Generally Oxford Street is a shopping experience best avoided unless you need… well, to be honest, it’s best avoided because whatever you think you need from there, you can get it from Westfield instead (which can reach insane heights of busy-ness itself, but is nevertheless an infinitely more pleasant commercial centre). The hordes of shoppers, tourists, commuters and people who don’t know where they’re going but are definitely going to stand directly in your path are hideous. At first, when Toby refused to go there, I just put it down to him being grumpy. But he’s right – the shops are merely a repeating collection of high-street and department stores that are functional but usually devoid of pleasure.
It was against this backdrop that my friend Nick and I went for a late-evening shopping session after dinner this week. For once, I was not on the lookout for any particular garments (though I did end up trying on a pair of chinos to see first-hand whether I would be able to wear them to the office. The jury’s still out.), but Nick on the other hand was trying to find some trainers and short-sleeved shirts to help keep cool in our uncharacteristically sweltering early-summer weather. UniQlo, Topman, H&M, River Island, Zara. A gathering of high street clothing stores which runs close to the entire gamut of my least to most favourite clothes shops. Nothing really suitable could be found in any of them, but that’s not the point. The point is that as we looked, we were made to feel practically like walking, talking blimps.
On close to every garment, a tag would tell you about its fit. “SKINNY”! shrieked one. “Slim Fit”. boasted another. “Heritage Fit”. declared a tweed jacket; I am not sure I understand what “heritage fit” even denotes – does it make one look like a posh twonk with too much money and not enough sense (you can’t buy a sense of style, after all)? And woe betide you if you opt for something which was “regular fit” – that must mean you are either obese, or simply unremarkable. More confusing are trousers which are described unattractively as “carrot fit” (surely nobody would ever choose to look like a carrot), “arc leg” (presumably for unfortunate sufferers of rickets) or “ankle grazers” (which I assume are capri pants / pedal pushers vying for some semblance of masculinity). It’s common for most people to understand that sizes from one store do not carry over into another – I can comfortably wear 32″ jeans from River Island or H&M, but trying to squeeze into the corresponding size of smart trousers in Debenhams is an impossible feat. “Small”, “Medium” and “Large” have different meanings in different shops, and unless you know your clothing brands well enough, you’re best off bringing two different sizes into the changing room with you. (And yes, I try on any and everything before I even think about buying it.)
But what if you are unlucky enough not to be slim, skinny or skeletal (I have yet to see “Skeletal fit” but it’s only a matter of time)? As stores aggressively market allegedly different fits to sound flattering and give the illusion of variety when they’re (shh!) all more or less the same thing, news and health outlets tell us we’re getting fatter and more obese than ever. So I can’t shop in High and Mighty because I’m not tall or fat enough, but neither am I slimline enough for high street clothing stores (or so they would have me believe). Where am I supposed to buy my clothes from?! For once, style and design doesn’t come into it. This is about basic functionality. If Nick and I couldn’t find it on Oxford Street – one of the biggest shopping streets in the world – what the fuck are we supposed to do?
It wasn’t even the clothes that passively-aggressively excluded us from the ranks of the thin and therefore youthful and pretty. Apparently running out of adjectives which mean “thin”, H&M resorted to printing a giant picture with the word SLIM emblazoned on it, and then just stuck this on a shelf – I guess they were low on stock? Behold:
Why not just go the whole hog and be inclusive to the rest of us? Say what you mean: have “Fat fit”, “Husky fit”, “Slob fit” and so on? If you want to be somewhat tactful, you can say “Big boned”. We already have “Plus size” for women, so we know how to read between the lines of faux flattery – “fat” doesn’t go with “fashion”, alliteration or not. I realise that I’m not saying anything new or that’s not been said before, but I need to declare that it’s certainly not just affecting women; nor just women and gay men; nor just women, gay men and metrosexuals. Last night I was talking with one of Toby’s housemates’ partners, who is a decidedly straight male – he surprised me by stating out of the blue that he once had a pair of white jeans (I was wearing a pair – Miami Vice or not, they feel so appropriate for the summer), but couldn’t wear them anymore because he was “too fat”. This man is certainly slimmer than me, so I was surprised by his statement – also because it was a compliment that I could still wear them and look good (which is nice to know!), and he’d noticed! However, I was also intrigued by the thinking behind his statement – straight non-metrosexual men are typically characterised as not caring too much about their appearance (and despite what TOWIE may portray, groups of these men in their natural habitat do not normally compliment one another on their appearance, for fear of damaging their artlessly constructed machismo). And yet here was one of these men who not only noticed my clothes and the way I looked, but casually exposed his own insecurity about his weight and the fact that although he is clearly no more than a 32″ waist and therefore slim-normal, he had been made to feel fat by high-street fashion “norms” which are anything but. There needs to be a revolution which says that it’s okay to be a normal body shape (and by this, it’s obviously okay to be whatever body shape you are if you are happy in it, but I’m specifically referring to those of us who are neither skinny or slim, nor plump or fat – just in the middle), rather than see all of us trying to cram ourselves into skinny arc-legged carrot jeans and an XXS slim-fit top, and then feeling unhappy in ourselves because we can’t do it and still look flawless like the models and celebrities we see projected in the media (who have personal trainers and nutritionists). Never give up on your goals to improve your body, and never give up on trying to look good (for yourself first and foremost, for your friends, family and the world next!) – but don’t lose sight of what’s real in the process.