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Twenty years ago a tall, chubby twelve-year-old girl went shopping with her mother. They went to Gadzooks (RIP), The Limited (RIP), and a few department stores. The girl couldn't find anything in her size, refused to be seen in the Misses section, and concluded the outing by storming to the car and weeping.
Ten years ago, that same girl changed her approach to searching for the fashion she so dearly loved: She stopped looking. After all, the only clothing available in her size was sold at Lane Bryant — nice enough, but the grown-ass-career-woman aesthetic didn't look right on an 18-year-old.
Today, the girl is a fashion and beauty editor. She regularly spends too much money on clothes and has a decently sick wardrobe. Her sense of style is always evolving, and she’s always encouraging other former-chubby-kids-turned-plus-size-fashion-lovers to rethink their assumptions about what looks good.
Yeah, the girl is me. I'm a woman now — grown ass, but not quite cut from that grown ass Lane Bryant cloth (though nothing but respect for those who are).
The way the plus size fashion market has grown and evolved over the last 20 years is astounding. If you told 12-year-old, sobbing-in-the-car me about this, I would have rolled my reddened eyes and wrote something aggressive in my diary about your lies.
In 2017, there are more options for plus size women than ever before, but there's still much to be desired. Plus size fashion has a presence in formerly off-limits spaces like New York Fashion Week, but many of the offerings on the runway — and subsequently on store racks — fall short. Finding plus size clothing with a solid combination of trendiness, affordability, and a reasonably inclusive size range often feels impossible — even if you’re a fashion editor who literally gets to spend all day trying.
Despite my frustrations, there are still reasons to be happy about how plus size fashion has transformed itself. There are dozens of wonderful plus size bloggers and influencers changing the tides, many of whom are people of color, and they refuse to let the industry dictate whether or not they're represented. Can't find a black, visibly fat woman in a tight dress, rolls on display, proud as can be to admire? Just become that woman and get yourself tens of thousands of followers on social media. That's what Jezra Matthews, the incredible model at the center of this editorial, did. She's a size 20/22, an unsigned model with natural locs and possibly the most perfect smile in the game, who built an Instagram following of over 100,000 by herself. Jezra is just one of hundreds of plus size women who don't just want representation — they are representation.
And, these days, there are so many plus size options beyond Lane Bryant. Many of these brands are producing affordable, on-trend pieces for women sizes 20 and above. No, not all of it is perfect, and yes, it does take some work to figure out and piece together — but it's there, which is more than 12-or-22-year-old me could say. But what good is accessible fashion if you're unsure what to work with? What trends should you try, which pieces work for which looks, and how do those clothes look on an actual fat body? Turns out, a lot of the clothing available on the fall 2017 racks can be styled up and out to the next level.
The idea of wearing black and white is about as groundbreaking as florals for spring, but there are some new and interesting ways to work the classic pairing into your wardrobe. I love head-to-toe graphic prints for plus size women; it's a strong way to stand out in a world that tells you to wear neutrals and stay in the shadows. A coordinating top-and-pant situation is also on the fall 2017 agenda.
This set, sold on plus size luxury retailer Navabi and made by Yoona, is perfection. Style a look like this with a pair of shoes that manage to be both statement and simple, as well as a an arty pop of bling on one ear, and you've got yourself a look.
Full denim might seem like A Bit Much, but if Bruce Weber can do it, why can't you? Premme, a new plus size line founded by OG bloggers Nicolette Mason and Gabi Gregg, made the quintessential fall jacket for a feminist, and it's a statement all on its own. Try pairing with a chambray shirt and some Good American jeans (the pair on Jezra are a size 24; she described them as "amazing" and "so comfortable").
Depending on how you style this look, you can play with the idea of masculinity (often thought impossible for plus size women with round, soft bodies), dress for a rugged day at the apple orchard (does anyone ever actually do that?) or pay homage to Westworld (your favorite show that you don't actually understand, but that's cool, no one else does either).
Dressing in one color feels easy when it's black, but that can get repetitive after awhile. There's no such thing as doing too much when it comes to this rich red. If you hadn't already guessed, this look is 100 percent inspired by fashion icon and revolutionary performer Solange — I'm just going to go ahead and say that she officially invented head-to-toe red.
Another trend to try (and one that could transport you back to the early 2000s) is a dress (from ASOS) over pants (Eloquii) — after seeing Jezra in the look, multiple people in the studio proclaimed that they'd "be doing dresses over pants this fall." Yes, that's right: A plus size woman in plus size clothing is inspiring straight size people to try a trend. Here for it.
I saw Gucci's Fall 2017 ready-to-wear collection go down the runway, but I never thought I'd be able to recreate the concept in plus. Lo and behold, rich floral prints do exist in plus sizes, here to spare us from the ditsy florals that so regularly haunt our clothing racks.
The idea with this look, and one that I'm 100 percent supportive of, is to do the absolute most. The Eloquii floral pajama set, combined with the Eloquii jacquard coat, are the perfect pieces with which to do so. Maximalist print mixing is an incredibly fun way to put together a look, and it's also guaranteed to leave passersby in awe of your confidence, the impact you make when you step into a room, and your ability to coordinate unlikely clothing pieces.
When I think of the panoptic universe of street style, it's hard for me to imagine what the aesthetic looks like for a plus size woman — I love a tracksuit, but it's tough to find one in my size. This look is an alternative approach to street style, one that features pieces we can actually buy.
The Universal Standard Geneva Fog Dress (available in black, blue, and gray) instantly adds a layer of interest to any outfit. It's the perfect way to tone down this iridescent Club L Cami Strap Midi Bodycon Dress, just in time to take it back up a notch with a metallic silver rain jacket. Add a pair of combat boots to the mix, because night looks don't always have to rest on heels. It's part club kid, part futuristic road warrior, and totally wearable once you convince yourself that you deserve to look this cool. You do.
And finally, a look that's probably most in line with my own everyday style: A crisp, white shirtdress, intentionally worn about two sizes too big. Plus size women in oversized clothing isn't just chic, it's an open rebellion against the idea that we should always be trying to make ourselves look smaller. This Universal Standard The Georgia Dress is the best option I've found in this style and silhouette, and I love the fact that the fabric stays crisp, doesn't wrinkle easily, and also has a bit of stretch.
Obviously, these looks don't represent every trend on the market, and they're certainly not representative of everyone's style. What each of these looks does do is remind plus size fashion lovers that there are options out there, pieces that are made for those who want to stand out instead of shrink away into the background. As the market grows, so do our expectations — I'm hoping these images and looks prove that plus size women not only look good in the clothes they choose, but are in constant, strong pursuit of the brands that consistently provide them.
Styling: Amanda Richards, Gabrielle Prescod
Hair: Adam Maclay using Oribe
Makeup: Markphong using Inglot Cosmetics
Nails: Elizabeth Garcia using Dior Vernis
Set Designer: Pakayla Biehn
Bustle Team: Deputy Editor, Fashion & Beauty: Kara McGrath; Senior Fashion Market Editor: Gabrielle Prescod; Fashion & Beauty Editor: Amanda Richards; Photographer: Ashley Batz; Photo Editor: Sepp Dasbach; Booking/Production Manager: Guillermo Perez; Art Director: Bry Crasch; Junior Art Director: Brit Phillips