Minnesota's Plus-Size Fashion Problem

Recently, a reader Tweeted at us requesting more plus-size style guidance and coverage. And it’s true—we haven’t covered plus-size fashion in recent memory. Apart from Grand Avenue shop Bombshell, which opened in 2010, Minnesota has a dearth of retailers that carry plus-size fashions, let alone locally owned businesses.

With Target’s recent launch of Ava & Viv, a new fashion-forward line geared toward the size-14-to-24 shopper, and fast-fashion brands such as H&M and Forever 21 that have launched plus-size lines in recent years, the topic of fashion-forward, plus-size clothing seems to be more relevant than ever. But this brings up a salient question: Why aren’t there more plus-size fashion options in Minnesota?

So I went to Denise Alden, the owner of Bombshell, for some insight.

“I don’t think it’s a Minnesota problem by any stretch of the imagination,” she says, “because otherwise there’d be other plus-size boutiques in other parts of the country,” adding that Bombshell is only one of “seven or eight” independent, plus-size boutiques in the country. “They open and close a lot. It feels very cyclical. Every couple years, people start making noise about (the lack of plus-size options), and it’s kind of hysterical because half of us wear size 14 and over. When you look at the numbers it’s kind of nuts. If half the people wear the size, you’d think there would be more options.”

One retailer that has cornered the plus-size market, according to Alden, is Wal-Mart—known more for their budget-friendly prices than high-quality, fashion-forward clothing. Target seems to be jumping on the bandwagon with Ava & Viv, but only after a high-profile plus-size style blogger wrote them an open letter saying she was boycotting the store unless they upped their plus-size style game. So far, the reviews for the line have ranged from mixed to scathing. After asking for insight from some friends via Facebook, my friend Jessica wrote, “The new Target line is the old Target line renamed—boring and matronly,” while another friend Susan added, “The Target line is a mess—poorly made and overpriced for Target.” Yet another friend Sam wrote, “Target’s plus-size section used to be pretty good but has gotten worse.”

Their recommendations ran the gamut from Old Navy online, H&M, Torrid, Macy’s, Nordstrom Rack, and Forever 21 for cheaper thrills and Bombshell, Lane Bryant, and Nordstrom for higher-quality goods. Pro tips: Nordstrom has the best bras, hands down, and Macy’s plus-size INC brand has great basic options with a few trendy seasonal items to choose from. Plus-size denim line Hydraulic (available at Maurice’s, Macy’s, and Kohl’s) and Old Navy are top choices for denim that doesn’t have waistband gap issues.

Online is another popular destination for plus-size shopping, with nearly endless options. Nearly all of the aforementioned retailers have expanded options online, and there are other plus-size stores that exist exclusively online. But shopping online poses another host of issues for the plus-size shopper.

“I hear nearly on a daily basis from customers, ‘I hate online shopping because I have to get more than one size because I never know what’s going to fit,” says Alden. “I think it’s fascinating that there are certain companies that will sell plus-size clothing but only sell it online. For me, I’m not going to spend my dollars on a place that doesn’t want me in their shop.”

Cut for Evans Digital Print Dress, $115, and jacket, $99.50, both @ cutforevans.com

If you’re willing to go to the trouble of shopping online, a world of fashion-forward options open up. Among the most fashion-forward of the online bunch is UK clothing brand Evans, which pioneered the first-ever plus-size fashion week, and is owned by Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia Group, the parent company of Topshop and Topman. Its Cut for Evans collection features a fashion-forward line by a winning graduate student from one of the UK’s top universities each season. And on May 21, it’s launching Design Collective for Evans, which includes designs by Giles Deacon, Jaime Wei Huang, and other noted designers, reworked for plus-sizing.

Eloquii is another plus-size online retailer worth checking out—it’s trendy and fashion-forward while staying within H&M and Zara price points. Nordstrom has even begun offering select pieces by the brand exclusively online.

With the average American woman being a size 14, you’d think retailers would be falling over themselves to get that business. But Alden says that’s not how it works.

“It’s a chicken-and-egg problem,” she says. “Plus-size women don’t spend the money on clothes—they think, ‘I’m not going to buy anything nice, I need to lose weight,’—but a lot of us remain at that weight. I think it has to do more with bigger cultural issues, that it’s not considered acceptable to be fat, and as long as that’s there, it’s always going to come down to that. You can have a retailer making really beautiful things, but if people feel don’t purchase them, they stop being made.”

7 Plus-Size Style Blogs Worth Checking Out:

Chicago-based style blogger Gabi Gregg of Gabifresh was one of the models and consultants on Target’s Ava & Viv line, along with Brooklyn-based Glamour editor and columnist Nicolette Mason and Chastity Garner-Valentine who blogs as GarnerStyle, and also published the book The Curvy Girl’s Guide to Style.
California-based Allison Teng—a contributor to People Magazine’s StyleWatch—is celebrated for her blog Curvy Girl Chic.
British blogger Callie Thorpe of From the Corners of the Curve brings a distinctly London edge to her style.
Originally from Mali, Toronto-based Assa Cissé of My Curves & Curls offers her bold-and-beautiful style perspective as a 5’11” mother of two with textured hair.
Amanda Williams of Minneapolis-based plus-size fashion blog My Bella Moxie offers a local perspective to plus-size shopping.

Where to Shop Plus-Size in the Twin Cities:

Bombshell: 794 Grand Ave., St. Paul, 651-330-2605, bomb-shell-boutique.com
Forever 21 carries plus size at the following locations: Mall of America, Bloomington, 952-854-1890 & Rosedale, Roseville, 651-636-6103, forever21.com
H&M carries plus-size at the following locations: Mall of America, Bloomington, 952-858-8888; Southdale, Edina, 952-922-2375, and Uptown, Calhoun Square, 3001 Hennepin Ave., Mpls., 1-855-466-7467; hm.com
Macy’s: Various metro area locations including Southdale, 952-924-6600, macys.com
Lane Bryant: Various metro area locations including Mall of America, 952-356-3325, lanebryant.com
Nordstrom: Mall of America, Bloomington, 952-883-2121, nordstrom.com
Nordstrom Rack: Mall of America, Bloomington, 952-854-3131 & Arbor Lakes, 12745 Elm Creek Blvd., Maple Grove, 763-898-5300, nordstromrack.com
Torrid: Three metro area locations including Mall of America, Bloomington, 952-854-5330, torrid.com

For a more comprehensive list of plus-size shopping destinations in the Twin Cities, visit this post at FatChic.