Plus Size Fashion: Why Do we Have to Shop Differently?

Plus Size Fashion: Why Do we Have to Shop Differently?

From the outside, the plus size fashion industry might be seen as one that is rapidly growing and developing; becoming more accepted and acknowledged every day. But as I delved further into the industry to see the impact this change in the plus size industry is having on the women that actually purchase from it, I realised that retailers and brands still have a long way to go.

H&M for example, featured acclaimed plus size model Ashley Graham as the new face of H&M Studio last year. At first glance, I applauded H&M for becoming one of the first mainstream retailers to feature a sole plus size model as their campaign leader. This wasn’t a “body positive” campaign, or for their plus size range, it was just a wonderfully styled editorial that let the clothing do the talking. However, if you looked beyond the glossy imagery and managed to locate the ad’s fine print, you would have found that their plus sizes would only be sold online. Shortly after, H&M pulled their plus size range from all eleven of their New York stores stating “not all stores have room for our fashion concepts.”

I see this as just another ploy by a brand in 2017 to appear to more open and diverse to a range of different body types and sizes because they think casting a model who is actually above a UK size 8 will make them ‘trailblazers’. But in reality, if they don’t have room for the ranges within their retail concepts how can they possibly move towards becoming more inclusive?

It’s obvious that brands need to listen to the real women who are actually purchasing these clothes, instead of just grasping at social media trends in order to make themselves look more diverse. These women need to be heard and represented so much more, so I spoke to two plus size influencers who gave me their honest opinions surrounding plus size fashion retail.

Em Smyth, a plus size blogger recognises the difference between companies who feature plus sized women in their advertising to represent their customers and those who only do it to boost sales. “We know fat bodies exist, but for some unbeknown reason, it’s still very much seen as ‘brave’ or novel for a designer or brand to want to dress plus size women. Although there are now hundreds of online retailers specialising in plus size clothing, Em reaffirms that it just isn’t enough to only allow plus size women to shop online, “I genuinely miss the joy of ‘popping out to buy a new outfit’.”The idea of representation within the plus size industry is also something that has become relevant in the past few years, with companies only dipping their toes into the wider pool of what it means to be plus sized in 2017. Representation is obviously still a huge problem within the industry as a whole: “I am represented in that I’m white, able bodied and on the smaller side of plus but that’s as far as it goes. I want to see the people I see in real life – women of colour, size 28+, non-normative body types, cellulite, stretch marks, trans women.” This is where advertisers and companies are not going far enough, they’re only interested in showing models who range from a UK 14-18 dress size, even though they stock up to a size 28.

Being relegated to online shopping not only takes away the practicality of being able to try items on, it also takes away the pleasure of shopping. With 67% of millennials preferring to shop online rather than in store, you would think that online plus size retailers are a perfect solution for what high street stores aren’t offering. In actuality this has become a huge restriction for these women, further marginalising them by forcing them to shop differently from their friends and family. Carolina Reyna, a plus size model and influencer agrees that there needs to be a push for continuity within the retail sector, “we are nowhere near being considered a ‘normal’ section at the store.”

Another growing issue for the plus size community is the fact that many plus size only retailers don’t immerse themselves in trends like other high street stores, once again leaving the fashion conscious plus size woman unsatisfied. This is one of the issues that Carolina thinks is hugely affecting the industry. “We need more options. Brands need to stop putting out oversized black dresses as if that’s the only thing a plus sized woman can wear. We do not want graphic tees with ridiculous slogans on them. We want fashion forward pieces that fit properly.”  

One of the main problems the industry is facing at the moment is that so many brands are happy to feature one size 16 white able bodied model who has all the components of a ‘classic beauty’ and call themselves ‘diverse’. This doesn’t make the huge variety of plus size women feel more included, it makes them think that brands only acknowledge and appreciate a tiny segment of what it means to be plus size.  Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s amazing that brands are starting to slowly become more diverse within their casting, but we cannot be pushed into a corner when it comes to celebrating and embracing all different body types.


Written by Nina Burrell

Fashion Assistant

Visuals not owned by XXY Magazine

Ashley GrahamEm Smyth