Lockdown, Loungewear & Double Standards For Plus-Size People

Photo by Natalia Mantini.
This time of year is usually my favourite time to shop. The high street is covered in paper snowflakes and glistening lights, Christmas music plays and, most excitingly, collections are all geared towards party season, brimming with sparkle, sequins and every kind of over-the-top style to get a gal noticed at the staff do and during the countdown to midnight. 
This season, however, it’s doubtful any of us will be hitting dance floors for New Year's Eve, so browsing for a glam outfit to see in 2021 isn’t exactly necessary; we’re more likely to be in our jammies watching the Hootenanny at home. Most brands have recognised that party season – and therefore the party outfit – is on ice this year and are continuing their yearlong push of comfort-first loungewear instead.
Earlier this year, as we found ourselves working from home and locked in at weekends, our holey old PJs simply wouldn't cut it and demand for loungewear surged a wild 49%, with giants like Uniqlo and ASOS reporting up to a 329% rise in annual profits thanks to the casual category booming. With influencers and celebrities turning joggers and sweatshirt sets from cosy necessities into purposeful style choices, it’s no wonder so many of us – including those who might have previously eschewed the loungewear trend – leaned into wearing cotton co-ords for the majority of this year.
It’s not all creature comforts, though. The loungewear trend is rooted in double standards. Beyond cosy convenience, its appeal isn’t that it’s particularly stylish but rather how it fits the small frames that wear them. Looking through Instagram and brands' model shots, it seems as though there are two default fits for loungewear: either very oversized and swamping the body it's on or, conversely, clinging to it in a tight leggings and cropped hoodie set. It feels less like we are being sold the clothes themselves – which are often plain cotton co-ords in muted colours or glorified pyjamas – and more how our bodies look inside them. 
As journalist Marie Southard-Ospina astutely wrote several years ago, "lazy girl" style inherently leaves out plus-size people as "the word 'lazy' is one often used to shame or ridicule fat people." When underdressing doesn’t feel like an option for fat women – for fear of fat-shaming critics deeming us undisciplined, unworthy and ugly – what happens when it becomes the defining trend of the year?
"Scrolling through loungewear collections definitely makes me feel excluded," Bo, a student nurse who wears a size 20, tells me. "I see the Kardashians, Jenners and thin influencers in these massively oversized hoodies, joggers and trainers branded as sensational loungewear outfits. Whereas if I was to wear that? I’m seen as lazy and depressed. On the other hand, a lot of loungewear nowadays is a set of tight-fitting knitted flares and a cropped jumper of the same material. Fat people are actively discouraged from all of these things – 'put it away' and 'nobody wants to see that' spring to mind when I think about wearing a cropped jumper."
When the loungewear trend began to emerge in early April, Amelie, who wears a size 24, saw trouble. "I knew automatically that loungewear would exclude the plus-size community," she says. "I feel like some brands don’t tailor their outfits to plus-size bodies properly anyway, so just imagining how they would deal with slouchy fits and creating 'oversized' clothes for people they consider over the size they generally like to cater to? It worried me."
"I’m not expecting a thin person to look the same as a fat person if they wore the same outfit but it seems so easy to be a 'style icon' if you’re skinny," Amelie muses. "You can wear the most basic clothes and still be seen as cute or ironic as they hang over your tiny body. But to be plus-size, that irony becomes indicative of your taste; your lack of effort, your laziness. All the same fatphobic retorts we usually receive but through a different channel so that they can pretend it’s not about our bodies but our outfits instead."
The idea of loungewear as exclusionary isn’t just deeply rooted in fatphobia though. Consider how tracksuits were derided in the '00s as the wardrobe of the working classes before the fashion industry turned them into a trend out of sheer necessity; it’s worth asking why some trends are deemed acceptable and who makes that decision. Including brands' appropriation of working class style is key to understanding the exclusionary loungewear debate because, on the whole, weight discrimination is a class issue too. When plus-size people are seen as lazy in loungewear, the assumption is not just fatphobic but classist and ableist, too.
The concept of being sold slimness, not style, has been a current running through many social media platforms this year. On TikTok, users have taken a deeper look at noteworthy outfits to decipher whether they're truly stylish or just worn on a skinny – and therefore 'acceptable' – body. Meanwhile a massive debate was sparked on Twitter this summer, primarily in the replies to this tweet by activist Rayne Fisher-Quann. The teenager pointed out that the outfit worn by the two plus-size people in the photograph – denim mom shorts and a graphic T-shirt – would be seen as "80s casual inspo!" on a model like Bella Hadid but is actively mocked on a fat frame, succinctly highlighting the double standards in our view of style.
Speaking to me via email, Fisher-Quann agrees that it’s generally harder to be seen as stylish when you're plus-size. "I can't count the number of fashion influencers on TikTok or Instagram that are not only famous but branded as 'style icons' because of how their body looks in the clothes they wear. So many of the styles and trends that we love are popular not because of the clothes themselves but [because] of the ways they can highlight a skinny body." 
The need for fashion to make us look our skinniest – either by drowning our bodies in fabric or by being ultra form-fitting – fuels fatphobic rhetoric on a larger scale, too. When thinness becomes desirable, comparative fatness becomes undesirable. This was exemplified, Fisher-Quann says, by the responses to her tweet. "Some people responded to the picture by saying that the women in it didn't deserve to be respected because they 'looked racist'. This, to me, showed one of the most insidious aspects of fatphobia: the idea that fatness acts as a signpost for moral/personal failure." 
She continues: "None of us knew anything about those women and it's terrifying that fatphobia is so ingrained in our minds that simply the presence of fat on their bodies can cause people to assume that they're racist, evil, stupid or lazy." Fisher-Quann feels that the same links are being made about plus-size bodies in the loungewear trend. "Some outfits are seen as 'lazy' on fat bodies because fat bodies are always assumed to be lazy. Fatphobia associates fatness with laziness, lack of effort, slowness, etc. – traits that are looked down upon in our capitalist society."
The implication that plus-size people wearing loungewear must be lazy is just another microaggression which contributes to a society that sees fatness not just as a negative but, as Fisher-Quann puts it, a failure. When I say that I hate loungewear because of how it might make people view me, it seems almost laughable that a tracksuit could have such a big impact. But in reality, the outfits we wear don’t exist in a vacuum.

More from Fashion

R29 Original Series