Offline and Out of the Closet: Plus-sized Fashionistas Meet Up, Join Forces, and Demand Change

Strolling through Re/Dress, the vintage plus-size clothing store in Brooklyn, last week, I learned an important lesson in perspective. I was surrounded by cute clothes—frilly lace aprons, sexy leather trenches, pencil skirts, and sailor dresses—and could tell just by looking that not a stitch would fit my size-8 ass. Sizes at Re/Dress start at 14—maybe I could work with something with a narrow cut, or cinch it with a belt? No. Glumly, I shuffled off to the back of the store, relegated to browse the shoes and purses.

Aha. So this is what it's like for women of size to shop. This feeling of longing and disappointment I was experiencing for the first time (which trust me, is a different feeling than "it fits but my [fill in body part] doesn't look right) is one of the reasons why a very vocal, tech-savvy, fashion-forward group of women decided to mobilize, and make their voices heard at the first-ever Full-Figured Fashion Week. The event, which occurred in New York City last week, featured fashion shows, panel discussions, and guest appearances from "curvy celebrities" like Hairspray's Nikki Blonsky and Kim Coles of Living Single. It brought together designers, buyers, marketing professionals, and those just interested in full-figured fashion, and was something of a family reunion for the cadre of bloggers devoted to covering the plus-sized fashion world.

Fat-acceptance activists have been using the Internet to organize and vocalize their resistance against an increasingly fat-phobic world for years; and online communities have helped individuals who often feel invisible thrive. But Full-Figured Fashion Week brought many bloggers face to face for the first time. "Everyone I've met here are people I've chatted with online," says Marie Denee, who blogs as The Curvy Fashionista. "It's like… 'Are you…?' Everyone has photos of themselves on Twitter, and we're all trying to match them up.

Denee is part of the "Curvy Collective," nine prominent fashion bloggers who covered all the week's events extensively via blogs, video blogs, Twitter, and Facebook. She traveled from Oakland to attend the New York event: it was important, she said, to meet the other women (and one man) in person, and to be a part of what could be history in the making. Whatever it was, these women (and one man) were ready. Talking to some of them was like interviewing the love child of Anna Wintour and César Chávez.

"We've become such a strong group of people. People are starting to be more confident in themselves, and designers are starting to take notice," says Johara P. Tucker, author of the blog Luvin' My Curves. "With Full Figured Fashion Week right here, we're making a statement. No one can ignore us after this weekend. We love fashion and are going to take it on our own terms. Since straight-sized fashion won't give it to us, we're going to take it."

The requests are simple: clothes that fit and flatter, as opposed to muumuus and sweats or size-4 dresses sized up. (As women's sizes increase, proportions change, so it doesn't work to take the same pattern you'd use for a smaller size and just expand it. Moreover, different styles flatter different bodies. "We don't need Daisy Dukes," one panelist commented.) While there are increasing options online for plus-sized fashions, these women emphasized their desire to shop in malls and boutiques, rather than always have to participate in the colder, less fun online shopping experience. Blonsky noted that what looks good online may not fit when it shows up to your door, and the process of shipping and returning is too much of a hassle. "That gets more expensive than buying the thing itself," she said during the State of the Curvy Community Panel, which was hosted by the Curvy Collective bloggers.

For this weekend, at least, the participants in Full-Figured Fashion Week got to shop like the rest of us: merchants came together to show off the best of their full-figured wares, stylists were on hand to offer an appraising eye, and fashion-conscious women not normally represented anywhere in the media got to surround themselves with other glamorous, sophisticated ladies of size. In the process, I learned yet another important lesson, this one about the malleability of beauty standards. A pretty face is a pretty face, and many of the women who attended fashion week would look great at any size. But after two hours surrounded by smoking-hot curvy fashionistas, I found myself wishing I could fill out a plunging neckline or rock a clingy, flowing dress the way some of these women did.

We visited the opening reception and the Designer Showcase taking place last Friday. Check out the festivities in the video above, and give us your take on the state of the curvy community below.