East Bay Boutiques, Designers Embrace Plus-Size Positivity

Plus-size shoppers have fashionable options these days.


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Photos courtesy Says Who and In Full Swing

The fashion industry is in a time of change. Whereas in the past, the plus-size rack, holding items for all those over XL and up, was relegated to a dark corner of a store or a small portion of a website, people with bigger bodies are using their voices and asking to be recognized by the industry as a whole.

Those who fit into the “plus-size” category (as 68 percent of women in the United States do, per the latest research as reported by Vox.com), are tired of boring, shapeless, and unflattering styles meant to hide the body and blend in.

With the vast majority of women fitting into a size 14, 16 or higher — sizing that many consider “normal” — the tide is finally, if slowly, turning. Representation matters and body positivity are more than trends. While a scant percentage of popular brands truly cater to a range of body types, many independent brands and boutiques have been working hard to serve the plus-size community, and East Bay Area boutiques and designers are no exception. If you’re seeking larger sizes without sacrificing style, you don’t have to go too far.

In Full Swing

This sweet little boutique holds court on College Avenue in Oakland, and it’s worthy of a visit should you find yourself in the neighborhood. You’ll be in good hands with Sharon Silverstein, owner and operator.

“As someone who has been plus size my entire life, I know how hard it is to find clothes that fit and look great,” Silverstein said.

Silverstein, a former store manager for a San Francisco boutique, established In Full Swing in 1993, which proved to be a prescient decision. While she doesn’t personally “have a problem with the term ‘plus size,’” Silverstein said she understands why some want to get rid of those defining lines and purposefully wanted to “create an environment that honors and celebrates women’s bodies, and doesn’t just try to cover them up.” Which, as any social-media savvy customer knows, covering up because someone tells you to is out though covering up as a personal or cultural choice is fine.

The important point is that consumers have options, something Silverstein is well aware of and appreciates. Noting how times and attitudes towards plus-size clothing have changed over the years, she said, “clearly, there are many more clothing options for plus women … 15-20 years ago, most plus-size tops and dresses were either A-line or just a big box shape — not very flattering on everyone. We are now seeing a variety of shapes and lengths, shapes that actually flatter different body types.” 

In Full Swing carries items from a range of designers, in a rage of prices, including, as Silverstein noted, “casual cotton and linen lines [such as] FLAX, Jess & Jane, and Fresh Produce,” all of which are known for their breezy and colorful designs. In Full Swing also carries clothing with higher price points, such as Eileen Fisher, Alembika (an Israeli company), as well as pieces from Swedish brand Ralston, Japan’s Moyuru, and much more. The store fills an important niche.

“There are very few places plus-size women can go to actually try a large range of styles on,” Silverstein said, especially since many department and high street stores — ones with readily available or mass marketed clothing — don’t fully stock their plus-size sections. Noting that “plus-size customers are starting to recognize their own place in the market,” Silverstein added, “they are realizing that they have a voice and power and can ask for what they want.”

One crucial piece of advice from Silverstein: “Don’t settle. You deserve good quality, good fit and great service … find the lines that work for your body and lifestyle.”

You can get started on your journey with a visit to In Full Swing at 5937 College Ave., Oakland, InFullSwing.com.

Says Who/Seams to Fit

Miklane Janner, owner of sister boutiques Says Who and Seams to Fit (they’re both under the same roof), has been in the plus-size business for a long time. “In 1982 we wanted to fill a void,” Janner said. “My best friend was a woman of size, and I became aware of how little was offered in her size.”

Janner shared stories of other boutique owners being quick to suggest that people in larger bodies were seemingly disinterested in nice clothing and noted the “dumb,” not very stylish options, her best friend had to contend with. All of this led Janner, and her business partner, Susan Benson, who recently passed away, down the path to dressing plus-size people. “Going into plus-size clothing seemed a great way to combine my love of clothes and people and my desire to be of service,” Janner said. “It’s important to identify as a plus-size store because they are still few and far between.”

Over the years, Janner has definitely noticed marked changes in attitudes towards plus-size styles. “The [plus size] market used to be a hidden market,” she said. “Now it’s loud and out and promotes a positive message.” It wasn’t uncommon to hear plus-size people say they hated shopping, though Janner said she has noticed that many now enjoy shopping and that they have fun when they stop by the store. Now, Janner said, “women of size expect to be offered all styles.”

Finally, trends have widened to include plus-size individuals. “When we started, the main style was loose-fitting shirts with elastic cuffs, and dresses were referred to as muumuus,” Janner said. “A main difference from then to now is [that] women can find fitted styles … We see a big attitude shift from our younger clients who are good with showing bellies, legs, and arms. Our customer expects to love what they buy, rather than to buy something because it fits.”

Janner’s advice for the plus-size shopper? “Comfort comes first. Enjoy your now. Don’t buy clothes to keep until you lose weight … Love yourself unconditionally.”

You’ll find a range of designer goods at Says Who, and at Seams to Fit, there are high-quality consignment pieces on offer. Says Who carries stock from designers likes like Jess & Jane and URU. New clothes are priced around $60-$200. At Seams to Fit, gently worn and sometimes brand-new items are available for reasonable prices, $18-$70. Stop by for a visit at 6527 Telegraph Ave., Berkeley, SaysWho.com.

Designers

For the plus size dresser, there are more options than ever before. Some East Bay designers and stores that cater to people in bigger bodies include: Isha Couture in the Dimond district, 2569 MacArthur Blvd., Oakland; Field Day and Friends in downtown (sizes up to 4XL), 329 19th St., FieldDayApparel.com; and Taylor Jay Collection, 2355 Broadway, Suite 1, Oakland, TaylorJayCollection.com. All sizes are good sizes.

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