When Bernadette Brown goes shopping for a new outfit she usually finds herself in the same one or two stores. For her, and millions of other women like her, picking up a cute pair of jeans or flattering blouse isn’t as easy as shopping off the rack. For those who have a few extra curves, finding fashionable outfits requires time and lots of patience.
The multi-billion dollar plus-size fashion market has seen lots of changes over the past decade. More mainstream stores such as Old Navy and New York and Company have started offering clothing in larger sizes. Designers who specialize in plus sizes are gaining notoriety. Even fashion magazines like Essence feature and shows like America’s Next Top Model now include models with fuller figures. Despite these advancements, many full- figured women still feel they have very few choices.
“For someone who’s a size four, six or eight, they can find everything they need,” said Brown, a media executive in Atlanta. “For me, I have to go to one store for a top, then another store for the bottom. I have to piece outfits together. There’s not just one store for us. There’s not a trendy Gap for curvy girls.”
Even shopping for shoes can be a chore for women who wear larger sizes. When Brown couldn’t find a pair of knee-high boots that fit properly, she took her business abroad to Europe.
“I actually had to custom order boots from Europe. I had to go across the pond!” Brown said. “The boots look great and they don’t squeeze the meat from my legs.”
Another common complaint is that some stores offer clothes in extra-large sizes that aren’t crafted to flatter the figure of bigger women. Instead, the styles leave many women looking and feeling frumpy.
“These stores don’t cater to plus-sizes. It’s like they just take a smaller size and make it bigger by adding extra material instead of tailoring the clothes to fit our bodies,” said Brown. “Just because you’re holding on to some extra curves doesn’t mean you don’t want to be fashionable.”
Nnete Inyangumia has had similar experiences while shopping. She became so frustrated with her lack of fashion choices that she opened her own boutique that caters to plus size fashions. In 2008 Inyangumia opened her store, Strut, in Houston’s popular Galleria mall. She says the response has been tremendous.
“We’ve gotten so many ladies who come in and they’re like ‘Finally! Finally! Finally!’” said Inyangumia. “They’ve told me that they’ve never had this many options before. That’s what it’s really all about; it’s about having options. Women who wear other sizes, they can go to about 20 different stores. We’re limited to two or three departments that are in the back woods of the store.”
Since joining the business side of the fashion industry, Inyangumia has come face-to-face with some of the challenges of proving stylish wares for her clients.
“There are designers who only want to design for smaller sizes just like there are those who only want to design for full-figured women,” Inyangumia said. “I don’t know if the industry is changing or not, but what I’m doing is actively pursuing and seeking those people who are interested in the full figure market.”
Brown thinks the fashion industry still has some growing up to do. “Just because you’re over a certain size doesn’t mean you don’t want to feel beautiful.”