Everyone has heard all the statistics about how people in the US and UK are getting larger every year. Add to that an increasingly skinny pool of starlets, models, and It-girls (and street style "stars") and you suddenly have a very confusing picture about what's reality. Throw in the vanity sizing that so many brands engage in, and shopping becomes a nightmare, especially if you fall under the "plus size" umbrella.
The Daily Mail reports today that UK plus-size retailer Simply Be opened its first retail stores (they've previously just sold their clothes online), and included larger-than-usual dressing rooms, complete with sofas rather than chairs. The whole point, per the retailer, is to provide an environment where larger shoppers don't feel embarrassed to try on clothes. This news comes on the heels of news last week that UK hair stylist Bashar Brown was opening a salon just for plus size women, who supposedly are too ashamed to go to a regular salon where all the women are "slim and glamorous" (his words).
Is essentially segregating plus size services the answer? I think the bigger issue is availability of appropriate and acceptable clothing in bigger sizes. A few weeks ago a Chicago Tribune reporter talked to a group of women shopping at plus size boutique Vive la Femme, which is on a stretch of Damen Avenue that houses tons of trendy and upscale boutiques. An impromptu poll revealed that plus size women want what every other woman wants out of her wardrobe--clothes that fit and are attractive. Oh, and to not have to go to maternity stores or cross-dressing shops (yes, these exist) to get tights that fit.
The first issue is that designers who are making the clothes don't "get" plus size women (watch any episode of Project Runway when they have to design for somebody with actual boobs if you don't believe me). Is the way to fix it by having a plus size woman design clothes? After all, Donna Karan made a career for herself by being one of the first designers to actually acknowledge that a woman is not straight up and down. The news that Melissa McCarthy, who originally went to school to become a fashion designer, is starting a plus size line because she didn't want to look like a "14-year-old hooker" is probably a step in the right direction.
The other issue is fit. Last week the Economist noted that while skinny people are pretty much just skinny, larger people come in different shapes, which often makes it difficult to find clothes that fit. A new online app called Fashion Genius allows women to input all sorts of information about how clothes generally fit them; it then spits back potential clothing matches.
This issue isn't going away anytime soon, and seems like a huge business opportunity for designers and retailers. What's the answer? Dunno, but it involves more than just a big room for trying on clothes.