HomeBeautyThe Not-So-Secret Bigotry In Plus Sized Fashion

The Not-So-Secret Bigotry In Plus Sized Fashion

I don’t really know where to begin with this, so I’m going to just jump right in.

I remember how difficult it was to buy clothes that were appealing for women who were my size. It was rare that I could find something good in a nice department store – forget about your more upscale spots and boutiques – and was often relegated to the few stores that vanity sized up enough to cover women shaped like me without telling all of their customers that they catered to women like me.

And that, my friend, is the problem.

I happened to check out this write-up on Racked that said the following:

Maybe you heard about Saks Fifth Avenue’s plan to mix plus-sized designer offerings into the racks of their hallowed third floor

[…] Maybe you also heard that Jezebel’s attempts to get a comment on this little nugget from Saks and/or a handful of the labels were pretty much in vain.

Here’s the part you might not have heard, though, at least if you haven’t spent years paying attention to designer sizing: Chanel and cohorts have been selling plus-sized clothing for a very long time, and it makes them a lot of money.

[…]

Before then, skinny young bitches didn’t even want Chanel. When they finally did, they couldn’t afford it. And, frankly, most can’t afford it now. By the time they will be able to afford Chanel or Kors or Cavalli (or marry someone who can—just sayin’), they’re not going to be so young. And they’re very likely not going to be so skinny either.

That said: These labels have been producing plus-sized garments for years. Could you imagine if Valentino, Armani, Carolina Herrera, Escada, Donna Karan and Max Mara didn’t make 12s, or 14s, or 16s? They’d be dunzo; those charity-gala-ladies-who-lunch-museum-board-members-who-“winter”-and-“summer” make up a pretty big chunk of their markets.

The issue here isn’t the fact that these clothes are being made—they very much are. It’s finding those clothes, and that one of the foremost department stores in the world is going to be stocking them alongside smaller sizes in a flagship department. And given their market, they probably don’t want to advertise it. We’re talking about women who treasure discretion and quality over jewel-crusted monogramming and, frankly, don’t want their sizes—let alone their style and their access to such styles—bouncing around the internet.

While I think this is a pretty frank take on the matter… I think that very last line is where Racked gets it horribly wrong.

We’re talking about women who treasure discretion and quality over jewel-crusted monogramming and, frankly, don’t want their sizes—let alone their style and their access to such styles—bouncing around the internet.

Trust me… that has nothing to do with why the likes of Saks and Co. wouldn’t dare advertise that they serve the plus sized community. I’ll get back to this in a minute.

From The Plus Size Wars:

In April, Lane Bryant broadcast its first television ad for its lingerie line, Cacique. A bosomy, heavy-set model parades around a bedroom dressed first in a bright blue teddy and then a series of bra-and-panty sets. Settling on some lacy underwear in fuchsia, she checks the smartphone on her vanity table and takes note of a calendar reminder that says, “Lunch with Dan.” Who is Dan? Apparently not her accountant — she merely throws on a short black trench coat and walks out the door.

Lane Bryant bought air time during “American Idol” on Fox and hoped for a similar showcase on ABC (which it never got). When Fox requested edits, the company charged that it was the victim of size prejudice. “Yes, these are the same networks that have scantily clad housewives so desperate they seduce every man on the block,” a Lane Bryant press release stated.

Believe me, those networks know their market. They know their viewers don’t want to see some big fat girl parading around in her panties… and they certainly don’t want to think about her getting laid. [insert eyeroll]

Pardon me for the sarcasm in that last paragraph, but you’ve got to admit that this is exactly how this all sounds. We, day in and day out, are fed this image of women who don’t look like us… selling us a fantasy (and a product, don’t forget that part.) 68% of America is overweight… at this point, that Lane Bryant model looks more like most of America than that Victoria’s Secret model. But still… the Lane Bryant model’s ad is shelved… and I’m still looking at thin blond girls (or fair skinned thin Black girls – can’t forget them) in jungle print panties on my screen.

Why is it that the plus sized community keeps getting “shelved?” No one wants to go on record as saying “Yes, we offer plus-sized garments for women up to a size X?” Companies that once served the plus-sized community proudly all of a sudden relegated their 16-and-up clientele to shopping online for their items. I have an answer.. I just doubt that anyone will like it.

Think about the stores you know.. and where they’re located. The stores that serve the plus-sized community with pride. They’re not at the ritzier malls. They may be sprinkled throughout the “middle America”-esque locales, but really… the proud-to-serve-you types? They’re going to be strategically placed in locations where it is believed they will do best.

Think about the prices for those stores. The stores that might vanity-size up a little to secretly accommodate a few larger sizes. Those stores that are almost always offering some $25-off-$50-purchase kind of sale. Surely, you wouldn’t see Chanel in a store like that, right? Do you even know of someone who makes a $400 sweater in a size 22?

Big girls like to be fashionable just like everyone else. She may not look the way society wants her to look – though, keep it real… a size 8 doesn’t really look the way society wants her to look, either – but she wants to look presentable, respectable, and even occasionally jazzy. The problem is that no one wants to come out and tell this fashionable big girl with money to spend “Hey, we make beautiful clothing for you… come get it.”

Why? This is so anti-Capitalist! Someone has money to spend, someone has product to sell them… and the deal isn’t going down! You know there has to be a good reason for this, right?

Why won’t Chanel and the others publicize the fact that they make plus sized clothing? Simple. Because they know damned well that there is a certain type of woman identified as being plus sized – she is poor, cannot afford quality, is so unattractive that surely she wouldn’t wear my clothing anyway, whatever… the plus sized woman simply is not respected. “Her mere presence in a store must offend the sensibilities of the average size 2… thus why other labels had to force her to resort to shopping online only. We must keep them out of our stores, so that thin people won’t think our store only caters to big people!”

To me, this is the bottom line.. and it sucks. It’s disgusting to think that a store like Saks would avoid commenting and telling the women who long to shop there “Hey, we have things for you to buy!” as a means of protecting its image – because, let’s face it… if the national concensus about plus sized women is that they are poor, and Saks is now offering clothing for plus-sized women, then this MUST mean Saks is selling the cheap crap now, right? It’s not about hiding the sizes of women who shop there. It’s about hiding the perception that Saks “services these poor, misguided, fat souls.”

Ugh, and we wonder why so many women have such major self-esteem issues.

By | 2017-06-10T11:25:30+00:00 April 8th, 2014|Beauty|62 Comments

About the Author:

The proud leader of the #bgg2wlarmy, Erika Nicole Kendall writes health, fitness, nutrition, body image and beauty, and more here at #bgg2wl. After losing over 150lbs, Kendall became a personal trainer certified in fitness nutrition, women's fitness, and weight loss from the National Academy of Sports Medicine, and crtified in sports nutrition by Precision Nutrition. She now lives in New York with her husband and children, and is working on her 6th and 7th certifications because lol why not.

62 Comments

  1. Lori August 3, 2010 at 11:33 AM - Reply

    Amen Sistah!!!

  2. Cossie August 3, 2010 at 11:36 AM - Reply

    I soooo agree with you! I am a plus size woman and I was Just at off Sax this weekend at the outlet mall. I asked the young salesman did they have any salon Z merchandise there and he gave me a look like he had no clue about this mysterious salon Z and said no. The Sax in my area does not carry it they told me the closest one to me was 3 hrs away and they did not have any Chanel etc brands. I love designer clothes because they hold up well but this seek and find method to find them is very discouraging. They could make so much more money if they just offered up the clothes in stores for us to try on (cause we need to try on stuff!) and make it readily available. Big girls have money, credit cards and like to look fabulous too!

  3. JoAnna August 3, 2010 at 12:36 PM - Reply

    This one hit home Erika.

    I hate clothes shopping with my smaller girlfriends.
    1. I have one girlfriend who’s a 1X, but pear shaped. She can always find something at TJMaxx and consignment shops. She refuses to go to the more upscale stores because of the cost (we’re both on tight budgets!). This said, she religiously buys Vogue, Marie Claire, etc the minute they hit the newstands to keep up with the latest trends even though those clothes are unlikely to be found where she shops.

    2. I sweat. I don’t dew, I don’t shine, I don’t perspire. Sweat forms on my brow when I even begin to think about exercise (which is why I LOVE swimming!). Let me rush into work, and I’ll be sweating for the next 10mins, long after I’m sitting at my desk. So why are most of the clothes sold at the Avenue, Lane Bryant, etc made out of polyester or some other non-breathable fabric? It kinda reinforces the image of the large sweaty sloppy gal. And let’s not get into the the horrble color choices of a lot of sizes over size 16. And what’s with filmsy, drapey tent pieces, instead of clothes with structure? Large men are fitted into suits with nice shoulders, sturdy fabrics, etc… Large women are given spandex and rayon! Like Spanx is gonna magically suck up the excess flesh into an alternative dimension…

    3. I had to start sewing to appear fashionable. But the patterns don’t fit the same way, and again large sizes don’t really exist. The patterns are based on actual body measurements. So a size 22 comes out to a 30-32 on a pattern, shaped for someone who has no shape whatsoever. If you have a large bust, be prepared to leave buttons undone and wear a tank! And fabric stores that offer sewing classes often don’t know how to modify a pattern to fit a larger person.

    I have a formal event in a couple of weeks and was dragged to Macy’s to shop for accessories. Not a plus sized woman over a size 16 in sight unless she was walking thru to another store in the mall. It’s like the saleswomen don’t see you. Well, they know they don’t carry anything over a 16 in their store, and a large sized woman in jeans couldn’t possibly afford anything there… It is very off-putting.

    I’m losing weight to better my health. But I would be lying if I denied that I didn’t have dreams of buying (or sewing) an entire new wardrobe in a tight toned size 12, consprised of the current fashions seen in Vogue…

    There’s that scene in the film “The Devil Wears Prada” where Meryl Streep tells Anne Hathaway that she thought she’d take a chance on hiring the “…smart fat girl” who’s a size 4. If popular mainstream fashion considers a size 4 (see America’s Next top model and Project Runway) the standard, then no… We may never see larger sizes prominently displayed on the floors of upscale department stores. There’s too much investment and mental conditioning from Madison Avenue on the appeal of Western European thinness. Pity. If they only knew how much larger women, especially Black women, spent on hair and nails they’d reconsider.

    • Carmel March 21, 2011 at 11:19 PM - Reply

      Interestingly, she seems to be a size 2 when she starts dressing more like a Vogue girl. Isn’t that telling? Why is a size 4 fat? Or Michelle Obama fat?…. I don’t think we should bother with trying to be a certain way so others think we are fit. We just have to do it for our well being, our joy of life our ability to live long. Because I know with my waist/ hip ratio i will never appear thin. And that’s ok. Hopefully one day I can put out my clothing line that doesn’t discriminate and take that excess cash they are outwardly rejecting. Shoot I could use it too!

      • Pat March 6, 2013 at 5:03 PM - Reply

        You must create a line, and I want to create a lingerie line for extended sizes. I am what society has labeled SSBBW, ok. Anyway, I am a big, fine woman who likes fashionable clothes and sexy lingerie. Since I can’t go to Victoria Secret and get a fancy bra, I had to fancy some up for myself. In my size, bras come in 3 colors: Beige, White, and Black. Ladies, I bought about a dozen beige bras on clearance and went and bought some dye in different colors, then I went to Joann’s and bought some fabric glue and some rhinestones, and made me a Pat’s Secret bra; Victoria didn’t have nothing on me, lol. But, young ladies, I understand your pain with this discrimination.

        • Linda K. M. November 8, 2013 at 4:21 AM - Reply

          What a wonderfully creative and awesome idea! I hope you don’t mind, but I think I’m gonna steal it!!? Why spend hundreds on Victoria’s Secret when Pat’s Secret works a bazillion times better? You, my lady, are a genius!

    • Stephanie April 29, 2013 at 9:39 PM - Reply

      And what’s with filmsy, drapey tent pieces, instead of clothes with structure? Large men are fitted into suits with nice shoulders, sturdy fabrics, etc… Large women are given spandex and rayon!

      Excerpted from The Not-So-Secret Bigotry In Plus Sized Fashion | A Black Girl’s Guide To Weight Loss

      YES! A non-polyester suit is impossible to find. I prefer to wear cotton to work and this bugs the heck out of me. By the end of the day I can’t wait to get those synthetics off. I also dislike the large necklines so often found on plus size tops. I have cleavage up to my collar bone and don’t need any more attention going there! This automatically cuts down the selection of tops I can wear, if they are pullovers especially. Don’t get me started about the lack of detail (lace, beading, eyelets, little details on hips and sleeves, etc) absent from everywhere except the neckline- it is pretty clear plus size designers think we should show off our (assumed to be) big boobs and draw attention to our face instead of our bod. It’s so clear designers aren’t even trying. After I crossed over to the other side of the store I was so bummed for a long time about how plain the clothes were, and it took me a while to build up a decent wardrobe of fashionable items again.

  4. Ishaya August 3, 2010 at 1:52 PM - Reply

    I was just thinking about how some of the cheaper franchises also take advantage of the fact that these higher quality companies don’t publicize plus sized clothing. It costs almost $30 dollars for a tank top at lane bryant. I believe they take advantage that SOME of their clothing is higher quality than cheaper outlets. Also most of these stores sell the exact same cheap clothing for different prices. But because this market isnt in the mainstream limelight this is ignored.

    Even while on my journey for better health I still want to look fashionable in quality clothing without being overcharged for having some fashion sense.

    • Pat March 6, 2013 at 5:08 PM - Reply

      Another thing that I found out is that Target sells the same plus size clothes as some of the big name department stores. I bought several dresses last summer online from Target, and one of the dresses fit different from the others, but it was the same size. When I looked at the brand, I was shocked to see it was the same brand that I had purchased at another store, but it was even cheaper than the store, because it was on clearance o

  5. jen* August 3, 2010 at 3:41 PM - Reply

    I kind of get Saks not advertising that – the salespeople there (in NYC, at least) have always been really rude to me, so I just don’t even go anymore.

    While I had no idea that Chanel (et al) was/were making plus sizes, it totally makes sense. Guess I never really thought abut it. What a shame that folks allow this size-issue to cut them out of money [and at the same time, demean an awful lot of people].

    • Pat March 6, 2013 at 5:11 PM - Reply

      Jen, it’s not only in the clothing department. I went to Macy’s and stood at the Mac counter ready to purchase a whole new face, and they helped everybody around me, and they never even acknowledged that I was standing there. I took my $150.00 gift cards right over to the Channel counter and bought their makeup. By the by, I came home and wrote the company, and they gave me another gift card with an apology.

  6. Sadie August 3, 2010 at 5:18 PM - Reply

    Great article!

    I wonder if another thing that contributes to it is the culture of “fat shaming”. A while back, I was looking through the comments of a news post about one of PETAs shocktastic ad campaigns, this one was targeting plus size women, and the number of people insisting that overweight people need to be shamed into loosing weight was staggering. We’re talking multiple thread-conversations of people giving each other advice on how to embarrass and humiliate plus size friends, partners, and relatives into “get off their fat asses and loosing weight already”. It was sickening, and I really wonder if and where this thought process manifests itself in the clothing industry.

  7. Trina August 3, 2010 at 10:47 PM - Reply

    All the dudes that I know said the chicks in the LB commercial actually look more appealing than the Victoria’s Secret girls. Not a fat/skinny thing…or a man wants a big woman thing. Just, they look healthy. Those LB models aren’t really that plus size to me. They are like a 10/12 maybe a 14. They are smooth with no rolls or bulges. They look like they work out to me…I’d KILL to look like that in my bra and panties. LOL! I heard someone say that the LB models look too sexy to be in that primetime slot…

  8. Elita @ Blacktating August 4, 2010 at 8:58 AM - Reply

    An interesting point that was brought up in that NY Times article was that it’s very hard to make plus-size clothing because of the dimensions. A woman who is a size 8 regularly, even if she gains weight, will gain it sort of proportionally so that a size 10 or 12 will fit. But once you get into the really big sizes, like, 18 or 20 and up, the way a woman’s body deposits the fat is totally different. She might have all her weight in her hips, or her arms might get relaly big, or it may all be in the tummy. So designers would have to make several patterns for every garment in order to cater to the plus size community well. Or they could just say eff it and not go above a size 16. This is why so much of the plus size stuff you see at Lane Bryant, etc is kind of shapeless or made out of spandex. It sucks but I’m wondering what the way around this is. Are plus-size women willing to pay $400 for a sweater that is not designer? Because that is what the NY Times said it would cost to pay for all the models, all the pattern making, special fabrics and stitching, to make a decent sweater with enough variation that size 16 and up could wear it.

    • Marla June 9, 2013 at 2:21 PM - Reply

      I worked for many years for LB and at that time I wore a 16. I have an hour glass shape so I could not wear the tops only the bottoms. I believe that another misconception in the plus size community is that plus size means no shape. I would say that most of the women i encountered at LB were shapely but did not fit into the traditional department store sizes. I think that even LB and other plus size markets need to make shapely designs for plus size wearers.

  9. Divinely Naptural August 4, 2010 at 10:24 AM - Reply

    I personally have no inkling as a plus size to wear anything from these big name designers. They have always covertly catered to plus sizes, but never advertised. Unless it is on the “clearance” rack or reasonably priced. I will continue to shop at Century 21, Daffy’s, and Marshall’s, and Macy’s.

    You nailed it on the plus sized woman being perceived as poor in this society. It is a total flip of culture from most African perceptions of size. Oh well you can’t please everyone. I just wear what is affordable and looks good on me.

  10. Faith August 4, 2010 at 11:19 AM - Reply

    I’m not surprised the top fashion houses don’t advertise they sell some plus sizes. Of course they will still only go up to a certain size. Then it’s a matter of a woman who has money paying for couture.

    It’s very difficult finding fashionable and better constructed plus sized clothes. Even within one store the fit and cut aren’t consistent.

    It’s all very annoying on top of the mental/emotional component of being a woman in a patriarchal society as well as being a woman of size.

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