Shopping for clothes can be a soul-destroying nightmare for loads of us. More so if your size means options are sorely limited. No wonder Sofie Hagen was beyond chuffed to discover there is another – joyous – way.
Last year I was assigned a personal costume designer for a TV show – is anyone still reading or have you been blinded by my massive success? – and she had one simple job: to find me a black dress. I offered her my help, but she scoffed and assured me that she was a professional.
Two weeks later, she came back into the office carrying just two bags. She looked like she had aged a decade since I last saw her. She emptied the bags out on the table. Two black oversized T-shirts from the men’s department of H&M and something that more resembled a black tent. She was shaking her head.
“M-maybe if we cut this part open and stitch these two together…” she mumbled and desperately tried to make the black fabric become red carpet-stylish.
Carefully I asked her if it was the first time she had had to find clothes for fat people. She said yes. And that she hadn’t known how hard it would be.
We mostly have to do our shopping online. I am a size 22. On the popular site ASOS, there are currently 257 dresses that I can fit into. If I were a size 18, there would be 1301 dresses. If I were a size 14, there would be 2291.
Finding clothes as a fat person is not impossible, but it takes a lot of research, time and effort. And money; oh dear, so much money.
So when I heard about Fat Positive Clothes Swap, I was intrigued and excited. I finally went to one of their events – and it was beyond anything I could have imagined.
The bi-monthly events are run by Kirsty and Claire. In the Facebook event it simply says:
“Bring clothes you don’t want and swap them for some you do!
Clothes size 16/L+
ALL GENDERS WELCOME!”
I emptied old boxes full of clothes I was never going to wear again and filled my suitcase until the zipper was struggling not to break and headed towards Islington. I was there 10 minutes early. I am never 10 minutes early for anything.
Kirsty invited me inside and asked for a donation – other than that, it is free entrance. I handed them a tenner, not knowing if it was too much or too little. They then told me to place my clothes on the tables according to size. Tables were lined up with signs saying “16–18”, “20–22”, “24–26”, “28+” and “Accessories”. I emptied my suitcase and started rummaging through the clothes that were already there.
Soon the whole room filled up with people of all (plus) sizes. Most people were wearing stylish clothes and at the same time, they were also fully supportive and nice.
“Oh, that would be a nice colour on you!” the person with the crop top exclaimed when I picked up a red cardigan. I think I blushed. I definitely blushed.
“Try it on!” another person said. I did. I was immediately complimented by two other women trying on their dresses next to me.
I noticed that around the room people were changing clothes out in the open – and no one judged. If I were ever to get naked in a room full of people and it couldn’t be with Channing Tatum and a film crew, this would definitely be the room I would choose to do it in. I stuffed the red cardigan into my empty suitcase and caught myself looking around to see if anyone saw me. It felt like I was stealing because I had not paid for it.
Soon more than 40 people were flocking around the tables, size 20–22 being the most popular one. Everyone was chatting and laughing. I got talking to Kate Dickinson, who surprised me by saying that she had come from Ipswich just for the clothes swap.
“There is nothing like it in my area. And I’m quite poor. There is nowhere in Ipswich to buy fat clothes apart from in charity shops – so I’m kind of dependent on rich people giving away their stuff and then a charity shop can overprice it and sell it to me,” she told me.
“A fat positive clothes swap completely eradicates the feelings of being poor and worthless and fat all at the same time. It is a massively radical act and it bypasses the fashion industry. It’s so important to me.”
I asked her how she’d describe the atmosphere. “Joyful. Sharing. It’s nice to talk to other fat people who actually get it. I know quite a lot of fat people and they’re all on diets; they’re all fucking with their bodies and they’re all miserable. I don’t want to do that. Everyone here is fucking happy with their bodies – look at them! They’re enjoying clothes!
“Also, there’s cake – which is also important to me!” she laughed. She was right. On a table in the corner, you could buy four different kinds of homemade cake for almost no money, and it all looked delicious.
I did not think I would be happier than when I found the red cardigan – until I saw someone wear a dress that I had brought in. “Was this yours?” they asked, “Thank you SO much! I love it!” and I was at a loss for words.
It was overwhelming. I was getting free clothes and at the same time I was making people happy. I found the person who had brought in the red cardigan and thanked them. It was a never-ending spiral of happiness.
I found Claire, who along with Kirsty, started the clothes swap in February 2014. “There are not a lot of options for people over a certain size. It’s a place for people to come and have a cup of tea and pick up some clothes.” she explained.
“I used to have friends who, whenever they used to go out clubbing, they would always swap clothes and wear each other’s clothes. Because I was bigger, I could never do it. The swap is kind of that.”
When I asked her about the future, she said, “It’s growing. There are more people here than there were the last time. Each time, more people come. It’s awesome.”
The events can be found in the Facebook Group Fat Positive London (You have to apply for a membership as it’s a safe space): https://www.facebook.com/groups/332225650283234/
Also, events are made public on Claire’s and Kirsty’s websites.
Next event 15 August at:
Unity Unitarian Church hall, 277A Upper Street, Islington,
London, N1 2TZ
And if you live in Ipswich, visit Kate Dickinson’s distro for zines and other goodies: massivebeehive.blogspot.co.uk/1947 Views
Sofie Hagen is a Danish stand-up comedian based in London. She is also a body positivity activist and a comedy writer.