“Finding shorts that fit you when you’re overweight is a nightmare! » Caroline, 23, doesn’t mince her words when it comes to recounting the adventures of her shopping trips. With a “42-44 at the waist” and a “46-48 at the leg level”, finding the pants that fit him perfectly would almost be a feat. She says in a humorous tone: “At one time, I was part of the 38-40 elite, the ‘golden statistic’ as I call it. I bought a lot more clothes than I do now, it was just easier. » But today, as a young “plus-size” woman, her relationship with fashion has radically changed.
Caroline is not alone: many young women encounter serious difficulties when dressing when they exceed the so-called conventional sizes. However, according to the most recent statistics collected by the French Institute of Textiles and Clothing (IFTH), the most common size of French women is 40 (20.6%), followed closely by 42 ( 16.66%). However, when it comes to clothing, some people face an obstacle course, especially when they are affected by financial insecurity.
“It was fashion for low-waisted jeans and crop tops, but it was impossible for me to dress like my friends”
Going through the doors of a store is already an ordeal in itself. “It’s simple: either there simply isn’t my size for a product, or I’m told that the big ones are only online,” explains Caroline. “Except that if I want to try, to see if it suits me, what should I do? » A first form of rejection is hard to live with, which gives her the impression of being put aside, “hidden” from the eyes of a brand that would not want to display its plus-size items in public.
An experience confirmed by Virginie Grossat, body positive influencer followed by more than 400,000 subscribers on TikTok. She remembers with bitterness the “shopping trips with friends”, where she often found herself confined to the same role: “From the age of 12, I was already 1m70 and well 80-90 kilos. Low-waisted jeans and crop tops were all the rage, but it was impossible for me to dress like my friends. Suddenly, you find yourself carrying the bags and coats and advising them on their outfit. » Finding your style is not easy either.
For Virginie, dressing “like a teenager” was not easy. “I adopted a very ‘feminine’, sexy look when I was still little. Before, for larger sizes, you had the choice between the ultra-large tracksuit or the femme fatale dress, there was no middle ground. I was very quickly ized, because I wasn’t wearing clothes designed for a teenager. »
For lack of anything better, the (bad) solution of fast fashion
If mainstream stores don’t offer suitable items, why not try to find what you’re looking for in thrift stores? Popular for their ecological and economical aspect, they are often taken by storm by students. “Thrift stores, let’s talk about it!” » exclaims Caroline. “There was this fashion for very thin girls who wore oversized clothes. These are basic clothes that we can wear. » Beyond the shortage, the measurements are often not the right ones, and the choice remains limited. Same observation for Vinted, where the pieces are not always in line with the latest trends.
With a limited budget, young girls naturally turn to fast-fashion sites. Dedicated categories, polished photos of plus-size models and a catalog of sizes sometimes going up to 60: giants like Shein, PrettyLittleThing or Boohoo have become the essential references in the sector. For Carlota, 23, also active on TikTok, the relationship with fast fashion is turbulent: “When I started to gain weight, I immediately turned to Shein and company. Later, I became interested in ecology: my brain exploded, I realized that I was pushing consumption through my content. I stopped talking about fashion for a while. »
“Yes, these sites are problematic. But when you are a student, you have no money, and you still want to treat yourself, you have no choice,” says Virginie Grossat. “We have to stop being hypocritical: I challenge anyone to find my size in traditional stores, for a fair price,” adds Caroline. “Shein, it’s still pretty, you find the same style of clothes that are in the ‘normal’ categories, in short, it gives you the possibility to dress as you want! »
As for other brands, certain constraints may prevent companies from taking the plunge. “Producing large sizes requires specific expertise, with additional models to do the fittings in the workshops,” explains Béatrice Tachet, teacher at the International School of Luxury Marketing (EIML) and author of a thesis on the subject. . “Add to this the cost price of each part, and the obligation to have stocks that rotate quickly in sometimes cramped stores, and you find yourself with strategic choices to the disadvantage of these large sizes. »
“I am not a person, I am a fat body”
The issue of visibility does not just stop at fashion. In their everyday lives, the young women concerned face judgment and even discrimination. Very followed on the networks, Virginie sees it every day hateful comments scrolling under his videos : “People are horrible. I can talk about anything, there will be grossophobic comments: if I film myself in a restaurant, people ask me if I ate the plate with it, for example. I’m not a person, I’m a fat body. »
Same observation for Caroline, who is sad to see a “cult of thinness put forward, while a fat person will be singled out. There is this idea of opulence, it is necessarily your fault…” “Whether a woman wants to lose weight or not, that is in no way an excuse for her not being able to dress herself,” adds Carlota, who also experienced harment when she was younger.
This constant belittling can even lead to a devaluation of young women themselves. “These consumers sometimes have difficulty purchasing certain products, because they do not feel comfortable, out of place,” analyzes Béatrice Tachet. Virginie, for her part, noted certain reactions from older women, advising “to wear dresses rather than tight pants, or to cover my arms. “We have drilled so much into their heads that being fat means being ugly, that they reproduce this pattern in the new generation.”
Alternatives not to be overlooked
The new generation is trying to shake things up. On the catwalks, Béatrice Tachet notes a renewed interest in plus-size fashion: “According to Tagwalk, between 2018 and 2022, the number of brands that used plus-size models increased by 374%,” explains the doctor in marketing. Beyond traditional circuits, alternatives are developing within online communities. For Virginie Grossat, it’s the concept of a closet clearance that’s all the rage, the last one bringing together “almost 600 people.” She says: “We meet up, we have cabins for ourselves, we all look the same: it feels really good. »
On the second hand side, Carlota would like to set up an ambitious project: opening her own specialized thrift store “Ma curvy frip”, accessible to all budgets. “When you’re a student and you don’t have the means, ethical stores are out of reach. For the moment, I’m going online, but eventually, I would like to offer coaching to learn how to dress and accept yourself in addition to clothes,” explains the young entrepreneur. And she doesn’t intend to stop there, since sewing and designing suitable patterns are also avenues to explore. “Women who dress in large sizes were the first to create, customize, upcycle,” believes Béatrice Tachet. “They are full of resources and have always reappropriated fashion: there is no doubt that they will innovate again and again! »