“Plus Size” Is Not A Dirty Word

Take it from a fat girl: we need to think bigger than #DropThePlus.

October 13, 2015

As a fashion blogger at ArchedEyebrow.com, and a plus size woman who demands more from clothing than yet another shapeless top, I often get accused of being hard to please. But the truth is, I just want what thin girls have served to them with no fuss and no drama on a daily basis. There have been exciting moments in plus size fashion this year, such as London Plus Size Fashion Week in September, or Beth Ditto walking the runway for Marc Jacobs this NYFW. But while everything Beth Ditto does is extremely cool, she and I still can't buy Marc Jacobs' clothes in our size—so what difference does this really make to the girls out here trying to build a great plus size wardrobe?

This one-off "moment" that has no real impact is similar to model Stefania Ferrario and TV presenter Ajay Rochester's campaign to “drop the plus”—which calls for "plus size models" to be re-labelled "models"—which they launched this summer. Unfortunately, it seems as if they might be getting their way. Online retailer ModCloth announced this week that they would, indeed, be dropping the plus—by removing the “Plus Size” section from their website navigation. And renaming it “Extended Sizes”. What ModCloth fail to understand is that losing the term “plus size” is actively harmful to how people will shop its site. By removing a dedicated section for plus sizes, the site becomes more difficult to navigate for people shopping for those sizes. When I go to any website that sells mainstream and plus sizes, I want to know instantly which styles are available in plus, so I don’t get my hopes up about a great dress that the retailer never meant for someone my size.

Model Stefania Ferrario campaigns for #DropThePlus  

We need a separate section until brands are radical enough to make all styles in all sizes, because “merging” the main and plus ranges doesn’t mean that the main ranges will be available in plus sizes, just that they won’t be called plus. This really doesn’t help anyone in more than the most superficial way, and yet it gets heralded as a revolutionary moment for plus size fashion. The Huffington Post, for example, went with a headline saying ModCloth’s decision “makes all clothes equal” (newsflash: it didn’t). Bustle went with “ModCloth Is Retiring Its Plus Size Section & Its Replacement Is Pretty Awesome”. Awesome? For erasing its plus size customers?

“I’m living for the day when I have access to the same range of cool, daring, understated clothes as thin women, without the side-order of condescension.”

The more times we’re disappointed, the more the plus size community becomes bitter and vocal. That bitterness peaks with superficial gestures and hashtag campaigns. In September, U.S. retailer Lane Bryant tried to “empower” us with #PlusIsEqual, while the U.K.’s Evans followed up mere weeks later with #StyleHasNoSize. Nice try, Evans, but if style really has no size, then maybe don’t populate your photo shoots to promote the campaign with slim but curvy women who in no way resemble your target demographic. These banal gestures make brands feel and look as if they’ve “done something” and are therefore unimpeachable, while they continue to churn out the same old ugly t-shirts with butterflies on them, waterfall cardigans, and boring “retro” dresses with waist belts for a market that is increasingly demanding greater variety and quality.

It’s not all bad news, though: only this week, another online retailer, the New York-based Eloquii, produced a gorgeous look book specifically for customers at a U.S. size 26 and 28, featuring Emmicia Bracey—a model who not only definitely is that size, but is a dark-skinned black woman. A drop in the ocean, maybe, but a drop none the less. This was welcomed with enthusiastic commentary by plus size publications and shoppers grateful to see an actually fat woman (if the term “fat” shocks you, have a look at my post here) and a woman of color in promotional material for a major retailer. There have been great conversations about the availability of plus size models who aren’t a U.K. 14, and at this point there’s little excuse for retailers sticking to the same old faces if they truly want to diversify. Representation is important. Plus size shoppers aren’t just white women with big boobs, a flat stomach and cascading blonde hair.

Gone are the days when a new range could appear, go up to a U.K. 24 (a U.S. 20) and be heralded as a great new fashion moment. The community is collectively demanding greater inclusion for bigger fats, via both the availability of clothing to a size 30 and beyond, and representation in companies’ branding. The fact the Eloquii look book is specifically for U.S. sizes 26 and 28 shows that those sizes are still, in many ways, separate from the more “mainstream” plus sizes—but seeing the brand make such a huge, positive effort with marketing those sizes in an appealing way, rather than downplaying their existence, is heartening. Other tangible victories have included the second round of blogger GabiFresh’s collaboration with Swimsuits For All, giving amazing printed bikini options up to a U.S. 28, and online plus size retailer navabi messing with the traditional supply system and bringing in made-to-order clothes. ModCloth, instead of dropping their plus size branding, would do better to extend the array of cute, twee dresses they sell in those sizes. Take Eloquii’s lead by showing you value and respect your larger customers, and realize it’s not only white women buying your clothes.

Brands want to post inspirational “love your curves” quotes on their Instagram feeds or tell us that “style has no size” to get fat women on board with their products. Given that these are the rules of engagement in plus size fashion, is it really so wrong to ask that these messages, firstly, mean something concrete, and secondly, are reflected in what that same brand actually produces for their plus size customers? I’m living for the day when I have access to the same range of cool, classic, bright, tight, daring, understated, sexy, demure clothes as thin women, without the side-order of condescension from the retailers I buy from. No more hashtag campaigns, no more erasure, just great clothes for all sizes.

“Plus Size” Is Not A Dirty Word