When influencer and plus-size fashion blogger Corissa Enneking visited Forever 21’s plus-size section for the first time, her initial emotional response was excitement. Big retailers like Forever 21 don’t often sell to the plus-size demographic, and when they do, it’s typically online.
Unfortunately for Enneking, within a few minutes of beginning her shopping, her excitement quickly morphed into horror. She took to her blog to share her frustration with the entire experience.
“Your entire store is lit with beautiful cool white lighting, and the floors are shiny little tiles of white and gold,” she wrote on her blog, Fat Girl Flow. “So please, tell me why the sweet hell the tiny plus size corner is dimly lit with yellow lights, no mirrors, and zero accessories on the shelves.”
In her open letter to the popular clothing store, Enneking doesn’t ask for much. She wants to be treated kindly. She wants to have a pleasant shopping experience. She wants to be able to find her size. Still, the writer admits that she already knows she is asking for way more than most mainstream stores offer.
“Create spaces that make people proud to wear your clothing,” she wrote in the closing lines. “Bring positivity into your stores, instead of alienation.”
Enneking’s powerful and vulnerable response to her shopping experience isn’t the first time major retailers have been called out for lack of inclusion, and it certainly won’t be the last. As more advocates for inclusivity and body positivity speak out, more criticism will fall on the clothing suppliers who don’t follow suit.
The State of Plus-Size Fashion
Before we can move toward an inclusive apparel industry, we need to be honest about the current state of plus-size fashion. Things are certainly improving, but we’ve got a long way to go.
Most obvious is a lack of options. It’s still surprising when a store has sizes bigger than a large, according to Brittany DiCologero, a lifestyle blogger at Castle Party who has been buying plus-size clothes since she was a teenager. Many of the stores that do have plus-size clothing only carry these items online.
“Plus-size women today cannot walk through their local shopping malls and browse whichever stores they like and find something in their size,” she says.
Cost is another issue faced by people shopping for plus-size clothing, according to yoga instructor and body diversity advocate Dana Falsetti. Although Falsetti believes there may be some variance in cost of manufacturing plus-size clothing, she feels certain the price variance is more about the limited availability of these clothes. Women have fewer plus-size options in brick and mortar stores, so the stores who actually offer a number of options can get away with higher pricing.
“A lot of ‘marketing diversity’ is actually just tokenism, and tokenism isn’t inclusion,” she says. “Brands making a profit off of diversity (in size, race, gender, etc.) but not showing any actual support for those communities is actually just taking advantage of them.”
The freedom to curate your personal style is also lacking for women who wear plus sizes, according to Falsetti, who points out that manufacturers aren’t just expanding the sizing of clothes marketed toward women wearing straight sizes. Instead, they’re creating a separate, limited collection for women wearing plus sizes. So, when you do happen to find clothing in your size, there is an expectation that you won’t be able to find a style that best embodies who you are or what you like.
“Not all of us want to wear hourglass-enhancing peplum tops and things that are considered traditionally flattering to patriarchal or eurocentric beauty standards,” she adds.
And even if you can find your size, it still might not fit right. There seems to be a learning curve when stores that have previously sold only straight sizes makes the switch to selling plus sizes, too.
“When straight sized retailers start designing plus options, the cuts are usually off and the fits may not work the same way they would on a smaller model,” says DiCologero. “In most cases, however, this is a learning process that designers eventually get right.”
Lastly, the shopping experience is often an unpleasant experience, according to DiCologero, who says that stores that have historically carried only straight sizes are often the worst. Employees can be rude and shoppers are occasionally unkind, as well.
Sarah Guerrero, another woman who wears plus-size clothing, was quick to point out the isolating nature of the shopping experience. She says that most stores treat plus-size clothing like a separate category, like maternity fashion, shoving them in a corner somewhere in the back of the store.
… she CONTINUED to make rude comments like “well idk they run small” accompanied with side eyes and scoffs. It was absolutely humiliating and unnecessary. And I am not even considered “plus size” at most stores… I can’t imagine how plus size women feel. 💔
— Alli (@alli_mcd13) January 9, 2018
Slowly but surely, things are changing.
Thinking back to shopping as a teen, DiCologero recalls just how terrible it used to be. Going to the mall with her friends filled her dread, mostly because she knew there wouldn’t be clothes available in her size.
“I would literally disregard what the dresses looked like, and I would just look for the biggest size on the tags,” she says of shopping for dresses for school dances. “I’d usually be able to find about two or three to try on, and whichever one fit, I would buy—regardless of price or whether or not I even liked the dress.”
Now, she is excited that so many retailers who produce plus-size clothing are opening brick and mortar stores, even if it means driving three towns over to find clothes she loves. She also says that she has noticed plus-size clothing’s quality improving. Both Falsetti and DiCologero point out the roles of more inclusion in marketing in the changing world of plus-size fashion. More retailers are including images of women of all sizes and colors in their advertising, and this is a great first step.
“I see people who look like me represented more every day,” Falsetti says.
Some improvements have also been made when it comes to the trendiness of plus-size clothing, shares Anya Jackson, who has shopped for plus sizes for 20 years.
“I’m seeing massive improvement in the availability of trendy styles,” she says. “Plus size no longer means I have to look like a granny wearing a floral tent.”
Moving Toward More Inclusion
What’s next for plus-size fashion? How can we advocate for more sizing and style options? Perhaps the most obvious is how the way we spend our money supports or inhibits inclusion.
Get clear on which retailers are practicing inclusion and which are simply paying lip service or putting minimal efforts into the plus-size options. Going out of your way to support retailers that align with your values, like diversity and inclusion in both advertising and what they sell in their stores, is a powerful way to make a statement. ModCloth is one example of a retailer who has made great strides to a more diverse catalogue of clothing.
Aerie is an example of a store who preaches representation by including “real models” and never retouching their photos. Unfortunately, their selection speaks louder than these initiatives, as their clothing options still stop at a 2XL. Rarely do they carry extended sizes in stores.
Torrid, a plus-size line with brick and mortar stores, produces high-quality clothes up to size 4X, while Elizabeth Suzann is a designer who is making huge strides toward offering ethically and sustainably produced clothing in sizes 000 to 28.
“Remember your resources are plentiful and not just financial,” Falsetti points out. “Spending your money with those brands, telling your friends about them, and promoting them on social media are just a few ways that consumers can influence what companies are doing.”
Since brands are now so accessible through social media, giving feedback is easier than ever. Sharing how you feel about a particular brand, both positive and negative, is one way Jackson believes we can advocate for change in plus-size fashion.
I love figuring out my size by conceptualizing how many skinny people will fit in my clothes https://t.co/671yBwB1Sq
— molly (@mollyxflanagan) December 10, 2017
Representation also plays a powerful role in moving plus-size fashion in the right direction. Jackson says she is thrilled to see more women who actually look like her modeling the clothes she buys. Women like Enneking, DiCologero, and Falsetti are just a few members of a greater movement using social media to promote a message of body positivity. Enneking is self proclaimed “happy fatty.” Falsetti posts about yoga, plus-size fashion, and body diversity. DiCologero blogs about plus-size fashion. They’re celebrating their bodies, and they’re empowering other women to do the same.
Men are stepping up, too. Troy Solomon runs his Instagram on a policy of self-love—and not giving a you-know-what—and has gained 43,000 followers being exactly who he was born to be. Matt Diaz has gained his following by candidly sharing pictures of himself shirtless and talking honestly about the insecurities he has felt about his body.
“We all just want to be seen and respected and have equal opportunities to dress and express ourselves,” says Falsetti. “Representation gives people a sense of value and belonging.”
Lastly, women like Falsetti are pushing for a more inclusive language being embraced by the general demographic. The words we say matter and ultimately inform our actions. Knowing the experiences of others and moving forward with empathy is a good first step toward more representative fashion and a more inclusive world.