New York University student Stella Boonshoft didn't focus on fashion when she posted a photo of her size 12 self in underwear on her Body Love Blog.
Neither did Wisconsin news anchor Jennifer Livingston when she aired her grievances about a viewer's criticizing her weight.
But they've both become heroines for thousands of women size 14 and up, for whom getting dressed each day is a comparable act of bravery. They know when they walk outside that they'll confront narrow-minded ideas of what they should and shouldn't wear at their weight.
Curve-hugging silhouettes? Trendy styles? Bare arms? No way! the fashion industry used to say.
Full-bodied bloggers and shoppers have been talking back.
"The biggest myth is that plus-size women want to fade into the background and not make a fashion statement," said Nicolette Mason, a lifestyle blogger (nicolettemason.com) and "Big Girl in a Skinny World" columnist for Marie Claire. "They do want to be seen and be empowered by their clothing and have fun with their wardrobe, and not have it be a source of shame or anxiety. So wearing horizontal stripes or body-con dresses or going sleeveless? These are things more and more that a plus-size woman is open to and desiring."
New avenues are opening too. Here, Mason offers her perspective on what's changing and what remains challenging in plus-size fashion.
Mainstream retailers are offering plus-size styles that are as fashion-forward as their regular sizes. Eloquii, a new plus-size brand from the Limited (eloquii.com), "speaks to so many women, and it's very much work to weekend," Mason said. Asos' Curve line, from the U.K.-based online retailer (asos.com), "has hit it out of the ballpark in terms of quality and price," Mason said. Lucky Brand launched Lucky Plus last summer.
A fresh crop of plus-size brands is turning heads. Domino Dollhouse (dominodollhouse.com) reminds Mason of Betsey Johnson's aesthetic. JilRo (jil-ro.com), which Neiman Marcus added to its mix this fall, "is a higher price point, $150 to $500, offering something that hasn't been part of this market," Mason said. Mynt 1792 (mynt1792.com), available at Nordstrom, "is a contemporary line that does a lot of denim under $150. That's really exciting to me," Mason said. Carmakoma (carmakoma.com), a Danish brand, "is phenomenal — really edgy and design-focused but also great quality and fit," Mason said.
Contemporary brands are adding plus-size lines. Tbags has "a straight size and plus-size line, and the pieces aren't differentiated in terms of style," Mason said. As an indie girl who loves the style of Beth Ditto, lead singer of Gossip, Mason was pleasantly surprised by how much she liked the Jessica Simpson collection for Women. "It really was hard for me to be open to this line," Mason said, "but I love it. The clothes are so cute, all under $200." Both are sold at nordstrom.com.
Cheap-chic chains are revamping their plus lines. H&M+ is going beyond basics and starting to do trend-forward pieces, Mason said. (hm.com). Forever 21+ "is great, especially for younger women and teens. There's still room to grow, because the pieces aren't exactly the same as in the main line, but they've certainly improved," Mason said. (forever21.com). Some of Target's limited-edition collaborations, such as with Calypso or The Webster, include plus-size pieces in the women's apparel section. Kmart's LYS line (Love your Style, Love Your Size) offers under-$30 bargains (kmart.com).
More boot brands, such as Stuart Weitzman, Hunter and J. Crew, are offering extended calf sizes (15-inch, versus 13- or 14-inch). Another of Mason's favorite boot sources, whether for a narrow or wide calf, is Duoboots.com, a U.K. brand. "It's basically custom fit. You send in your measurements."
Fit. "When you go higher in sizes, it's a lot harder for a designer to predict where the weight will distribute," Mason said. "I'm top heavy and most plus-size apparel is fit onto a bottom-heavy woman. The bust is cut smaller than the bottom in virtually every garment. That's a problem I have personally, but it's not universal."
A lack of brick-and-mortar stores, with the exception of Lane Bryant. "Trying on clothing is so essential for all women, but especially in this market. I'll be a 16 in one piece and need a 20 in another piece, even from the same brand. Fit wildly varies."
Sizeism and fat-shaming, like what the Wisconsin news anchor experienced. "Stepping out and being confident and visible is inherently political when your body is 'othered' by society," Mason said. "When you're a woman who's visible, you're dealing with a lot more scrutiny than a man in the same position with the same build would ever be subjected to."
Often, especially with high-fashion magazines, the issue is there's nothing to dress these women in that's meeting the magazine's standards." Some designers offer plus sizes in their bridge lines (Michael Kors, Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein) but not in their top-tier collections.