Stephanie Yeboah on How to Dress For Yourself and No One Else

September 09, 2020 at 09:00AM

Stephanie Yeboah has always loved fashion. When she was young she’d watch runway shows on TV, loving the creativity, drama and the couture. She’d even tear out images from fashion magazines her older cousin had bought to create her own fashion paradise on her bedroom wall. But, it took a long time for Yeboah to find clothing that actually gave her the opportunity to express herself in the way that she wanted.

Yeboah is plus size and, until relatively recently, many fashion brands assumed that women who are larger than a size 16 only wanted, in her words, “butterfly prints, smock dresses and empire lines”. Yeboah says she felt bound by those fashions, relegated to wearing items that really weren’t her style. Then her mum introduced her to ASOS Curve—the day she found out about the brand, Yeboah says, is one of the happiest days of her life. 

“The first fashion post I’d ever done for my blog I was wearing an ASOS dress. I took a full length mirror photo and uploaded it. I went to work and came home and saw the amount of comments on it and burst into tears. It was a very affirming moment for me.”

Today, Yeboah boasts 173k following on Instagram, a sure sign that fashion people take note of her style, and wears outfits from chic checked suits to cool slip dresses worn over tees with stomper boots. In some ways it appears she’s like any other fashion blogger. But there are still barriers when it comes to fashion and body positivity in the fashion industry—especially ‘fat’ and Black bodies. Just last month, model Nyome Nicholas-Williams had a photo deleted by Instagram and warned her account could be shut down for posting an almost topless photo. A move that doesn’t appear to be replicated when it comes to slimmer, white women.

The release of Yeboah’s debut book book Fattily Ever After: A Fat, Black Girl’s Guide to Living Life Unapologetically couldn’t have been more perfectly timed as it speaks to the issues the fashion industry has when it comes to “socially unacceptable” bodies. The book isn’t just about her own personal experiences of what it’s like to be ‘fat’ and Black but also about the history behind the body positivity movement. There are vital lessons to be learnt but also useful, tangible tips for those navigating an often hostile industry. Here, we speak to Yeboah on her love of fashion, what the industry can do better and its future for plus size women. 

Congrats on the book! Why was it so important to write it?  “It was the frustration of myself and women that look like me being constantly left out of the conversation when it comes to the body positivity movement—especially as Black, plus-size women started it. The more body positivity has become popular the more it has been pushed towards the European white look. And it has silenced the women who needed it the most. I was tired of seeing the body positivity movement from the European point of view and there wasn’t enough literature about how we navigate this area as fat, Black women.”

In your book you talk about how great it was when you discovered ASOS Curve and how that changed everything… “I was introduced to ASOS by my mum but back then it was As Seen on Screen. I’ve always been a creative but I struggled to learn how to display my creativity because the clothes that were available to me were ageing. Brands assumed that plus size women wanted to be hidden—they were all heavy and dark materials. The day I found out about ASOS Curve was one of the happiest days in my life. I think I ordered about £300 worth of stuff and redid my whole wardrobe. One of the big things that I love about ASOS is that instead of creating a whole new line, they created plus size versions of what they already had. A lot of brands need to take that into consideration. We don’t want something different—we want to wear what smaller people are wearing.”

Are there any other brands right now doing great collections that include women of all sizes? “Calvin Klein does plus size—I love their pieces as they fit really well true to size. I love their underwear too as it’s heritage and iconic and they’ve started creating it for plus size. There are a couple of small, boutique brands called Glamorous and Neon Rose—their clothing is great. Levi’s is another great one—the denim is great, of course. I’ve been living in their dungarees. I think there are brands that do good plus size clothing but then you also have to think about sustainability. Then again, we have to take what we can get when it comes to clothing.”

How can you balance sustainability with being plus size? Is it possible? “With sustainable and plus size together, it will always be a lot more expensive. Something that’s sustainable might be £120, so then it’ll be £180 if it’s plus size. So we’re are at a huge disadvantage when it comes to spending. Also, we have just four or five brands that are plus size, so it’s also a question of accessibility. The plus size brands that are also sustainable, they’re very expensive and prices people out of buying them. Vintage shopping and ebay is an option but there appears to be hardly any clothing available in plus size. What we’ve noticed is that there is a trend of smaller people buying the plus size clothing or wearing it oversized so that doesn’t leave us with many options.” What are your favourite trends right now?  “Stuff I wish could be made in size fat is probably everything on Zara’s website but they’ve always said they wouldn’t do plus size clothing. A few months ago, Zara came out with a top featuring organza sleeves. I was like ‘why can’t they make them for us?’. To be honest, anything that has a bit of mesh on it, is a bit of me. I’d also love a good faux leather blazer in a chocolate brown and beige cigarette pants.” Has your style changed over pandemic? “For the past three or four months, I’ve been living in short dungarees and Vans. I can’t be bothered to dress up. It feels weird to dress up now. Everything is loose and I just can’t be bothered.”

In your book, you talk about how your style has evolved over time. What are you rules for helping women finding their own personal style? “The work needs to start from within. You need to be at a place where you accept your body because when you start from a place of self hate and not feeling the most confident, you’ll wear things that hide your body. You need to make an effort everyday and you should learn everything to love about your body and what you want to show off about your body. For a long time, I realised that I was dressing a certain way to fit society’s ideal version of what a fat person should look like. Now my style isn’t girly girl, it’s more about a good pant suit and even if it looks big on me, it doesn’t matter. I love crop tops—it makes people angry and I get stared at when I’m wearing one. But I’m upsetting the Status Quo and in turn it’s allowed me to love myself. Really, it’s about not giving a damn about what people think about what I’m wearing.  So, when you’re figuring it out, note the areas of your body that you want to learn how to love and also show off. Dress for yourself and don’t dress for anyone else. Because it’s nobody’s business.”

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Next up, the biggest autumn/winter 2020 fashion trends to know. 

Author Elinor Block | Whowhatwear
Selected by CWC

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