What a (Big) Girl Wants

Yesterday, superfantastic reader ChaChaHeels commented:

I think a lot of dress manufacturers for plus sizes are producing under the delusion that “the big girls want to dress the same way the smaller girls do”. [...]

It’s not true that plus size girls “want the same clothes” that “regular” sized women can wear. Plus sized women want clothes that flatter the curves and shapes they alone have, so that they don’t feel uncomfortable or look like their clothing is unsuitable. I think we want the opportunity to look great, like other women can and do, but the clothes have to be designed around our actual bodies, not some one’s idea of what we should look like. There are plenty of ways to cut fabric and create designs that do just that.

First of all, may I once again express my appreciation for my readers, who –unlike commenters on many blogs out there– are erudite, thoughtful and gracefully manage to rise above the “boobies! poop! my dad can beat up your dad!” standard set for internet discourse.

(heh, boobies)

That being said, while I am inclined to agree with La ChaCha for my  personal choices, it’s tricky to talk about plus-size women in general as wanting any one thing. Except for licking Nutella off Mario Balotelli’s midsection, and even then, some people might not like Nutella.

The sensitive Italian striker got a yellow card for this display after scoring his second goal against Germany in the Euro semi-finals. Worth. It.

Some big girls really do want plus-size fashion that’s the exact same as straight-sized clothes, and I think most of us would at least like to have the option of making the same sartorial blunders as our thinner pals.

It’s not that straight-sized clothes are designed so much better, it’s that there’s so much more OF it.

While a size 6 can walk into virtually any clothing store and find something that fits, be it good, bad or ugly, a size 16 has a harder time of it and a size 26 harder still. Size 36? You might as well bring your own Sherpa and a hip flask: You’re gonna be looking for a while.

That being said: It’s so much better than it used to be.

Maybe the clothes themselves aren’t better –Lane Bryant has been slouching towards Old Navy for at least five years now– but instead of one or two stores we now have…ok, still pretty much those two brick and mortars, but online shopping has exploded.

That’s why I can’t bust too hard on Monif C. or any designer cutting and styling exclusively for the plus size market, even if their clothes don’t ring my bell.

I mean, whatever your opinion on orgiastically fringed teal maillots, when it comes to shopping options it’s difficult to argue this:

is better than this:

The black swimsuit photo also illustrates one of the difficulties of designing tailored clothes for the big girl: These women all wear more or less the same size, but are VASTLY different body shapes. You’ve got your standard –if you can call anything a standard– pear, apple, rectangle, hourglass and ice-cream cone shapes and because they’re plus-sized, the differences are more extreme from a pattern-drafting point of view.

Obviously ChaChaHeels is right: there are plenty of ways to cut and design clothes to flatter plus size bodies, and it’s not even that hard. The problem is, which of those women do you pick as a fit model for clothes “designed around our actual bodies”?

My theory is it’s a numbers game.

The more clothes available, even the tragic messes, the more likely you are to find something that fits both your body and your taste. Forever 21 isn’t my idea of a good time, but once I found a fantastic blue and white striped dress very reminiscent of Lacroix-on-the-Costa-Brava-Circa-1986 in their plus size collection. Plus there will always be women who choose fashion over flattering (and good for them. There are enough safe dressers in the world).

What do you think plus-size women want, and if you were queen of the forest, how would you give it to them?

 

 

33 Responses to “What a (Big) Girl Wants”

  1. Sheryl June 29, 2012 at 1:12 pm #

    I want options! I want colour, style, length, tailored, flowy, fitted, tight, patterned options!

  2. S June 29, 2012 at 2:00 pm #

    I feel like the only place really making interesting, on-trend plus size clothing is Asos Curve. I mean we’re talking trendy-trend (neon, peplums, etc) and I think if I were more comfortable wearing dresses I’d be a hardcore devotee. I mean some of their clothes make me go “you are kidding right” but at least it’s OPTIONS. At least it gives us a chance to indulge in the weirdness that’s going on with other streetwear trends, and in a way that forever 21 (SO? YES I AM 33 BUT I CAN STILL BUY STUFF THERE IF I WANT IT’S SO CHEEEAP) doesn’t allow. Mainly by which I mean “not necessarily the mutton dressed as lamb” problem.

    Which I find to be particularly galling in plus sized clothes. As far as I can tell there are only the following options: frumpy Lane Bryant Personality-Free Office Drone, Rockabilly/16-Year-Old Torrid/Pinup Girl stuff, and “I Have Just Given Up, do these elastic waist straight leg sweat pants come in a more garish color of lavender” Woman Within type stuff.

    I would like to be able to shop somewhere where I can flirt with edgier things (please do not make me wear batwing tops, The World) but also be dressing my age.

    I don’t know. It’s frustrating, y’all.

  3. Klee June 29, 2012 at 2:12 pm #

    Italia! Italia! Italia!

    (sorry, still celebrating)

  4. Sarah Fowler June 29, 2012 at 2:38 pm #

    I want to see variety, but also more classic/basic pieces at a lower price point. I often feel like I can only buy trendy pieces with a small budget. I used to like LB (in fact, I worked there briefly) but their quality an style has gone sharply downhill. I’m really digging Avenue’s dresses.

    My pet peeve is low-cut necklines on EVERY piece (I have to wear a camisole under 95% of my wardrobe) and especially huge-cut armholes on sleeveless pieces. Last time I checked, my bra wasn’t supposed to show under my armpits in a sundress… or professional dress… or sleeveless top…

  5. Khrishna June 29, 2012 at 6:21 pm #

    I absolutely do want the same options that most straight-size women enjoy. I’d love to see integration (or expansion) of plus-sizes into straight-size designers’ regular lines.

    It sucks to see an awesome Anthropologie blouse or cute J Crew pants and know that (a) I can’t fit into them and (b) there are NO plus-size equivalents in style or quality. I want the luxury of having style AND fit options just like women who are smaller than I am.

    S said: “As far as I can tell there are only the following options: frumpy Lane Bryant Personality-Free Office Drone, Rockabilly/16-Year-Old Torrid/Pinup Girl stuff, and “I Have Just Given Up, do these elastic waist straight leg sweat pants come in a more garish color of lavender” Woman Within type stuff. ”

    This, this, this.

  6. Lisa from SoCal June 29, 2012 at 7:15 pm #

    As far as I can tell there are only the following options: frumpy Lane Bryant Personality-Free Office Drone, Rockabilly/16-Year-Old Torrid/Pinup Girl stuff, and “I Have Just Given Up, do these elastic waist straight leg sweat pants come in a more garish color of lavender” Woman Within type stuff.

    Gar, this is the problem with being old. You remember when Lane Bryant was a freaking revelation–and you recall it going down, down, down…until the day you walked in and everything–everything–was made from that stupid stretch fabric they were convinced “girls today wanted.” But still, they had great undergarments and tights! You said to yourself. Until those, too, were gone and all that was left was mumsy, cheap things in stretch fabric.

    Did any of you folks like that stretch fabric? When I complained, sales managers waved me away like I was stupid. “We’re selling this so fast I can’t keep track.”

    I think we’re so far away from anybody who knows design actually knowing how to deal with different shapes in fashion that this conversation is almost moot. The number of PR episodes I’ve seen where at least one designer melts down because he or she can’t design for a women who isn’t standard model size frankly depresses me. We’re not talking size 30 women here–we’re talking designers who can’t manage to fit a women who is a size 10–and if they don’t have the vision to manage to make garment that flatters a size 10, they sure as heck aren’t thinking about designing for the variety you in these photos.

    You know for that one teal suit, you could tie bait and fish hooks on the one and catch your own sushi! Practical!!!

    I want to go have cocktails with the lady on the far right in the top picture because she and I could swap clothes, and she has the best smile.

  7. Bethany June 29, 2012 at 10:23 pm #

    Those before and after pictures are amazing. I would kill for a Monif C. suit.

    OneStopPlus.com is great. They have everything I could ever want, and they have 50% off coupons all the time.

  8. Jessica in Cbus June 30, 2012 at 10:23 am #

    I don’t know what every plus-sized gal wants, but I’ll tell you what I want.

    I want more classics. I don’t want it to be so hard to find a plus-sized suit that doesn’t have “trendy” shorter arms or decorations or strange fabric. I want to be able to find the perfect, well cut black suit, button-down shirts, pencil skirts, cardigans, etc. in timeless colors and designs, that I can wear over and over again. I am happy that I live in a time where “plus size” no longer equals “muu muu”, but I am still disappointed that so many things available to me in my size are not those basics which I tend to build my wardrobe around. I do love to buy some on-trend pieces, when I can find them, but I generally try to buy things I’ll be able to hold on to for years. I would love to be able to buy more things made of natural fibers. It would be awesome to find clothes that were actually cut and fitted for plus-size women, rather than just made out out stretch material so the designer doesn’t have to try so hard. Stretch fabric doesn’t fit as well and it doesn’t age as well.

  9. Madame Suggia June 30, 2012 at 10:55 am #

    For years and years (and years) I’ve wanted to do a plus-sized range. But it’s hard, you have to raise a shed-load of money to start, and there aren’t enough independent plus-size retailers to make the financials work. To do the kind of things I’d like to do, I’d be at the Donna Karan price point at the very least, and all I can say is good luck getting plus-retailers to stock your stuff if it isn’t cheap-and-stretchy. There is also such a dearth of good plus-size stuff that any new plus-range is met with unrealistic expectations, as in, at last! the answer to my prayers! but as we all have different shapes, proportions and aesthetic likes & dislikes, you simply can’t be all things to all customers, which in the plus-sized world, means you disappoint a lot of people.

  10. Booklover June 30, 2012 at 2:21 pm #

    What Jessica in Cbus said! I sometimes have success with Lands End or Talbots for classics. I’d also like some prints that aren’t huge florals/abstracts in garish colors. I’m an apple, so knee-length to slightly above skirt lengths (not those “body-con” stretch miniskirts, please!)and smaller armholes, especially on sleeveless garments would be nice.

  11. qbertina June 30, 2012 at 3:55 pm #

    What do we want? Natural m-f fibers that don’t feel like toxic waste.

    Re body shape. I think maybe every better plus brand/line needs to choose a silhouette and stick to it. Even at the smaller end of plus I see widely differing interpretations of what a 14W in trousers means and I’m totally fine with that as long as there’s some consistency so I know which to try on every pair of and which to avoid. The thing is, though, it’s not like this is some huge, unreasonable ask. Misses lines contend with the same issue. I don’t know any straight-sized women without a short list of personal seek/avoid brands.

  12. The Accidental Tangoiste June 30, 2012 at 9:12 pm #

    So much of what other commenters have said. Please less poly-spandex or straight polyester, and please more options for natural waistlines instead of empire waists! I’d be happier (and probably more broke) with just that much.

  13. Jeni July 1, 2012 at 1:40 am #

    I know I’d like to see more classic pieces, preferably in natural fibers. I’d like dress pants that aren’t so damn thin that they show every dimple in my thighs. While we are at it I’d like pants that don’t f-ing stretch out and go from nice fitting to “I can move a family of 4 in here with me” in the span of an hour. I’d like blazers and button ups that fit my arms without being giant in the torso.I’d like people to realize you can be tall and fat! I hate when my shirt sleeves stop like an inch above my wrist… Oh and dresses with sleeves and pants that don’t gap at the waist would be nice.

    There are some straight size things I see and think “damn that is cute!” and wish it came in my size because I know I’d look hot in it. I’ve also seen things I liked but knew as a plus size girl it would not be flattering…. I guess it comes down to, like others have said, I want options. I want to need the perfect khaki pants and know I have tons of different stores to choose from. I also want more options when it comes to where I can but said clothing. I dream of the day I don’t have to drive 2 hours just to get to a mall that have a LB!

  14. pam July 1, 2012 at 3:39 am #

    nutella. balotelli :-)

  15. dcsurfergirl July 1, 2012 at 10:54 am #

    I agree with all the ladies that need classic clothes and natural fibers. I understand wanting lots of options, but classic, basic clothes of reasonable quality are the hardest to find. have my own list of pet peeves that need addressing by retailers and designers.

    1. I can’t take any more seemingly basic clothes with way too much embellishment. I really wish t-shirts had far less ruffles, sequins, fringe and beads,

    2. Please, please, please—no more giant flowers and geometrics on EVERY piece of clothing. I am only 5’4″ and kind of petite. I don’t want clothes that wear ME. Extra credit goes to shops that offer accessories that aren’t ginormous and/or coated in rhinestones.

    3. I don’t mind synthetics (I like my stretch boot cut jeans) but more synthetic/natural fiber blends would be great.

    4. How about more variety in brick-and-mortar stores? I can (maybe) find underwear and casual clothes in Lane Bryant but little appropriate office wear.

    I have to take a deep breath now. Take care, ladies.

  16. Rubiatonta July 1, 2012 at 5:30 pm #

    Rubi’s wish list:

    Pretty, sexy undies
    Non-mumsy nightwear
    Print tops that won’t scare the horses
    Natural fibers (with a little stretch is OK)
    Straight-leg trousers that don’t make me look like the Venus of Wittenburg
    Dresses with sleeves

    I think the easiest way to accomplish this would be to get the fabulous folks at HotPatterns to do a line of ready-to-wear. Start-up funding, anyone? (In the meantime, I’ll be slaving over the sewing machine.)

  17. Rubiatonta July 1, 2012 at 5:31 pm #

    Oops. Venus of Willenburg.

  18. TeleriB July 1, 2012 at 9:31 pm #

    Since I would shank someone for more plus-sized petites, I assume my taller sistren feel similarly. Most times, by the time any fitted garment fits my torso, my arms are swimming in fabric and the shoulders are huge. I expect to have a certain amount of tailoring done for my suits, but reconstructing the entire garment is a bit much.

  19. Leigh Ann July 1, 2012 at 11:31 pm #

    I have to agree about the plus size petites. They are so hard to find! That’s one reason I shop at Talbot’s online–I can buy things there that don’t have to be completely remade because the waist is at the hips and the sleeves cover my hands. I know tall plus women face the opposite problem, and straight sized women have fit issues as well. But I agree that for plus size, the core issue is a lack of options. I’m 50, and I like classic clothes, and a lot of plus size stuff seems aimed at a younger, casual demographic (Lane Bryant, I’m looking at you). And I’m with dcsurfergirl on the bling: what’s with all that, then? Some can be nice; too much is just tacky. I also agree about the low cut tops: do they think we always want to be flashing that much skin?

    So, here’s the question: why are there not more choices? I get the bit about it being hard to design for the different types of plus sized bodies, but with so many of us now plus sized, you would think designers would recognize such a potential market.

  20. Sonia July 2, 2012 at 9:44 am #

    I want summer short-sleeved shirts with sleeves that go almost to my elbow. I know it’s hot out, but I still want to cover my upper-arms. Am I the only one who hasn’t embraced her flabby arms? Because it seems to be either cap sleeves or 3/4-length, and slim pickin’s in between.

  21. Leigh Ann July 2, 2012 at 12:42 pm #

    Sonia, I’m with you on the sleeves. Why can’t we have clothes with proper sleeves? I also end up wearing a cardigan or a doofy shrug. Or a shawl or large scarf.

  22. txbunny July 2, 2012 at 1:14 pm #

    These days I buy to fit over the largest part of me (boobs) and alter the rest. Almost every piece of clothing I own has an under arm alteration to fix those over-sized armholes as well as other alterations.

    These days I stick with the following lines for daywear (because I am a tall hourglass): Donna Ricco, Anne Klien, Tahari, Ellen Tracy, James Jeans, INDi Jeans. I order Freya and Fantasies bras and undies from the UK. Sometime I am able to find something different or new at Nordstrom’s.

    I can not find a jacket that can even be altered to fit of decent quality.

    I can find jeans but not pants (have not found a pair worth altering in 6+ yrs). I make shorts because nobody seems to believe plus size women should have them (also because I have 1 patterned that has been customized to fit perfectly).

    This is not the cheapest route but this is a heck of a lot better than Lane Bryant.

    Yes I want more options that are fashionable, classic with a twist, with sleeves, drape, and a higher necklines. High end rayon blends are ok but cotton or wool with a touch of stretch would be lovely. I want other colors besides black, black and white, or or murky black based prints. I do not want rhinestones, glitter, strange wording, or weird random ruffles. I want cashmere sweaters with a defined waist and a flattering neckline. I want clothes I can travel to Asia in and still respect their cultural norms.

    I feel that I will have to do a lot of custom sewing in the future just to get a ballet neck cotton blend 3/4 sleeve t-shirt dress that I can travel in.

    Plus fashion has been seriously around for 20+ yrs and I do not feel it should still be this hard.

  23. S July 2, 2012 at 2:11 pm #

    Khrishna – “It sucks to see an awesome Anthropologie blouse or cute J Crew pants and know that (a) I can’t fit into them and (b) there are NO plus-size equivalents in style or quality. I want the luxury of having style AND fit options just like women who are smaller than I am. ”

    SO DAMN TRUE. Like, guess what Lacoste? I would buy ALL YOUR SHIRTS if you would MAKE THEM IN MY SIZE. I also would like smaller designers. Like, do you know how great my life would be if James Perse made big girl sizes?

    If I could find small designers, like on shopbop, it would be like “Shut up and take my money!”

    I spend dime on shoes and bags and jewelry (although also one would appreciate larger costume ring sizes, thanks, and I’m sick of having to lengthen the chains of all my necklaces), and if I could have the opportunity to buy clothes that fit me, and I’m not even talking “classics.” I don’t feel like I even need to settle for “classics.” I want new, fresh, current clothes, and I don’t want designers to tell me what looks good on me.

    Let’s all start a clothing collective.

  24. Booklover July 2, 2012 at 3:08 pm #

    Two more gripes–I can’t think of a large-busted woman who wants ruffles/chest pockets!

  25. oliviacw July 2, 2012 at 3:44 pm #

    I just discovered today that my one well-fitting pair of jeans (Lane Bryant original Right Fit jeans in Blue Circle, size 4P) are finally wearing through at the inseam, and I am now dispairing at the prospect of going shopping. I am super-hourglass shaped (even these are loose at the waist) and have short legs for my long torso, so I do best in a petite pant even at 5’6″. Pants fitting is the bane of my existence, and I’ve managed to avoid pants shopping for about 3 years (well, except for two pairs of maternity pants that were much easier to fit because, you know, pregnant belly means stretchy waist and all that). My normal fallback brands for well-fitting pants are Jones New York, sometimes Anne Klein 2 and Elizabeth. Otherwise, it’s all a gamble.

  26. Thea July 2, 2012 at 5:54 pm #

    I want Christina Hendricks entire wardrobe from Mad Men, but if you want specifics…

    Smaller armholes on shirts and jackets. Nothing ruins the line of a jacket like an armhole that reaches to my waist. And I’d put my batwings up against anyones – the armholes are still too big.

    Clearly defined waists on sweaters and blouses

    If trousers MUST have elastic, it would be wide and discretely hidden. It can be done. Not the big wadding diaper butt elastic with the bunchy fabric over my rump.

    Classic styles cut for a curvy figure. Fitted jackets and pencil skirts.

    Less deep necklines, I have magnificent tatas but I don’t need to roll them out for everybody to see. And I hate having to buy a camisole.

    Ditto sleeves as in PUT THEM IN. I don’t want to ruin the line of a dress with a cardigan and I live in South Texas where it is too hot to consider from April to Thanksgiving

    No sequins, ruffles, crazy prints, ‘embellishment’ I HAVE jewelry thankyouverymuch. I’d prefer to handle the accessorizing myself.

    I’d like see all women’s wear departments treat sizing like Cold Water Creek does. 90% of their clothing are cut in every size from 2 to 24 and they are displayed on the same rack. There is no separate ‘women’s department’.

  27. ChloeMireille July 3, 2012 at 2:24 pm #

    I’m totally on board with the Coldwater Creek and (soon-to-be-closed) Fashion Bug concept of creating the same thing in their full range of sizes.

  28. La Petite Acadienne July 3, 2012 at 8:36 pm #

    Well, hell, if I’m queen of the forest and my resources are unlimited, I would give every big girl her own personal seamstress, so that, upon seeing a fetching item of clothing in a magazine or on the street, the girl could say to the seamstress, “That. Make me that.” And the seamstress would make that item, but tailored perfectly to fit and flatter her client’s body shape.

    Hey, we’re dreaming, so why not dream big?

    Oh, and I would demand the invention of jeans that are resistant to chub-rub-wearout.

  29. dcsurfergirl July 3, 2012 at 11:17 pm #

    I almost forgot–
    1. Coats! A few years ago my ten-year-old pea coat gave up the ghost. My local Lane Bryant carried no coats. The few options at a nearby Burlington Coat Factory were poor quality (brittle leather, thin wool). These stores gave dismal customer service when I even asked about coats in my size. A local big and tall men’s store had better service (those guys even sympathized with me) but didn’t have anything that fit me well. I ended up spending $100 for two mens’ leather coats at my local Salvation Army thrift shop. The fit is not the best but they are warm.
    2. Thermals! I nearly froze two years ago during two big snowstorms (DC area).
    3. Sashes! How many variations of the empire waist top with the back sash ties have been produced in the past ten years? Don’t answer that.
    I ran out of things to rant about and/or points to ponder. One last question–would men put up with this drama?

  30. M. Klein July 5, 2012 at 3:25 am #

    Actually, there are times when i want to wear “what skinny girls wear.” Sometimes i want loose, flowing tops and shorts that don’t get bunched and keep my thighs from chafing (i still feel gross when i admit that happens to me) due to their length. But other times, i want clingy or bustier-style tops and short shorts/skirts that look as if they were designed for someone my age (19). Sometimes i want clothes that don’t have a high waistline or look like maternity wear. I think that the fashion industry’s refusal to carry these items in plus sizes is partly a message to fat women that A) we shouldn’t have the right to decide how to dress in the same way that thin or average-sized women can, and B)we shouldn’t have the opportunity to wear body-hugging, revealing clothes because no one wants to see our fat bodies in that stuff. I don’t think it’s an actual conspiracy (obviously), but a lot of this stuff goes to work on these people’s subconscious. anyway, that’s my 2 cents.

  31. M. Klein July 5, 2012 at 3:31 am #

    also, i’m a large-busted woman who occasionally wants ruffles/chest pockets. i think the idea of “flattering clothes” is stupid- wear what you want and it will make you feel good about yourself, which will make you more confident, which will make you more attractive. The whole purpose of “flattering clothes” is to minimize the parts of our bodies that don’t conform to the “typical” shape of a woman, whether that means pants that try to make our hips look smaller, or shirts/bras that try to make our busts look bigger (or smaller). i don’t mean to judge anyone for their clothing choices or the reasons behind them; i lay blame (again) on the attitudes of the fashion industry.

  32. Thea July 5, 2012 at 11:59 am #

    M Klein, the problem is when ‘what you want to and will make you feel good about yourself” isn’t available in anything near your size.

    And I respectfully disagree with your definition of ‘flattering’. Flattering can also be the utilization of cut and color to highlight parts of yourself that make you feel more confident and attractive.

    Using color as an example, I look great in black, red and teal. When I go to the plus size dept and everything is lavender and pink, despite the fact that the ‘normal’ clothing color trends are earth tones, it makes me cranky.

  33. Chicklet July 6, 2012 at 3:25 pm #

    What I want:

    1. Simple, v-neck sweaters that are long-sleeved (not 3/4 sleeved) and cover the belly/hips. No chunky or Shaker knits, just a soft acrylic would be fine. In a variety of colors. They’d be perfect over jeans, dress pants, skirts and great to accessorize.

    2. I’d love to see the eShakti customizing option in a plus-sized site. Wrap and empire waist tops could come with the option of a fuller bust (I hate how the seam sometimes ends up on my boobs rather than under it). Pants could have the inseam length you need and you could choose cuffs or no cuffs. Depending on the style of shirt, we could choose the sleeve style.

    3. Ditto on longer (and a little fuller but not flutter) sleeves on summer shirts.

    4. I loved when Avenue had some pretty sheer blouses last year. Perfect summer weight and long-sleeved. Unfortunately, all but two of the prints were butt ugly and dowdy.

    5. Plus-sized retailers need to realize that not all plus-sized women want animal prints. Give us some younger, fresher more up-to-date print options.