Sunday, January 27, 2008

Catherine's Stout Shoppe, anyone?

Ok, I was going through my boxes of patterns last week, scanning them all so I can upload them to flickr and maybe sell some of them (or all of them, since none of them really fit me and I'm tired of altering patterns), and I found this newspaper clipping of an ad for Catherine's. Tells you how fucking old I am, I can actually remember when Catherine's was called Catherine's Stout Shoppe. I couldn't afford to shop there back then, but I remember going in and looking at the clothes and being so happy that there was a store that had clothes that would fit me, even though I couldn't afford them (and probably wouldn't have worn them, even if I could have afforded them, since they were more the styles that my grandmother would have worn). It's funny, but looking back at that, I don't even remember if I was offended that they called it Stout Shoppe. Granted, it's not what I would have called a store for fat women's clothing, but I never thought of "stout" as being a pejorative word for a woman's size (stout says to me sturdy, strong, capable).
A friend of mine (and she was not fat) and I were talking about opening a store for plus-size women in our town (this was in like, 1978 or 1979, I think). We had gone so far as researching suppliers, looking for a storefront, writing up a business proposal, thinking up a name (Large N' Lovely was the one we really liked), and going to the bank to see about financing. Neither of us had a lot of money to start up, we were hoping we could get bankrolled because we thought it was an idea whose time had come. Not according to the banks in our town. According to them, there weren't enough fat women with money to spend on clothes to make it a financially viable enterprise. I didn't understand their reasoning, not at all. After all, Catherine's was making money....right? Not to mention Lane Bryant and Roamann's.
A couple of years later, a lady I knew opened the store my friend and I had wanted to open. She called it BJ's (I had to get my mind out of the gutter every time I passed her store). Her grand opening was a fashion show, and I was one of the women she asked to model (I got to keep the dress I modeled too). It was fun, and she had a crowd of large women there that day. Her store was going strong when I moved out of town in 1983, but I don't know if her store is still in business today. It's been 10 years since I've been back to my home town, and I didn't have the time to drive through town and see what was still there and what had disappeared or changed.
Looking back at that ad, I think we've come a long way, as far as being able to find clothes that fit the majority of fat women. The styles, though, still leave a lot to be deisired in a lot of those stores. And we haven't come very far at all when you look at who is modeling the clothes for fat women. I don't know why Catherine's uses larger models now, they didn't back in the day, but I'm glad they do. I have a better idea how their clothes will look on me because they do use fat models.


  1. Cool pattern!

    I remember when it was called Catherine's Stout Shop too. The store is still there but I haven't gone in there in years. I remember the name really bothering me back then.

  2. You're a Catherine's shopper too, are you? Heh, cool! I don't buy many clothes AT ALL but when I do, that's where I go. I haven't been to LB because for some reason I remember there being lots of polyester there, and polyester is teh ebil, so I go where I can get cottons and linens and so forth. Probably that's just my 70s memory kicking in, but it's one of those old prejudices.

    We have a local fat shop, and I was absolutely appalled when I looked in the window. Seriously, what the hell are they thinking? It's like they want to paint a giant target on us for people to shoot fricking arrows at! "Oh, they're only fat women, surely they must WANT to wear clown-print tent blouses and crazy-print slacks." I was genuinely offended, and I didn't even know about the FA movement yet.

    Well, like so many people bitch about - if you give fat women nice clothes you'll just end up with more fat women. Oy vey.

  3. Kat - that pattern is a basic peasant blouse with lace trim added. I made a lot of them when I was younger, it was an easy pattern to make, took me about an hour and a half to cut it out and put it together.

    Annie - yeah, I'm a Catherine's shopper, their clearance racks are teh awesome, especially if they have a sale and you can take an additional 20 or 30%

  4. Oh yeah, always the clearance racks! I got a linen suit that originally went for $200 for about $30, and my coat - real leather with a faux fur collar - down from $300 to $160. Good times :)

    My only problem is that apparently I'm not supposed to be this size (3X) and be only 5'2". It seems they want me to be about 8 inches taller to be this fat. Sigh.

    But they have really nice, helpful saleswomen IME. Which is a pleasant change from the norm.

  5. I love and collect patterns even though I haven't sewn in years. I have never seen a Catherine's pattern before! A very pretty top. Amazing you could put it together so fast.

    Next time I pass our Catherine's I'll have to stop in. Always thought they were a bit expensive. Have to check out that clearance rack though!

    Also very excited to recently find out that a neighboring county has a CJ Banks. Never been to a CJ Banks but love their stuff..have bought it on ebay.

  6. Annie - I have the opposite problem. I can't buy slacks or jeans there because they don't carry talls. I'm only 5'8", but I have a 31" to 32" inseam and have a hard time finding pants long enough. I do like the salesclerks at Catherine's. Every store I've ever visited, they've always been very friendly and helpful, unlike LB. LB clerks make me feel like they're doing me a favor if they deign to offer help (most of the time, they don't offer, I've had to ask). LB clerks make me feel like I'm too fat to shop there (or maybe I'm too old, I don't know which).

  7. Kat - the pattern I used was from Simplicity, back in the 70's, but it was basically the same as the Catherine's top in that ad. I can put things together so fast because I learned a lot of shortcuts when I worked in a garment factory, back in '72 - '74. I also run my sewing machine flat out as fast as it will go (and that's not near as fast as an industrial machine will run). If I had an industrial machine, I could probably set up my own business making tops for fat women, I could get about 10 a day done if they weren't too involved (but I can't afford an industrial machine, and it would never fit up the stairs to my sewing room, they're steep and narrow).

  8. Let me ask then - the saleswomen I meet at Catherine's are often (though not always) fat themselves. Either way, they've been very very helpful and sweet. What's with the LB salespeople? Are they thin and just not interested? Does Catherine's offer better commissions? Do they have policies in place or something dealing with being helpful? Because it's not coincidental that I've shopped at a couple of them and found the same thing you find. I wonder if they have some kind of FA in their policies or something. That would be really cool.

  9. What I've noticed about the salesladies at Catherine's is they tend to be older (probably 30's to 60's) and larger (I'm not good at guessing sizes but I think probably anywhere from an 18 to a 24 or so). The LB stores I've been in have younger clerks (in their twenties, even some late teens) and they are probably sizes between 14 and 18. I don't know that age and size have anything to do with their attitude, but I think it does.
    I saw the same thing when I was mystery shopping at places like PacSun and Hot Topics (the salesclerks very seldom got good ratings from me if I had to wait to be waited on, and if they were snooty instead of polite).
    It's an interesting question, and I think that Catherine's may just have damned good training for their staff.

  10. I like Catherines and I like the Avenue. The salespeople at both of those places are very nice and go out of their way to help you find just what you need. I have never liked Lane Bryant. I have these "chicken legs" even at my heaviest and their pants always looked goofy on me. And.....why the heck doesn't LB carry lingerie. What, do they think that heavy people don't get laid?

  11. my own woman - the only place I've ever been able to find larger lingerie is online, and even then, the sizes don't go high enough to fit me. Good thing DH thinks I'm sexy no matter what I'm

  12. I buy cotton undies at Catherine's and custom made bras at (can't plug that one enough! Go there!) Lingerie? Heh. Not since I was a 36C. Besides, for me it has to be natural fabrics, or as close as possible. Lingerie is usually made of something that doesn't breathe, IME.

    Though you guys just reminded me of the part in Shallow Hal where she is wearing the purple lingerie and throws her panties at him - he sees the skinny Paltrow throw them, then looks at them and sees giant panties and says, "Come over here, Houdini!" Hehe. I know a lot of people hated it, but I loved it and it made me cry.

    Vesta, it's worth looking into to find out why their saleswomen are so nice. The few I mentioned that were thin were definitely over 60, so I wouldn't discount age. I also wouldn't discount a fat-positive training, unless I find out otherwise. Something to look into and consider for sure.

  13. Part of the niceness might be that every time you buy something at a Catherine's store, the receipt has the website for you to fill out a survey on how your shopping experience went. Maybe they take those answers into consideration for training purposes? LB has a survey website for in-store purchases listed on their receipts too, maybe the training doesn't take as well with the younger crowd? That's been my experience with training teenagers for a job, anyway (maybe 2 out of 10 listen and apply what you teach, the rest are like "yeah, yeah, whatever, I just want the paycheck, who cares what kind of job I do?").
    Maybe the next time I'm in Catherine's, I'll ask one of the salesladies about their training.
    I'll definitely check out that decent exposures, I wear a 52H and finding bras in that size is a PITA most of the time.

  14. They just put in a Catherine's in a shopping center I actually go to (the other ones around here are WAY out of my way), so I may have to go check it out.

    LB isn't so bad. Their salespeople are mostly young, but I don't know if it's because I am a disgustingly regular customer or what, but they're always friendly and helpful. Most of them are probably closer to my size (24-26) than smaller.

    To Myownwoman - I too have the chicken leg issue. Try LB's Hampstead pants. They are teh awesome. As a note, if you decide to get them, try them on in each color, because the gray ones fit differently than the black and the pinstripe. The gray seems to run a little smaller.

    The only thing I wish is that LB and Avenue had more basics...especially in the shirts. This stuff with the puffy pintuck sleeves is killing me.


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