We’re so excited to bring you part 2 of this interview series: What does androgyny in Plus Size Fashion mean to you? Our interviewees give candid advice, and reflect on how clothing influences their gender and gender presentation at the intersection of gender-non-conformity and fat fashion.
This part two will wrap up this series on androgyny in plus size fashion, and thank you again to our interviewees for their time, energy, and contributions to this article!
To read Part 1 of this interview series, click here: Part 1
(Link to interviewees socials, shared with permission, are at the end of the article).
Androgyny and Plus Size Fashion
Liz (they/them): How has being plus size, and trans or nonbinary, impacted how you express your gender in clothing?
Megan (any pronouns): “UGH! I can’t find what I want! I have always looked to thin fashion for inspiration because they are the first ones to have access to clothing. I want to be able to buy the clothes thin androgynous people wear, but in plus size and I can’t. For a long time, I felt like I had to perform my femininity in order to be respected in the industry and community.
It is part of the reason it took me so long to figure out my gender, I didn’t come out until I was 32. I had to work through the trauma I experienced as a performative woman in the industry before I was able to discover how I wanted to express my gender through clothing.
Most days, I go for vintage-inspired casual, with athleisure pieced-in. I love being comfortable. I love sneakers. I love jeans. I love blazers and sweaters. However, when you’re fat and looking for something specific, things can get frustrating.
I searched high and low for a plus size satin or rayon camp shirt for myself to wear with slacks, and I found a few options on ASOS men’s and two options at Macy’s Big & Tall. I found less than 10 options for someone with a 54″ chest looking for a shirt that buttons up. It’s ridiculous.”
“For a long time, I felt like I had to perform my femininity in order to be respected in the industry and community.”– Megan
Ollie (they/them): “My gender and my body size are inexplicably intertwined. I sometimes struggle with feeling less androgynous than I would like–being fat emphasizes aspects of my body that cause dysphoria for me, and that affects how I dress, e.g. I typically prefer to wear clothes that mask the size of my chest, clothes that are modest, etcetera. However, there are times that I also really like being fat!
I like how being fat makes clothes look on me, and being big is important to the way I experience being nonbinary and butch. Being fat has a direct impact on how I express my gender through clothes: it limits what I can wear, and makes shopping more difficult, but when I find the clothes that do fit, and that represent me on the outside as much as on the inside, the gender euphoria I feel from that is unmatched.”
“Embracing being fat and being nonbinary happened around the same time for me. Coming out felt like accepting myself.”– Lori
Lori (they/them): “When I came out as nonbinary it was freeing to feel like I didn’t need to accentuate my curves, or for example, I used to try and conceal how broad my shoulders are. It was a relief to not feel like I had to be cute and feminine.
I started to experiment more in high-waisted pants, which was not something I ever did growing up because I never saw other fat people in them, or if I did, it was a joke. That was huge for me after I came out. I started gravitating more towards button-ups, rolled up my sleeves, and experimenting with layering in outfits.
I stopped wearing blouses, and took a break from jewelry for a while too. Now I only really wear earrings. I’ve really tried to focus on what made me feel good versus what I was expected to wear. I was really trying to conceal my body before coming out. Embracing being fat and being nonbinary happened around the same time for me. Coming out felt like accepting myself, and I was able to embrace being fat, versus trying to conform and hide that.”
Androgyny in Plus Size Fashion is Not Accessible
Liz: What does androgyny in fat fashion look like to you?
Megan: “In reality, androgyny in fat fashion looks like neutrals, boxy silhouettes, no or little use of trims, very little use of patterns, and extremely difficult to come by. Thin people have more options, better fits, and everything catered to them, but especially with androgynous clothing. It’s not accessible at all.
If fat people want to dress androgynously, we have to piece together looks from men’s and women’s sections and hope that we will be able to tailor something to fit us. We deserve more than boxy unisex tees and joggers. We deserve all of the amazing genderless clothing options that thin people get. We deserve patterns, trims, and attention to fit.”
Androgyny Can Really Be Anything
“Thin people have more options, better fits, and everything catered to them, but especially with androgynous clothing.”– Megan
Ollie: “For me, as a fat person who at one time identified with womanhood to various degrees, the only examples I’ve seen of fat people dressed well (that is, not in bland, drapey things meant to hide my shame [of being plus size]) have been mostly feminine women. And that is so wonderful! I love seeing a world of possibilities open up for fat feminine people.
But for me, femininity is not androgyny, and in fact makes me feel dysphoric, so I have always felt personally relegated to a life of boring clothes. The only stylish, avant garde, androgynous fashion I was ever exposed to felt off-limits, because I only saw it on thin bodies, and for a long time I wasn’t sure what fat androgyny could even look like.
But I’ve sort of come to understand that androgyny can really be anything, and in particular, I think that fashion subcultures (like goth, punk, western, etc.) can really lend themselves to fat androgyny because of the emphasis placed on the aesthetic of the look over the gender the clothes are meant to represent.”
“I think that fashion subcultures (like goth, punk, western, etc) can really lend themselves to fat androgyny because of the emphasis placed on the aesthetic of the look over the gender the clothes are meant to represent.”– Ollie
Lori: “Imagining fat fashion and androgyny is hard because it doesn’t really exist. Thin fashion examples come to mind but fat fashion is harder. Clothing doesn’t have a gender, it really shouldn’t. And androgyny isn’t so much a style of clothing, it’s much more closely intertwined with a person’s gender. Being fat definitely complicates things, finding clothes that fit and fit well and that are androgynous is especially challenging.
As someone who has a large chest, finding androgynous clothing is almost impossible. Another factor is that fatness is a spectrum, society as a whole is focused on a silhouette, and what is deemed attractive by subscribing to mainstream beauty norms. There are different types of fat, which makes shopping for androgynous clothing even harder.”
“Wear what makes you feel like a million dollars.”
Liz: If you could give another plus size or fat, transgender or non-binary person advice on clothes, what would it be?
Megan: “Find what makes you happy. If that is difficult, find what makes you not hate your body. As fat nonbinary and transgender people, we go through a lot of gender and body dysphoria, so to find a silhouette or certain shape that makes you feel good or neutral about yourself is sometimes really difficult. Don’t be afraid to try new things and become very familiar with store return policies. If you find something that gives you all the feels, buy it in every color. Wear what makes you feel like a million dollars.”
Ollie: “Know your measurements! Sizing is weird, especially for large bodies, and buying something in a size “22” doesn’t tell me much about how it would fit me. However, knowing my hip, waist and inseam for example makes shopping for pants a thousand times easier than just guessing, and I can use those measurements anywhere. Don’t be afraid to get wild!
In 2019 I really got into vintage western wear and I seriously cannot describe the simultaneous confidence boost and gender euphoria I get from cowboy boots, a bolo tie and a pearl snap shirt. That’s just an example, but it can be anything. If there’s something that speaks to you or makes you excited, seek it out and give it a shot. Even if it’s just a couple pieces, even if it’s not all the time, find what makes you feel good and incorporate it into your wardrobe.”
Lori: “You’re not going to feel comfortable all the time, and that’s okay. Especially when you’re exploring your style – you’re gonna try things that don’t work. But don’t let that stop you from continuing to explore it. Don’t be afraid to take up space. As an almost 24 year old, it can be really hard to go shopping, especially in-person.
Fat folks understand the discomfort of shopping and then add being nonbinary or trans [on top of that], and it makes the whole experience more uncomfortable, my advice would be: just go at your own pace. And if it’s too much and you’re feeling overwhelmed or dysphoric, just take a break. If something isn’t bringing you joy, then you’re not looking for the right pieces or in the right place, and it can take time to figure that out.”
Androgyny Is For Anyone And Any Body
Androgyny inherently defaults to masculinity because we live in a patriarchal society. Masculinity is viewed as more acceptable, more tolerable, and is, therefore, more accessible. The forthcoming challenge to the plus size industry is this: to create clothing meant to be worn by any gender, with accessible and diverse sizing, styles and patterns designed to highlight rather than distract from our bodies.
I echo the sentiments of our interviewees by saying that clothing is meant to celebrate our bodies, our genders, beyond the bounds of masculinity or femininity, beyond the confines of thinness and whiteness. Create clothes for any gender, in all sizes, intentionally and deliberately.
A huge thank you to these folks who volunteered their time and energy to contribute to this article in hopes of helping other nonbinary and transgender fat folks. Follow them on social media!
Ollie: Twitter @nouveaubutch!
This article and source material have been edited for clarity and for length by Liz Brinks