The fashion news cycle has been more abuzz than usual with stories addressing an oft-overlooked niche market: the plus-sized fashionista, or, as many are inclined to refer to themselves, the “fatshionistas.” This is a group that is more likely to have their noses buried in the latest issue of Vogue Paris, where a plus-size model like Crystal Renn might be featured, without fanfare, as part of a regular fashion editorial, rather than singing the praises of its American counterpart’s token annual “shape” issue, where plus-size models are normally confined. Fatshionistas will also cite Audrey Hepburn and Kate Moss as fashion icons alongside Beth Ditto and Velvet D’Amour, a 300-pound model and photographer who rocked the Parisian runways of John Galliano and Jean Paul Gaultier in 2006 wearing exquisite body-conscious fare.
“One of the things that makes me insane is that somehow the fashion industry decided there can only be one fat chick receiving favorable media attention. We're fat, we're not the Highlander. There can be more than one,” says Rhiannon Gammill, an Austin, Texas-based writer who now blogs for Manolo for the Big Girl. “I want the woman who can say ‘This is who I am, you don't have to like me and you don't have approve of me, but I've been to this pony show before and this time I'm getting what I want. I've got one voice, two chins, and more style than should be allowed by law and I'm not apologizing for any of it’ and then, I don't know, puts her cigarette out on her arm.”
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Fatshionistas are bending the rules of what is and isn’t “acceptable” for larger women to wear, dispensing with the notion that the only thing plus-size women care about is comfort and figure-flattering garb. These women are dressing to look good, yes, but they’re not content with their only choices being jersey wrap dresses or shapeless tunics. “My great hope is that big girls will rebel, and start buying the higher end products,” says Gammill. “The traditional plus-size retailers will have to up their game. As it is now, I love Lane Bryant right-fit jeans and their seamless underwear, but the quality of their actual clothing is embarrassing. I mean, I'd use them to wash my car, but only the station wagon; not the Cadillac.”
Now, there’s a new fashion week devoted to fashion for the curvy community. Full-Figured Fashion Week, produced by Gwen DeVoe’s production company, will debut this weekend in New York, June 25-27. It’s been in the planning stages for five years; DeVoe estimates that around 1,500 people will attend, ranging from retail buyers to a general audience of plus-size customers keen to find new clothing options addressing their specific tastes and needs. “The main objective is to show the consumers and buyers that there are other designers out there,” DeVoe tells The Daily Beast. And, likewise, Full-Figured Fashion Week aims to be a vehicle for smaller, creative designers who may lack the business-savvy to get their collections in front of buyers.
“Whether you like it or not, there are tons of fat women in America, and guess what? We need to get dressed too.”
For a younger generation of plus-size clotheshorses, the most trumpeted news this year has been the forthcoming launch of the collection designed by Beth Ditto for Evans, Topshop’s plus-size division, which will be available online at bethdittoatevans.co.uk as of July 9. Ditto, who is the frontwoman of The Gossip, a friend to Kate Moss, and undeniably the plus-size style icon du jour, made the rounds at Paris Fashion Week this past March and appeared nude on the cover of Conde Nast’s new magazine Love. Her main goal in designing the 22-piece collection, which references everything from Bauhaus design to ‘80s club fashion, was to specifically address the dearth of designer options for women her size and edgier fashion aesthetic—“Beth kept saying that it’s all about making must-haves for a night out,” Lisa Marie Peacock, head of design at Evans, told Grazia online.
“Beth Ditto is helping to create a cultural context in which fat women can be loud and self-accepting and can dress provocatively,” says Lesley Kinzel of Fatshionista, a Web site that is ground zero for the fashion-conscious arm of the so-called fatosphere, the collective online community in support of fat acceptance. “This isn't something mainstream culture has really seen before, at least not this overtly.”
Like any fashion-conscious consumer, fatshionistas are looking for on-trend boyfriend jeans, mini-dresses, printed leggings, chic belts and sharply tailored blazers. Or, they’re mining inspiration from the collections of Alexander McQueen or John Galliano for Christian Dior. “I don't think that plus-sized women should have to approach fashion differently because of their bodies,” says Gabi Gregg, who started her blog Young, Fat and Fabulous in the fall of 2008 for the Gen Y set. “I think that's why my blog is successful; my clothing is not that great—there are tons of thinner women who dress better than I do—but the fact that I am able to put together trendy outfits at my size is considered amazing. I also think that too many plus-size women focus on using clothing to look thinner instead of using clothing to express themselves.”
Despite the growing headway fatshionistas are making into the consciousness of clothing manufacturers and designers, well-designed and high-quality choices for plus-sizes are still miniscule. “I'll say there are more options now than there used to be, but that's sort of like saying ‘he doesn't hit me nearly as often as he used to.’” says Gammill. “I'm fat, I have money. I'm more than willing to give it in quantity to the store who will supply me with beautifully made clothes that don't make me look like a hooker, a tranny, or someone's bingo-playing grandma from Duluth. I would love to see Kate Mulleavy of Rodarte, a big girl herself, do a ready-to-wear line that extends to the plus-sizes.” (Rodarte just won the CFDA Womenswear Designers of the year award, with clothing lines for svelte women.)
Diane D. of Birmingham, England, who writes the blog Fat Girls Like Nice Clothes Too, concurs. “We are getting more younger, edgier lines, which is great, but I would also love to see a smart, directional design-led plus-size label with fabulous work wear and quality fabrics.”
“Beth Ditto is helping to create a cultural context in which fat women can be loud and self-accepting and can dress provocatively.”
And while the French Vogue-reading fatshionista may not be crushed when they hear that Ann Taylor, citing economic constraints, decided to stop carrying size 16 in their stores, making it available only to their online customers, (“When the news broke that Ann Taylor was discontinuing plus-sizes in their stores, I literally went, ‘Wait, Ann Taylor makes plus-sizes?’ says Fatshionista’s Kinzel), it still points to the fact that clothing producers are ignoring the buying power of plus-size customers. An even more importantly, they are failing to understand the kind of product that plus-size women might actually want to buy. “I would argue that the Ann Taylors and Liz Claibornes who are making these cuts would be better served to look at why their plus lines are failing, and what they can do to fix them,” continues Kinzel.
“We all know, whether you like it or not, there are tons of fat women in America, and guess what? We need to get dressed too,” says Gregg. “We have buying power, we want to be able to shop with friends, try things on, and experience clothing the same way as everyone else. I hope that the new plus-size lines at places like Forever 21 and Topshop will do well enough to show other retailers that fat girls like fashion, too.”
Renata Espinosa is the New York editor of Fashion Wire Daily. She is also the co-founder of impressionistic fashion and art blog TheNuNu and a sometimes backup dancer for "The Anna Copa Cabanna Show."