I bought a $200 dress the other day. I know, I know, I work at Vogue, so this might sound like a statement on par with “I turned oxygen into carbon dioxide,” but allow me to explain. I actually haven't historically spent much money on clothing, partly because other things (like takeout, natural wine, and Lyfts to clubs I don't actually want to go to) always seem to take precedence, and partly because—to be honest—I'm almost always on a diet, dutifully plugging my meals and exercise units into Weight Watchers and dreaming of the day when my body will finally, magically become smaller. What's the point of buying fancy clothes that will be too big soon?, I ask myself, ignoring a) the possibility of tailoring and b) the long-term futility of most diets. When I do buy clothes, they're normally from Beacon's Closet or Poshmark or some other resale shop, because, well...I'm in diet-culture hell, but I'm also cheap.


I wish I could say I was writing this from the vaulted vantage point of having finally kicked my dieting habit and accepted myself, but...come on. What I have done recently, though, is decided I deserve one item of clothing that makes me feel really, really good when I wear it. My birthday is coming up in a week, so in accordance with my former colleague Estelle Tang's system of buying a yearly "birthday dress", I clicked “purchase” on a lime-green dress from Wray, a New York-based clothing line that offers sizes ranging from XXS to 6XL.

I wore my new dress out for what I like to call an "Emma day" last weekend, donning it to walk from Bed-Stuy to Carroll Gardens for new books, a seafood lunch, a solo afternoon showing of Zola, and a party or two in the evening. The whole time, I felt like I was someone else—**someone who had actually made an effort in her appearance—**yet also more "me" than I'd been in months. For the past few months, I was one of the many who'd fallen victim to pandemic-induced "blah" dressing, rarely changing out of the same old torn leggings (or bike shorts, in warmer months), and putting on something new and treating myself to a day out felt—at the risk of sounding cliché—like sinking into a hot tub set to the perfect temperature. The skirt of my new dress flared out dramatically, the puffed sleeves added a dash of whimsy, and when my server at the oyster bar complimented the dress's shade of green, I gratefully accepted it without offering one of my trademark self-deprecating deflections.

When I started to feel guilty about spending two hundred dollars on a dress when I have car insurance payments and a cross-country move to finance, I reminded myself—as I so often do—of Shrill. Specifically, the third episode of the Aidy Bryant-led Hulu show's first season, in which protagonist Annie (Bryant) spots a dazzling woman on the street. The woman, who's played by plus-size model Hunter McGrady, is fat, indisputably so, and clad in a drop-dead scarlet jumpsuit, eye-catching accessories, and carefully styled hair and makeup. Unable to stop herself, Annie quietly follows the woman as she walks into a flower shop, seemingly just to purchase something that would make her happy.


The scene serves as a reminder to me that when you're fat, you're not just dressing for yourself. You're dressing for people who might never have seen another fat person walk down the street looking confident, beautiful, and tough before, and who might need to see you do it before they find the strength they need to present themselves the way they actually want to. If that sounds like a weighty responsibility (pardon the pun), well...it can be, but it can also be incredibly empowering and just plain awesome, as I've learned from exchanging countless "OMG, love your top!" love-bombs with fellow fat people in bar bathrooms and in airport Starbucks lines. I'll always remember the woman I saw at MeMe's Diner (RIP) in the perfect pair of fitted vintage Levi's, and the Cobble Hill Cinemas ticket-taker clad in the briefest of striped crop tops; they gave me a blueprint for how I wanted to dress, and—more importantly—how I wanted to see myself and be seen by the world.

I'm not saying that me ordering a dress I can't afford online is praxis, and there are certainly plenty of tenets of the fat liberation movement that don't revolve around gleefully shopping. Plus, as writer Amanda Richards has pointed out, there's often far too much pressure on fat people to look "put-together" when thin people are allowed to simply throw on any old schmatta and get away with calling it normcore. Still, I like to think that when I step out for the day in my lime-green Wray dress instead of my baggy jean shorts and stained college T-shirt, I'm sending the world a message about how I view myself. Refusing to wait for some long-promised, possibly mythical weight loss before I allow myself to dress the way I want to feels, well, good, and all I really want is to radiate that goodness out to other people who might need it. (And hey, I wouldn't say no to six more Wray dresses.)