A few weeks ago, Elisabeth sent this article from The Curvy Fashionista with a simple question attached: “What do you think about this?”
If you’re not up on the latest plus-size marketing debates, the article covers the founder of Universal Standard arguing that the plus-size term is dead. And that body positivity and size access should be separate. The context here is important since Universal Standard started as a brand dedicated to plus-size customers.
While Universal Standard is the brand getting the most attention right now in terms of “size-free store” options, they’re certainly not unique in this space. ModCloth has opened multiple physical locations where all items are available from 00 to 28. This range is the same experiment as the one from Universal Standard. It’s notable that the inventory in these stores is mostly limited to Modcloth’s house collection, which has significantly expanded over the years. While Modcloth may invest in size equality, not all of the designers they carry are available in every size.
Photo ModCloth Facebook
The question that these sorts of marketing moves raise is pretty simple. Do brands that have moved “beyond size” hurt or help the plus-size community? Is this equality and progress, or just the size equivalent of those racist people who claim to “not see color?" The answer, as usual, is complicated.
If you’re going to make larger sizes, you have to commit fully.
What these size-free brands do seem to understand is that if you make the full range of sizes, you have to invest equally in all of your customers. Anthropologie recently released a lovely collection of plus-size pieces, which got everyone excited. The other shoe dropped when potential customers found that almost none of these pieces were in stores but only available online. It felt like Anthropologie was investing in plus-sizes in terms of their wallet. But they didn’t want to dilute their trendy stores with “unfashionable” plus-size bodies. As a result, many people didn't buy items they would have otherwise bought from the collection.
Image Universal Standard
It’s nearly impossible for plus-size customers to separate fashion from politics.
Access to better clothing in larger sizes is often fueled by a sense of outrage against designers and mainstream fashion retailers. After all, what kind of jerk do you have to be to ignore the wishes of 68% of the female population of the United States? Social media and the internet have allowed women to form communities that still lobby retailers to do better---and sometimes threaten to boycott them if they don’t.
Plus-size women want clothes. But they also want the respect of the people from whom they buy. I’m not sure consumers are going to be able to trust retailers to produce clothing they want without community feedback. After all, plus-size clothing only took off when women made it a political issue.
Does “size-free” shopping mean fewer resources for plus-size women?
The answer to this question won’t be known for several years at minimum, but it’s one that is worth asking as we see more stores switch to this model. As a customer of both Universal Standard and Modcloth, I have to admit that everything seems okay so far. No matter how they phrase it, I still have more options than ever before when I go to search for my size. I’m willing to give these brands the benefit of the doubt (as long as it benefits my closet). I’ve also found myself digging a little harder for openly plus-size centric brands as well, like Cutting Shapes Club.
Is it possible to unlink fashion and body positivity?
Body positivity is in a weird place these days. It’s mainstream enough that everyone says they believe in it. But advocating for fat bodies to exist in public is still a radical viewpoint. Clothing access has given fat activism communities a way to unite. And it has led to them to push retailers into expanding size ranges.
Other issues that the fat activism movement deals with are viewed as controversial, such as the Health At Every Size movement versus the so-called “Obesity Epidemic." Once you take clothing out of the equation, the issues get thornier and deeper. They're important and worth fighting for, but no one will adopt them as quickly as attractive clothing options for everyone.
Do you think size-free stores help or hurt the plus-size fashion cause? Are you a fan of these retailers?