Some Problems with Plus Size Fashion

that's not how this worksIn this blog I have often said “plus sizes or, as I like to call them, sizes” and “plus size models or, as I like to call them, models.” What I meant when I said that was that I look forward to a world where we don’t have to have “plus size” because stores will carry a wide range of sizes and people of all sizes will have the same options in terms of style, availability, price, and quality; and, that I look forward to a world where we won’t need “plus size” models because using models with a wide range of body sizes will be the norm.

What I didn’t know when I said those things, was that some people would try to skip the part where we revolutionize the fashion world and, instead, just get rid of the terms “plus size” and “plus size models”  I didn’t know that stores would try to solve the problem of size-based stigma by changing numerical sizes to flower names. I didn’t know that the discussion about plus size fashion would end up being led, not by the people who are currently least served by the industry (those above a 3x with limited income) but by the most privileged people in the space – the people who are paid to model plus size clothes, and then use the fame of being a model to insist that being called plus-size is somehow “ostracizing” to them.  This is not ok.

I was thinking about all of this when I got the amazing opportunity to write for – Real Feminism for Real Life! So my first piece for them is called WTF Is Going On In Plus Size Fashion?  It includes insights from the fabulous Alysse Dalessandro, the designer behind Ready to Stare  and Yolanda Williams who created  plus-size active line Just Curves (including the ONEder suit which is my new favorite thing.) You can read the article here!

Until those who wear plus-size clothes have the same options as those who wear straight sizes (and, while we’re at it, the same purchasing power because we aren’t hired less and paid less than our thin counterparts,) that’s a conversation we need to be centering, and if someone who models plus size clothes doesn’t want to be called a plus size model, then as far as I’m concerned, they can get another job.

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19 thoughts on “Some Problems with Plus Size Fashion

  1. Great article, and I liked the interviews with designers, too.

    I think everyone’s got different preferences when it comes to what their clothes are called, but my take is that “plus” is no different than “petite” or “junior” or other various designations that say if this is the product you’re looking for, this is the section it will be in, and this number is a good ballpark to start trying things on.

    Now if plus size sections could be guaranteed to actually stock plus sizes and not charge a whole bunch more for them. I remember a conversation with a poor confused clerk when I had to exchange a shirt someone bought my mom for Christmas for the larger size she needed. When it rang up I owed money for the exchange. At first she thought there was a mistake, and when I assured her the amount was correct, the poor clerk just kept looking between the identical garments and mumbling, “But it’s the exact same shirt. Why does it cost more? It’s the *exact same shirt.*”

    It’s okay, boutique employee, it doesn’t make sense to anyone else, either.

    1. I also don’t mind Plus Size, because it tells me which section of Walmart to shop in. I think even if we start making every item in every size. they will still make more of the straight sizes than the plus sizes, and then I will be rifling through racks and racks of clothes that don’t have any 3x-that-I-hope-fit or larger, and getting my hopes up about more items that don’t have my size, even if they did have it and just ran out. I learned my lesson about that last year, when my very old bathing suit broke in May while on a trip with my sister, and when I got home I tried to find a bathing suit at Walmart in my size and there was nothing. I asked the sales clerk where the plus size bathing suits were, and they pointed to where all the bathing suits were, and said in there somewhere. I looked around and I think there might have been a 2x here or there, but nothing bigger. I spent the rest of the year wearing tank tops with shelf bras to the pool. This year I went shopping in February at Target and paid more than my budget really allows on a suit that fits and will last for several years I hope.
      Having a plus size section at Target helped me to bypass all the other suits and find the whole *4* different options in the plus size section, with a whole 2 that were big enough for me. I like the one I found though, it’s pretty. For me though, anything that makes my shopping trip shorter is a bonus.

    2. I’m happy with the term “plus size” as well. Modcloth semi-recently removed their “plus size” section – which was clearly marked in the top banner – and relegated it instead to an “extended sizes” section hidden in a drop-down on the banner. The idea being to eventually include petite and tall options in “extended sizes” as well.

      Which struck me as not only a really piss-poor attempt to get brownie points for “ditching the plus label” without actually *doing anything* (the extended sizes section contains the exact same items the plus section used to), but also actually managing to make things worse.

      1- By hiding “plus sizes” behind a drop-down as though to avoid advertising that they have them, much like brick and mortar shops that hide their tiny plus-size section in the back corner, cramped up between the handbags and the shoes.
      2- By still relegating different shapes and sizes of body to a cordoned-off area, but doing so while *also* making the area less useful for each individual shopper. If I need plus-size items, I won’t be helped by also seeing petite items that aren’t available in my size and tall items that aren’t available in my size.

      I don’t mind if not everything is available in my size. I’d like *more* options in my size of course, but I don’t mind not having access to everything. I just want to be able to *find* the stuff I can wear.

      1. absolutely, finding stuff that fits me is the hard part. Every item doesn’t have to fit me (though it might be nice) if I could only find the items that do fit me, whether on a website or in a store. It does not help me to look at items that don’t fit me because my size and not my size are mixed up.

      2. “Extended” also feels way more othering than “plus size”, at least to me. Even combining it with tall and petite just emphasizes that there are normal sizes/shapes and then these OTHER sizes, rather than just “hey, if you’re around this part of the size range, here are things that could fit you”.

  2. The flower name thing just baffles me. I have enough trouble with the weird mix of number sizes (ie 14-32), when you might see other items marked as XL – XXX, even though they might both be shirts, and then some places have XL in the ‘straight’ size and XL in the ‘plus’ size and you have to dig to find the damn chart to find out what they actually mean.

    I wish they would just put in measurements. It would be SO much easier.

    1. Yes! It blows my mind that the same arbitrary number means something different in straight size and something different in plus size. I’m on the border between the two; sometimes plus fits better than straight, sometimes the other way around. A plus 16 and a straight 16 are not the same size thing. I find myself bouncing back and forth between different sides of the store. I wish it was all together, just as “clothes”. Here’s some clothes. You like this blouse? Here on the rack are all the sizes from 2 petite to 32 long. Obviously the store would stock more in the commonly sold sizes, but a large department type store should have a good selection of all sizes. And the same top should be the same damn price no matter which of those sizes it is.

      Drives me crazy. If only they did measurements!

      1. I had a friend by me 2XX in what are supposed to be women’s t-shirts – they are very tight. I mentioned it to another friend, who wondered if it was because they were manufactured in an asian country.

    2. Oh, yeah. I was a Disney World, and bought a XXL T-shirt, because in my experience, that’s almost always my T-shirt size. But when I tried it on at the hotel, it was really small. It turns out that there are actually XXL T-shirts in the children’s sizes (which is great!), and this one looked exactly like an adult T-shirt (same pattern, same picture on it, same color, etc.), and there was NO indication on the tag that this was children’s XXL, versus adult XXL.

      Fortunately, I was still there, and the hotel clerk was awesome, and fixed it for me.

      Really, though, we need some sort of standardization, and clear labeling, so that people really can tell what the heck they’re getting.

      Just put in measurements – sounds great!

  3. My fashion dream:

    I’d love to have a store where all the sizes are named after the original models for whom those clothes are created, and it would be based on shape, as well as size, because a shaping matters.

    One would walk into the store, be scanned (or measured, if you’re not comfortable being scanned), have the data put into a computer, who would tell you, “You fit the Angela line. Everything in the Angela line will fit you, without alteration.”

    Then, you go to the Angela section, sit in a comfy chair, and choose from among all the rockin’ styles there. You have swatches of cloth, so you can say, “I want this dress, in this cloth, with this trim.” If you’ve been scanned, you can see a picture of how you’d look wearing that article of clothing, in the colors you chose. You can even see a 3-D animation of how it would look on you as you sit, bend, stretch, run, etc. All without you having to change clothes and do all the sitting, bending, stretching, running, etc., which is, frankly, exhausting to me, and another reason I don’t like shopping for clothes. Of course, you can try on the samples, if you want to. You can feel them, and see how they feel against your skin, and how they move against your body.

    Once you’ve made your selections, you put in your order, and if it’s already available in stock (because in my dream, all the sections have a large stockpile of clothes pre-made in a variety of colors and cloth options), you can take it home right away. Otherwise, the machines in the back (no sweatshop-laborers here), will make it for you, and either ship it overnight (free shipping!), or you can pick it up in-store, the next day.

    And as long as I’m dreaming, it’s all done at Wal-Mart prices, but all the employees have excellent benefits. And did I mention, no sweat-shop stuff happening?

    Also, in my dream, the custom clothing store sizes will include styles for adult women who are very small, and normally have no choice but to shop in the children’s section. And all the “straight sizes” will still have a variety, because shaping really does matter, no matter what size you are!

    Because people come in a WHOLE LOT OF SHAPES AND SIZES, y’all!

    And for people who want to sew clothes for the sheer joy of sewing clothes, I’d sell the patterns for all the clothes in each section, printed out to fit that size/shape, so you can cut and sew, without making any tweaks to the pattern, because creating your own clothes is fun!

    Also, I’d give every customer a unicorn.

    That’s my dream, and it will probably never happen. Instead, I’ll take being able to go shopping for clothes, at affordable prices, and finding clothes that fit, are stylish, and make me feel just as good about myself as a person who wears “straight” sizes can. If I have to go to a separate “plus size” store to get that, then it’s fine. Just let me have plenty of “plus size” stores available. I don’t want to go to the mall, and see twenty “straight size” stores, and look and look and look, and not find a single “plus size” store, and finally find out that a fat woman like me can… “Well, we do sell T-shirts in XXL. They’re in the back. What do you mean, you need jeans?”

    But going to Catherine’s, a “plus-size” store, where they have beautiful clothes in bright colors, and NO SHAMING, felt wonderful! It was a safe space, a haven, and made me feel awesome. Also, I spent $600 in one trip, just because I felt that good. Yay, credit cards.

    Seriously, people in the clothing industry, take note! If you make fat people feel good about shopping at your store, you will make a fortune! If you make the clothes affordable, we’ll come back frequently, to buy clothes as often as we can afford it, and the bulk purchases will add up to huge profits. Fat people want to keep up with seasonal fashion changes, too! And the more middle-class people who can get good clothes and plenty of them, the more poor people will be able to get good clothes, when the middle-class people donate their used clothes to Goodwill. Trickle down fashion for fatties!

    And if the fat fashions at Goodwill are really stylin’, instead of muumuus, then maybe we won’t see any more of those thin women buying up the few clothes that poor fat women can actually wear, and cutting them up to create two or three cheap fashionable items for themselves, while the fat women have no choice but to walk around wearing stained, torn, five-year-old clothing, because there’s nothing left on the rack at Goodwill that will even fit on their bodies, let alone look good.

    OK, I have to go breathe now.

    1. There might eventually be 3-d printers that could create clothing with a perfect fit in some material that feels like, say, tencel or rayon…my fantasy now!

      1. And while the 3-d clothing printers are creating the custom clothes, customers can enjoy some lovely refreshments from the food replicator.

        Star Trek can’t come soon enough.

  4. I find it really surprising that there is a feminist site called “ravishly”! “Ravish” is another word for “rape.” Their very URL is a trigger! 😮

  5. It is SO depressing how few choices there are for us particulary large women! I’m a 30/4X, and tall, so it’s so hard to find stuff for me that’s even a little bit fashionable. I’m 32, not 64!

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