2017 saw an incredible amount of new plus-size brands and boutiques launch (check out Alysse’s 2017 roundup here), but, as I’ve made more plus-size friends and watched conversations happen on Facebook and Instagram – a growing discontent has emerged in the plus-size community.
I first noticed it online in private Facebook groups for plus-size people, where people across the country (and the world) shared stories about not being able to find plus-size clothing in their size. And it wasn’t until I became good friends with plus-size photographer and blogger, Suma Jane Dark, that I learned what a problem it is.
“It’s really frustrating,” she told me, “because I grew up pouring over every page of Vogue, but I couldn’t find stylish clothes in my size. It’s gotten better the last few years, but it really sucks to find ‘plus-size’ brands I love that don’t include me.”
After this talk with Suma, it was like this topic turned up everywhere for me (like a plus-size instance of the Baader Meinhof Phenomenon). I’m a size 18/20, but I started to look critically at a brand’s size chart, seeing how “inclusive” established and new plus-size brands really are. And, even if a brand did carry up to a size 26 (ASOS) or size 30 (Premme, Eloquii and GwynnieBe), that didn’t always mean that people had access to clothes in those sizes.
Lisa, a plus-size blogger over at Mustang Sally Two, explained the issue of access: “Extended sizes are still second class citizens for brands that do carry them. I can barely shop in an actual store. I can’t really shop in store at Torrid because they barely offer a 5 in store and don’t offer a 28 or 30. But why don’t those over a size 22 or 24 and up deserve that in-store shopping experience?”
So, the TCF team started investigating, asking questions like: Why do brands stop at a size 24? What challenges do brands have to overcome to expand their size range? What brands are showing models past a size 24?
The answers will make you mad, roll your eyes and may inspire you to angry tweet. Use #TCFstyle to share your thoughts on plus-size brands excluding plus-size shoppers.
Problem #1: Manufacturing and Patternmaking
Before getting into the social or economic reasoning behind stopping at a size 24, we need to start where the clothes do. Namely, the design and manufacturing process.
A lot of designers just don’t know how to design for plus-size bodies, because they aren’t taught how to do so. Did you also want to chuck their remote at their screen while watching the most recent season of Project Runway? Liris is a GODDESS, and it was so frustrating when designers didn’t know how to dress her.
It's #BlackGirlMagic when @KenyaMollie created this powerful design for me for the warrior woman challenge inspired by @avoninsider and #breastcancer survivors! I felt this design embodied Kenya's vision of how women gracefully carry the burdens of life on our shoulders! The pleated leaves? seemed like a new age armor for a Roman soldier! I loved it! Thanks @kenyamollie for displaying my God given curves in a beautiful way that brought out the invincible warrior in me! Thanks to all the @projectrunway fans who felt her design should of won! You are appreciated and we hear ?? you! Look forward to magic coming from us in the future! Tonite I'm gonna recap the episode on my FB at Facebook.com/LirisC or Facebook.com/LirisCrosse ! Follow me there so you get my notifications! #Makeup by @hectorsimancas & #hair by @kirastuger #LifeOfAWorkingModel #LirisCOnProjectRunway16 #ProjectRunway #ProjectRunway16Models #models #fashion #runway #plussizemodel #celebratemysize @ipmmodels
Dominique talked about this more in her article on teaching how to design fashion for plus-size bodies. Bottom line: Fashion instructors don’t know how to do it, so they don’t teach it, so the clothes just don’t get made.
But, there are patternmakers and designers out there who do design for plus-size bodies. Rachel Kacenjar, plus-size designer and patternmaker, had a lot of thoughts to share on plus-size patternmaking: “Plus size fit is hard. There, I said it. We all hold our weight differently, and where there might be 1-3 body types that will wear a size 14, there are more like 4-6 body types that will wear a size 30. Our bodies are beautifully complex.”
And, even when a brand does have best intentions at heart and wants to be inclusive, there are still challenges. Alexis Krase, owner of Plus Bklyn added, “Finding a manufacturer who is willing to work with us to make our Spring 2018 line has been so hard. Oftentimes, I don’t get a direct ‘No, we can’t do that’ but am told so many excuses that it may as well be a no.”
Manufacturing resource websites like MakersRow should include information on whether a manufacturer has the capability and/or will produce plus-size clothing, and include a resource list on plus-size patternmakers.
Problem #2: “Plus-Size Women Don’t Buy Clothes” or Disposable Income & Perceptions of It
Being a plus-size person, doesn’t come without its share of discrimination, as writer Roxane Gay recently pointed out on her twitter, calling out the Midwest Writers Conference for refusing to give Sarah Hollowell a place on their Organizational Committee because of her size.
I am going to call out the Midwest Writers workshop for fatphobia.
— roxane gay (@rgay) January 9, 2018
And, while this ticks us all off, it’s not technically illegal, as @YrFatFriend pointed out.
There are no federal laws against size-based discrimination.
Most everything folks are sharing on #FatToo is perfectly legal in the US. It’s not right, but it’s legal.
— Your Fat Friend (@yrfatfriend) January 10, 2018
Thanks to a toxic cocktail of hiring discrimination and being given less opportunities, it is easy to extrapolate to the idea that people who are larger than a size 24 make less money, and therefore buy less clothing. This seems to be an often cited reason when talking with people in the fashion industry, but, obviously, no one wants to go on record saying that. “In my personal experience, I have been told by brands that the larger sizes don’t sell, which makes other brands afraid to expand their price range,” says blogger Marcy Cruz.
Latest on the blog: I finally found a pair of distressed jeans that fit well and made me feel like everyone else for a day. Me not focusing on my size and how the world reacts to my body was so refreshing. This is how life should be – just let me live my best life in peace and I will do you the same courtesy. Featuring @weallshoptogether @bethditto @torridfashion @lanebryant ?: @fashionschlub ➡www.fearlesslyjustme.net⬅ #plussizefashion #psstyle #psfashion #thesecurves #celebratemysize #tcfstyle #mystylishcurves #andigetdressed #effyourbeautystandards #honormycurves #40plusstyle #daretowear #skorchmagazine #goldenconfidence #bodylove #selflove #loveyourself #fearlesslyjustme #bodypositive #bopo #styleinfluencer #latina #latinablogger #stylehunters #stylewatch #fatshion #AgeIsNotAVariable #beautycomesinallsizes
This extrapolation is dangerous and discriminatory. If 67% of women in the United States are over a size 14, then a good percentage of women are over a size 24. While fashion won’t solve income inequality, it is hard to to imagine a size 24 woman will do well in a job interview or in a classroom if she can’t find clothing to wear to these places. A lack of options can be incredibly isolating.
Corissa Enneking, blogger behind Fat Girl Flow, who is a size 26/28 had this to say about brands selling larger sizes: “I get questions on a daily basis from people over a size 24 who are looking for clothing stores that carry their size. People in this size-range are used to having zero options – so why look at new product drops? Brands have to do a lot of outreach so that these customers know they can shop there.”
And, part of the problem is the limited size runs that brands do. It’s hard to sell clothes above a size 24 if you don’t have them in stock! Remember Lisa of MustangSallly2? “I personally am shocked to hear that larger sizes don’t sell online because everything I want is gone fast. If I want a 28 jean from Penningtons I need to be on it right away as soon as they are released in August for example.”
One really only has to look at the recent rise of plus-size model Saucye West to see that people over a size 24 have been excluded, and are ready for representation.
Stop being so damn classist, brands. Ask yourselves, “Are women not buying clothes beyond a size 24 because they can’t, or is it because they don’t know what it will look like on them?” More on that next.
Problem #3: Representation & Casting Models
“Seeing a model who is probably like a US 12 isn’t helpful to me,” says Bea Alexandra, who is an activist, model and plus-size blogger. “Why would I buy something if I don’t know what it looks like on my body?”
Eloquii and Gwynniee Bee have recently announced that they’ll go up to a size 30 on their websites, but when you look at their websites, it’s a lot of models who are a size 14 who have an “hourglass shape.” Plus-size staple brands, Lane Bryant and Torrid, also seem to have this problem.
How are people supposed to buy from brands (with new extended sizing!) if the models don’t show the clothes?
“I find a lot of Plus Bklyn models through social media,” says Alexis Krase. “I get so much positive feedback from customers who are excited to see someone modeling a piece who looks like them. We make it a point to cast diverse models, all of whom aren’t signed, because agencies aren’t signing anyone over a 14.”
Premme cast both a signed model (Anastasia Furrow) to model their size 2, and influencer Natalie Drue to model a 3 (the brand goes up to what they call a “6,” or a size 30). For their latest drop, co-founder Gabi Gregg took to twitter to ask agencies to cast models beyond a size 14/16.
— gabifresh (@gabifresh) December 8, 2017
Gabi is also taking it one step FURTHER and holding an open casting call in LA for her latest collab with Swimsuits for All. If you can’t find them, cast them!
Large retailers like Eloquii, Lane Bryant, Torrid can lead the way by requesting plus-size models who are larger than a size 16. This will then lead to smaller startup and indie brands being able to hire these models. And, in the meantime, brands shouldn’t hide behind the “there are no models to cast!” excuse.
What do you think? We want to hear from you and if you have a friend who has been vocal, share this with them too!