There was a time when I could hardly look at myself in a mirror. When I finally did, I’d spend up to a half-hour critiquing and ridiculing the reflection staring back at me. It was the early 2000s, when jeans were low-rise and skintight, tops were cropped, and baggy trousers were still exclusive to working men, not self-conscious high school girls. I was trapped in a world of fallacies, where taking up space felt criminal—and I was diagnosed with a chronic undereating disorder just shy of fourteen.
For many people, clothing can serve as a way to body check and monitor one’s shape based on how a size fits, or how it doesn’t. After years of therapy, mindfulness, experimentation, and openness, I, like many others, put aside size yet continued to struggle with how to dress. My outlook changed when I recently discovered—and embraced—intentionally oversized clothing.
Designers had started voluminous silhouettes before the 2020 pandemic, from Demna’s exaggerated creations for Vetements and Balenciaga to roomy proportions at Molly Goddard and Marc Jacobs. The shift to life spent mostly at home in loose, comfortable clothes kicked the movement into overdrive; nearly four years later, it’s an adjustment that designers can’t shake. Now more than ever, runways are displaying ease in the form of billowy or slouchy silhouettes, elasticated waistbands, and softer fabrics. And off the runway, women are wearing loose maxi dresses and ballet flats instead of squeezing into figure-hugging mini dresses and sky-high stilettos.
Emma McClendon, assistant professor of fashion studies at St. John’s University and creator of the exhibit, The Body: Fashion and Physique, says moments of cultural, social, and political rupture lead to profound shifts in silhouette like the one we’re experiencing now. “I definitely think the pandemic has had an impact on the widespread adoption of oversized styles and fit,” she explains. “We became so used to the feel of comfort in our clothing during the height of lockdowns and work-from-home that it changed our sense of fit and feel, and the haptic relationship between our bodies and our clothing. So much of dress is about habit and becoming comfortable with the feeling of something on your body—even if it’s uncomfortable at first.”
It’s not the first time in history that fashion has made such a radical shift in fit and silhouette, McClendon adds. “The most obvious example is the rejection of corseted, multi-layered dressing after WWI in favor of the short hemline, loose, drop waist, body-negating silhouette of the 1920s. This style was considered a rejection of the hyper-feminine styles of the past in favor of a more modern, androgynous approach to dressing the female body.”
In the present, I’ve felt that embracing oversized silhouettes is more than a point of runway fascination. It can be seen as a disavowal of previous norms. A rejection of the pressures, the mindset, the mirror, and the sensations that held me back, no matter how literal or figurative it might be. Swapping my entire wardrobe for lax, cozy, soft, and roomy pieces didn’t help me to hide my body, but to neutralize it.
Christina Grasso, a friend, NYC-based creative, and co-founder of the 501c3 nonprofit dedicated to eating disorder advocacy in fashion, The Chain, often opts for menswear-leaning, oversized clothing as well. “I’m typically most comfortable in pieces that have an oversized silhouette,” she told me over a late-night text exchange. Our mutual favorite designers share a love of intentionally oversized fits: “I love brands such as The Row, Wardrobe.NYC, The Frankie Shop, and Teurn Studios, which I’ve found can be generously sized while still maintaining structure.”
While oversized clothing has been a crucial to my recovery and growth, I can only hope that every body size will be able to embrace this kind of sartorial freedom. What some designers call ‘oversized’ isn’t oversized for everyone—but the option should be available for all.
Intentionally oversized clothes convey power and comfort at once. Below, find the takes on the movement that I gravitate toward from Frankie Shop, Toteme, and more.
Cortne Bonilla is freelance writer who occasionally dabbles in party reporting. When she’s not writing, you can find her vintage shopping, sipping iced lattes, reading on the train, and indulging in Pilates.