I have always had some trouble finding clothes that are a great fit for my body. Even as a child, my arms have always been my “problem area” as I gain body fat the fastest in my arms. After my dramatic weight loss from being obese at 16 to being underweight at 19, I had thought that shopping would be a lot easier–but it didn’t.
I made a mistake of not exercising and simply relying on a extreme diet which resulted in losing 88 pounds in 2.5 years, with a few periods of weight gain in between. Because of the lack of exercise, I had some excess skin, as well as some subcutaneous fat in my arms. While I was a size 0 when I was 19 up to when I was 21, I still had a hard time buying clothes in Japan due to these bodily characteristics.
For instance, many slim Japanese women tend to wear slightly lose clothes that complement their small frame. However, at that time, whenever I tried on any dress, blouse, or skirt from many Japanese clothing shops, there was always a small problem: either the body (torso) would be a perfect fit but the sleeve would make my arms look big (as they have always been big), or the sleeves would be fantastic but the torso part would be too lose, making me look bigger than my size. Back then, this seemed like a major problem, but little did I know that I would be facing even more clothing problems in a few year’s time.
In a span of 2.5 years, I went from a size 0 to a size 2, to 4, to 8, and recently, a size 10. I am very happy about this weight gain as I feel free and more like myself. Being a size 10 suits my personality, my preferred eating habits, and my lifestyle more than when I was a size 0. I feel healthier now, especially since I have been going to the gym and building muscle mass.
However, living in Japan as a curvy, “intermediate”-sized woman is a pain. Since I will be graduating early next year, I have started the dreaded shuushoku katsudo (job hunting), or more commonly used in its shorterned form, “shuukatsu”. Company seminars and job interview here require wearing business suits, also known as “recruit suits”. For women, this would typically be a white, collared button-down shirt with a black jacket and black skirt (or alternatively, black slacks). Because of my hypersensitivity, however, I can only wear collarless jackets and blouses, making it even more challenging to find the perfect suit!
Late in summer, my partner and I went to all the suit shops we can find in the major shopping districts of Tokyo, but to no avail. Most of them only have up to 2XL for women. All the suit jackets I tried on in this size fitted my body just fine, but not my arms, which have a combination of some body fat and muscle mass. Aoyama had a 3XL which was a perfect fit for my arms, but was too big for my torso! It’s important to note that, elsewhere in the world, the measurements for what is considered 3XL in Japan–from my experience, at least–is only an M or an L, depending on how big the clothing is made to be.
So when I found out that none of their ready-made suits fitted me well, I asked one staff in each of the suit shops we visited if I could get a custom-made suit instead. Unfortunately, they replied that they only have them for men and not for women!
Instead of relying on specialty suit shops, I decided to look for tailors instead. Luckily, we live near Ginza which has about 3 or 4 shops specializing in custom-made suits for both men and women. I had my measurements taken last week and I’m getting it in mid-November!
Aside from business suits, I also had a hard time trying to find casual clothes when I went from a size 8 to a size 10. But it turned out that it’s actually easier to find shops selling casual clothes for intermediate- and plus-size women than to find suit shops that offer these sizes! So far, I’ve been getting my clothes from Uniqlo, GU, and H&M, as well as Talbott’s, though the latter brand is very pricy. Even in these shops, however, sizes for a few shirts, jeans, and pants are still limited and there were clothes that I really wanted to buy but couldn’t because they didn’t fit a certain part of my body quite well.
While I understand that from a business perspective, making plus-size clothes in a country where majority of women have small frames and slim bodies would not lead to huge profits, I believe that the Japanese fashion industry needs to cater to a wide variety of female body shapes and sizes.
Outside Japan, the body positivity movement has been gaining momentum through the popularity of intermediate-size (sizes 10 to 14) and plus-size (size 16 and above) models, such as Ashley Graham and Iskra Lawrence. This movement has also started recently in Japan through the efforts of comedianne-performer Naomi Watanabe and her brand, PUNYUS. I am hoping that in the near future, the Japanese society will better accommodate people of various sizes. Equating slimness to health is also a big problem, as this ignores the different health issues faced by those considered “slim” or “skinny”. In addition, having bigger sizes for men’s clothing than for women’s clothing also illustrates gender disparity in contemporary Japan, which I hope will be addressed in the coming years.