Inspiration, creativity and great fashion sense come in all shapes and sizes, and Bethany Rutter's book Plus+ is here to prove it. The London-based fashion blogger and fat activist (formerly of Arched Eyebrow fame) has edited and recently launched a coffee table book featuring over 100 of the boldest and most empowering plus-size street style looks from all over the world.
Bethany was initially approached by the publisher Ebury Press in the summer of 2016 and started working on the project about 10 months later. “I would never have gone to my agent about doing a plus-size street style book, because I just never assumed there was a market for it and that any major publisher would get behind it,” she admits. But people are increasingly demanding a better and broader representation of women and society, and since coming out last month, Plus+ has been racking up positive responses for championing plus-size diversity and impeccable style for a wider audience. “There was a book published before mine, The Little Book of Big Babes by Rachelle Abellar, but that was self-published [and might not have been distributed as widely],” Bethany explains. “I think to have a book on mainstream sale has been really positive for a lot of people.”
Mixing up #BoPo leaders like Gabi Fresh and Nadia Aboulhosn with less established names, Bethany scouted talent outside of her circle too, looking for the fiercest shots: “I had to contact everyone and say: ‘Here is the photo of you that I feel is really cool and represents your style and plus-size fashion really well, I’d like to use it in this book’.” She also collected personal quotes on fashion and style from each blogger and influencer, to accompany the images.
Refinery29 caught up with Bethany to learn more about the creation of the book, her aspirations for the project, and to discuss the current situation of the plus-size community, in mainstream media narratives and in the fashion industry, too.
What makes Plus+ different and how do you hope to reshape the conversation around plus-size?
I think what it does is show all of the different ways of being plus-size. We often get only one mainstream narrative about what it means to be plus-size and who to make the face of the plus-size world – typically, models who are really at the smaller end of the plus-size spectrum. I just wanted to say that that is not the only acceptable way of being plus-size and I wanted to create something that would genuinely be useful and make people of different races, ethnicities and countries, with different styles, look at the book and be like: “Cool, I am at peace with my body and with the way I dress” or “I feel inspired to do something different.”
I hope for it to empower readers, I don’t know if it will ever have a big impact on the way fashion, or plus-size fashion, is perceived, but I hope it has an impact on the way plus-size women perceive themselves as part of a global community of amazing, interesting, diverse women.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about plus-size fashion?
It probably is that retailers always know best, or that they always know what we want. There’s still a tendency to make clothes for what used to be the idea of plus-size women: slightly older and slightly more embarrassed about being plus-size. But whenever we’re presented with something new, interesting or more audacious, we’re really excited about it and we do buy it. As we know, a lot of the plus-size women of today are younger and it’s important for brands to reflect that. Basically, it’s about having as much variety for plus-size fashion as there is for mainstream fashion.
Are you seeing any change happening in the market?
It does feel like we’ve never had more choice, like things are the best they’ve ever been, but I think that still revolves around a relatively small part of the plus-size world and that people above, like, maybe a UK size 28, are still being really underserved. So yes, there is change but I think it needs to be more radical in more directions. It often feels more likely that a plus-size brand would start doing non plus-sizes than extend their range above a UK size 28.
I am very in favour of it, because I just think: “How am I meant to find clothes if I don’t know where to look?” If I don’t have that label up there, how am I going to know which brands make clothes for me? Also, it feels like most of the people that criticise the plus-size label are people that are on the cusp, anyway. It’s always [UK] size 16-18 models that are rejecting it, because they can. While I can’t. If I reject that label I don’t know how to navigate the world.