If you are straight size, going to the mall and trying on items may not seem that out of the ordinary. But when you're plus size, being able to try something on before purchasing is still a luxury. That said, it's a challenge that plus size fashion event, The Curvy Con, has found a way to tackle. At least for two days of the year.
The two-day event held in June 2016 at New York City's Metropolitan West brought together a full floor of fatshion retailers, many of which usually sell online-only. As an independent e-commerce designer myself, I often get asked about the growth of the plus size fashion industry over the past few years. Although there's been a massive amount of growth in terms of brands entering the market, the truth is that in-store plus size shopping remains painfully limited.
While I'm grateful for online shopping as a plus size consumer, there's something to be said about being able to feel a fabric or see how a garment fits before purchasing it. The blogger duo of Chastity Garner Valentine (GarnerStyle) and CeCe Olisa (Plus Size Princess) must've recognized this need, because their event feels like the perfect antidote to the plus size shopping challenge.
Packed with everyone from independent designers to major legacy brands, The Curvy Con gave plus size shoppers a rare opportunity to not have to sift through straight size racks in order to find their size. Below, seven plus size shoppers share their experiences at the convention, and explain why IRL shopping still matters.
As a size 28 living in Canada, Lisa from the blog Mustangsallytwo tells me she has become accustomed to shopping online, since her size is not often carried in stores. She put the shopping experience at The Curvy Con in total perspective when she referred to it as "a mall just for plus size girls;" and this mall-like shopping experience not only introduced her to new brands, but gave her the chance to experience their sizing firsthand.
"Being able to shop in person allows me to take more risks and experiment with brands where I am not sure about sizing, cuts, styles, etc.," Lisa tells me via email. "There is no expensive return costs and duty [fees]. I also like being able to ask questions or ask for recommendations."
At Curvy Con, Lisa purchased a dress from the Beth Ditto Collection via Hey Gorgeous! The boutique had a full rack of Ditto's stunning high-end plus size pieces on display. Seeing the print, the fabric quality, and the fit in person sold Lisa on the slightly higher price-point. Personally, I know I will be glued to her blog to see how she styles it.
Darlene of the blog Suits, Heels, And Curves tells me that being petite makes shopping online more difficult; and as a fellow petite plus size shopper, I can attest to the struggle. She says that shopping and browsing racks in person at Curvy Con gave her the confidence to shop new brands online after the event as well.
"I love the entire process of shopping in person," shares Darlene. "From picking out the garments, touching the fabric, trying it on, and then the excitement of bringing it home. Plus, you don't have to wait until anything arrives. It's there instantly for you to wear if you so choose."
At the event, Darlene made a purchase from Rachel Roy Curvy, which only debuted a few months ago. She was sold on the fit and quality of the items coupled with the killer sale prices the brand put on for convention shoppers.
Lindsey Averill is the co-founder and producer of the forthcoming documentary Fattitude. Averill tells me that while she likes shopping online and sees its benefits, she often spends a lot of money in order to try on the clothes. She adds that being able to try on and touch pieces from one of her favorite brands, ASOS, in person was a dream. Averill made a few purchases, including a bohemian style maxi dress and a T-shirt from Rachel Roy.
"Curvy Con is amazing ... because as a fat woman you almost never get to shop on site, but also because in a world that treats fat people so cruelly, it is a dream — like joy to be in a room surrounded by fat women who are embracing their bodies. It's revolutionary," she shares.
I couldn't agree more.
Emily Dominguez of the blog Amply Emmy had seen a dress she loved from the Boston-based indie plus brand ASK Fashion at another plus size event earlier in the week, but she wasn't able to try it on. The dressing rooms stationed around Curvy Con allowed Dominguez to see how the dress fit, and that's ultimately what made her a buyer.
She also tells me that the discounts and reduced prices that some brands offered didn't hurt, either. After the event, Dominguez says that she purchased a few bras from Curvy Couture, which was on-site offering bra fittings and a chance to try on items from its inventory before purchasing online.
New York-based Jami Jaye blogs about plus size fashion on her site Style Over Size. One brand that she was looking forward to seeing in person was ASOS. She says that pictures can just never replace being able to touch and see things in person.
"I love the opportunities that The Curvy Con provides, especially having online brands set up pop-up shops," says Jaye. "It gives people a chance to give a brand a try that they may have been hesitant about because of the uncertainty of sizing. Also, you get a chance to meet the people behind the brands."
During the event, Jaye purchased a pair of Rachel Roy Curvy denim culottes that she initially thought would be too long on her. She ended up sizing down and describing the fit as "great."
Blogger Kelly Augustine had her eye on a few pieces from Rachel Roy prior to the event, and being able to experience the quality of the garments firsthand converted her to a buyer. She also picked up a set from ELOQUII. She adds that while the quality was important, the sale prices were the real deal-maker.
"I like being able to touch and feel garments and try them on," shares Kelly. "Having an hourglass shape is a bit of a challenge when shopping because my body is two different sizes. Shopping in-person eliminates the barrier of confusion and ill-fit. I'm also very particular about materials and shopping in-store helps with that."
In addition to the shopping element, Kelly tells me that she appreciates being able to interact directly with brands. I'll add that being able to give feedback on products directly to the source is huge.
Bustle's Associate Fashion and Beauty Editor Marie Southard Ospina took advantage of the shopping opportunities at Curvy Con. She tells me via email that she was stoked to be able to try on pieces from the Beth Ditto collection in person, and ultimately her major purchase came from the Shegul rack over at the Hey Gorgeous! booth — a dress she had been dreaming about since the brand's press preview in 2015.
"When I tried it on, I had the kind of moment I'm sure a lot of straight size individuals who shop IRL likely experience regularly: I looked at myself in the mirror, and everything felt right. Not just aesthetically, but emotionally," Southard Ospina says. "The dress made me feel something: Excitement about fashion, yes. But excitement over a garment that's so perfect for your body and your tastes that you need to have it right then and there. It's not a feeling you can necessarily recreate when you shop online."
I love how her words hit on this emotional feeling that, as plus size consumers, we get to experience so infrequently. While a lot of plus size shoppers have online purchasing down to a science, the point is that they shouldn't have to.
"As much as the world, or at least much of the Western world, has experienced a fatshion revolution in recent years, we can't forget that plus size women in particular rarely ever get to shop in person," she adds. "We can't decide to go buy a $10 bikini at the mall on a whim after work. We can't storm into fitting rooms with our straight size buddies and have anything to try on for ourselves. We need to keep fighting for fashion equality in all areas, and that also means shopping in person. I had forgotten how exciting it can be to be surrounded by people whose company you love while also shopping. It's not something I've been able to do since childhood. I don't want to have to forget, though."
The idea that a plus size-only, mall-style shopping experience exists, if only for two days, is undoubtedly a very big deal. The reality for many plus size consumers, especially in rural or suburban areas, is that online-shopping is the only option. Although having a wealth of options just a click away is certainly wonderful in its own way, there's something very valuable about not having to guess how something will look on you before buying it.
My hope is that events like Curvy Con show retailers how big this need for in-person plus size shopping experiences really is.
Image: Courtesy Emily Dominguez (1)