This one is for all of you who don’t fit the regular mould, literally! Whose feet or thighs or arms and legs or behind are just not the “right” size or shape. That size and shape that somebody, somewhere, decided all people should fit into.
I am the tallest of five sisters, slightly taller than my youngest sister Pauli, and just a little shorter than my brother. When we were growing up, my mom used to make most of our clothes herself, measuring us carefully so that everything fit perfectly. What a luxury that was, we only realised later.
I have always been the tallest in my class, right at the back in the middle on school pictures, next to the tallest boy. By the time I was 16 and in grade 11, I had already reached my adult height of 1,84m (6,04ft) and shoe size 9 (UK). Oh, how I longed to be one of those girls who got swept up and swung around by boys, getting a piggy-back ride or sit on their shoulders at concerts!
For our matric farewell (similar to a senior prom), there were only two unattached boys taller than me. The one already had a date — thank goodness I was asked by the other one.
Finding shoes for the matric farewell was my first real wake-up call. Back in 1986, ladies’ shoes in size 9 were non-existent. Even finding size 8 was a challenge. After buckets of tears and hours of searching, I found size 8’s that I could squeeze my feet into for the time it took to walk to our table, where I could kick them off, never to be worn again.
It was about that time that I felt the urge to strangle a shop assistant for the first time. Replying to my request for a size 8 or 9, with a “why don’t you try these size 7’s?”. Seriously??? Let’s see you squeeze your size 6’s into a 4 and see how you like it! If only I had known that it was only the beginning…
Apart from the huge feet Pauli and I were blessed with, we also have gorilla arms. Any normal garment only ever reaches to somewhere between the elbow and wrist, making you look slightly under-privileged and sad.
The same goes for longer-than-life legs that make any self-respecting pair of jeans look like high water is coming. 24 Centimetres. That is how much longer my legs are. I know, because I have added strips of 24 cm to brand new pants too many times to count. Afterwards always feeling a bit cheated that my new acquisition was already altered and slightly tainted by the change. Sometimes I even had to buy two pairs of the same pants, only to cut one pair off to lenghten the other with. When I find affordable jeans in shops that have wider than normal seams or turn-ups that can be let out, I immediately inform my sister, and vice versa.
I have a friend with a tiny waist and a big bottom who have a struggle finding jeans, another with large breasts on a small frame that provides a challenge for finding the perfect top, another with beautifully shaped calves that no pair of boots can accommodate. We are forced to search longer, to become creative in the way we wear what we find and how we combine it with what we own already. Shopping for an occasion becomes an ordeal, something that is dreaded and not anticipated. Why does it have to be so difficult!?
I try to look on the bright side. Maybe we don’t look like everyone else because we are not supposed to, maybe we were born to be different, to stand out. I suppose I would have dressed differently if I could just grab anything from the shelf and it would fit perfectly. The shoes I own would certainly be much more feminine and ladylike. The reality is that I buy men’s shoes most of the time. I have men’s boots, men’s sandals and men’s tackies (trainers). I even own a few pairs of Crocs.
Yes. Crocs. I think they’re awful, just like everybody else. I find it quite ironic that the one brand of shoes widely available in my size at an affordable price, should be the ugliest things ever created. I have learned not to worry too much about shoes, as long as they fit me and more or less blend in with what I’m wearing. And let them snigger at my Crocs if they want.
Who knows what my style would have been if it was easier to find things that were perfect for me. Maybe I would have been a complete shopaholic with a hundred pairs of shoes if I could have chosen any pair I liked. Maybe I would never have developed my own style and maybe I never would have learned to really not care what people think about my appearance.
These days it is easy to shop online for almost anything, including shoes of any make or size. I can have a pair of custom made-to-measure boots on my feet in 4 weeks, no problem. But it will set me back between R3500 and R8000. There are small designers and suppliers of big shoes and “tall” clothes for ladies, even in South Africa, but it is a long way off from being competitively priced. Until that happens, I will proudly wear my own quirky compositions.
So, if you see me in ugly shoes, with funny pants and bare wrists, please shut up and be thankful for the body you have.
You’ll have to walk a mile in my (ugly) shoes to really understand.
1986: Final Year High School. I’m the only girl in the back row, in the middle.