To begin, I was a bit unsure whether or not to write this post.
I thought that it might come across as being a bit over the top and just a bit of a rant from my soap box but, after talking to a friend about this, I decided to give it a go and share one of my absolute pet hates when it comes to buying outdoor clothing.
I view the outdoor clothing that I need for work as an investment. Yes, some of these items tend to be a bit pricey but, with some research, I try to buy kit that will stand the tests of time and is fit for it’s purpose. Based upon the amount of use I get out of my kit, I don’t mind investing a bit more to get hard-wearing, durable clothing.
However, my problem is the sizing and styling of women’s clothes.
I am a curvy size 16. That’s my shape and size, and I’m fine with it. What I’m not fine with is how some companies seem to produce clothes without understanding that women come in ALL shapes and sizes.
My reason for this post is largely (pun intended) the result of my recent experience endured when I went to buy a new waterproof coat. Living and working in Wales, a good, solid, functional waterproof coat is an essential piece of kit.
I went to my local specialist outdoor shop, keeping the afternoon free so that I could spend time choosing carefully and ensuring that I had the best possible purchase. In the shop, there were lots of different waterproof coats in a variety of prices and styles. I started to choose a few in my price range, enlisting some considerable help and advice from the shop assistant.
The first one in my size would not even zip up. I was able to put the zip together, but that was as far as it went. (OK, deep breath, this only the first choice). The second one zipped up, but only up just under my chest area. (Not a good idea, or a good look, for a waterproof coat). Off came this one and, knowing that this was fast becoming the usual routine, I started to get slightly dismayed.
For my next attempt, I decided to go up a size, just for a try. I just wanted a flippin’ coat to keep me warm and dry. Guess what…….. the next coat, (a size 18), wouldn’t zip up either. I enjoyed my Christmas, but I can’t possibly have put on that much weight? My old cosy (if worn out) coat, which I had on in the shop at the time, is a size 16 along with all of my other usual clothes. After trying on 6 different coats, each with similar problems, the friendly female shop assistant coyly suggested that I try on some men’s jackets! I HAD to be polite, (my team use the shop a lot), but inside my head an angry voice was growling, “Are you having a laugh”! I don’t know what I was hoping for, as it’s not her fault. She doesn’t make the jackets but, come on, is that the only solution!
The problem with having to buy men’s jackets, if you’re a woman, is that they’re simply not designed for women. The length in the arm is longer. The shape of the hip area is generally bigger in mens jackets, which leads to a baggy and puffy look. While functionality is the acheived, feminity is obviously clearly not present. Overall, many women find themselves compromising in so many requirements, just to buy an essential piece of kit that, let’s be honest, is going to cost a fair bit of money.
I really wasn’t happy, standing in front of a full length mirror wearing a man’s XL coat, and looking like I was wearing a very expensive coal-sack! I really wasn’t going to spend over £100 on something that didn’t fit correctly and made me feel unhappy about my shape. I think the shop assistant could see it in my face and told me that new stock was arriving the following week. Would I like to wait and try on some new stock? Uh, yeah!
I thanked her for her help and left the shop, feeling so deflated. A wasted afternoon, no coat for me but, more than that, I was generally fed up with the same old routine and couldn’t be bothered thinking about it any more!
You see, this experience isn’t a new thing. I, like many other female colleagues, tend to struggle with a variety of outdoor clothes because we’re not the average, “normal” size. I am an outdoor pursuit worker who happens to be a size 16. I’m happy in my skin. It’s not a problem for me, but why is a problem when I have to buy outdoor clothing?
This story does have a happy ending as, the following week, I went back to the shop ever hopeful that the new stock of jackets would offer a bit more choice. As I entered the shop, I saw a lovely new-style Rab jacket hanging from the shelf. It was slightly over my budget but, if that was my only choice then I had to give way a little.
I sceptically slipped the size 16 off the hanger and tried it on. Hello, it felt fine! It was snug enough over my vest, thermal and jumper. It was still a great fit when I tried it on with just my thermal. Then I tried it on with a rucksack on my back. I found lots of room in the arm, and the length at the back was enough so that it didn’t ride up, which would give me a cold back! It really was very comfortable. The hood was a great fit, as I pulled the elastic bits and moved toggles, ensuring a tight fit when I would have to battle against the rain and the winds. Also, I have to be honest, I loved the almost-pastel colour, which was an added bonus.
I didn’t try anything else on, as I knew instantly that this was the coat for me and I didn’t feel like wasting any more time. Now, Rab has become a favourite of mine. I’ve since bought another outdoor coat by Rab and have found it a consistently great fit. A size 16 is a size 16, curved in all the right places and increasing in a realistic ratio with an increase in size. They are superbly built for purpose, being warm, waterproof and very robust.
I’ve worn them on a few outings for hill walking and orienteering, and I’m very glad of my choice. I recently had a very wet hill walk in Brecon, when it felt like buckets of water were being thrown at us from the above. But my new coat did its’ job and I came off the mountain still having warm, dry layers beneath. I didn’t even get cold when traversing the misty, boggy marshland in Brecon.
I know that everyone has a preference, or a favourite kit supplier. I know that I do. But it’s nice to be able to be offered a choice in, what should be, a very specialised and competitive market. I would urge outdoor clothing manufacturers to cater for the growing percentage of wild women who are built in all manner of shapes and sizes.
Intense work in an outdoor environment helps to tone muscle, strip away excess fat, and promote a healthy body-shape. Unfortunately, we don’t all conform to the much-publicised image of a “perfect 10”. Here the comes the rant, as promised…….I’m an outdoor worker with hips and curves, so please, when you’re designing functional, rugged outdoor wear, spare a thought for me and those other wild women like me.