Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Design Journal: Plus Size Personality


The other week my tutors asked me to go do some market research on the highstreet to see what I was interested in and possibly where my brand would fit in terms of market level and style. I found that this request really threw me and for a while I didn't know where to begin. I just felt really lost on the high street and it took me a while to realise why; for so long I've had the option of a handful of shops, and suddenly I am free to walk into any shop regardless of my size or budget for design and research purposes. I'm sure I'm not the only one that feels like this, but when I go shopping I feel there's these invisible red crosses over the doors that stand for 'no fat people allowed'. Obviously we ARE allowed in, but the majority of shops on the British highstreet do not sell my size and I feel unwelcome. (this could be my own paranoid thoughts, but I also feel like people and sales assistants literally size me up in smaller shops as if to say 'why the hell is she here? she couldn't even get her toe in a pair of jeans!' and it makes me feel self conscious despite being confident at my size) So when I did go to look at the highstreet, for the first time in a long while, I felt really overwhelmed. I still didn't feel comfortable in any of these shops, and I just felt out of place. 

When people ask me 'if you could shop anywhere, regardless of size, where would you shop?' I find it difficult to answer. I feel as a plus size person I have had to make so many compromises in terms of fashion and style for so long that suddenly having to make a real choice is just alien to me. I've never been able to fully express my style or personality through clothes, I'm limited to a few shops that sort of represent me, then I have to filter through the garments until I find something that I could try and make work. I think particularly over the last year my confidence has been knocked, both with my personal style but also as a designer. I feel like I've squashed my sense of style because I've given up trying to find garments in my size that are suitable for my personality, and this has effected my approach to designing. It has always been my dream to start up my own business selling feminine, vintage inspired clothing with a modern twist, to plus size women that share similar style aesthetics to me, but I just felt that this idea was shot down as ridiculous and unconsciously I had decided it wouldn't work. 

This week I have been researching 'brands within brands' - such as brands that sell at other companies e.g. Scarlett and Jo at Evans, or Alice & You at ASOS Curve. It is really great that more and more of these brands are starting up and all have different styles that hopefully cater to multiple different groups of plus size women. I discussed in my last blog post how often the fashion industry groups the 'plus size niche' as one type of generic woman regardless of our age, budget, style etc. I still feel this is a problem, however there are some great brands coming through with a really strong idea of who their customer is. 

I know I discussed Carmakoma last week, but I just really admire how strong their personality and customer awareness is, and I think it's great that they're targeting such a specific plus size customer whose needs might not be provided elsewhere. I think this is what the industry needs to realise, that the term 'plus size' is not an umbrella for one woman with one personality. We are all very different with very individual needs and it's time to start providing for them. 

I honestly don't know where I would shop on the highstreet now if size was not an issue - possibly Topshop and Urban Outfitters. I would like to be able to wear young clothes whilst I'm still young, because I feel plus size clothing can be quite old fashion and would never even be designed for someone my age but half my size. I'd love to be able to pick what trends suit my personality, or be able to wear more daring clothes, or fun colours and pretty prints. But if I could really shop anywhere I would probably be down Shoreditch every weekend buying vintage clothes and mixing it in with modern garments to create my own style. But I had forgotten that vintage is what I love because that option has never been there for me. Unfortunately the majority of vintage clothing comes in very small sizes due to the fact that women were smaller back then, and possibly to do with how structured their underwear was. That's not to say that plus size women can't wear vintage, because my friend Isha has a knack for finding clothes that fit her. There are also a few vintage style brands that having started to sell plus size, such as Voodoo Vixen who is also at Simply Be. However, I still don't feel catered for. I am looking for vintage clothing that is for a modern woman, and is more day wear that will fit in with a regular wardrobe. I'm not necessarily interested in creating or wearing pin-up/rockabilly clothing (as much as I still love it).

I just to share with you some images from Re/Dress, a plus size brand in the US that stock vintage and modern clothing, and I am in love with their lookbooks. I have never seen such amazing photography and styling of plus size people before, and it's great to see them looking happy, fashionable and full of personality. I just love the way they are represented, and the amazing vintage inspired style they are wearing, and this is what I want to achieve with my own brand (and personal style). I also really admire Modcloth, who I'm sure you've all heard of, as they are also a vintage inspired company who have really embraced the plus size customer by creating a huge range in larger sizes - and they are probably the closest brand to my personal style that is available in plus size, and I would love to buy all my clothes from there. (but I can't afford the cost of shipping etc. as a student right now)

So what is your opinion? Do you feel your personality is represented in the clothing options available to you? Currently on the highstreet there are shops such as Monsoon and Allsaints who have such strong personalities and a very focussed customer who they tailor trends to suit - is this something you is feel is missing for the plus size community, or your personal style in general? Let me know what you think, anything you have to say will be helpful towards my work.

Thanks for reading.


  1. Completely agree with you. We do compromise so often as plus size ladies, because although the industry is making steps, there's still not as much choice and a long way to go. It's hard to be completely 'pin up' or 'goth' or 'vintage' or whatever it is you want to be, because you just have to take bits and bobs as they come. I've forgotten what it's like to be able to walk into ANY shop and shop for clothes. I just do the "I know I can fit into some Debenhams and Primark stuff" so that's where I look. And I do feel like they size me up in other stores, thinking "no way is she gonna fit into a 16"! I'm not sure where I'd shop if I had the choice.

    1. It's such a strange concept imagining what it would be like as a plus size women to be able to shop anywhere we like - because we've never had that option. So if we suddenly had the choice it would be so weird and overwhelming! (but also amazing) xxx

  2. As a young girl (and pre ASOS!) a friend of mine was appalled when I wanted to browse Ann Harvey to see if they had ANYTHING that I could/would wear. I was so embarrassed to have even suggested it, and of course I would rather have shopped in the indie/skater shops that we otherwise frequented, those were my options though, that and Evans. It just wasn't cool or stylish and frankly I'm not sure much has changed highstreet-wise although I'm perfectly comfortable these days with telling people that I couldn't give a flying fart about going into Topshop, Zara, River Island, FCUK, Reiss, Urban Outfitters, Jack Wills or American Apparel etc etc etc, I simply shop online where people want my money. I would loooove to shop in Uniqlo, and Whistles for the clean cut modern aesthetic and Ted Baker for a bit of fun too but apparently they don't want my money so they can go jump!

    I did go into a Simply Be store the other day though and it was delightful. To be able to hunt through for my size and know it would be there, on EVERY rack, nyrgggggh nirvaaaaana!

    I genuinely can't describe how happy I would be if I could shop properly on the highstreet with my friends and if ASOS ever goes bust I don't know what I would do.

    1. I should say too that Junarose are my absolute favourite brand at the moment. They are not afraid to simply produce good quality, classy, and simple pieces with interesting shapes and embellishments (zips, ribbon tied tops, pleating, neon trim) that are thoughtfully made for plus size bodies. They have a strong and cohesive look and don't just throw glitter, sequins and distracting prints at everything.

  3. Hello! This was a lovely article, and I can definitely relate. I used to work in the Mall of America in Minnesota, USA. When I had morning shifts before the stores were open I walked around so I could ogle Betsey Johnson, Burberry, Urban Outfitters -- even Ann Taylor! -- through the windows without judgement. I sometimes wonder what my style would be like if I had access to so many options!
    As is, I do nearly all of my shopping online or at thrift stores. I love vintage, though I of course can't wear anything much but purses and jewelry. I'm a fan of some of the new vintage stores like ModCloth, but I dislike a lot of embellishment or cutesy prints (I love them on other people, just not on myself!) which can be challenging sometimes. And while I love a 50's style dress for a special occasion, I just can't keep up with a retro look in terms of hair and make-up! I also absolutely love 60's/70's hippie or bohemian clothing, but... well, you can probably imagine how difficult that is to find, and when I *do* find something it has to be carefully styled so that I don't look like someone's artsy aunt (in twenty years or so it will be perfect!).
    It would be so lovely for us to feel like there were brands (maybe even actual physical stores!) that catered to our personalities rather than just our shapes and sizes. It feels awful to go to the mall and only have two options -- too old or too trendy -- to choose from. And it feels even worse to go to a stylish street of vintage shops and boutiques and know for a fact that you can't do anything but look at earrings. It's like, fashion, I love you! Why don't you love me too?