Plus-sized clothing has existed under many names and styles since the industrial revolution created the first mass-produced clothing. This week, I’ll be taking a look at the popular trends of plus-sized fashion in the past century, as well as important developments in the world of plus-sized fashion.

In the early 1900s, plus-sized customers did not have retailers that catered to them specifically. However, many embraced the empire waist dresses that were popular at this time, and there was a focus on dark colors that could give a ‘slimming’ effect.

Early Lane Bryant Ad

In the 1920s, Lena Bryant founded the company Lane Bryant, which was one of the first-ever fashion brands catering exclusively to plus-sized women. At this time, women with larger-than-average bodies were often referred to as “stout”. Many of the words used to describe plus sized women in the past, from “chubby” to “full-figured” or “outsize” would be seen as outdated and likely offensive today, because of the ways the industry has changed. Lane Bryant is still around today, though it has transformed since it’s creation nearly 100 years ago, with content much more focused on fat acceptance and diversity in plus-sized fashion compared to its early ad campaigns.

Claire McCardell Design

In the 1920’s and 30’s, loud prints, wide collars, and waists cinched with belts and ties were popularized throughout fashion, and were used to create a slimming effect in plus size fashion. These styles were popular in all women’s fashion, not only plus-sized, however in plus-sized fashion the focus was on “slenderizing”. The word was popular in ads for plus-sized clothing, being used to describe garments that used cut, color, and pattern to make the women wearing the clothes look as thin as possible. This meant that a silhouette of a flowing skirt with a cinched waist and fitted top was one of the most popular of the time.

Claire McCardell’s designs took the fashion world by storm in the 1940’s, featuring practical yet fashionable dresses that met the needs of women at the time. They were made with durable materials and often had an attached apron that made them perfect for doing housework. The styles were also flattering on many different body types and came in a variety of sizes, making her work popular with plus-sized customers as well.

In the 1960s and 70s, the fat acceptance movement started to gain popularity. This is the time when the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) was formed. Alongside this, plus-sized model Mary Duffy created Big Beauties, Little Women, the first modeling agency that focused on signing exclusively plus sized and petite models. During this time, plus-sized fashion followed the trends of bright colors, modern prints, and loose-fitting dresses and caftans.

The term plus sized was first widely used in the 1980s, and since then has been the term of choice for clothing size 14 and above. The first time Vogue mentions plus-sized fashion is also in the 1980s, however this was in an advertisement that was paid to be inserted into the magazine, rather than genuine coverage of plus-sized fashion by the publisher.

Emme, shown during her NYFW debut in 2017

Ashley Stewart became one of the first fashion companies to create plus-sized professional wear when it started in 1991. This was an important development in the industry as it expanded the selection that plus-sized women had when it came to dressing for their careers. This included more formal fitted pants, jackets, and coats that were appropriate for a business setting. Model Emme also rose to fame in the 90s as the first plus-sized supermodel.

In the early 2000s, research revealed that the most commonly worn size by women in the United States was a size 14. Torrid also opened at this time, and it quickly became on of the most popular retailers for plus-sized clothing that was young and on-trend.

One of our Teammates has gotten an inside look into how Torrid has championed breaking the boundaries of what is considered “plus size fashion”, they have debuted collections at NYFW and launched the careers of many plus size models. They were one of the first brands to recognize the female customer of a certain size was not represented or reflected in their offering and filled that gap in the market. They continually include trend-forward fashion and prints season after season, and have expanded into offering Lingerie, Denim, Active, and Swim.

Tess Holliday

More recently, the focus in the world of plus-sized fashion has been for body positivity and acceptance. Instead of the early styles that were all about making oneself look as thin as possible, now plus-sized clothing is about delivering on-trend styles to customers that fit them well and make them feel confident in their own skin.

In the past few years many plus sized models have also achieved fame and recognition not only in the fashion industry, but on screen and on red carpets as well. One example is Tess Holliday, a plus sized model who has worked with every brand from Torrid to H&M.

One of the most important developments in plus sized fashion in recent years has been an increase in activewear and lingerie made in sizes 14 and up. Before, there was such a focus on “slenderizing” plus sized bodies that these markets were largely ignored by retailers. One inclusive lingerie brand, Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty, offers bras up to size 44DD and panties up to 3XL.

Another significant change has been in denim, where brands like Khloe Kardashian’s Good American offer jeans in sizes 00-24. The company even “invented” a size 15, one that sits between straight sizing and plus sizing to better bridge the gap. Efforts like these have allowed women whose body types made finding well-fitting denim nearly impossible to have the opportunity to buy jeans made with them in mind.

We have come a long way since the fat acceptance movement began, and are now on our way to embracing all body types in our culture. Clothing companies are beginning to recognize that they have been missing out on a huge market of women looking for on-trend and stylish clothes simply by not making their designs in a wider range of sizes. There has also been a shift in how we view weight in correlation with people’s health. More people are beginning to understand that health is about more about what’s on the inside than what size a person is. We have also begun to recognize the harm that standards set by fashion models has done to women’s self-image and in the future, hopefully we can create and market clothing in a way that empowers all women. Companies have also begun to create truly plus-sized clothes, focusing on how to find the best fit for a person’s proportions, rather than simply sizing up the current style. At L Royalty, we can’t wait to launch our very own plus- sized collection! If you have any of your own favorite plus-sized brands to share with us, leave a comment below!

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