Fat nation…thin clothes!

Size matters … I know this as a woman who is 5ft 9ins tall. As a sylph-like young woman I was a size 14, and have been an 18 for the last 15 years. For the record, I also have very short legs, am very long in the waist, have no hips and no waist. I search high and low for clothes to suit my body shape. I even had a phase of “If it fits – buy it” regardless of whether I really liked it. It’s like “Challenge Annika” or “Mission Impossible” my challenge should I choose to accept it!

Women come into my shop with similarly challenging body shapes, sizes and proportions on a daily basis. I am presented with long legs, short legs, high waists, low waists, no waists, big hips, saddlebags, big breasts, no breasts, square shoulders, sloping shoulders, long necks and short necks . Add to this a recent audit of our shape and size showing the Average British Woman to be a size 16, 5ft 4ins and a D cup and we have half the women in the land struggling to buy the clothes they need.

To deal with bodies that are not an idealized shape we have…

  • Squeezed it into shape … Trinny and Susannah advocate Magic Knickers to re-shape the body.
  • Worked it into shape… my sister was always described as having “child-bearing hips ’til she went to live in California, went to the gym, and got rid of them!
  • Cut it into shape… a recent survey asked young women whether a university degree or a boob-job would be better for their career prospects… the boob-job won!

This is against a background of self-improvement and “lifestyles” that pervades every aspect of our lives. Our homes are “styled” to reflect our beliefs, tastes and modernity they are statements! Our gardens are outdoor rooms where we partake of lifestyle activities outdoor hot- tubs and barbeques. Our kitchens become slick, contemporary environments for Jamie Oliver and Nigella.

The membership of Gyms and Health Clubs is soaring. Therapies, treatments, make-overs and D.I.Y. are all over us like a rash! If you want proof of our changing expectations, just look in the Yellow Pages. You’ll find a whole range of self-improvement services. Cosmetic Surgeons, Diet Clubs and DIY have replaced Greengrocers and Butchers.

We’re lead to believe that we can buy whatever we desire, but if the average British woman is a size 16, she can’t buy what she desires – clothes that fit! The TV programme Fat Nation revealed that 60% of us are over-weight … but the shops are full of size 10 and 12. I don’t understand how this makes commercial sense. For shops to survive by selling a huge number of 10s and 12s, must mean that small women buy a lot of clothes and poor Average British Woman buys hardly any.

Trinny and Susannah, despite their obnoxious style of personal interaction (which is obviously part of their entertainment value) are doing a sterling job of empowering women …and it’s so wonderfully positive. I was actually moved to tears by the transformation of one of their victims. Their “style rules” are excellent, but I think they ignore two important ideas…

Body focus (or not)
All the clothes that are offered to their victims on What Not to Wear are body focussed. They are the same shape as an ideal woman’s body. They fit tightly and curve in at the waist. There is, in fact, a wide spectrum of clothing shapes that are not body shaped and can be used to enhance a woman’s body.

I am apple-shaped. My hips and bust are small in comparison to my waist. I want to draw the eye to the smallness of my hips, my tiny bum and away from by considerable corporation! A fitted, waist-focussed top would look awful on me no matter how huge it’s the wrong shape. I look better in boxy tops that finish below the corporation and above the svelte hips, usually teamed with a tight skirt to take the eye away from my waist and towards my skinny knees!

Clingy fabric
Best used only on areas of the body you want people to look at. I don’t wear clingy fabrics around my waist, but I do round my hips.

Perhaps Trinny and Susannah haven’t included these two ideas because they too are victims of the restricted range of clothes available in our High Street shops!!

Hopefully the clothing industry will use the results of the audit to offer new shapes and fabrics for real women – who are, after all, the majority. It would make better commercial sense if the Average British Woman could find flattering clothes and all women could dress their bodies.

– Article by Janet Hassall
Owner of womens clothing shop Lillian Refern- Tel: 0114 2671167


  1. Apologies for being repetitive, but I agree so much with Helen’s readers corner letter from a week or so ago – this site is a blessing! I am a size 22. I have always been a larger lady. I do not over eat. I am naturally big like the majority of my family. I am sick of being penalised for the way I am and made to feel like some social outcast because of the way I look when it is through no fault of my own. So please allow me to vent my frustration on the state of plus size clothing in the UK (I say ‘in the UK’ as it appears that in the US they do acknowledge that most women are not proportioned like Elle McPherson).

    The UK fashion industry grates on my nerves. I hate hate hate shopping (one reason why I just lurve this site with so many mail order plus size suppliers listed). I can really relate with what you ladies said in your Now mag interview on how you often come away from shops almost in tears at not being able to find clothing that flatters your figure – well that is exactly how I feel on a regular basis. I can easily go in to half a dozen clothes stores in town and find either nothing at all in my size, or if there is anything at all in my size it is hideously ugly – I am not a teenager (nor have been for some years!) but I am not ready for my zimmer frame yet and don’t always want to wear lycra and/or flora designs! If I ever find anything at all then I end up paying through the nose for it. The only items you ever seem to be able to find are casual clothes such as jogging bottoms and T-shirts. Strangely enough like most other women I have a 9-5 job (yes even at size 22 I actually have a brain and a professional office job – shock horror!) where I am required to wear formal dress, smart skirts, trousers, blouses etc – but these items seem to be even less in supply.

    I have just seen a posting on the plus size message board forum from somebody explaining that the problem could lie with how fashion designers are taught at college – perhaps this is the case – that students are taught to draw and design for slim women. I wish to high heaven that I was artistic or handy with the sewing machine (sadly not) as I am convinced I would be a millionairess designing a specific range for us plus sizers.

  2. Dear Uniquely Woman,

    I am totally fed up with the weight loss industry and the world of fashion brainwashing society. How many women are actually tall willowy little stick insects with no hips and flat chests? How many women do you know that exist on bottled water and 24 hours of exercise? Certainly nobody that I know, and I happen to know a good deal of women!

    Why should we be made to feel like there is something wrong with us for having a bit of flesh on our bones? When did it become a crime to be curvy? It certainly never used to be like that 50 years ago, look at Marilyn Monroe for example, there was nothing thin and waiflike about her and yet she was a noted sex symbol… so when did it change? Should we blame Twiggy for the anorexic look becoming fashionable, desirable, sought after?

    Logically we all know that thin does not equal happiness. In spite of no connection between happiness and external appearance, we have allowed ourselves to be convinced that pounds and inches measure our self-worth and gift us with happiness, when the truth is that happiness can only ever come from inside.

    I ‘ve finally had enough of endless diets and tears in changing room mirrors, I am a size 22 and I am proud of who I am and what I look like.. and THAT is all that matters!!

    Yours truly,


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