The Plus-size Shopping Experience and the Influence of Fashion Bloggers

Posted by on September 13, 2013

Four years ago, I collapsed in tears on the floor of a Macy’s changing room while trying to shimmy another too small prom dress past my thunder thighs. As a 16-year-old high school student and at a U.S. size 14, I sat on the cusp of the plus-size spectrum and was already frustrated with my pathetically limited fashion choices. That much was evident in the heap of discarded dresses on the floor of my changing room ranging from a cheap-looking, puke green, rhinestone-covered monstrosity to an ultra-conservative tan gown, which was probably more appropriate for a mother of the groom. Eventually, I found a strapless, red & yellow printed silk dress with turquoise detailing that fit and adhered to basic fashion standards, but it took more than a dozen trips to the mall, an all out tantrum in the basement of a thrift store and, of course, full-body Spanx.

I am still a U.S. 14, but I have not had the same struggles with my shopping selections since my discovery of online retailers like ASOS, a U.K. based company, and ModCloth, which both carry extended sizing in addition to their standard lines. However, these relatively new plus-size fashion ventures exist purely online, forcing plus-size women to shop from their homes and denying them a physical shopping experience.

Visual art graduate student Torey Akers, 23, who operates the fashion blog Mall-Goth-A-GoGo, says that she hates the poor options available to plus-size customers. “There’s something incredibly insulting about the fact that most plus-size stores exist exclusively online; I feel as if I’m being told that my dress size renders me unworthy of a brick-and-mortar customer service experience,” says Akers.

Torey Akers from the blog Mall-Goth-A-GoGo believes in making clothes work for you. “Always remember that it’s not your moral duty to fit into clothing. If the pants don’t button, you haven’t failed, the damn pants have,” says Akers. Credit: Torey Akers

Plus-size shoppers criticized Target via social media in April for naming a plus-size gray maxi dress “manatee gray,” a title that might not have been overly offensive if its identical regular size dress was not called the more standard “heather gray.” When the color choice came under fire from various fat acceptance and body-positive movements, Target changed the selection from manatee gray to heather gray and tweeted an apology via its official Twitter account and a spokeswoman told Today.com that Target was sorry for “any discomfort” and never intended to offend.

RTR+ offers sizes 14-22, but are hoping to expand their size options even more. Credit: Rent the Runway

RTR+ offers sizes 14-22, but are hoping to expand their size options even more. Credit: Rent the Runway

The media and consumers criticized the CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch, Mike Jeffries, 68, for a May Business Insider report that dredged up a 2006 profile of Jeffries that appeared in Salon in which he stated why Abercrombie refuses to make larger clothing. Their women’s pant sizes end in a 10, and they do not make any shirts for women past large. Jeffries is quoted as saying in the Salon article: “‘Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely. Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny. But then you become totally vanilla. You don’t alienate anybody, but you don’t excite anybody, either.'”

These comments have enraged many parents and Abercrombie customers and this attitude simply does not make financial sense anymore when comparing the success of brands like Forever 21 and H&M incorporating plus-size lines.

Even with the success of plus-size fashion bloggers, many plus-size bodies lack visibility in fashion and in the media. An exception to this rule was the MAC Cosmetics’ Beth Ditto collection that MAC released with the unapologetically fat, punk rocker last summer.

This lack of official representation in the media may be why plus-size fashion bloggers are gaining so many followers and positive feedback and the influence of these bloggers on commerce and fashion are notable.

Rebecca Agosta, 25, runs the blog The Plus Side of Me in addition to working as an adjunct writing instructor and marketing assistant in Charlotte, N.C. and the gorgeous brunette wears a U.S. size 26/28. Agosta does not look to celebrities for fashion inspiration partly because so few of them are plus-size. She started blogging to communicate with other fashionable and fat women. Her most popular blog post was 20 bloggers size 24+, which was a collaboration between Agosta and other U.S. size 24 and up fashion bloggers to show off their favorite outfits.

Rebecca Agosta from “The Plus-Size of Me” admits that when she first started blogging, she edited her arms to make them thinner. She stopped editing her photos after reading some fat acceptance works and reflecting on what she was presenting. Credit: Rebecca Agosta

Rebecca Agosta from “The Plus-Size of Me” admits that when she first started blogging, she edited her arms to make them thinner. She stopped editing her photos after reading some fat acceptance works and reflecting on what she was presenting. Credit: Rebecca Agosta

“Not only was it important for women to find bloggers who are on the upper sizes of plus size, I think it reminded people that they can find bloggers who are larger than them to connect with and read,” says Agosta. “We are very used to looking to smaller women than us for fashion inspiration, but it’s not part of the norm to look at larger women than us for the same.”

Sarah Shackleford, 28, from Dearborn, Mich., is a part-time student, a part-time watch repair expert, the owner of the store Bring More Yarn and a full-time fashionista. She always expressed an interest in fashion, but she hesitated to embrace it growing up because she did not feel skinny enough to wear a lot of the clothes she loved. “Since discovering Fat Activism and body acceptance, I’ve realized that I’m not a ‘before’ and that I can love fashion with the body I have,” says Shackleford. “But I’m a student, and I need to be practical with my clothing choices, so a lot of the amazing plus-size fashion is just out of my price range.”

Sarah Shackleford from the blog and online shop “Bring More Yarn” says that her outfit posts quickly became the most popular on her blog. “Especially outfits that feature a lot of color/patterns. Anything that fat women are traditionally told to stay away from,” says Shackleford. Credit: Sarah Shackleford

Sarah Shackleford from the blog and online shop “Bring More Yarn” says that her outfit posts quickly became the most popular on her blog. “Especially outfits that feature a lot of color/patterns. Anything that fat women are traditionally told to stay away from,” says Shackleford. Credit: Sarah Shackleford

Aloïs Frémont, 21, a native of Paris, France, blogs at Aloïs in Wanderlust and finds inspiration for her wardrobe from plus-size icons like Stéphanie Zwicky, a model and blogger, and the radical punk-rocker Beth Ditto, but the lack of selection frustrates her. “Especially as a 21-year-old who doesn’t want to dress like a grieving grandmother yet,” says Frémont. “I was just shopping online and on a certain website, whenever I entered my size in the options, it kicked the price up and on another [website], the plus-size clothing is worn by size 8 models, which makes it sag ridiculously on them.”

Newer retailers like ModCloth, which started in 2011, markets to the plus-size community. ModCloth runs a “Be the Buyer” program, which posts images of samples from designers and then allows shoppers to vote on the designs that they want to buy. Samara Fetto, a category manager and scout for ModCloth, says that the brand receives consistently positive feedback from their its customer base concerning its plus-size line, which charges the same price for all sizes. Still, Fetto admits that ModCloth started using the universal pricing system only because the platform that they use for their website simply could not support different prices for larger sizes.

“We wanted representation of products that support all women regardless of their shape and size. We definitely realized that the plus-size customer was completely underserved,” says. ModCloth maintains its vintage, indie-style when stocking pieces for their plus-size line and aside from swimwear and a healthy collection of “fatkinis” some of their best-selling garments are their unique dresses. “Our girl loves dresses and wears them day and night and our plus-size customer is no different,” says Fetto.

Many clothing companies that boast plus lines treat their plus customers much differently than the customers who shop in standard sizes. Plus customers want the same options and respect that all customers should have and it’s time for corporations to take note.

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