I started off this Spring season searching for the perfect Summer bathing suit. Shopping, as a size 22/24 meant learning to navigate the fashion world was a skill, as well as a necessity.
I might have began my bathing suit search once the sun made it’s first appearance after Winter, but I was, truly, many moons late in starting.
It wasn’t until I laid eyes on the most gorgeously constructed, cherry print, masterpiece of a bathing suit, that I knew it was time to close all my “maybe-this-is-the-one” browser tabs. Pin Up Girl Clothing, affectionately referred to as PUG, was the shining light between two heavy rain clouds. Based in California, and run by a team of strong women, PUG has been one of leading forces in body positive and all-inclusive femme fashion. Creator and in-house designer, Laura Byrnes, has a special understanding of what the plus-size customer needs, without specifically catering to plus size fashion.
In Byrnes’ own words, she “never had to overcome the misconception that a plus woman was a different type of customer who needed a different style or shape of clothing. It simply isn’t true.” PUG is a breath of fresh air, in the way that both in-house designers, Byrnes and Micheline Pitt, realize that they’re creating clothes for a specific aesthetic style, not body size or ethnicity. Their inclusion is seamless, with several plus size site models and a wide variety of POC models and employees. “I don’t care what your background or ethnicity is,” says Byrnes, “well made clothing is for everyone. But if I believe that, I need to have models that reflect that belief. So I do. If you believe something is bullshit you need to step up and prove that it is bullshit.” Within every package shipped out, is a set of PUG trading cards featuring their most popular outfits worn by their diverse roster of models. On all platforms of their company, they are constantly reminding new and loyal pin up girls that they are for every body.
While I love, celebrate, and fully support plus-size-only independent shops and designers, like Domino Dollhouse and ReDress, I’m jaded about having the fashion made for my body be continuously disjointed from the broader sense of style. I lean towards purchasing vintage reproduction styles because there is more of a chance of them carrying my size. PUG might be one of the first companies to offer classy, yet sexy, clothing to a larger range of sizes, but vintage inspired brands across the globe are opening their eyes to the fact that an hourglass figure is adorned by both a size 2 and a size 22. It feels so damn good to drape a dress over my head, slide it on my body, and watch the fabric translate to my curves. It feels even better knowing I saw it advertised on a straight-sized body when I fell in love with it, and that I didn’t have to search for ages to find a similar version in a size fat, because the company already carried the exact garment in my size. While googling around for rockabilly dresses, it’s rare to find an e-commerce site that doesn’t go up to a 2X and most, like PUG, reach up to a 4X or higher. For the brief moments when I’m shopping in this specific corner of the internet, I completely forget that I’ve been kicked out of most brick-and-mortar shops due to my size.
Just last week, ModCloth celebrated their one year anniversary of selling a wider range of plus size options. Business Insider is praising ModCloth for aiding a “revolution” in the plus size clothing industry. The revolutionary action is not to start separate stores with different cuts on trendy clothes, made specifically for fat people. The revolution is the wild idea to sell the same clothes, with the same cut, to all bodies. Eshakti is another widely loved vintage-inspired e-commerce site, with brilliant marketing, cashing in on this “revolution,” and their sizes go up to a women’s 32. Drooling over each of these companies and their inventory has become more routine to me than checking my email.
Other than PUG, ModCloth, and Eshakti being vintage-inspired shops, they have one other very important thing in common: They thrive on customer reviews. Natalie Alvarado, Laura Byrnes’ assistant and PUG plus size model, explains “our team really listens to our plus size customers. Women leave comments all the time on our Facebook page telling us what they want, and PUG is really great about making them happy.” PUG launched a contest about how their clothes changed people’s lives, and received over 800 heartfelt entries, from customers who have been impacted from the company’s body positive tenacity.
Dear plus size retailers, the most successful business model ever created is right before your eyes: The customer is always right. When someone says the ancient proverb, “size fat, please,” you should make that piece of clothing in a size fat. They’ll buy it. They’ll tell other fatties to buy it. You could have every fat body in the world advertising your dress, revolutionarily made in plus sizes, by letting them buy it in a size that fits them. Byrnes points out, though, that this might be the problem, as well as the solution. She says that other brands “didn’t want to feature people of color because they didn’t want to be mistaken for an ‘urban’ brand. In their mind, there was only one type of ethnic customer, and it was the same person that bought these ‘urban’ brands.” It really boils down to companies not wanting a certain type of shopper in their clothes and being extra conscious of making sure that shopper is invisible from their advertising, as to keep them out of their brand.
Commercial companies like Old Navy and Target have kicked most of their plus size shoppers out of their store, making their larger sizes exclusively online. Shoppers like me, above a women’s size 12, feel more comfortable shopping online because clothes in our size are more readily available on the web. I didn’t choose to stop going to the mall. The mall chose to stop giving me a reason to take my wallet there. I’m not finding clothes off the rack, and instead I’m retreating to endless nights searching for the perfect outfit behind a screen. It’s not as classy as Cher Horowitz’s computer-generated closet, but it means that just because certain companies have erased my body from enough store fronts that I no longer shop in physical stores, doesn’t mean I’m not spending my money on nice clothing. It means that when I’m grabbing my vanilla iced coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts, I’m bragging about the quality of a different brand, as a I pat and smooth out my dress, which the cashier just complimented.
Point blank: It’s better for business to be friendly to fat bodies. While ASOS is frustrating their plus costumers by not featuring plus models for their plus clothes, and Target takes forever to replace the gaping hole that used to house their well-appreciated plus section, Pin Up Girl Clothing has magnified into a multi-million dollar business simply by providing and representing a wide range of bodies. Natasha Estrada, PUG’s public relations representative, adds that “where most companies just try to make money, PUG has really built a community and brings women together.” It comes full circle, because the more open they are to having plus size customers and customers of color, the more customers they have. More customers will be purchasing their clothes to wear and love, instead of as an weight-loss incentive piece to hang in their closet and cause them grief. By connecting the sales of straight and plus size clothing, it eliminates the need to pit sizes against each other. The phrase “REAL women have curves” can FINALLY be thrown in the garbage and flamed to ashes. While I wiggle my booty into my Marilyn Monroe-style cherry print bathing suit, designed to fit bodies of all shapes, I’m reminded of all the reasons I love my body, and that’s because beauty like mine looks good in any size.