Too fat for fashion: How Tanya Gold found size sixteen is shunned by designer brands
By Tanya Gold
Last updated at 12:13 AM on 04th May 2009
Every year, I get an urge to buy a dress more beautiful than me. Is that a renunciation of feminist principles? I don't care - just give me the dress.
I like to have things of immeasurable beauty in my wardrobe and I pay for them myself.
Last year, it was from Vivienne Westwood. On the peg it looked like a big glossy sock. On me, it looked slightly better; I looked like Bette Davis in Now Voyager, but angrier and less rich, and with bigger eyebrows.
Squeezed out: Tanya tries a designer dress on for size
The year before it came from Louis Vuitton - a perfect black silk day dress that made me smile at my own reflection. I adore it - if my house were on fire, I would save it before the cat. When I walk down the street in it, I feel beautiful.
So I walked to Bond Street for this year's dress, money tingling in my pocket. I knew it was there, this wonderful dress, waiting on its hanger.
But as I walked past the shops full of rocks and frocks and skinned crocs, I realised I had forgotten something. I've grown in the past two years.
I'm fat, actually. My mother told me so last Friday. I've been eating brie and spaghetti and fairy cakes and am now size 16, the same as the average British woman. But I know I will get something - won't I?
My first shop is Alexander McQueen. I walk in past the doorman. He is dressed in black and is wearing the headset of a Secret Service operative. I have never understood why posh shops do this.
What is the headset saying? Is it saying: 'The jewelled sandal is moving; the satin clutch bag has reached its destination; the sequin beret has been shot in the face?' He stares at my shoes.
Undeterred, I go up to a thin, blonde woman and say to her: 'Do you have any clothes in a size 16?' Her response is the same you would get if you told a mother you had borrowed her child and dropped it into a pool of piranhas.
It falls out of her mouth in horror. 'Nothing,' she says. 'Nothing.' Why, I ask. 'Our buyers . . . ,' she says vaguely and trails off. I will get used to unfinished sentences on Bond Street.
If his shop is anything to go by, Alexander McQueen does not make clothes for size 16 women
'But you can . . .,' she says, looking at me with a combination of pity and disgust, 'place a special order. There is a two-month wait.' Will it be more expensive? She shrugs. She doesn't know. She doesn't care. Because I'm fat.
I walk to Gucci a few doors down. Upstairs in women's clothing, the eyes of two men grow big, like saucers, when I say the words 'size 16'.
I'm not sure they have heard of such a size. But they smile at me kindly, as if my pet has died in a particularly tragic way. Again, they have nothing in my size. I leave. Because I'm fat.
And so I walk to Prada, which is full of bright red clothes on headless
mannequins. The message seems to be: you don't need a head if you are a fashionable woman. Again I ask an incredibly uninterested saleswoman if she has anything in - yes - a size 16.
SIXTEEN. That is the number for fat, idiot woman. SIXTEEN. 'Nothing,' she says, boredom and contempt knitting in her brow. I ask her - why not?
(Fat women can talk, you know. We can form a sentence, and sometimes even a complete thought. Sometimes fat women write books, and people read them. Sometimes fat women are desired by men, although only in secret.)
'We don't have much in that size,' she says. 'They don't sell.'
I argue with her about this. You don't sell them because you don't have them, I tell her. You can't sell what you don't have. This is a logical argument her brain just can't follow, perhaps because it is wearing high heels.
'Well,' she says, her eyes flickering. 'Maybe all the size 16s have gone.' Ah, yes. It's the black hole that lives in the middle of Bond Street and sucks in size-16 dresses. Silly me.
The ground floor at Yves St Laurent is just bags and shoes and mirrors.
I approach two identical women and, feeling ever more like a little round hobbit who has mistakenly strayed from Hobbiton to the land of the elves, I say: 'I am looking for a dress in a size 16. Anything?'
Their eyes swivel towards each other and I get a performance that Laurence Olivier would praise. They look sad.
They sound sad. They confer, sadly, and send little sad looks spinning round the room into those pitiless mirrors. Ah, bless them.
'We don't think so, but you can go upstairs,' they say. I can? Are you sure? Again there is nothing in my size on the rails. I don't even look at the clothes any more. There's no point.
Eventually I am brought a tiny black dress that I might be able to squeeze on to one of my legs with the aid of a winch and a pair of bolt cutters.
It's essentially an oversized shirt with an oversized price from an oversized box. I hate it. It's sub-Gap. It's very nearly sub-Matalan. But it's all they have. Because I'm fat.
Chanel smells of chemicals and has tweed-covered seats facing a mirror, so if you sit on them, you have to stare at your reflection. I pass a fat, sad-looking woman leaving as I enter - she has no bags with the Chanel logo.
Was she, too, cast out in shame? And does the saleswoman have a size 16? No. She doesn't. Of course not.
Does she offer to make any calls to see if they have my size in another branch, which any competent saleswoman would? No, she doesn't. Of course she doesn't. That's a bridge too far for her scrawny professionalism.
I walk out and I smoke angrily. I actually want to cry. I am a successful writer - with a big bum - and down here on Bond Street they don't want my money.
I can eat and digest and excrete my money, for all they care. I call Alexandra Shulman, the editor of Vogue, to ask her why. Her answer is tragic, but at least she took my call.
According to Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman, size 14 and 16 women do not buy designer clothes
'I don't think that the majority of women who buy Chanel and Gucci and other big international designers are size 16 or even size 14,' she says.
'That is probably why the shops don't stock those sizes or, if they do, in very small quantities.'
Maybe she's right. Maybe you do starve yourself if you are rich, to stop your husband committing adultery with one of your too-many servants.
But what about me? What about the once-a-year Bond Street girls who want to buy a little stardust to strew on their grimy real lives? What about the fashion tourists? What about us?
I also call the headquarters of Chanel, Prada and Louis Vuitton to bully the PRs. The PRs are like pathological liars on day release from the prison where the worst liars in the world are sent to be cured of their terrible lying.
They all swear blind that they stock size 16s. To listen to them speak you would think their shops are buried under a mountain of size 16s, screaming to be bought and worn by fat people.
So where are they? They don't know. Can they give me a breakdown of the percentages of size 16s ordered? No they can't. So, wilting and longing for a doughnut to suppress the hate, I go to Ralph Lauren, the huge glassy 'lifestyle emporium', where you can buy anything except an actual life.
Anything for me? 'No, madam,' says the man at the customer services desk. 'Size 16s are very scarce.'
He actually manages to make them sound precious. And then he opens his mouth, arches his brows and says: 'Try House of Fraser.' I goggle at him - and I'm not staring at the Botox.
What? Did you really say that? Did you really tell a customer with a grand in her pocket to go to House of Fraser for a dress? You want to bus all the fat people down to House of Fraser?
Why not to the Evans Dress Shop For Oversized And Heartbroken Women? Or to the Youth Hostel Association so I can buy a tent and wear that for the rest of my life? I want to smash his face in and pull out his eyeballs and wear them as earrings.
And so to Louis Vuitton. I bought my dress there two years ago and I feel like this shop is sort of my friend. The saleswoman is kind. She has nothing for me, but when I tell her what has happened - about my odyssey of shame down Bond Street - she looks embarrassed.
'We get everything from Paris,' she says. 'They just don't send us clothes in the bigger sizes. We do ask them.'
Do round women come in and ask for clothes? Or is Alexandra Shulman right? Do fat women not want designer clothes? 'We get asked for clothes in your size all the time,' she replies. 'I'm so sorry.'
I know she means it, and I'm grateful for this tiny slice of humanity in a street of anguish. Finally, I go to Burberry, where a girl with the eyes of a pencil sharpener waves at the collection and says: 'It only goes up to a size 14.'
Why? She doesn't know. She doesn't care. Because I'm the Martin Luther King of retail. Because I'm fat - and in high-end fashion-land that is the same as being invisible.
I pause by a tiny dress that looks like the skin of an angry alien. It is totally disgusting, this piece of skin, but what if it wasn't? What if I wanted it? I am a size 16. I am the same size as the average British woman. I am the statistical norm. And yet I have been made to feel like a stranger in my own land.
Why? Because thin is the norm in fashion-land. Thin sells bags and shoes and perfumes. Fashion flogs an ever-receding fantasy that feasts on the lie that if everyone thinks they are ugly, they will spend more to send the ugliness away. And thin is the goal that is set - you're not thin, you don't get in.
It's not really a riddle that makes any sense to me, although it seems to work for Bond Street. So, normal women, know your place. Get thee to House of Fraser. And what of me? I still don't have a dress.