A few months ago, I had a shopping experience unlike any other I’d had in the past. I walked into Wet Seal +, found several pieces of clothing that were cute, affordable, and flattering on my body, and tried on several options before actually having to decide what I wanted to buy and what I didn’t need. I didn’t feel panicked or frustrated or like I didn’t belong, I took selfies in the dressing room mirror, and I left the store with a bag of new clothes. I didn’t cry once.
It’s pretty disturbing to me that shopping is an activity I’ve come to view as a grueling kind of torture. As a young, fat woman, it’s damn near impossible to walk into a store and walk out feeling good about clothing I’ve purchased. It usually doesn’t fit quite right or it makes me look like an old woman or I’ve spent entirely too much money on a single shirt. Although most of the time, I don’t purchase anything at all. If I do, it’s from the accessories racks, because at least I know a pair of earrings will fit me well.
I don’t often talk about my body or my weight or my frustrations with it, but they can all be summed up in this: shopping, for me, is an exercise in how long I can stand to watch my skinny friends try on cute clothes before I either shut down completely or burst into tears.
So the fact that I finally found a store that carried cute, affordable clothes that fit me correctly is pretty damn cool. The fact that it opened downstairs from the store where I work in the mall is even cooler. What sucks is that after only a few months of being open, Wet Seal + is now closed. I’m back to square one.
I’m not the only person in the world who has these struggles, I know. People come into the shoe store where I work all the time looking for wide-calf boots or for pumps that have a chunkier heel to hold their weight. I see posts on sites like BuzzFeed about companies like Forever 21 and Urban Outfitters producing clothing that encourages disordered eating (“Coffee for breakfast, chips for lunch, chocolate for dinner” and “Eat less”, respectively). I see ongoing arguments on my social media feeds about the Fat Acceptance movement and what it means and why it’s good/bad/whatever. I don’t really want to get involved in that, because my feelings are complicated and to be honest, they vary depending on how I feel about myself on any given day.
What I will say is that it’s disturbing that Wet Seal, who at the very least tried to produce budget fashion for people with non-skinny bodies, has seemingly lost the retail game to competitors like Forever 21. You may have seen headlines in the last week about Wet Seal laying off nearly 4,000 employees. The company, which has been failing for a long while, announced on Wednesday, Jan. 7, that it is immediately closing 338 locations. Employees were given no warning of their imminent lay-offs or of stores closing, and many took it upon themselves to post hand-made signs in the windows of their stores to inform customers of the awful way the company decided to handle things.
The other night when I discussed the closing of Wet Seal + with my partner, they put it into perspective quite well. They said,
“If this company would just offer a range of sizes for all bodies in all its stores, it wouldn’t have to have a whole separate chain of stores and staffs for people who don’t fit into small sizes.”
That’s the whole crux of the issue. I have no idea how many of the 338 Wet Seal closures were Wet Seal + stores, or whether trying to balance a plus-size chain and a non-plus-size chain drove the company under. To be honest, I don’t care. Wet Seal didn’t handle this situation in a humane way at all. But the fact is, several retail chains offer a plus-size section in their general stores, but the clothes there are nothing like the clothes throughout the rest of the store. They’re covered in sequins or have tons of frills or have no shape whatsoever. Wet Seal + was the first store I’d seen that offered plus-size clothes as cute and affordable as stores that don’t offer plus sizes. I don’t want to shop at Lane Bryant. I can’t afford to shop at Torrid. Ordering from ASOS Curve breaks the bank every single time. And aside from Old Navy, which doesn’t offer a lot of nice adult clothing, those are the only stores that offer clothes that fit me.
Fashion shouldn’t be limited to those who are short and thin. Someone who’s 6′ tall and 250lbs should feel as fabulous when they leave the house as someone who’s 5’6″ and 130lbs. There should be just as many options in colors, styles and cuts for fat people as there are for thin people. I hate that I have to hold onto clothes that work for me until they’re literally falling apart because shopping gives me such bad anxiety that I can barely stand to think about it. I hate that when I’ve finally found a store that understands that young, fat people exist and deserve to look and feel as good as young, thin people, that store closes because its parent company can’t manage.
I guess I’m glad that I snagged some nice work clothes and some cute casual clothes in the past few months, but it’s so disheartening to see the Wet Seal + space empty after finally starting to feel like I could walk into a store and not worry about finding affordable clothes in my size that I like. It was good while it lasted.