These should be the fashion glory days for the curvy woman.
After all, she’s the majority now, with the average American woman wearing a size 14 to 18, depending on the source. (The International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education says the average American women’s size is between 16 and 18; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which studies body sizes and health statistics, says the average woman is about 5 foot 3 and 166 pounds, which in many brands is roughly a 14.)
But in so, so many stores, shopping for sizes 14 and up is anything but glorious. Plus sizes are tucked somewhere near the maternity or children’s departments, with sparse selection, or even worse, offered only online.
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And good luck if you’re trying to find luxe materials – we scoured SouthPark Mall’s anchor stores for cashmere sweaters in plus sizes and turned up zero in most stores, while racks in the ladies’ departments overflowed with cashmere in dozens of styles and colors.
“Project Runway” mentor, author and fashion consultant Tim Gunn chastised the fashion industry in a scathing op-ed this fall, saying that the industry had “turned its back on plus-size women.”
But is the landscape improving?
Some signs point to yes. Khloe Kardashian just released a new “all-inclusive” denim line, Good American, in size 0 to 24. And several shows at this September’s New York Fashion Week featured women with fuller figures.
Jen Grano, Charlotte stylist and author of the blog Charlotte Shop Girl, says she has far fewer brick-and-mortar stores to choose from when shopping with her size 14-and-up clients. But the local choices are growing, she says, as are good online options.
We polled fashionistas around Charlotte for their favorite places to shop sizes 14 and up outside of the major mall anchor stores. (Some of those do better by plus-sized women than others; Nordstrom offers more career wear in plus size than casual looks, for example, while Dillard’s has a vast department that includes evening gowns, but some of the styles and fabrics are less than luxury.)
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▪ GoldKloth: This locally owned boutique for sizes 12 and up opened in October in Ballantyne Village with the slogan “Style with a Curve,” and offers everything from colored denim to night-out looks, fun jewelry and accessories and sleepwear. The store also has a variety of helpful gadgets for the plus-sized woman, such as seat belt extenders and bra extenders.
Owners Linda Gold-DeMaria and Roni Zapin (who are cousins) said they recognized a need in Charlotte for a store with on-trend fashion in larger sizes for women ages 30 and up. Chatting with customers, they say, helps them know what women’s needs are and adjust their buying accordingly, such as increasing the amount of plus-sized petites in the store. (Women who are size 12 and up but under 5 foot 4 have an even tougher time finding clothes that fit, because the cuts are too long in places like the inseam, armholes and crotch.)
Prices range from $25 camisoles and $59 jeans to $200 dresses.
(Fun fact: GoldKloth gets its name from DeMaria’s and Zapin’s mothers’ maiden name, Gold. “And we spelled Kloth with a K to be trendy,” Zapin laughs.)
▪ Scarlett Plus Size Boutique: A veteran of Charlotte’s local fashion scene, Todd Albaum opened this boutique near SouthPark Mall a decade ago. His focus is on high-end pieces for women aged 50 and up, and he says he aims for a store experience that lifts up his demographic. In addition to styles that range from weekend to boardroom and special occasion, Albaum also designs custom gowns.
Some women walk in “angry, upset and deflated” because of a lack of options at other stores, Albaum says. “My store can become therapy for a woman because it’s an emotional connection,” he says. Plus-sized women “always get the short end of the stick, especially that middle-aged woman who’s in her prime time, because she doesn’t have the same choices that a missy (the industry term for size 0-12) woman would have.”
Besides clothing, Albaum offers special events such as “Fashion101 PLUS” workshops where he tells customers what he thinks are the best ways to dress their body types. His selection of jackets, in a variety of cuts, lengths, colors and materials, is one of the most striking features of the store; jacket prices range from around $125 to $225.
▪ Torrid: A chain store with an edgy, trendy focus, this store has locations at Charlotte Premium Outlets, Northlake Mall and Concord Mills. Grano says she often has luck finding jeans and other weekend pieces for clients there. Sizes range from 10 to 30. Jeans at retail price range from $42 to $89; holiday dresses retail at $59-$99.
▪ Lane Bryant: This mass-market retailer had suffered from a reputation of having ho-hum styles in years past, but now with supermodel Ashley Graham as its face and an emphasis on sexier looks, it’s worth a stop in, some shoppers and stylists say. The chain has a partnership with Glamour magazine and also features sexy lingerie. Cocktail dresses $90-$260 retail; jeans retail for $70-$108.
▪ Soft Surroundings: Once a catalogue-only store, this retailer opened a shop in the Blakeney shopping center earlier this year, and has most styles in store from size 2 to 2X. The focus here is on cozy sophistication – more drapey cardigans than work blazers, because the emphasis is on comfort. Leggings range from $70 to $80; dresses about $99 to $130.
▪ Versona: This national retailer, with locations in the Arboretum and the Shops at Rivergate South shopping centers, doesn’t specialize in plus sizes, but its flowy, drapey styles and size ranges in may items (XLs fit size 18, according to the size chart) work for many plus-sized women. Women looking for career wear as well as weekend wear and flirty date looks will find it here, although not every item is available in XL. Dressy dresses $30-$80; wraps and ponchos, which are in nice supply, $35 to $55.
And as for online retailers? “Hallelujah for the internet,” Grano laughs.
Online, you’ll find retailers who offer plus sizes but won’t devote floor space to them, including (to name just a few) H&M, Old Navy, J.Jill and New York & Company.
Grano has some favorite online retailers, including:
▪ ModCloth: Think indie and vintage-inspired.
▪ ASOS: This British retailer has a youthful vibe.
▪ Eloquii: It started as a branch of clothing retailer The Limited and has special styles it offers certain body types not served by other retailers, such as dresses for women whose hips are much larger than their busts.
And more: Gwynnie Bee is an online subscription service for plus sizes (you can either keep or rent the looks that are shipped to you).
Dia & Co is a Stitch Fix-esque online service for plus-size women, where online stylists choose items and ship boxes periodically that customers can keep and pay for or reject.