Navigating the politics of plus sizes? Here's some help

  • Article by: WENDY DONAHUE , Chicago Tribune
  • Updated: January 19, 2013 - 7:00 AM

More retailers are making stylish clothes to fit women who don't fit the size 12 mold.

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Both high-end and mass-market retailers are making clothes more suitable to plus-size women.

Photo: Wilfredo Lee, Associated Press file

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New York University student Stella Boonshoft didn't focus on fashion when she posted a photo of her size 12 self in underwear on her Body Love Blog.

Neither did Wisconsin news anchor Jennifer Livingston when she aired her grievances about a viewer's criticism about her weight.

But they've both become heroines for thousands of women size 14 and up, who know that when they walk outside they'll confront narrow-minded ideas of what they should and shouldn't wear at their weight.

"The biggest myth is that plus-size women want to fade into the background and not make a fashion statement," said Nicolette Mason, a lifestyle blogger and columnist for Marie Claire. "They do want to be seen and be empowered by their clothing and have fun with their wardrobe, and not have it be a source of shame or anxiety."

New avenues are opening, too. Here, Mason offers her perspective on what's changing and what remains challenging in plus-size fashion.

WHAT'S CHANGING

• Mainstream retailers are offering plus-size styles that are as fashion-forward as their regular sizes. Eloquii, a new plus-size brand from the Limited (eloquii.com), "speaks to so many women, and it's very much work-to-weekend," Mason said. Asos' Curve line, from the U.K.-based online retailer (asos.com), "has hit it out of the ballpark in terms of quality and price," Mason said. Lucky Brand launched Lucky Plus last summer.

• A fresh crop of plus-size brands is turning heads. Domino Dollhouse (dominodollhouse.com) reminds Mason of Betsey Johnson's aesthetic. JilRo ( jil-ro.com ) from Neiman Marcus "is a higher price point, $300 to $500, offering something that hasn't been part of this market," Mason said. The contemporary Mynt 1792 (mynt1792.com), available at Nordstrom, does a lot of denim under $150. "That's really exciting to me," Mason said. The Danish Carmakoma (carmakoma.com) "is phenomenal -- really edgy and design-focused but also great quality and fit," Mason said.

• Contemporary brands also are adding plus-size lines. Tbags has a straight size and plus-size line with the same styles, Mason said. And Mason was pleasantly surprised by how much she liked the Jessica Simpson collection. "It really was hard for me to be open to this line," Mason said, "but I love it. The clothes are so cute, all under $200." Both are sold at nordstrom.com.

• Cheap-chic chains are revamping their plus lines. H&M+ is going beyond basics and starting to do trend-forward pieces, Mason said. Forever 21+ "is great, especially for younger women and teens. There's still room to grow, because the pieces aren't exactly the same as in the main line, but they've certainly improved," Mason said. Some of Target's limited-edition collaborations, such as with Calypso or the Webster, include plus-size pieces. Kmart's LYS line (Love Your Style, Love Your Size) offers under-$30 bargains.

WHAT'S CHALLENGING

• Fit. "When you go higher in sizes, it's a lot harder for a designer to predict where the weight will distribute," Mason said. "I'm top heavy and most plus-size apparel is fit onto a bottom-heavy woman. The bust is cut smaller than the bottom in virtually every garment. That's a problem I have personally, but it's not universal."

• A lack of brick-and-mortar stores, with the exception of Lane Bryant. "Trying on clothing is so essential for all women, but especially in this market. I'll be a 16 in one piece and need a 20 in another piece, even from the same brand. Fit wildly varies."

WHAT'S STALE

• Sizeism and fat-shaming, like what the Wisconsin news anchor experienced. "Stepping out and being confident and visible is inherently political when your body is 'othered' by society," Mason said. "When you're a woman who's visible, you're dealing with a lot more scrutiny than a man in the same position with the same build would ever be subjected to."

• The scarcity of options. Often, especially with high-fashion magazines, the issue is there's nothing to dress these women in that's meeting the magazine's standards. Some designers offer plus sizes in their bridge lines (Michael Kors, Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein), but not in their top-tier collections.

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