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Why dress well? | Manolo for the Big Girl

Why dress well?

A friend of mine wrote an essay for the Anthony Bourdain “Medium Raw” essay on the subject in an attempt to answer the question “Why cook well?” (it’s in competition, so read a few essays and vote for your favorite) and it got my thinker to thinkin’.

One of the things that’s always struck me as funny is the assumption that as someone who cares deeply about style I must be shallow by default. Funny because I view my interest in style –the “refinement of detail” as Scott Schuman says– as part and parcel of being a thorough and complex person.

I’ve always associated shallowness with a sort of intellectual laziness, the same laziness I associate with lack of attention to detail in all manners of activity, personal furnishings included.

When I think of someone with a great deal of style I always think of precision, of thought, of discipline. This item was chosen because it gives this effect. It’s similar to writing, or cooking or anything that required attention to detail. You pick a particular word or ingredient not because it’s the first one that springs to mind or the only thing in the fridge not growing an intriguing though potentially scientifically important mold, but because you want a desired effect.

It occurs to me I don’t know any truly stylish person who is also truly lazy, and maybe that’s why as a big girl I feel the stakes are higher for us. There’s already a stereotype against us for being lazy and sloppy. I mean, if we weren’t so lazy lounging around stuffing our piggy faces with Crisco sandwiches and only moving to wash our corpulent frames with rags on sticks then we wouldn’t be fat, would we?

29 Responses to “Why dress well?”

  1. madame suggia July 21, 2010 at 2:15 pm #

    In answer to the question, “why dress well?”, surely the answer should be, “why not?”. I’ve always found it somewhat easier to dress ‘well’, by which I mean, clean, appropriate for the circumstances, and visually pleasing (to me at least), than to dress ‘badly’. Actually if I’m honest I’m not sure I know how to dress badly, I think the earth would actually shift on its’ axis and/or we’d experience a fault in the space/time continueum (sp?) if I ever left Casa Suggia in less than matching nether garments, full face, scent, jewellry and a slammin’ outfit. I don’t do this for anyone’s pleasure than my own and I certainly don’t give a flying fig about anyone’s conception of me as a plus-sized person…I’m fabulous, and I’ll still be fabulous + or – another 20, 50 or 100 pounds.

  2. Plumcake July 21, 2010 at 2:28 pm #

    Sing it, Suggia!

  3. Abby July 21, 2010 at 2:52 pm #

    Interesting! I think a lot of larger women break up with fashion at a certain point because fashion isn’t very nice to us. And it is a shame, because fashion and style are not at all the same thing. I loved the personal style posts, and reading about everyone’s looks, because it proved that point over and over. You can be incredibly stylish in jeans and t-shirts and flat shoes.

    Good point re precision and stylishness. I think true style has an intellectual component. Silly and stupid people exist in every area of life, sadly, including fashion. We’ve all had the bad experience with the snotty glamazons at fancy dept. stores, but that’s simply bad customer service, not style betrayal.

    I’m always of two minds about the argument that we as larger women should dress well to counteract the stereotype. Part of me rebels, and part of me agrees. But then again, I think everyone should dress better.

  4. Jezebella July 21, 2010 at 3:13 pm #

    Seriously, madam, you’d do all that just to run up to the corner store for a diet coke or something? I just don’t think the yahoos at the corner store, who I will see for 90 seconds, are worth the trouble of painting my face and getting all dolled up, I mean if that’s the only place I’m going. I’m not running over there in pajama bottoms and dirty slippers, either, of course, but when Jezebella needs a giant cold fountain drank on account of it’s HOT OUTSIDE, she’s not gonna waste time picking out the perfect accessories for a five-minute trip, dig?

    Of course, I am generally not in favor of the “full face” of makeup, especially during the 9 months of brutal summer we endure here in the deep South, except for special occasions that involve cameras.

  5. madame suggia July 21, 2010 at 3:36 pm #

    @Jezebella…darn right I do all that, every single day. One has standards…but they’re my standards, they make *me* feel good, and I really hope I’d never judge anyone poorly for having different standards. But here’s the thing..I have to get dressed every morning anyway, why not do it fabulously? I like to wear make-up (again, for me, not for anyone else) because…well, just because I like to! And I too live in the steamy south, in the furnace-that-is-Florida (95 degrees today…yaaay!) so I use appropiate products…tinted moisturizer, cream blush, waterproof mascara and long-stay lip color. I get dressed & made-up once in the am, takes me about 30 mins from jammies to glammies including shower, teeth, contacts, hair, face, accessories and frock…and that’s it for the day. As for my clothing, I’m a clothes designer, it’s almost a law that I dress well! To steal the L’Oreal tagline, because I’m worth it.

  6. zuzu July 21, 2010 at 4:18 pm #

    I see where you’re going with the stylishness =/= shallowness, but I hope you’re not implying that lack of attention to style = laziness/shallowness. Not everything is important to everyone, and as Abby said, there are damn good reasons for fat women to resent the idea that their appearance reflects on their character and the character of all other fat women while at the same time the fashion industry makes it as difficult as possible to be pulled together easily and cost-effectively.

    I’ve somewhat recently come around to the idea that looking good does not actually have to involve a ton of effort, a faceful of makeup, or uncomfortable shoes. Was it easier to find stylish, well-cut work clothes in natural fibers at reasonable prices when I was a straight size? Absolutely. But I’ve since figured out that a jersey dress plus a pair of bike shorts or tights often looks more dressed-up — and is often more comfortable and is certainly less fuss — than pants and a blouse I have to iron. If I have a good haircut and an interesting necklace (and you wouldn’t believe how often I get compliments on my jewelry, though none of it ever costs more than $20), I look good even though I got dressed in five minutes and don’t have anything but sunscreen on my face. And it may be cliche, but when I look good, I feel good, and when I feel good, I stand up straighter and get noticed for looking good more.

  7. zuzu July 21, 2010 at 4:20 pm #

    And, and AND! I can throw that dress in the washer rather than dry-clean it. Wins all around.

  8. The gold digger July 21, 2010 at 4:20 pm #

    you’d do all that just to run up to the corner store for a diet coke or something?

    When I lived in Miami, I was always impressed at how nicely the Cuban ladies dressed, even to go to the grocery store. A Cuban friend told me she wouldn’t be caught dead leaving the house without lipstick.

    I was in Cambridge a few years ago. Most of the women were in very casual clothes (I am being very nice here), such as baggy shorts, t-shirts, and birkenstocks. I saw two young women who were beautifully dressed, with their hair done nicely and just enough makeup. They stood out – and when I got close enough to hear them speaking Spanish, I was not at all surprised.

    Full disclosure: I spend most of the day in my gym clothes, which I know is pathetic.

  9. Mifty July 21, 2010 at 5:21 pm #

    I would be very hesitant to equate either interest in fashion or a lack of interest in it with any overarching characteristic, positive or negative. Any more than I would equate an interest in, say, architecture or classic rock with any particular gift or temperament. People are more complicated than that.

    Anecdotally, I have known people who were considered to have a great sense of style who were smart, hard-working, and complex. I have known others who were so concerned with their own appearance that they apparently didn’t have room for another thought in their heads. (But they looked great!)

    Jeans and sneakers is who I am, I’m afraid, though I of course can and do dress professionally/respectfully when it is appropriate. If how I dress when I’m at the movies or in the grocery store confirms some silly stereotype — and I am not persuaded that it does — then so be it.

    I stopped paying attention to “Fat girls shouldn’t wear…” when it referred to knit fabrics and horizontal stripes, and I’m not about to start again now.

  10. Anon July 21, 2010 at 5:31 pm #

    “I don’t understand how a woman can leave the house without fixing herself up a little – if only out of politeness. And then, you never know, maybe that’s the day she has a date with destiny. And it’s best to be as pretty as possible for destiny.” – Coco Chanel

  11. Violet_in_Twilight July 21, 2010 at 7:11 pm #

    This is an interesting post Plumcake. I totally agree with your point that “this was chosen because it gives this effect”. I am that kind of person who likes to experiment with ingredients (or words or clothes or accessories). However, as a plus-sized person its like asking a gourmet cook to shop in a pre-packed food aisle. True, you can still come up with a great end product, but it does take a lot of effort. Perhaps that makes style fall to a lower priority for people like me. Especially,with young kids around, clothes not only has to fit size criteria but also, fabric, ease of movement, ease of wash, maintenance criteria. In the end, it feels like there isn’t much to choose from (you are looking at the moldy ingredient in the fridge).

    So, jeans and t-shirts for me at least for next 4-5 years.

  12. Abby July 21, 2010 at 7:13 pm #

    Well Chanel was a Nazi collaborator, and I don’t believe in destiny, so ptui to her.

    Most days I leave the house looking pretty nice, but on the ones I don’t I’m going to use the mom card or migraine card. I think they’re both pretty valid. If that makes me impolite, well, c’est la vie.

  13. Lisa July 21, 2010 at 9:36 pm #

    I dress largely because Miss Piggy was an early influence on me and I can’t help but think that dressing is a sign of self respect. I don’t care what you think I am; I *know* what I am.

  14. GoP July 21, 2010 at 11:03 pm #

    I work in mental health and so many women who have to take psych meds end up gaining weight on them. I have gotten so many compliments from same-said women about how I dress (and I do so rather inexpensively). I’ve actually helped clients go shopping when working as a case manager, at their request. For many people, looking good is about feeling good. Seeing someone else with your body type look good can make people feel better about their own bodies. Especially when they have undergone a dramatic change.

    Plumcake, I understand your view on high quality shoes (and the no wides and narrows, but as a wide footed gal, I can’t be the proverbial chooser), but at least can we talk about cowboy boots? You’re a fellow South Texan after all! Hell, I’ll write it if you don’t wanna!

  15. retna July 22, 2010 at 7:14 am #

    I make the effort because being a woman of size I need to prove constantly that I’m not a slob and not lazy. I make the effort because I like pretty things; and have tons of accessories and shoes including my mother’s vintage collection – can’t let that go to waste. I plan out my outfits a week in advance – and my sons help me, so its time that we spend together and it gives them a better understanding of women (they are going to be excellent mates for some lucky women). Dressing well is appreciated by men and women. It feels good, powerful and feminine at the same time. Probably takes an extra 15 minutes a day to dress well, but that works out to a whole day of feeling great.

  16. Harri P. July 22, 2010 at 9:36 am #

    Anyone who’s reading this, vote for Steve C in that Bourdain competition via Plummy’s link! His essay is great.

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a Crisco sandwich to eat.

  17. Bree July 22, 2010 at 10:50 am #

    I’m not a very stylish person by any means, but I strive on looking neat and decent. I agree that the stakes are higher for big women. Since many people assume that all we wear is sweatpants and shirts stained with Dorito smudges and chocolate and don’t give a rip about how we look, I strive to look presentable not only because it makes me feel good and confident, but to show those idiot haters that fat women can look pretty darn good in public.

  18. Lise in NJ July 22, 2010 at 11:06 am #

    I think the assumption of shallowness comes from the conflation of “style” with pursuit of current a/o expensive fashion — the difference between carrying a fabulous bag and investing one’s sense of worth or identity in carrying Hermes. There are women who evaluate themselves and others on that basis, which is as shallow as you can get. And also, actually has nothing to do with style.

  19. Less July 22, 2010 at 2:21 pm #

    Very nicely said and I completely agree that one’s style can stand as evidence that one is a “thorough and complex person,” among other things. However, isn’t the argument that concern with style equates to shallowness usually based on the conviction that a person’s appearance is unimportant–that only their personal qualities (character, convictions, skills, personality etc.) should matter?
    My boyfriend feels this way so I’ve heard it a lot. I think his attitude stems from the fact that he genuinely does not notice how things or people look and has no aesthetic sense to speak of, but I don’t know if that’s true of other people who feel that way about style.

  20. Astra July 22, 2010 at 2:37 pm #

    I work in Boulder, CO where the default uniform is outdoor gear–everyone is always dressed like they are about to climb a mountain (and they usually are). I think that’s fine in general, but I was sorry when there were only two of us who dressed up for the CU Opera on a Saturday night. In Austin, the opera was always an excuse for the Texas ladies to pull out the furs they can’t otherwise wear.

    Despite the local casual look and a job (scientist) that is practically synonymous with bad dressing, I like to dress well. It makes me feel professional and is a good creative outlet for me. I started wearing heels in my postdoc at an institution that had many European, particularly Italian, female scientists. They were all so chic that I wanted to do the same. I get pretty positive feedback despite looking outside the norm around here.

  21. SusanC July 22, 2010 at 3:52 pm #

    I wish people (of all sizes) dressed better in the US. I’m not talking about gussying up to go out to the store to pick up diapers or Advil, neccessarily. But going to a white-table cloth restaurant in old jeans, sweats or a T-shirt?! How would you feel if you went to Chez TresCher and they served you a meal on paper plates and poured wine into a plastic cup? Yes, we Americans have the freedom to do as we please. But it’s somewhat of a let down to go to a “special occasion” place and be surrounded by people who just don’t seem to care, as per Astra’s remark about being one of the 2 dressed up people at the Opera.

    Putting on some stylish, more dressy clothing doesn’t have to be expensive. Back to the orginial cooking analogy, the mark of a skilled chef is making a stellar meal from inexpensive ingredients, perhaps even something that was left in the fridge. Dressing with flair doesn’t require head to toe couture.

  22. Thea July 22, 2010 at 5:14 pm #

    Sing it Lisa! I dress for myself, because I am my own canvas and it charms and amuses me to pull the perfect vintage necklace or scarf, even if it is to go with my jeans and t-shirt (damn that techie workplace). But I know what flatters ME and that’s what I wear – not the latest accessory from Vogue.

    A woman in Berkeley once snarled at me “Men always open doors for you” and one of the guys said “Cause the way she looks makes us want to open doors for her.”

    But it is heartbreaking to shop….knowing what flatters you – and being able to find it in a plus size are two different universes.

  23. The gold digger July 22, 2010 at 5:16 pm #

    I wish people (of all sizes) dressed better in the US.

    Yes! No Crocs or pajama pants or baggy shorts in church, please. I know God doesn’t care but show some respect for the place and the people around you.

    And alter boy who wore the t-shirt reading, “Eat sleep breath baseball?” I am talking to you and to your shirt’s copy editor.

  24. Jess. July 23, 2010 at 9:42 am #

    I enjoyed this article. It is something I have definately put a lot of thought into because people do see my preoccupation with fashion as shallow and I just am not…

  25. Jezebella July 23, 2010 at 3:46 pm #

    I guess my rebellious self says “Hell, if skinny chicks can go to the corner store without makeup or fabulous clothing, then I too am entitled to do so.” I don’t want to have to represent fat girls everywhere by proving the haters wrong by spending time, money, and energy trying to disprove the slob stereotype. Haters are gonna hate, no matter what I wear to the corner store. Like I said, I’m not wearing pajamas and hair curlers in public (not that I own any curlers…) but I’m not going out of my way to get all dolled up for a quick trip to the store.

    Also, it’s so hot here right now that I don’t just get dressed once a day. Most summer days it’s two changes of clothes (one for work, one for after during the week; one for staying in and one for going out on the weekends). I’d rather wait til I’m getting ready for a night out to put on some makeup.

  26. Jodie Maruska July 27, 2010 at 12:39 pm #

    I am a size 22 and I believe it’s almost a revolutionary act to dress well! I’m not expected to dress well. I used to have a friend who would “compliment” me by saying “you always manage to pull yourself together so nicely.” and it always felt like a thinly veiled “you’re fat but darn it if you can’t pull off a look!” sort of insult! I got the message. I’ve always loved clothes. I covet great clothes and style and I make no apologies for it. Does that mean I’m always running to the grocery store made up to the nines – of course not. Does it mean that I respect myself and the situations I find myself in enough to present myself a certain way – yes. In our country, we have gotten so casual that we’ve gotten sloppy. There is nothing “special” about how we present ourselves and that is sad. People used to get dressed up to fly – it was an occassion. Now we schlep on board in our sweats and flip flops. We go to the theater in mom jeans and sports jerseys. We go to work in the same thing. Casual Fridays have sounded the death knell to appropriate work attire and I think that’s sad. Dressing well is not only for us, but it’s for the others around us. It’s about showing respect. It’s about caring.

  27. Bunny July 27, 2010 at 4:28 pm #

    I dress well for me. I start with the undies and layer as appropriate from there because I feel I deserve it. It has nothing to do with size but everything to with self worth. I feel that life is just too short so who cares how anyone else is dressed, I am dressing for me and my own enjoyment.

    I wear a dress with heels or sandals everyday in an extremely casual work place because that is what I want to wear AND what I look good in. I am plus sized due to boobs so I buy generously size cloths and always have them altered appropriately. I have to rigorously look for clothes but the key for me is alterations for perfect fit.

    When I find a brand that is proportionate, I continue to buy that brand year after year as long as the quality, fit, and styling are consistent for my needs. When I find a store that has clothes my size that I like, I will continue to go there and praise the staff and selection. I will tell others when asked where I find shoes and clothes so that brand/store continues to prosper since they are catering to the plus sized market.

    I refuse to buy clothes that I feel look bad or are frumpy because as a consumer I feel I deserve to be heard even if I wear a plus size.

    Even though it is just me, I reject the casual workplace and reject frumpy because I want and need something different – something more. I don’t remember who said this but “elegance is the rejection of the inappropriate”. I also feel elegance is standing up for and being willing to search for the beautiful for ones self.

  28. PTZ dome August 9, 2010 at 12:20 pm #

    Hi guy, It sounds really good!