A while ago, I started thinking about what I really wanted to wear. Pretty quickly, words like 'eclectic', 'fun', and 'quirky' started flying around. But you can't really get fun plus size clothes, can you? Well, you can - but they often end up looking like a costume unless you really own the look. One example is the amazing Rockabilly fashions that have been appearing over the last few years - amazing, fun, and flattering for us curvier shapes - but they're from a time when women regularly spent a lot more time on their appearance, and they require a great deal of commitment.
That's not really practical for everyday clothing.
Then, I started thinking about how I would make a corporate steampunk line - I designed my wedding outfits, and learnt a lot about plus size fashions in the process - for example, we need MUCH longer tops than you would expect, even under a corset! Corporate steampunk would require some really structured lines, and a lot of fabric in each garment. Again, this type of clothing wasn't terribly practical for grab-and-go workday wear, and the couture aspect required a higher level of design experience than I currently have in my portfolio - so that idea got shelved, too.
So what did I mean by 'fun' workwear?
I sat down and did some Googling, and I established that what I really meant was something that let me buy my basics like black pants, simple leggings, cheap tops, and dress them up with accessories that made them into something more - I wanted adorable but comfy shoes; clever, flattering belts; light little jackets that gave me a shape; and the occasional piece of feature clothing that I could mix and match with my basics. That could be a cute dress that I could wear with a long-sleeved shirt and leggings in winter; a blouse to dress up my boring black pants; a little stretchy skirt to make me feel happier about wearing tunics or shorts with leggings; and most importantly, and elusively, something to pull in the sack-like plus-size tops in a way that would flatter me and give me a shape, without being too uncomfortable to wear at my desk all day.
So, where is this heading, I hear you ask?
What is my shape?
In classic body shapes (apple, pear, etc.), I think I'm somewhere between hourglass and rectangle. This sounds impossible, but that's the thing with plus sizes - once you start putting more weight on someone's frame, they carry it differently. So, how do I express that?
I looked at the different plus-size websites, and they were all too diplomatic to be really clear.
Here's an example from the Lane Bryant website, which has three collections of pants - the 'Lena', the 'Ashley', and the 'Sophie'. This is from the 'Sophie':
FOR SHAPES THAT ARE FULLER IN THE WAIST AND STRAIGHTER THROUGH THE HIP AND THIGH.
But what does that even mean? I couldn't get any of the words to match my shape, and the models all seemed to be used interchangeably. There were no clear guidelines, measurements, or graphics to help me choose, and none of the models had bellies, so I couldn't get any guidance from there. I decided that I would start with identifying a new shape for myself, and then going from there to figure out what clothing might flatter my own shape. Then, I could use that as a benchmark to try to identify more shapes and the cuts of clothing that would work for them.
What do I like to wear?
So, if I was going to start with my own shape, I needed to figure out what parts of it mattered, in terms of flattering cuts and comfort, so I started by thinking about what things I like to wear, and what things I don't.
I like simple clothes. I like layers, but only hen it's really cold. I get warm too easily, otherwise. I don't like tops made of such thin fabric that you have to wear another layer underneath. I like jeans, and belted blouses and tunics. I like Ponte di Roma pants, and leggings, and things with stretch that doesn't confine.
I like fit-and-flare dresses, because they flatter me, but I don't like wearing them, because the skirts, by their very nature, flare - they're annoying in the car, they're uncontrollable in the Wellington wind, and they make everything just a little bit more unmanageable. On top of that, they make me look and feel 'dressed up' - so, while I love the way dresses look, I would need to practise wearing them to get comfortable. Then, there's the fact that they show my legs - so I would need to wear leggings or tights, and the right kind of shoes, and yikes, this is hard.
What *would* I like to wear?
The thing that I find myself searching for the most often is something to work like a comfortable corset - give me shape, but be more structured than a belt, without cutting off circulation or preventing me from taking a deep breath. This seems like a really simple thing, but it's turned out to be the most complex of all - how exactly to design something I pull over my head, that still looks as structured as a waistcoat, as simple as a belt, and as flattering as a corset, whilst being as comfortable as a vest?
So, I started scribbling...
Pretty soon, I had narrowed it down to a few garments that I thought would work well - high-waisted, fold-over pants; a tunic that can be worn with or without a belt; a fit-and-flare dress, but without too much fabric in the skirt, and a stretchy bodice; and a flounce-sleeved, pussy-bow blouse.
Based on these sketches, I started drawing some ideas for fabric designs, which became the Masala Collection. Now, I knew what I wanted to have made to fit me, and what kind of look those clothes might have. I was underway!