Just a few years ago, a woman in a monochromatic linen ensemble staring at a blank wall was the epitome of ethical fashion. Who was she? How did she end up there? What about the nothingness of a beige wall captivated her attention, or was it merely the perfect foil to her impossibly crease-free linens? I didn’t overthink it, I was too busy desperately wanting to be her. I longed to feel a sense of belonging in the ethical fashion sphere, to be a monochromatic angel with unkempt curls and that Glossier glow.
But in reality, I was the fat girl emailing designers to ask them why their sizing all stopped at an XXL when they insisted their sustainably designed garments were here to save the planet. I wanted to save the planet too. I wanted to wear clothing that was consciously made. I wanted to stare blankly at an empty wall knowing deep in my heart how effortlessly cool I looked.
Fat people have always wanted sustainable fashion too.
Being plus size means so much of your experience in fashion is being firmly told how not to dress. Don’t wear horizontal lines, things that are too tight, things that are too loose. Think of clothing more as fashion-adjacent camouflage. Sometimes I wonder if a lifetime of being told how not to dress made me the perfect candidate for minimalist fashion. There was no way to do it incorrectly—just make sure you match your bone, sand, and muted olive-toned linens together.
In hindsight I wonder if I ever truly wanted to be the aforementioned minimalist dream girl, or if she was just the most obtainable fashion icon. When there is no other option, when you exist in the niche of sustainable fashion for plus size bodies, it’s hard to distinguish between what is a style choice, and what is your only option. But in 2020, a new wave of bright, ethical fashion answered that question for me, and spoiler alert, my closet now has a neon, floral silk dress hanging in it.
Somewhere between Lizzo twerking to herald in the new year in a multi-color bikini and Barbie Ferreira’s character on Eurphoria unequivocally declaring that “there’s nothing more powerful than a fat girl who doesn’t give a fuck”, the “fashion rules” prescribed to plus size customers, which almost always existed to shame our bodies, have been drowned out. As this new era of fat positive fashion dawns, there’s been a shift among sustainable brands. Not only are they extending their size ranges, but they’re also employing prints and patterns with abandon. In the span of two years, I went from begging brands to make minimalist capsule pieces in plus sizes, to choosing which checkerboard loungeset best fit my closet color story. After years of monochromatic linen, it’s a welcome change.
First came the muted capsule staples from ethical brands dipping their toes in size inclusion, like Sotela, Only Child, and of course, Elizabeth Suzann, the sadly now-defunct brand beloved by ethical fashion minimalists. Then just as quickly, in a desperate stretch to compete with the eye-grabbing prints and sequins of fast fashion houses like ASOS and Eloquii, select ethical fashion brands started releasing brighter and bolder collections. “We’ll have what they’re having!” proclaimed the plus size consumer.
For me, it all started with a brightly embroidered matching wide-leg pant and tank set from Nettle Studios that arrived at my doorstep late February 2020. I had cautiously reasoned the set would mix well with my existing wardrobe. I was not prepared for how glorious it would feel to stand out, not because of my size, but because my outfit demanded such attention. That pull towards the ornate is how I found myself standing in Wray NYC’s Brooklyn studio, a Latinx owned brand known for their art influenced patterns. Wray NYC clothes have been worn by celebrities like Aidy Bryant, Maya Rudolph, Sasheer Zamata, and Hilary Duff, and on that particular day, me. Wray Serna was fitting me for a shimmery black and emerald floral cocktail dress.
Wray, the designer, founder, and namesake of the brand, wholeheartedly acknowledges the lack of maximalist, size-inclusive fashion, despite the demand from plus size customers. After expanding their size range in June 2020 to include extended sizes up to a 5X (with plans to release their full line in a 6X by Spring 2021, and 7X also in the works), Wray NYC has seen unprecedented growth in their plus size customer base. “We felt strongly that we don’t have the authority to decide what people want to wear for them, and that to truly be inclusive with our products and our sizing, we had to make every single garment in the full size range.”
On the other side of the country, Nettle Studios, an up-and-coming sustainable fashion brand based in San Francisco, echoes the staggering growth of their own plus size offerings. Their sales grew 300% in 2020 when they shot their fall collection exclusively on Virgie Tovar (a plus size model) and introduced One Size Plus, which fits up to a 5XL. “We are most inspired by bold colors and our customers who wear them loudly,” affirms Nettle Studios, “Especially now, given the current political and social climate, our clothes act as a deep breath and hopefully convey some joy to our customers! We don’t see why fat bodies can’t have the same access to happy things as straight sized bodies.”
The trend goes on and on: Christy Dawn released their bohemian, heavily-patterned extended sizing line (up to a 3X) in Fall 2020. Berriez, a New York-based plus size vintage reseller shop (who recently had a sold out collaboration with Lisa Says Gah), stocks exclusively patterned, sequined, velvet, and bright apparel. Troy Dylan Allen, who specializes in the most deliciously excessive tulle gowns, offers them in custom sizes as seen modeled on plus size influencer, Abby Bible (the image of her traipsing through New York in a ‘Buckingham Green’ tulle gown is burned into my subconscious anytime I worry my outfit is a little “much”).
The day when a “flattering” wardrobe would cease to satiate my appetite for brilliant, beautiful clothing was always going to come. The more I loved my body, the more I saw how my own internalized fatphobia was dictating the clothing I felt worthy of wearing. Once I realized that, I could hardly continue to wear clothes that seemed to apologize for my body’s own existence. And the most validating part has been finding clothing that empowers my body without sacrificing my values.
There is no feeling like walking into a room and having all eyes on you.
For people to see what you’re wearing and think, I could never, and for you to know unequivocally, I am absolutely pulling this off. I want to make sartorial choices that some people will hate, because the fashion I’m compelled by isn’t rooted in predictability or defined by fear. Strangers are going to judge me and my body regardless of what I wear, so why shouldn’t I wear something transcendental?
So what is to become of the ethical fashion minimalist? I don’t think she’s gone, I think there will always be space for a monochromatic look. But after years of the same same, I am ecstatic over the loud fabrics in the sustainable fashion space. Now, my closet isn’t just ethically minded, for the first time in my adult life, it is fun.