Pick up any fashion magazine and you’ll find advice on “flattering” styles. Big derriere? Avoid back pockets. Not wasp-waisted? Stay away from horizontal stripes. Arms less than sculpted? Long sleeves are your friend.
A growing number of women are refusing to anguish over not being a size 2, and they’ve abandoned these commandments of “flattering” fashion. In fact, a new generation of body-positive fashionistas have taken to blogs and social media to pose in their favorite outfits, promote acceptance of body diversity, and show that people of any size can wear trendy threads; on Tumblr, these blogs are commonly known as “fatshion.” Gabi Gregg sums it up on her blog GabiFresh: “Women can look great regardless of their weight, and they deserve to feel great too. I am all for people striving to be happy, healthy, and comfortable in their skin.”
These body-positive blogs encourage sartorial self-expression and are populated with photos of confident, curvy women in neon colors, cropped bustiers, and stripes both vertical and horizontal. Though the average woman in the US wears a size 14, finding fashion-forward pieces in sizes 10 and up can be a challenge. Gabi says that shopping online provides her with the greatest selection of plus-sized clothing, and she especially appreciates Etsy’s offerings. “I love that you can find one-of-a-kind items, or get pieces custom made; that’s such a big deal when you’re sized out of stores.”
An Etsy shop owner who’s helped Gabi on her fashion quest is Diane-Marie Brache Smith of Miss Brache. She’s made about 3,000 dresses in the past five years, but started thinking about plus-sized clothing years before, when shopping with a “curvy bestie” for lingerie. “She was going on her first weekend getaway with a boyfriend and couldn’t find a single bra that fit and was majorly bummed,” remembers Diane. “It left me wondering why on earth couldn’t she find something that wasn’t matronly to wear. I told myself I would never let that happen if I got to design clothes someday.”
Diane emphasizes that no matter one’s weight, garment fit is key and accurate body measurements are far more important than the size you think you should wear. “Many women hate the numbers they get when they take their measurements,” says Diane. “But stuffing yourself into a size that is smaller just so you can say it’s a size-whatever is dumb and not comfortable — everything starts pinching, and riding and bunching up. Forget sizes and shop by fit!”
Designing for curvy women isn’t all that different from creating clothing for “straight-sized” customers. “You might need to provide more support in the bust area or a slightly longer hem,” says Tennille McMillan of naKiMuli. “But I really don’t alter my designs too much. I design for the girl who is not afraid to march to the beat of her own drum, and that crosses all shapes and sizes.” Emily and Amanda, who include plus-sized clothing in their shop Ureshi, add, “We think in terms of silhouette and proportion. Some part of an outfit should be snug to the body, otherwise the eye has nowhere to land.”
Etsy shop owners say their curvy customers are definitely not shrinking violets. “We find that our plus-sized girls are more adventurous, style-wise, than customers who buy our medium and small sizes,” say Emily and Amanda. Tenille echoes that sentiment: “My customers are bold, creative, and unique. They love colors, prints, and interesting silhouettes and are not afraid to be noticed.” She appreciates that her customers provide feedback, helping her perfect her plus-sized offerings.
This exchange with designers is something customer Gabi Gregg enjoys as well. “I love Etsy because people are so willing to do custom sizing, which is amazing. I always encourage people to message an Etsy shop owner if they don’t offer your size and ask to see if they’re willing to make you a custom piece. In my experience, people are happy to.”
Communicating about fit and style is especially important when it comes to clothing for special occasions — proms, graduations, and weddings. Sharon Seleb, a former bridal consultant in Chicago, got tired of telling brides-to-be, “You’re going to have to hold this gown up and use your imagination, because we don’t have it in your size” and started Real Size Bride. “More and more women are proud of their curves, and we’re trying to change the thinking that all plus-size bridal gowns need to be A-line, empire waist, and look like a curtain. We offer shorter styles, plunging sweetheart necklines and mermaid cuts to flaunt curves, not hide them.”
Designers making clothes for curvy women see themselves on something of a mission. “Victoria’s Secret models are gorgeous, but it’s unrealistic to think everyone can look like that,” Sharon says. “We are doing our part to expand the fashion industry’s archaic view of what is beautiful.”
And changing those views means challenging fashion’s rules about what’s “flattering.” Says Diane of Miss Brache, “Wear what makes you happy and what you are comfortable in. You shine when you’re wearing a print, color, or design you adore.”