Around the holiday season in the Smith Haven Mall in Lake Grove, New York, display windows present the newest sales while the winter-ready mannequins model the latest faux fur-lined fashions, but the lack of plus-size clothing available for the masses is apparent.
On Nov. 5, J. Crew, a brand known for its preppy fashion and sizes that cap at a 16, launched a winter collection with on-the-rise plus brand, Universal Standard, carrying sizes 00-32, following a successful summer 2018 collaboration. The Smith Haven J.Crew will only carry select pieces from the collection.
Moves such as these are often met with praise and excitement, especially considering that 67 percent of American women are considered “plus-size” or wear a size 14 and upwards. However, this statistic is not reflected in the thin, thigh-gapped mannequins that stand in the windows of even the trendiest stores.
“It’s wild to me how difficult it is finding plus-size clothing in stores, yet more than half of American women identify as such,” Nichole Nordle, a resident of Nesconset, New York, said. “Why is more than half the population over a size 14, but I can’t easily find clothes in those sizes in store?”
The Smith Haven branch of Forever 21, a popular store known for its trendy graphic tees and budget-friendly accessories, has set itself apart from other clothing stores in the mall in terms of highlighting inclusivity.
“We’re the only store in the mall that really carries plus-sizes,” Brittni Gonta, visuals manager for Forever 21 in Smith Haven Mall, said.
The Los Angeles-based company officially launched its Forever 21 Plus line in 2009 and saw a re-launch in 2017 that included a new plus-size swimwear line. Though similar so-called “fast fashion” stores such as Charlotte Russe and H&M have recently unveiled their own extended-size lines, the Smith Haven branches simply do not carry the plus collections.
“More of the [plus-sized] clothes are sold online,” Jessica Jankowski, assistant visuals manager at Forever 21 in Smith Haven Mall, said. “A lot of stores don’t carry that many extended sizes in store.”
Long Island features limited choices available for not only trendy clothing, but trendy clothing that fits, Nordle said. She prefers to shop online or outside of the island.
“I don’t ever shop in store if I actually need something. I’ll browse, but I know if I need something, it nine times out of 10 needs to be bought online,” she said.
The full-figured community is being underserved here and the consensus is that this demographic does not generate as much revenue for the businesses. “Designers and retailers have long thought of the plus-size segment as high-risk,” according to The Economist.
“They think where they’re gonna make more of the money is standard size clothes,” Gonta said.
This sentiment is shared throughout the fashion industry. With buzz about its annual fashion show putting Victoria’s Secret lingerie back in the spotlight, Ed Razek, chief marketing officer of Victoria Secret’s parent company, L Brands, faced backlash for comments regarding including plus-size and transgender models in the show.
“Shouldn’t you have transsexuals in the show?” Razek told Vogue in early November. “No, I don’t think we should. Well, why not? Because the show is a fantasy. It’s a 42-minute entertainment special.”
For the prestigious New York Fashion Week, only 12 of the 84 brands showcased this past season actually sell clothing in a size 16 or above.
“A lot of people immediately go to this health vs. fashion fight and it’s not about that,” Meaghan O’Connor, fashion stylist and blogger, said. “Using that as a weapon against someone’s ability to feel great about themselves is deplorable. That’s a lot of people’s immediate go-tos when they don’t offer all sizes or they don’t want to go in that space … it’s fashion or not.”
On the other hand, women who wear plus-size clothing recognize that there have been efforts to pull them into the sphere, but not without exceptions.
“The fashion industry has opened up to plus-sized women, but only to a certain extent; you have to look a certain way,” Eden Gibson, beauty influencer and creative director, said. “You can be fat, but you can only be a certain kind of fat.”
Plus-size models are typically considered to be women who wear a size 14 and upwards. Despite plus-size brands or plus-inclusive brands carrying up to 3X, some women feel the physical and online stores fail to reflect this diversity.
“Even when you shop online, you see the same few models over and over across websites,” Nordle said. “They’re plus-size women, but they’re a more ‘socially acceptable proportioned’ shape. They generally have hourglass figures with little to no bellies or rolls and they’re on the small end of plus size spectrum. They’re almost always one of the smallest sizes available.”
Specialty brands such as Fashion to Figure, Torrid and Lane Bryant have stepped in to bring more offerings to the plus-size market and exclusively carry extended sizes. However, these brands often cater to older women, with mature styles and higher prices. Still, brands such as online retailer Fashion Nova, that adapt to include extended sizes, garner substantial attention.
“Fashion Nova is blowing up because fat women feel sexy in the clothes that they sell and they get to get the spotlight that Instagram models with ‘perfect’ bodies get to have,” Gibson said.
Fashion Nova also had a revamping of its “Curve” line in 2017 and launched a Fashion Nova Curve Instagram page that routinely features fans, customers and influencers sporting their Curve purchases chosen from the hashtag #FashionNovaCurve. The page now boasts 2.4 million followers.
Plus-size women have been gradually propelled into global attention after the influence of models such as Ashley Graham, legendary modeling agencies such as IMG merging their “Curve” model management with the rest of the models and a cropping up of specialty brands or extended sizes. Some women see this as progress, but with more work to be done.
“I would like to see more stores with plus sized options that do not end at size 18,” Nana Otoo, a Long Island resident, said. “I would like for there to be no difference in the style of clothes sold in the plus-sized section of stores. I don’t believe that this is a lofty goal because plus sized people are people and should not have a harder time finding cute, affordable and comfortable clothes to wear just because we are bigger.”