This one was a little harder to write than my usual drivel, but I'm working on improving my ability to convey emotion rather than sarcasm. I hope it worked.
I went shopping for clothes the other day, and although I didn’t buy anything, it was an enjoyable experience nonetheless. You see, for the past twenty-plus years, my wardrobe has come from the Big & Tall store.
For those who are unfamiliar with that type of retail experience, a little background explanation may be necessary. At first glance, being overweight not only requires larger clothing—the one thing the normal-sized world sees—but one of the other side effects of the social stigma is disdain for doing some many things in public, and shopping is one of those many things. I suppose that’s why it’s thought to be easier for gentlemen of stature to have their own place to shop, away from the prying and judgmental eyes of strangers, rather than dedicating a portion of valuable floor space in ‘normal’ stores for larger-than-life customers.
While a lot of heavier folks may be gregarious, outgoing, and the center of attention, there are many times where drawing attention isn’t desired. Having body issues is tough, and nothing draws attention to the body more than the clothes we choose to wear. So clothes shopping for the heavy set has a few more degrees of difficulty than most people would ever consider.
The internet has alleviated most of the anxiety that goes with shopping for clothes when one does it out of need instead of for pleasure, but it only goes so far. Yes, it’s private, and nobody can see you doing it, and there’s no judgmental sales clerk unconsciously looking at the size on the tag and then looking up at you, and then back at the tag, but buying clothes without being able to try them on first presents its own set of obstacles.
Aside from the mental and emotional hurdles one faces when shopping for plus-sized clothes, there is an unfortunate financial component to consider, also. A pair of Dockers that would cost a skinny guy $34.99 would cost me about $55.00, plus another $5.99 if I want them hemmed, because when your inseam is only half the distance of your waist size, your pants generally have to be custom-made. Even then, you’re not actually getting a name-brand pair of pants, like the afore-mentioned Dockers. It’s usually some sort of Indonesian knock-off that fall apart after eight washes—or if you sneeze, whichever comes first.
Shirts are a little easier to find, but if you want one with buttons, there’s an upcharge for that, too, kind of like getting power windows in an economy car. A few extra ounces of material tend to run upwards of $15 by the time it becomes a finished product, but then you’re faced with trying to find something to wear that’s not hideously ugly.
That brings us to the other problem with shopping at the Big & Tall. Besides being expensive and generally of low quality, most of the selection available is just too god-awful to consider wearing in public. Someone once said that life is too short to wear ugly clothes, and I’m firmly convinced that whoever said that was a skinny person.
It’s not enough that the universe punishes you for being fat, but part of your sentence is being forced to wear clothes that are already on the trailing edge of fashion, if not downright ugly.
Ask yourself this: Have you ever seen an overweight person and said “Man, they really dress nice—I love their wardrobe!” Not likely. It’s because when you’re fat, in addition to all of the hundreds of other daily reminders that you’re different—and not in a good way—you are condemned to less-than-ideal wardrobe choices. And you’d think that expensive clothes should at least be stylish, but you’d be wrong.
I supposed it may be just a matter of perception. It seems to me that most of the clothes to choose from would be just fine if I were an extra in a hip-hop video, but since I have to go to the office every day in order to pay for the wardrobe, it’s tough to separate the business casual wheat from the urban casual chaff.
But all of that is behind me now.
In the past year, in addition to losing over 160 lbs, I’ve lost an entire hard-core porn’s worth of X’s from my shirt size. And because of that, I can now get my clothes ‘off the rack’.
It may seem like an insignificant thing to those who’ve never given a second thought to the clothes-buying experience, but for someone who’s been on the outside looking in for the past two decades, it is, in the words of our esteemed Vice President, a Big Effin’ Deal!
The realization came one morning when I had to punch another hole in the belt that’s slowly making its way around me twice. It was an expensive piece of leather, and I’m determined to get as much use out of it as possible, so every month or so I take out the cordless drill and create a visible measure of success, every bit as significant as the hash marks on the kitchen wall of a growing family. So while my pants may be baggy like all of the cooler, younger fat kids, I realized that it’s probably getting to be time to clean out the closet, donate to Goodwill, and think about improving my wardrobe.
So one day last week I took the afternoon off of work, telling my boss a little white lie about going to the doctor, when all I really had planned was a bit of retail therapy. I drove over to the mall, a little nervous, wondering if I’d really crossed that magical Rubicon into the world of skinny people—at least ‘skinny’ as defined by me—the only evidence I had was a belt that was too long, pants that were too baggy, and shirts that now hung to my knees when I kept them untucked.
Not knowing what to expect, I left my wallet in the car, unprepared to deal with either disappointment or buyer’s remorse, regardless of which way the afternoon went. Like the first Apollo astronauts to circle the far side the moon, I was on a mission of discovery, not colonization—I just wanted to see what would happen if I went there, I had no intention of planting my flag and collecting a bunch of rocks.
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit nervous in the first store I visited, and I’m sure I was a little too quick with the ‘No!’ to the first salesclerk who asked if they could help me. I figured that if I got pinned down, I could always say I was shopping for a gift, that way if they didn’t have anything that would fit me, I could move along and pretend that their selection just wasn’t up to my standards. At least that’s what I told myself.
I pretended to be casually browsing, but in truth I was desperately searching for a certain size that I estimated would fit the new me. Nobody bothered me while I dug through the racks of shirts, hoping to find something, anything, I could wear. Still a long way from the textbook definition of ‘average’, I figured anything that would fit me would still be at the far end of the size spectrum, but persistence paid off. I found a decent looking shirt in a size that interested me, and in a fit of optimism, grabbed another one just like it, only one size smaller.
I may have been even more nervous walking to the fitting room than I was walking into the store a few minutes before, and I had the passing thought that the sales staff must’ve thought the only guy sweating on a 40-degree day had to have been a shoplifter, but I wasn’t sure if it was that or the old me thinking that they were just worried that the fat guy heading to the fitting room was going to ruin the merchandise by trying to force ten pounds of sausage into a five pound shirt.
I closed the fitting room door, looked in the mirror, and tried to reassure myself that things were different now and that even if these clothes didn’t fit, there was always next month. I said a quick non-religious prayer that I wasn’t embarrassing myself, and chose the bigger of the two shirts.
It wasn’t tight, it wasn’t binding, and I didn’t look ridiculous in it. In fact I looked pretty good in it. But just as my definition of ‘skinny’ is somewhat skewed, so is my definition of ‘well-fitting’, so I tried on the smaller shirt, just to see. It fit also, but it wasn’t quite as comfortable as the first one, so I changed back, anxious to see myself wearing normal clothes comfortably.
Like the pounds that I’d lost in the past year, the burden of self-doubt and self-consciousness disappeared and were replaced by the newly discovered weightlessness of self-confidence. It was an amazing transformation, but one that nobody could see but me.
Armed with a new attitude about life in general, and clothes shopping in particular, I bounced between several stores that afternoon, hauling piles of clothes with me into the dressing rooms with absolutely no intention of buying, finally understanding what women feel like when they shop for shoes. I must have tried on a dozens of things in several stores, sometimes striking out, but other times pleasantly surprised. And while it may not be the most masculine thought I’ve ever had, while carrying an armload of hangers to the fitting room, I couldn’t help but liken myself to Julia Roberts on her Rodeo Drive shopping spree with Richard Gere, but the opportunity to say “BIG mistake” to a salesperson never really presented itself.
After a couple of hours the novelty wore off, and I was disciplined enough to go back to the car, not to fetch my wallet, but to drive away, knowing that the next time I get some extra cash, I won’t have to spend it all on clothes because I have to, but because I want to. Those jackals at Casual Male and King Size Men have a pretty good racket going, and sadly, they are a necessary evil, but I’ve moved on. I don’t have to shop at the Big & Tall anymore. It may be a small step in the grand scheme of things, but to me, it was a giant leap.