Size of the times: The body positivity movement sweeping the web

Whether you are a size 8 or 18, you should be able to cultivate a sense of style and flaunt it, writes Carolyn Moore.

Size of the times: The body positivity movement sweeping the web

Whether you are a size 8 or 18, you should be able to cultivate a sense of style and flaunt it, writes Carolyn Moore.

Body positivity is having a moment. Look no further than 33-year-old, size 22 supermodel Tess Holliday. She weighs 300 pounds and is on the cover of Cosmopolitan UK October 2018 issue, stating she “wants the haters to kiss her ass”.

The evidence of this movement is all over social media. From every corner of the world, plus size style stars are amassing huge followings, but these ladies are not dishing out style advice to help their fans look slimmer; instead they’ve been strolling through summer in rompers and crop tops, hitting the beach confidently in bikinis, heading out on the town in sexy, body con dresses, and encouraging women everywhere to do likewise.

Basically, they’re doing what their so-called ‘straight size’ counterparts have been doing for years — cultivating an enviable sense of style and flaunting it online. Whether your favourite style star wears an 8 or an 18, one detail of their clothing you won’t see on Instagram is the size on the tag, because when it comes to showcasing great style, size has never been more irrelevant.

Unless, of course, there’s an unwelcome correlation between the size on the label and the price on the tag. High street chain New Look faced an online backlash this summer when a customer discovered a pair of trousers from their Curves range cost £22.99, while an identical pair in their core collection cost £19.99. This wasn’t the first time such a discrepancy had been highlighted, nor is New Look alone in adding a levy to plus size styles. Dubbed a “fat tax” by the customer in question, brands may try to blame higher prices on increased production costs, but if that were the case, shouldn’t a size 6 cost less than a size 16?

While larger sizes do require more fabric, ready-to-wear pricing models have always been based on averaging the cost price across the size spectrum. As Lisa Scannel, fashion marketing lecturer at Cork Institute of Technology, points out, “More fabric can mean the item costs more in materials. However, in mass-produced clothing, material is a negligible proportion of the final price.” From a marketing perspective, she says, “High street retailers need to recognise that diversity makes good business sense. Customers of all sizes deserve to purchase new clothes without being financially penalised.”

Irena Drezi agrees. A curvy model with Not Another Agency, Drezi boasts over 100k Instagram followers, and having once struggled with an eating disorder, she’s now a proud advocate for body positivity.

Plus size model and influencer Irena Drezi says segregating curvy girls and making them pay more is totally unfair. Picture: Lee Malone
Plus size model and influencer Irena Drezi says segregating curvy girls and making them pay more is totally unfair. Picture: Lee Malone

“I like to show girls that you can wear whatever you want, at any size!” she says. “Whether it’s a figure-hugging dress, over sized streetwear, or a bikini, if you feel comfortable in something, wear it!”

She thinks New Look’s “fat tax” sends a negative message.

“I don’t know what they’re trying to achieve with this,” she says. “We should all be treated equally and not be segregated into an overpriced pit just because we are larger than your regular size. If they’re charging more for plus size clothes, they should be charging a different price for each size, but to segregate curvy girls and make them pay more is totally unfair.”

Thankfully, many high street brands agree. The typical size range available in most core high street collections is now 6 to 18. In July, Penneys announced they would begin carrying size 24 as standard, and other high street stores, like M&S, go up to or beyond a size 20 in their mainline ranges and often feature curvy models in their advertising. Others have specialist plus size ranges that run upwards from a size 18. This is not just admirably inclusive; as Scannel stated, it also makes good business sense.

A curvy model showcases Penneys AW18 knitwear collection.
A curvy model showcases Penneys AW18 knitwear collection.

Last November, Price Waterhouse Cooper released their plus size clothing market review, revealing the plus size market has been outperforming the overall fashion retail market since 2012. Driven by increasing body confidence in plus size consumers, projections indicate it will continue to so over the next five years. As highlighted in the report, global social media mentions of ‘body positivity’ rose from 84k in 2015 to almost 1m in 2017, making this a movement to be reckoned with, and as Tess Holliday as Cosmopolitan’s October cover girl, it’s clear that it’s only going to keep gaining traction.

Which makes it all the more perplexing that outliers like Zara continue to hold firm to what has plainly become an outdated sizing model. While the average woman wore a size 12 in 1957, a study last year showed her 2017 counterpart wore a 16; yet some stores continue to treat the former as their ‘average’, placing it at the centre of a limited sizing scale.

Other high street giants have been quicker to embrace fashion conscious plus-size customers. Plus size bodies have always managed to be clothed, but the issue for plus size women who love fashion has generally been that fashion didn’t seem to love them back. Happily, that’s starting to change.

Violeta by Mango from the Autumn Collection ‘18.
Violeta by Mango from the Autumn Collection ‘18.

Carrie Elphinstone is the buyer for River Island’s RI Plus collection, and she insists their customers will never pay a ‘fat tax’.

“River Island Plus always aims to follow the pricing of the main range. This may mean that as a company we take a lower profit from this range, as the cost of garments is higher, but we believe it’s essential to be inclusive and treat all customers the same, whatever their size.”

That’s in keeping with the ethos of the Plus collection, which was started in 2016 “to enable inclusivity for as many customers as possible,” Elphinstone says.

“The majority of RI Plus is like-for-like with the main collection. We found our customers just wanted to buy the same looks and trends as our main range, but in a size that fitted them.”

This tallies with the experience of stylist and personal shopper Natasha Crowley. When she began offering a personal shopping service in 2011, Crowley says she would rarely see clients above a size 14. About two years ago, she began to see the occasional plus-size client, and in the last year, she says, “there’s been a noted increase”.

“I have a lot more people, size 16 plus, coming to me. Previously there wouldn’t have been a great selection for them, but now on Opera Lane, there’s three or four stores I can bring them to, the ranges are getting better, and there’s even more online.

“There’s always been a market there of women who want to shop in the same stores as their friends, buy cool clothes, and dress their age,” she adds.

“Stores are realising they have to make stylish clothing above a size 16. People want to dress fashionably, whatever their size. Increasingly they have the options; they just need to find the confidence.

“A lot of times, women come to me and they’re almost apologetic — experience has taught them that they’ll struggle to find anything. My aim is to show them what’s out there and encourage them to be braver in their choices. They don’t have to wear black or look for things that are ‘slimming’. I’ll say, look, if you like it, wear the mad print, wear the stripe!”

Crowley attributes this surge of interest in plus size fashion to the growing impact of the body positivity movement. “People are learning to embrace the size they are,” she says. “In the past, people might have thought, ‘Oh, well, I just need to lose a bit of weight first’, but so many women are coming in now saying, ‘You know what, I am this size.’ And I say, you’re so right — you need to dress the body you have right now, and look good the way you are.”

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