an abundance of room between the racks are the hunting clothing and the winter outer-wear. I assume this is because the clothing itself takes up more space and that there isn’t enough room to move the racks further apart to accomodate the extra girth of the insulation. The dressing rooms look like horse stalls in some areas aof the stores with enough room to move around in. However, in other sections of the store, the dressing rooms in use are the ones left in place by Target (Rural King is housed in teh old Target store). The larger sizes of clothes are priced higher, but the sizes are more varyign and the style are the same for all sizes—typical farm-wear. What Rural King implies in their clothing that other stores do not imply: men are expected to be big (up to 6x) and women are expected to be thinner…their sizes do go up to 20ish in most items. Other stores seem to have a better dispertion of men’s sizes throughout their racks, with an additional big and tall section, but the women’s larger sizes are contained within a plus-size specific section. However, at Rural King the expecation for largesse seems to be exaggerated with larger sizes being the expected norm: it is challenging to find a size medium or small at Rural King. In fact, the last time I went their with my brother (size L), we had a hard time finding clothing for him. What a change!

Finally, Lane Bryant. The one in the Muncie Mall is the most pathetic excuse for a Laney’s I have ever seen, so I will talk about it in special cause, and I will talk about other Lane Bryant’s such as the one at Circle Center Mall, which carries lingerie, outerwear, and other items not generally available in Muncie (again the class factor comes in becuase I think the assumption is that anyone who has money will go to Indy for shopping—Lane Bryant is expensive—or moreso than Target or Macy’s, etc…! Check this to make sure!) At any rate, Lane Bryant carries clothing from size 14 to 28 (still excluding women who wear larger than a size 28, which includes my best friend, so this concerns me). The challenge and the admirable quality about Lane Bryant is that they offer clothing that is in style. What I mean by this is that the clothing is hip, but sometimes it is cut for thin bodies, and looks better on a woman with less flesh. I am not a clothing hater, but some styles (usually the most popular ones) are cut for the “normal body.” So, while Lane Bryant carries in style clothing, they are not necessarily cut for fuller bodies, which is just weird. Okay, the racks are spaced similarly to other high-end clothing stores, although at the store in Muncie is sometimes jammed with merchandise. Not only does it look tacky, but it is not conducive to relaxed or leisurely shopping. Perhaps the most interesting part of the shopping experience at Lane Bryant is the fact that the dressing rooms open directly out into the store (CHECK COLDWATER TO SEE IF THEIRS OPEN OUT INTO STORE). While this enables less overall floor space for used for dressing rooms that are bigger than typical ones, it also puts the fat body on display. Because the only three-way mirror in the dressing room is located out in plain view of anyone shopping in the store. One of the other problems with this type of store (not just Lane Bryant, but all plus-size women’s stores) is that the store only carries bigger sizes, so unless all of your friends are big women, the shopping experience is fragmented, with the bigger woman shopping in her store, adn the smaller women shopping in their stores. The prices also, separate women by class. There is no inexpensive larger women’s store that I am aware of. I do not know of a Laney’s Outlet.

Lingerie: laney’s has it at certain locations, cacique, etc.

Lane Bryant:
Boutique just for you: you could be exactly like other women shopping in boutiques
marketing and politics: pin back everything: size of dress forms

true fat would change a lot things in the culture: fat women can do the same thing
not a new body size aesthetic
thinning trousers

go for it…

One response to “The Angst of Shopping Plus Size

  1. Check out Coldwater Creek to see hwo they are doign with offering their items in all sizes…

    Do you have to look through cute things only ot find they don’t have your size.

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