When the pandemic put a hold on in-store shopping, one of the leading complaints about online shopping was the inability to try things on before spending the money. After all, buying all the items we're interested in, many of which we know we’ll have to send back, is not only a waste of resources and time but, for many, financially impossible. What’s worse is trying to decipher the wild inconsistency of sizing among retailers (even in the same store, products labeled a size 16 can vary drastically; it’s even more confusing when brands use their own proprietary nomenclature for sizing). For plus-size shoppers though, this guessing game was a problem long before the pandemic, as most department stores and retailers that sell plus-sizes don’t carry them in stores, leaving plus-size women with no other option but to blindly online shop.
“When we try on something that’s normally our size, and yet it doesn’t fit, we often end up blaming ourselves,” Bader tells Refinery29. “My mum would beg me to go shopping, and I’d always say no. It always ruined my day.” As she got older, she learned what clothing worked for her, and eventually found humour in the way so many brands mislead e-commerce customers by using styling tricks and hacks to make a garment appear one way when it fits entirely differently in real life.
After one particularly baffling online order arrived from PrettyLittleThing during lockdown, Bader, who had just joined TikTok at that point, decided to film herself trying on her purchases. “I was hysterically laughing just looking at myself,” she recalls. “I posted it, and it blew up.” Soon afterward, thousands of messages flooded her TikTok inbox commiserating along with her, and thanking her, too.
According to Bader, her hauls are successful because everyone can relate to that disheartening feeling when you believe something should fit, but it doesn’t: “Everyone gets so upset thinking it's their fault,” she explains. “What I'm trying to point out is that it's the clothing brand's fault, because the sizing is never the same across the board.”
In a recent Revolve haul, Bader went through a selection of items sized XL to XXL. From a romper and two-piece set to a blazer, everything included in the haul would look great — that is, if it fit the way the size indicated it should. Bader's hauls prevent us from falling into the same trap; her ability to laugh it off is what allowed her to gather 1.1 million TikTok followers in a few month's time.
Bader and other haulers also share which brands are doing things right, and how to use one label’s method of sizing to figure out their corresponding size at another one.
Unlike Bader’s realistic hauls, Nichole prefers to only show the pieces she’s ordered that she genuinely loves. “I’ll share if something doesn’t fit me right because sizing is so inconsistent,” she tells Refinery29, but otherwise, she’ll often choose to only highlight the things she keeps. “If it’s something that doesn’t work for me, I almost want to tell you really in-depth why it doesn’t work — if it’s the style, the fit of the fabric, the way it feels on my skin, or whatever it may be.” With each video being just 60 seconds, there just isn’t enough time on TikTok to go into that kind of detail (but they oftentimes do end up on YouTube).
One thing that both haulers do is share their honest opinions and feedback with the brands they work with, whether it’s in their actual hauls or behind the scenes. In her Revolve haul, Bader chose to end the video with a plea to the trend-forward retailer: “Please, Revolve, please just make some larger clothing,” she begs. “On the website, it says XXL, but when you go and click that, there’s barely any items on the website that are XXL. What if I came in and I created a brand for you… but for curvier women? Don’t you want to cater to more people and make more money? It’s very simple!”
Nichole speaks directly with the brands she works with to try and come up with solutions. “I’ve had brands literally design clothes based on my body type,” she says. “They will send me sample sizes, ask me for my measurements, and then I will tell them, ‘Okay, it fits me around the waist, but the back doesn’t have enough fabric, so it’s coming down too low.’ Some brands will work with me in that regard to make sure that a piece fits bodies in the way that they’re hoping it will.”
Unfortunately, it’s going to take some time for these brands to make those changes, and for more brands to realise they should, too. In the meantime, TikTok haulers like Nichole and Bader will continue to make light out of the vulnerable try-on process. Given how much they’ve already done for plus-size women, one day, maybe they won’t have to.