Working in retail was my first ever job. At 16, I took a very glamorous occupation working in an office supply store. In my polyester pants and uniform polo shirt, I stocked shelves and rang through post-its for over a year. Working retail was always a joy for me — interacting with so many different people and helping them find what they needed or wanted in order to go about their lives was fun and fulfilling. Eventually, I abandoned the service industry to work as a community developer, and as a writer. But then I noticed that one of the two dedicated plus-size brands in my city was hiring this past December, and I jumped at the chance to work in retail again. It was the perfect opportunity for me to make a little extra cash, learn more about the plus-size fashion industry, help women to feel good about themselves, and expand my burgeoning plus-size wardrobe. I expected that I'd enjoy it — the Top 40 pop on the store speakers, the zen of folding shirts with a t-shirt board; the friendly and upbeat co-workers; the feeling of seeing someone whom you've picked something out for fall in love. These are all perks I was well-acquainted with. But I also knew that some plus-size women coming in would have shopping woes (myself included) that could potentially make this experience different to others I'd had working retail. What I didn't expect was that it would teach me so much more, and change my perspective in such a short amount of time. So from the silly to the more profound, here's what I've learned in the past month:
1. PLUS-SIZE RETAILERS DO SEEM TO BE REALLY TRYING
At least the one I work for does: More designer collabs, better fitting clothing, and more options are things I see each season's launch. While straight-size retailers continue to fumble when it comes to their plus customers, plus-size retailers realize the importance of providing more and better items to their consumers.
2. SOMETIMES IT DOES JUST COME DOWN TO LUCK WHEN SHOPPING AS A PLUS-SIZE BABE
Although I've definitely seen more diversity in the interpretations of trends and a wider variety of styles and fits each season, the limited amount of dedicated retailers available out there is a big reason why there's not going to be much for you. This is unfortunate and frustrating for both the customers and those of us who are trying to dress them.
3. SIZES MEAN ABSOLUTELY NOTHING
My closet ranges from a size 10 to a 4X. Buy clothes for the fit and not for the label. This often means trying on a lot of things in a lot of different sizes. But it's worth it, because no matter the style, fit is everything.
4. SPECIALTY STORES ARE BETTER
I've shopped at stores that carry straight and plus-sizes and appreciate that they cater to the larger end of the spectrum. My wardrobe is definitely made up of more clothing items from straight or mixed-sized retailers than plus specialty stores. But I expect that to change. Plus-sizes in dedicated shops aren't just bigger versions of a size 2 of a garment, but rather, they are made with an understanding of some of the ways in which bigger bodies may be different.
5. IT AIN'T CHEAP TO BE PLUS-SIZE
While there are some small (and I emphasize small) plus sections at a few fast-fashion stores with extremely cheap pieces, one cannot build a wardrobe from those pieces even if one wanted to. Specialty stores are generally more expensive, meaning that the average plus lady is shelling out more to clothe herself.
6. THE FEAR OF VBO IS REAL
The number one reason someone doesn't like something or is uncomfortable in a garment is because it's fitted on their midsection. My customers love flaunting their legs, rears, and cleavage but are still shy about their stomachs. More VBO in 2015, please.
7. WE CAN WEAR ANYTHING WE WANT
One of the best parts about getting to dress plus-size women is that I get to put them in styles that they may have never tried before. Referring back to point #1, this is often because a style like this hasn't been available in their size before. Getting to help other women recognize that they can wear anything reminds me of all of the items I subconsciously still feel are off-limits.
8. I CAN'T WAIT TO BE 60
Some of the boldest and most experimental customers — who have been the most fun — are women who are retired and who have generally been plus for a while. They're used to dressing their bodies, comfortable with how they look, realize they deserve to look amazing, and embody a general IDGAF attitude that we would all do well to adopt. I'm trying to work on channeling them now and not having to wait 35 years to feel completely comfortable in, and familiar with, my own skin.
Images: Author; Giphy