Caitlin McBride: Shopping for a formal event at a size 16 is an absolute nightmare
I’m a size 16, not a big 14, not a small 18, a solid, smack in the middle, bang average size 16.
I’m tall and strong too with big hips, a big-ish bum and an assortment of digestive disorders that ensure I never know what stomach I’ll wake up with one day. It could be the PCOS bloat, the IBS bloat or the food intolerance bloat. And on the really bad days, it’s PMS bloat for good measure.
It’s like a terrible game of Guess Who? that nobody in the world wants to play.
I don’t know if I’m quite a ‘big girl’, but I’m definitely not a ‘small’ girl. I think I would sum myself up more as a ‘normal’ girl. I eat well day to day but I like red wine and steak at the weekends. I walk a lot in my commute, but I’m not signing up to any marathons anytime soon.
All of this means one thing: shopping for clothing, in particular for formalwear, is my own personal form of hell.
Creative dressing is key. I carefully rotate the same 10 pieces of clothing in my wardrobe as I have for the last 10 years and I tend to buy pieces in the same shops on repeat – COS for everything (the sizes are cut extra big so I feel like a Victoria’s Secret Angel asking for a small/medium), Zara for jackets, Marks & Spencer for tops and Penneys for just about everything else.
I don’t shop online for clothing because more often that not, it doesn't fit. So if I need something for an occasion, I will have to actively seek it out in person, usually during the afternoons for several hours over the course of a few days.
It's a long-term project I treat with the same devotion as I would a work deadline or my college thesis. After days of trying to find something that looks nice and is reasonably priced, I nearly always end up caving and spending a small fortune for the sake of feeling comfortable.
I had a black tie wedding a few years ago which meant full length was expected and I wound up spending €350 on a dress I’ve never worn since. It was a lovely dress, but a complete waste of money given my social calendar is not filled with back to back events at five star hotels.
Part of my creativity includes stepping outside my comfort zone and once I convinced myself a strapless pink dress, with a satin bodice, and a knee length with tulle skirt was suitable for a different wedding all because it fit.
On my boyfriend's very sound advice, I returned it the next day.
Have you ever tried on a boho skirt when you have big hips? Don’t. You will not look like an Instagram model and you will likely cry in the dressing room.
Remember that time Carrie Bradshaw fell in Dior and bought everything then because she was so embarrassed? After shedding a tear in the BT2 dressing room, I wound up buying the aforementioned €350 dress lest anyone judge me.
My job means that I get to go to a lot of cool events with interesting people and everyone gets dolled up to the nines. It’s great. I get paid to people watch and I get to dress up too, which in theory, is just lovely.
But herein lies the kicker.
There are very few well-fitting pieces for a ‘normal’ girl such as myself. I had a recent red carpet event and it took me two weeks and countless hours searching online for inspiration and in-store all around Dublin before I found something.
I started with dress rental companies, where you get to look like a million bucks but pay only a fraction of it, but nowhere I visited went beyond a size 14. Some had a dubious looking ‘Large’ tag, but experience has told me this is usually a medium masquerading as a large and not to fall for it.
This meant I had traditional options: I could visit high end stores, which means I would end up spending €300+ for something I liked, at an event where no one was even looking at me. Or, I could endure the potential tears and spend days upon days scouring racks of clothes instead.
I went for option B because my rent doesn't pay itself.
Even the more ‘inclusive’ brands that I won’t mention by name have been a disappointment.
The sizes were there but the fits were not in correlation with an ahem, curvier, girl. I fell in love with a navy blue caped dress on the hanger. At first look, it was my size, made of lovely material and looked flattering.
I tried it on and straight away, I looked like I had a beer belly (which at the very least is a Châteauneuf-du-Pape belly). Next!
Then there was the gold dress that cost €40 and looked like it cost even less. I couldn't bring myself to fork over even that amount for something that looks I made myself - poorly.
Just because it's available in a size, it doesn't mean that a brand has actually taken your size into consideration. To be inclusive, they need to just add a few more options before a 14, they don't need to account for the fact that clothing looks different on different sizes.
I stalk girls on Instagram of all shapes and sizes in the hopes of finding inspiration or even caving into an affiliated link, but then we’re back to my allergy of buying online and I’ve been stung too many times before.
In the end, I found a beautiful (if I say so myself) dress from Mango of all places, a spot where I thought was exclusively reserved for the slim. Where the type of girl who says “I’m full” after one serving shops.
The moral of the story is: don’t give up. Look around, look where you would never look and don’t judge a book by its cover. Spend money on the dress if you can afford it and if it makes you feel good.
The expensive dress from earlier? It still hangs in my closet and yes, I was out money, but instead of looking back that day and thinking of how fat or uncomfortable I felt, instead I have lovely memories of watching a friend get married.
Which is enough to keep me in my wine and steak diet for awhile.