Not long ago, if you were an above-average-size American woman —for years, that was a 14, but as of 2016, it’s a 16 —your sartorial choices were limited. Very limited. For safe, everyday wear, there was that one store in the mall (sounds like Lame Giant). God forbid you had a formal event to dress for, because then you were banished to some big department store’s “women’s” section—usually a poorly lit corner crammed with a few racks of elastic-waist jeans and dowdy mother-of-the-bride frocks with garish prints.
And, with all that flowery polyester on your back, the best compliment coming your way contained an F-word worse than the F-word: “Don’t you look nice! That outfit is very flattering.”
But thanks to fiercely fashionably social-media influencers such as Gabi Gregg (gabifresh.com) and Nicolette Mason (nicolettemason.com), consumers are demanding better, and smart designers and retailers are responding. Even Lane Bryant, once the sole refuge of the style-parched plus-size, has stepped up its game; it just launched a collection with Prabal Gurung, and in recent years has commissioned exclusive lines from Christian Siriano, Isabel Toledo and Sophie Theallet. E-commerce has made it easier for fresh plus-size brands to emerge and directly serve these once-neglected consumers the sophisticated trend and classic pieces they’ve craved. Here are five indie brands that absolutely do not flatter — they slay.
When Topshop asked Gossip frontwoman Beth Ditto to play its London flagship store in 2007, she promptly told the company, which (still) does not stock a plus-size range, to shove it. “I don't think it's fair to put my face somewhere where they would never let me in there to wear their clothes,” she told BBC Radio. Topshop’s plus-size sister, Evans, subsequently retained Ditto to design a line. Ditto has since become something of a fashion icon; walked the runway for Jean-Paul Gaultier and Marc Jacobs, and has just launched her second eponymous collection. Ditto’s a proud body-positive activist who’s posed nude on two magazine covers, and she’s designed these clothes to ensure you don’t fade into the background: A sweet-looking dress is covered in splashes of red nail polish; a signature eyelash print adorns blouses, T-shirts and sweaters, and a high-waisted denim pencil skirt with an enormous bow on front transforms you into a present waiting to be unwrapped. Wallflowers need not apply.
This label is making its mark with a chic, minimalist classics in sizes 10-28. Cashmere-blend sweaters, seasonless tees, tanks, dresses and blouses in neutral hues mix and match easily with its jeans and jersey pencil skirts. Layer pieces like the net dress and leatherette skirt to add some edge. Bonus: If you are in New York City, or plan to be, you can make an appointment with a stylist at Universal Standard’s showroom in the Garment District. Shipping and returns are free in the U.S., and international orders over $100 ship free.
In 2011, The Limited launched Eloquii for plus-size women, only to shutter it 18 months, devastating the line’s loyal following. But former Limited employees revived Eloquii as an indie that skews young and ultra-on-trend, flipping off the notion that body-con dresses and vibrant colors don’t belong on bigger bodies. The super-affordable brand counts a number of celebs as fans: Chrissie Metz of “This Is Us” was recently photographed in a happy-hued Eloquii knit dress. And in what might be Eloquii’s greatest PR coup, when Aidy Bryant of “SNL” attended the Emmys in the brand designed for her, more than 1,500 people joined the waiting list to buy it.
London-based Anna Scholz, a former plus-size model from Germany, sold her first collection to Lane Bryant in 1996. Since then, her clothes have sold in the likes of Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdales, and her diffusion line had a long run at fast-fashion British SimplyBe; her entire collection is now available at her website. Her well-constructed silk and jersey wrap dresses, tunics and separates in unexpected luxe prints prove that basics do not have to be boring. The clothes are pretty dear -- quality doesn’t come cheap! -- but watch out for deep discounts during sales. And it is shipping from across the pond -- that will cost you $21.
Another Euro star when it comes to plus-size style, Carmakoma was launched in 2008 and bills itself as a “Scandinavian plus-size pioneer” that designs for curvy women “without prejudice, rules or other limitations.” Don’t let the mostly black palette fool you -- this line is not about hiding your shape. With curve-skimming leatherette skirts and grommet-studded jersey dresses, plus a touch of lace here and there, these are clothes for rocker girls who pay the bills with an office job. The Danish brand’s spring collection is called “Diversity Is Beautiful,” which may or may not have been planned before 2017 -- either way, it’s apt. Shipping to the U.S. is free on orders of $130 and up.