Size Matters: The Fat Tax

It’s become general knowledge that class influences weight. Working class families often don’t have as much access to healthier foods as middle and upper class families do, and working longer hours means fast food can be an appealing option for those with little time. So if fat folks, and specifically fat women, are more likely to be working class, why does it cost so much to clothe yourself as a fat woman? Why are more fashionable clothes in larger sizes so damn expensive?

You might be tempted to think that it’s the extra fabric (ha ha), but we all know most clothes cost a great deal less to make than they sell for. Thin people have fast fashion outlets such as Forever 21 and H&M to turn to when they want fashionable clothes at low prices. But Forever 21’s plus size division, Faith 21, offers clothes of the same quality yet at higher prices. Torrid, a fat fashion mainstay, has much higher prices than their parent company Hot Topic. And stalwart fat fashion store Lane Bryant is well known for their outrageous prices in relation to quality and stylishness. I jokingly call the higher price of plus size women’s clothing the “fat tax,” but it’s a sad truth.

Working class women are already often stereotyped as slobbish and homely in the media. Add fat to the mix and you have an explosive combo of perceived unattractiveness. Some would argue that the lack of access to fashionable clothing is unimportant to working class women compared to their other struggles, which may be partly true. But feeling good about how you look is something that all women should be able to experience, not only because of societal pressure to look a certain way but also for personal self-esteem. If fashion is something that is important to you, or even if you just want to stay out of muumuus and stretch pants, this is an issue that affects your everyday life.

As a middle class fat woman, I find the prices of plus size clothing to be a barrier as well. I can afford a $50 dress or a $40 sweater here and there, but scoring several items of clothing per shopping trip is something that rarely happens unless I’m shopping at a thrift store—and thrift stores are not exactly bastions of stylish fat women’s clothing. It seems as if because there are so few fashionable options for fat women compared to thin women, we really are subject to a kind of tax, because where else are we going to go? As designers and stores are becoming more fat friendly, more options for cheaper clothing are cropping up, but mainly for women on the smaller end of the fat spectrum. You want a size above a 20, you’re pretty much limited to a few expensive stores.

Some crafty people take this as an opportunity to make their own clothes, but this option is not realistic for everyone and the choice to DIY involves some class issues as well. Unfortunately there’s no simple solution for this problem. As more and more fat women demand access to fashionable clothing and make their demands known to the fashion powers-that-be, hopefully fat fashion stores and clothing lines will lower prices to a more reasonable level. Until then, save your pennies.

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  • http://marybaum.com/ marybaum

    After a number of years of thinking I needed three or four sweaters a year and a similar number of pants/turtlenecks and so on, I realized I’d accumulated more of everything that I can really wear, even allowing for the inevitable style shifts that happen every 10-15 years and for the fact that I go up and down in size every 2-4 years based on my neuro drugs and their effects on my appetite.

    So at this point I’m buying maybe one garment a year in each category, if that.

    True, I’ve always leaned more toward the classics – every time I’ve bought anything the least bit trendy, I’ve found it a mistake, for exactly the reason you point out in your blog; it doesn’t really work the next year, let alone 5-10 years later.

    Compare that to the jacket I wear in my profile pictures: it was new in 2004, I think, but it’s still going strong, and I’ll probably still be wearing it until I start to shrink in my 80s. By then, it’ll have cost me about $12/year to wear over its 40-year lifetime, but the sticker shock wore off a long time ago.

    Note: I’m not suggesting