7 Plus Size Fashion Issues That Still Need To Be Addressed Because Inclusivity Doesn't Always Mean Equality
If you'd told 14-year-old me that 24-year-old me would one day be sitting on a computer discussing plus size fashion as an actual, thriving industry as opposed to a teenage dream, I would have told you that 24-year-old me must've taken some pretty serious hallucinogens. Ten years ago, plus size brands certainly existed — but they didn't exist in quite the same way they do now. Thanks to the efforts of body positive activists, bloggers, models, celebs, and designers, the plus size industry has grown to approximately a $17.5 billion one. And that means that today — more than ever — we have options.
For a long time, "having options" seemed like such a huge aspect of the body positivity movement's efforts, at least to me. Pushing to be visible and catered to by the fashion industry — one that's been so exclusionary of so many types of humans — felt like a pretty big step towards ultimate societal acceptance. If we could shop with "normal" people, maybe we'd be closer to breaking down some of the barriers.
Today I can do a good, old Google and shop at any one of 100 stores that carry my size, both plus size specific ones and otherwise. I can even go to a couple fast fashion destinations IRL and find a section dedicated to my size. But as more and more brands begin adding plus sizes to their collections, and more and more members of body positive communities reach mainstream visibility, we can't forget that there's still a long way to go before inclusivity means equality.
As plus size fashion evolves and hopefully transforms into the thing so many of us have wanted it to be for so long, here are seven issues I think we still need to talk about.
1. Plus Size Swimwear Still Mainly Consists Of High Rise Bikinis
Since really taking off in 2012, the fatkini movement has inarguably been empowering women nonstop. Prior to then, I don't really remember ever seeing a fat woman in a two-piece swimsuit — certainly not in real life and only on television if she was the brunt of a joke. Today, many plus size women the world over have not only started to wear two-pieces, but to feel way better about themselves by doing so.
I can't help but think, however, that the next step in fatkini pride should really be an embracing of low-rise bikinis. The "fatkini" as we see it on social media is generally a retro-inspired high waist number. Although beautiful (and personally one of my favorite looks), it covers what is often a woman's fattest bit: The tummy.
There are plenty of reasons to love your belly, though. Just as the fatkini helped many of us love the parts of our bodies we'd previously covered up most, perhaps the low-rise bikini (or chunkini, as I like to call it) will help us love our tummies even more too.
2. Plus Size Lines & Brands Often Stop At A 3X
Visit the plus size section of an e-commerce store or an IRL shop, and check out the tags on the clothes. What's the biggest size there? Chances are it's a 3X. As with all sizes, what a 3X actually means can vary from store to store. All I know is that my own size can be a 1X at one shop, a plain old L at another, a 4X in a select few, and everything in between. Depending on where you're shopping, a 3X can be a 20/22 and then a 24/26. It can accommodate 52-inch hips or 46-inch ones. At the end of the day, that's not really all that inclusive.
This is all to say that even when a retailer expands its size range to cater to more women, there are still plenty who are left out. Ladies who are sizes 4X and above should be able to know what it's like to finally feel acknowledged by the fashion industry — to have unique and innovative apparel designed with them in mind. That feeling and that freedom and that acceptance shouldn't have a size limit.
3. Brick And Mortar Locations Of Plus Lines Are Reserved To Small Back Corners Of The Stores
Picture this: You hear that a mega retailer has decided to sell plus sizes, and not just online. Finally, you'll be able to shop — to leave Google behind in exchange for some waxed floors and awful in-store music. Maybe Ke$ha. You count down the moments, right until you hit the shiny mall store. Look at all those pretty clothes. This place has everything: The '70s trend, culottes, overalls, pastel dresses, cape vests. Wow. You try to find the plus section to no avail, finally asking one of the sales associates: "Oh it's right in the back, just carry on to the far left cover," she says with a smile.
Upon arriving at the far left corner, you see it: Three to four racks with a bland assortment of monochromatic T-shirts, some shapeless jeans thrown on a table, a couple of decent-enough crop tops and shorts (well, if they weren't "fat taxed," they'd be nice), and last season's pink cocoon coat.
As UK-based blogger Callie Thorpe wrote in a post "Why Are Brands Not Promoting Their Plus Size Lines," "As for in store displays I feel very little effort is put on visual merchandise [...] The last time I visited [Regent], the plus size section was on the lower ground and felt hidden away in a corner, nothing really caught my attention because, it all kind of blended together. I wasn't inspired or drawn to anything which is really kind of rubbish and often leaves you feeling rather deflated when surrounded by great items on other floors that are bright, and innovative." Thus usually seems to be the case.
4. There's A General Lack Of Minimalist Options
A complaint I've heard voiced by many plus size friends who prefer jeans and T-shirts over sequins and lace is that the plus industry is not yet catering to the fat minimalists of the world. There are a select few minimalist-focused brands, of course, but there's still arguably some stigma surrounding plus size women who choose to adopt a "lazy girl" style.
The thing is, I totally get this one. For a long time, plus size women didn't really have all that many options. If a woman wanted to dress in alternative styles or in a dress decked out in unicorns, fuzzy pom poms, or other pixie sh*t, she really had no choice besides learning to design those pieces for herself. As soon as the industry began expanding and more and more retailers starting selling options above a size 14, I knew I just wanted to try it all: The tutus, the pinup dresses, the sparkly gowns, the Disney princess-print sneakers. And eventually, I found I genuinely loved all those things.
Just as not all straight size women want to wear the same things, however, not all plus size women want to wear the same things, either. Fuller-figured women who prefer mom jeans over skinnies or T-shirts over tutus shouldn't be denied those styles. Many of us can agree that fashion needs to stop being exclusionary of women of certain sizes, but it should also stop being exclusionary of women of certain styles.
5. Plus Size Clothes Are Often Scaled Up Versions Of Straight Size Ones
As Veronica Miller wrote in an article about plus size dress forms for xoJane, "[...] while the size 8 forms are fine for making clothes for fit models, manufacturers seem to have forgotten that the human body just doesn't 'scale up' in uniform increments when it gets larger." Scaling up plus size clothes — i.e., literally making a garment in the same exact proportions, but bigger — just doesn't work. It doesn't account for the variations between a straight size body and a plus size body (and the many variations within plus size bodies themselves).
While brands won't necessarily advertise their plus options as being "scaled up" or otherwise, it's not hard to tell when something hasn't been constructed for a plus size body. These garments won't be built with love handles or bellies in mind. There won't be room for your tummy or your plumper arms. Things will be loose in some places, but crazy tight in others.
When clothes are made with your body in mind, you don't feel like it's your belly against the fabric. You don't feel like your ass is a "problem area." You just feel comfortable. You feel happy.
6. "Short" Or "Tall" Options Are A Rarity
Sometimes I wonder if part of my distaste for jeans stems from never managing to find ones that cover my ankles. Don't get me wrong: I love a good cigarette trouser or summery capri. But sometimes you just want your legs bundled top to bottom in some snazzy denim. If you're a plus size woman who is either shorter or taller than average, however, this might often feel impossible to pull off.
It's extremely rare that I visit the "curve" section of a retailer or even a plus-specific brand and get the a choice between short, regular, or tall. While I'm grateful to have the "curve" option in general (it really doesn't seem like long ago since Lane Bryant felt like the only plus option in the world), I think most of us would be even more grateful if our height differences were being catered to as well.
7. More IRL Locations Of Plus Size Shops In General
"Every store in the world is literally in Millennials’ pockets; they can hang out with their friends, sip lattes and shop online — all at the same time. So why spend all the time and effort traveling to, and traipsing through, big, old, largely boring malls with a limited number of cool stores that don’t offer any great experience in the first place?"
The "why," of course, is arguably the ability to try things on in the flesh. When I was a teenager, going to the mall felt like this hugely important experience. It was a time to hang out with friends, to get away from the monotony of everyday life, to experiment with my style, and learn about self-expression.
Plus size women should have the option to shop IRL if they so choose. When you hit up a mall, chances are they have one (maybe two) stores with plus collections — but then you hit up against barrier No. 3 on this list. Despite rises in e-commerce, most of America's malls are doing just fine. Maybe it's time they use some of their space for the advancement of size acceptance and equality.
I would never want to belittle the amazing efforts being done in the plus size fashion industry right now. Sometimes it seems like a new body positive campaign is launching every day, while body pos-focused brands are being born by the minute, too. But in order to progress even more, I think we need to be willing to talk about all that's left to do.
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Images: Marie Southard Ospina