One of the more cringe-worthy moments in the 2006 movie, The Devil Wears Prada, about the struggles of aspiring-journalist Andy Sachs, played by Anne Hathaway, working for Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep), editor of fictional Runway magazine, happens in the office cafeteria.
Andy observes to art director Nigel, played by the amazing Stanley Tucci, that all the other girls at the magazine don’t eat anything. He says, “Not since two became the new four and zero became the new two.” Andy answers that she is a size six, to which he quips, “Which is the new fourteen.”
Shame on the fat-shaming industry
That in a nutshell is all anyone needs to know about how the fashion industry views its plus-size customers: She simply doesn’t fit. The average American woman wears between a size 16-18, according to research from assistant professor Deborah Christel, at Washington State University’s Department of Apparel, Merchandising, Design and Textiles. She has made it her mission to wake the industry up to its inherent fat biases by teaching a class to expose “weight discrimination as a social justice issue.”
Tim Gunn, long-time chair of fashion design at Parsons The New School of Design, who went on to Liz Claiborne as chief creative officer and then gained famed as mentor on Project Runway, took the industry to task back in 2016 in a Washington Post op-ed. “Designers refuse to make clothes to fit American women. It’s a disgrace,” he wrote.
Demand for all-inclusive sizing
The industry has been slow to learn the lesson, but finally it is taking Gunn’s message to heart. Nordstrom is now expanding its plus-size selections to include 100 brands and integrating them in with its core size range, rather than segregating it into a separate “Woman’s” department, where the shopper is reminded that she doesn’t belong where the real fashion is.
The company, however, said it will still maintain a separate plus-size department for convenience, but its “size-inclusive” initiative will give size 14 shoppers access to the same styles as her size 2 shopping companion. “In our opinion, petite and plus sizes shouldn’t be considered special categories. They’re just sizes,” a company statement said. Now Nordstrom shoppers can select from extended size offerings from inclusive brands like Topshop, Rag & Bone, Theory and J. Crew’s Madewell on the same rack.
Specialty fashion retailer Express is also broadening its range of sizes from 00 to 18, but only in 130 stores out of its total base of 600 full-priced and factory stores. “What we hear constantly from consumers is the lack of fashion styles in the sizes they need. We are excited to make this first step in the journey toward a more inclusive shopping experience,” the company said in a statement.
And none too soon, with women’s fashion retail sales on a steady decline since 2012. From its zenith of $41.8 billion, it has dropped 5.6% to $39.4 billion in 2017, according to the Census Dept. Monthly Retail Trade Survey.
By contrast, the women’s plus size fashion market is on a roll: up 38% from two years ago, reports Katie Smith, retail analysis & insights director at EDITED, which provides real-time data analytics to the fashion industry. “The plus size market is the fastest-growing segment in the U.S., but it still accounts for 1.6% of the market, which is baffling when you consider 67% of women in the U.S. wear a size 14 or larger,” she says.
Women know how they want to dress; they don’t need designers to tell them
It is sad that the fashion industry had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the revolutionary idea of size inclusiveness. But the overwhelming majority of women–plus size women–are demanding it. This is a kind of disruption that the industry can actually respond to proactively, if it only is willing to embrace the new image of the modern woman.
“For too long, the industry has been entirely blinded to the fact that a consumer can be plus size and passionate about high-quality clothing and have the money to shop for it,” Smith says. “Social media has helped fuel discussion around inclusivity, acceptance and is challenging old stereotypes. The Gen Y and Z consumers are far more open-minded and inclusive than any other consumer before them. And their impact on luxury, advertising and beauty has been, and will continue to be, enormous. The increased body-positivity these consumers are creating is finally hooking the fashion industry.”
The fashion industry is now in the unfamiliar, and for many the uncomfortable position of following rather than leading the consumer. “No longer is the fashion industry able to push its agenda onto consumers, instead consumers are pulling the industry forward.”
Plus puts new demands on designers
Besides the fact that plus-size women don’t look like the women many fashion designers want to dress, designing plus-sized clothing requires greater expertise and awareness of how to dress the real woman’s body, not designers’ favorite 6-foot-tall, size-00 model.
“This is a design failure and not a customer issue,” Gunn wrote in his 2016 op-ed. “There is no reason larger women
1can’t look just as fabulous as all other women. The key is the harmonious balance of silhouette, proportion and fit, regardless of size or shape.”
Speaking to the design challenges, and opportunities, of dressing the plus-size woman, Kim Camarella-Khanbeigi, founder of Kiyonna and an early pioneer in plus-size fashion, says, “The fit is science,” she says. “You can’t just grade up and expect the style to flatter and fit the same.” She started Kiyonna in 1996 to serve the specialty retail market and moved online in 1999. Today her brand is carried by 250 stores nationwide, as well as being available on its own website, Amazon and Zappos. Kiyonna also operates a flagship store called the Upstairs Boutique in Anaheim.
“What’s ready for disruption is the stereotypes about the curvy customer. Styled right and wearing something that fits, she exudes attractiveness,” Camarella-Khanbeigi says, as she notes the business opportunity to dress the curvy woman is great and growing. “There is a beautiful, curvy customer counting on it.”
The look of luxury in plus size
To date, luxury brands and retailers have been the most resistant to embracing the plus-size woman. Smith reports EDITED data shows that only about 0.1% of the luxury and premium market is plus sized. “What luxury brands don’t seem to pay attention to is that plus-size shoppers are already their customers, be it of their beauty, perfume, footwear, accessories or leather goods lines, rather than apparel,” Smith says.
While it is true that affluent women are less likely than lower-income women to be plus sized, it is safe to assume that at least 25-33% or more of the nation’s affluent women don’t fit into the luxury industry’s standard 0-12 size range. The latest available data from the CDC on women’s obesity levels by income confirms this, with its finding that over one-fourth of the highest-income women (specifically women with household incomes 350% above poverty level) are classified as obese (BMI of 30 or higher) and that isn’t even counting women who are simply overweight.
Gucci for one has paid attention and offers an increasing range of styles in large and XL sizes. It will also help Nordstrom fill its racks as it broadens its plus-size offerings. Smith advises the rest of the luxury industry to wake up. The plus-size luxury fashion market is growing and these women have the means and desires to dress as fashionably as her size 0 counterpart.
“Plus-size celebrities and influencers now have very visible global platforms for voicing their frustrations with an industry that can’t dress them. With social attitudes towards inclusivity shifting rapidly, luxury brands don’t want to lag in this opportunity,” Smith declares.
It’s been less than two weeks since Rihanna launched her Savage x Fenty lingerie line, and as expected, the fervor around the collection is, well, bonkers. Thanks to its many shades of nude, large size run, and hard to get your hand on product, fans across the world have been eager to give the collection a try. So were we—and that’s why we found 20 women who range from size 32A to 40DD, brought them into the ELLE.com offices, and had them review bras from the collection. Here’s what they had to say.
“When I heard Rihanna was launching a lingerie collection a light bulb went on over my head. I thought, ‘Oh I see, Rihanna wants allthe money in my bank account, not just a little!’
The bra is really comfortable! I get to wear my true size 32C and that is amazing. Also, I was able to find nude tones that did not exist before. The bra is just as good if not better than anything I have had. Also I want to support Rihanna! I think that its important to speak with you wallet. Not just social media, or Facebook, but to use your hard-earned dollars to support business. It feels good to support a newcomer who is changing the game.”
“I’m a 34A so it’s difficult to find a bra that looks good and feels nice but the Savage X bra was super flattering. Best of both worlds. I was expecting to see super padded bras, lace, and maybe a bit of S&M when I got to the ELLE.com offices. Now, it’s clear that the collection is sexy but tasteful. I’ve never felt confident in lingerie before the day of the shoot.“
“As someone who rarely wears bras, especially not underwire, I was genuinely surprised at how comfortable and supportive the bra was! These bras are truly made for the female form and there is no compromising between wanting to look and feel your best. Even the most comfortable of fitting bras have tiny details that make you feel sexy and beautiful. There is no exaggeration here: Rih has done it again!”
“One of Fenty Beauty’s tag lines is ‘Beauty for All’ so I was really excited as a person of color and as someone who has a hard time looking for bras in general to see how this tagline would translate to a whole lingerie line. I usually have to try on four different sizes in one brand before I get the right fit, but I really just used the last bra size that I bought (from Aerie) and it fit perfectly, cups and band together. The material is so comfortable, too.”
“When I heard Rihanna was launching a lingerie line, I was interested and hoping that plus sizes would be included. I didn’t want to get my hopes up because most celeb collections aren’t size inclusive. I’m frankly used to being let down because their sizes are extremely lacking. It feels like she just dipped her toe in the plus size pool, but didn’t take the plunge. Stopping at a size 18/DD, when a 14/D is the “average” size of the American woman, is really the bare minimum where plus sizes are concerned.
“I didn’t even need to see the lingerie to know I’d want her entire line. Everything Rihanna touches turns to Trophy Wife gold. While the bra I tried on was a basic t-shirt bra, I did love that there was an element of sexy with the bit of lace on the cups. Plus, I loved the soft feel of the fabric. The size also fit perfectly—there was no gap between my chest and the band and the cups fit me perfectly with no empty space, all the while pushing everything up to give nice cleavage without heavy padding.”
“After I read and heard the awesome reviews for Fenty Beauty, I knew that Savage X wouldn’t disappoint. There was an instant feel of comfort with a generous dash of sexy. Better than my past bra experiences.”
“I thought the options would all be sexy bras with cutouts, but she also had full coverage bras in a variety of color ways. One thing I do wish is that the straps in the back could tighten a little more for girls like me with heavier boobs.”
“These undergarments are comfy yet sexy, priced appropriately, and will jump start summer 2018. Give Rih your money and stop playing. Enchantress Fenty is doing her best to include everyone in the conversation—obviously, inclusivity is the only way to go—so I assumed the same would apply to this. Compared to other bras, this one is pretty good; I’m not mad at how it looked. The color was pretty and the fit was nice, not too tight but had support.
“The bra I wore seemed similar to others I’ve tried on in the past. But what I can say is I love the style of it all and how it fit so perfectly for my little bitties.”
“Rihanna’s goal is to include everyone: Big, small, light, dark you name it. Over all, these are better than other bras I’ve tried in the past. I love the lightweight feel and it’s so soft so it gets an A from me.”
“While I’m normally a 34C, I ended up fitting best in a sister size, a 34D. This bra was way better than bras I’ve tried in the past that have tried to hit the sexy meets functional mark, but sorely missed. This bra didn’t dig in anywhere, had just the right amount of lift to be a normal t-shirt bra. I couldn’t feel the underwire at all.”
“I thought everything would be more sexy and stand out but, to be honest they look like regular under garments. I wish they were more unique or made me think that I needed them in my life. That being said, the bra was really soft and comfortable to wear, which is a good thing, but in terms of looks, I think it looks like a normal bra.
“I thought the bras would have a more edgy or lingerie look to them. They were just like any standard bras which was not what I was expecting at all, but you don’t normally get pretty colors when you get to bra my size so I was excited about that. I do wish, though, the support for ‘ the girls’ could have been better.“
Fortunately, 10 years have passed since the movie was first released, and things are looking up for style-starved maids. The bridal world now takes its cues from the runways, with fashion trends inspiring not only bridal designers but big brands and high-profile talents to create collections specifically for this lucrative market.
“The bridesmaid category has become a lot more exciting. When we started in 2011 bridesmaid dresses were very standardised and consisted of one fabric – usually chiffon – and a limited colour palette of pastels. Now designers and brides are borrowing trends from ready-to-wear and thinking outside the traditional box,” says Cecile Chen, founder of Trinity Bridal.
Take for example, Hong Kong bride Feiping Chang, whose storybook wedding in Capri was covered by high-profile publications such as Vogue. Instead of cookie-cutter bridesmaid gowns, she opted for various styles designed by friend and Self Portrait designer Han Chong.
“I knew I wanted my bridesmaids to wear white, which most people tend to shy away from. Together we chose a selection of styles that would fit each girl’s body as well as their personal style. So overall, the dresses looked consistent but each was something unique that they could also wear again,” says Chang.
While individuality is important for modern bridesmaids, so are trends. Many are experimenting with fun prints like the patchwork florals popularised by British designer Richard Quinn while silhouettes have transitioned from conservative Grecian styles to the more fashionable cold shoulder and off-the-shoulder looks. When it comes to colour, many brides tend to err on the side of caution and opt for pastels, but there is also a return to bold shades such as yellow and blue.
Location also plays a role in determining bridesmaid dresses. Traditional venues such as hotels are becoming less popular thanks to the emergence of destination weddings. Exotic, off-the-beaten track locales have allowed bridesmaids to do away with formal styles and opt for fun and fresh looks instead.
“I usually advise destination bridesmaids to mix and match dresses with varied and multi-dimensional aesthetics. Colour choices can also be more modern and include navy, dove grey or even black. Instead of a flowy dress, you can experiment with jumpsuits and more structured dresses which look more contemporary,” advises Jacqueline Au, founder and creative director of The Loft Bridal.
A demand for more modern styles has also meant that brides can explore beyond the usual stable of specialised brands and opt for creations by ready-to-wear fashion brands like Needle & Thread and Caroline Constans. While purchasing off-the-rack can be tricky when you have larger groups to dress, it still opens a whole new world of possibilities in terms of fashion choices.
“Popular brands include Self Portrait and Red Valentino for entry-level price point while Zimmerman is ideal for a summer garden party type wedding. Valentino, Rochas, Erdem all offer beautiful dresses that could work for a bridesmaid. For more traditional dresses, Elie Saab and Maria Lucia Hohan are great,” says Suzanne Pendlebury, buying manager at matchesfashion.com.
Another easy way to inject a modern touch to your bridesmaid look is through accessories such as jewellery, hair pieces and shoes, all of which add a touch of personality and an element of surprise.
“Sometimes when you follow runway trends the photos can look out of date after a few years. I would still keep the dress refined but play with jewellery, be it chunky bold pieces a la Celine or maximalist Gucci-style with layers of pearls and crystals. Even if you are stuck wearing a cookie-cutter dress, you are able to inject a bit of your own personality through accessories,” says Au.
A final note of caution to all bridesmaids. While looking good may be your top priority, it’s not necessarily the bride’s. Avoid a Pippa Middleton situation and keep your choices stylish yet discreet. Your big day will come eventually.
Spring/summer 2018 runway trends perfect for bridesmaids
Ruffles: Velvet dress (HK$3,500) by Self Portrait from Lane Crawford.
Vintage florals: Long patchwork dress (HK$499) from Zara.
Bold colours: Rope detail silk satin gown (HK$16,625) by Roksanda from matchesfashion.com.
Embellishments: Andromeda ruffled embellished tulle gown (HK$4,810) by Needle & Thread from Net-a-Porter.
Sheer: Rosetta lace dress (HK$5,500) from S.Nine by Susanna Soo.
THE sun is shining and we’ve got that Friday feeling, which can only mean one thing…it’s time for your fashion fix!
This week, Fabulous Shopping Editor and celeb stylist Nana Achaempong (Instagram: @styledbynana) is giving you all the goss on this week’s most lust-worthy fashion…
This week George at Asda invited me to gorgeous Coworth Park hotel and spa to check out the George S/S ’18 homeware collection.
The question was, what to wear to such a fancy spot on what was going to be the hottest day of the year so far… I decided on this Topshop dress, which I have since discovered is a complete sell-out!
Polka dots are a huge S/S ’18 trend and were spotted on the catwalks of Valentino, MM6 Maison Margiela and Self Portrait to name just a few.
The dress in question has been spotted – excuse the pun – on many influencers and celebrities, which led to it flying off the shelves nationwide.
And the super-affordable £49 price tag helps too!
But don’t fear, there are plenty of other fantastic polka dot dresses on the high street you can still get your hands on that will be ideal for pretty much any occasion – weddings, the races, brunch with the girls or, in my case, a fancy spa hotel!
Never one to miss a trick, Zara have embraced the polka dot trend
- Tan polka dot dress, £25.99 from Zara
H&M’s polka dot dress is perfect for a warm summer evening
- White polka dot dress, £49.99 from H&M
- Black polka dot dress, £29 from Topshop
Celeb Crush: BEYONCE. QUEEN B. BEY.
Now while I’m sure your Instagram feed was overloaded with Coachella pics last weekend, it would be a crime not to mention the insane performance that Beyoncé delivered in the desert.
What wasn’t there to love about her 100+ strong dancers and marching band, hubby Jay-Z, sister Solange and my faves Kelly and Michelle, who came on stage for a mini Destiny’s Child reunion?
Everyone’s outfits were designed by Balmain and looked epic!
Nearly a week later, I’m still obsessing over everything about Bey’s performance.
My so-called fashion life…
On a bit of a whim/New Year New Me moment, in January I signed up for the Hackney half marathon on May 20.
I’ve been documenting my training on Insta Stories and talking about it pretty much non-stop to anyone kind enough to listen.
With the race date fast approaching, I was beyond excited when ASOS asked me to attend a 3K fun run to celebrate the new Nike flyknit racer trainers.
Held at the most Instagram-worthy cafe in east London, Palm Vaults, guests were not only treated to a brand-new pair of Nike trainers for the run, but we also had matcha tea on tap, plus avo on toast and vegan banana bread for breakfast – yum!
After a really inspiring talk from the ASOS and Nike panel, we headed off for our 3k run. The trainers are super-comfy and look great (millenial pink, anyone?), plus it was so much fun running in a group that I’ve decided to join a running club.
Having stylish workout gear is a great motivator for actually getting in some exercise – that or you can just look chic doing the weekly shop.
So here are some of my favourite brands to work out in.
- Leggings, £60 from Bjorn Borg
- Sports bra, £22 from ASOS 4505
Hot off the press…
If you haven’t heard the new H&M collaboration news, you must have been off Instagram for a week.
But I’m here to fill you in! At the annual Moschino Coachella Party, the high street store announced their new designer collab would be with none other than, you guessed it, Moschino!
Jeremy Scott presented model pal Gigi Hadid, dressed in a small preview of what we can expect.
It doesn’t launch until November 8 (sob!) but mark it in your diaries now!
Thought the $5.8 billion global wearable technology market was all about wristbands? Wrong.
Pauline Van Dongen is one of Europe’s leaders in the field and says the future is about so much more than your smartwatch.
Apple fans may be “stuck in a device paradigm”, but cutting-edge innovators are all about the potential of smart clothes, the designer explains.
“The next transition is to embed technology into textiles, like we do in our studio, and to look at the materials from a material and aesthetic point of view, not only from a functional perspective.”
Big brands are climbing on board
In Europe, fashion houses like Britain’s CuteCircuit and Berlin’s ElektroCouture have forged ahead of this curve. Now, big tech businesses have started taking note too (in recent years Google has made a smart jacket with Levi’s, while Samsung designed its own NFC suit).
And it’s Pauline Van Dongen’s studio in the Netherlandsthat’s breaking boundaries for some of the world’s most prominent brands.
It has worked with everyone from the $28.9 billionelectronics giant Philips to fast-growing non-latex condom company Skyn, a line that belongs to the $600 million Lifestyles Healthcare—and many publically undisclosed brands too.
Van Dongen projects typically cost from €2,000 to €100,000 (around $2,500–$123,000), with many often being run at the studio at the same time.
“By creating these projects, we generate a lot of value, whether that’s actual products partners can sell, insights into new materials and processes, or PR value,” says the designer.
As you might expect, some of Van Dongen’s many groundbreaking designs have sprung from partnerships with existing fashion innovators.
For example, last year, the studio worked with Italdenim, a sustainable jeans pioneer founded in 1974 in Arconate, a small village near Milan.
“I particularly wanted to work with denim fabric because it’s a material that everyone can identify with – everyone has a piece of denim in their wardrobe,” Van Dongen says of the collaboration.
Motivated by a desire to make technology “more human” and “mindful”, the studio developed Issho: a jacket that uses senses if you’re constantly reaching for your phone, and gives a physical response back to the wearer.
“The jacket talks to you by giving you a gentle stroke on your upper back, inviting you to be more in the present moment,” Van Dongen explains.
The studio has also worked with sustainable Dutch fashion retailer Blue Loop Originals to create a solar-powered windbreaker. It’s today worn by tour guides of Germany’s Wadden Sea Society to help them stay charged and better assist their visitors.
“It invites you to go outside and be in the sunshine to harness your own energy,” says Van Dongen.
Quite evidently, technology brands also have much to offer to the booming wearable textiles scene too. And it was Philips’ understanding of the world of electronics that supercharged Van Dongen’s Mesopic and Phototrope sportswear designs.
Disappointed by her own experience of running at night with a “ridiculous” light-up bracelet, the designer worked with Philips to come up with a savvier solution.
In its latest form, the studio’s light-up jerseys even include interactive controls to allows sports trainers to alter light colors and enable specific games and activities.
“Our tops integrate lighting from a functional perspective, but also as a new type of aesthetic, just like we’d use any other kind of material,” Van Dongen explains.
“It creates playfulness,” she adds.
With such a wide range of companies keen to explore wearables, choosing who to collaborate with can be a challenge, but the Pauline Van Dongen studio won’t be “misled” by money, says its founder.
And—as long as Van Dongen believes in the creative integrity of a project—no area is off-limits.
Indeed, the studio jumped at the opportunity to work with condom company Skyn, where it explored how the business’s latex-free materials could benefit athletes.
“Of course we wanted to avoid created a ‘condom suit’,” says Van Dongen. “That was one of the bigger challenges, not to make something that would look silly and make people laugh.”
The designer succeeded, instead creating an impressive outfit with aerodynamic flaps that open to give long jump athletes extra time in the air.
Partnerships that empower
Many more of Van Dongen’s projects are socially-motivated.
One collaboration with the Dutch wearable business Elitac saw the creation of the FysioPal top: a garment that not only records data around back posture, but uses small vibration motors to give haptic feedback to correct it.
Similarly, the studio’s Vigour cardigan—a collaboration with Technical University Eindhoven, Martijn ten Bhömer and Textile Museum Tilburg—is about empowering the elderly.
Made of soft Merino wool, it has sensors that help those with Alzheimer’s or Dementia convey their activity levels to healthcare workers.
“Our garments are already on our bodies, what’s a more intimate way to communicate that via skin?” Van Dongen asks.
The future of fashion
Today, if you’re dreaming of slipping into one of Van Dongen’s posture correcting cardigans, light-up tops, or solar-powered coats, you might struggle to track one down: at present, the studio largely relies on its partners to bring Van Dongen concepts to market.
But that could be about to change. And Van Dongen says her studio may set up its own sales channel “in the near future.”
To really move the market, however, far greater cross-industry collaboration is needed between designers, manufacturers, brands and technologists, says Van Dongen: “Otherwise we’re all stuck on our own little islands without building upon each of our expertise.”
Are you ready for futures wearables without a wristband in sight?