Why Is Size 26 The Cut-Off Point For Plus-Size Fashion?

For most retailers, it's good business to collaborate with celebrities. From fast-fashion label Fashion Nova’s drops with Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion to the Chanel x Pharrell and Balmain x Beyoncé lines, celebrity partnerships are a smart way for labels up and down the price-point spectrum to expand their customer base. But when plus-size luxury retailer 11 Honoré announced in April its debut celebrity collaboration, with Girls star and creator Lena Dunham, the welcome was less than warm.
11 Honoré has enjoyed a reputation as a champion for plus-size women. As such, its decision to enlist Dunham — who, according to her interview with The New York Times, “is not a fan” of popular terminology like “plus,” “curve,” and “body positive,” and who falls on the smaller side of the plus-size range — felt, for many, like a betrayal. 
Other critics expressed disappointment at the line for tapping out at size 26. While that's standard for 11 Honoré (and many other labels in the sector), it stirs up questions about inclusivity in today's plus-size fashion market. For people who exist outside of these margins, seeing this affirms their qualms about plus-size fashion. It also highlights the lack of representation and inclusivity of super fat folx. 11 Honore did not respond to a request for comment.
“Sizing in the plus-size range continues to perpetuate fatphobia by not only [excluding] extended sizes but also not allowing sizes to have the same selection,” Satasia Brown, a procurement specialist, states, referring to when a brand carries a plus-size collection that is a less inspired version of the straight-size selection. “Even when items are designed for fat bodies, companies still don’t allow inclusivity when it comes to sizes above 24. If brands are making the effort to extend items in a 2X/3X, then why not extend the [option to even higher] sizes?”
Although more and more brands are expanding size ranges, the majority of labels stop at size 24/26. This absence feeds into the notion that certain bodies and sizes are more desirable and acceptable than others. It also gives less access to super fat folx.

"It’s not just the issue of being fashionable. It’s literally trying to find clothes that will cover your body."

Joyniece K.,influencer and plus-size model
“It’s not just the issue of being fashionable. It’s literally trying to find clothes that will cover your body,” Joyniece K., an influencer and plus-size model who goes by @flynfluffy (pronounced “fly n fluffy”) on Instagram, says. “[Fashion] goes beyond ‘looking cute.’ It dictates how you’re perceived and how much access you have to things such as a career and professional opportunities, and moreover, how you express yourself. You can’t express yourself when you don’t have the options to do so.”
Brown agrees, adding that the lack of plus-size clothing makes shopping an altogether unpleasant experience: “When I see a cute shirt when shopping, and I am looking for the same style or dramatic pattern, the only things I find are floral prints, dark colors, or patterns that aren’t as intricate and detailed as the options are for smaller sizes.”
Even when fashion campaigns feature plus-size models, they are often on the smaller, more palatable side of the plus-size range and their bodies are hourglass- or pear-shaped. According to K., super fat folx are rarely shown in a positive light. The images they encounter shame rather than affirm the existence of their bodies. 
“For super fat people, it’s difficult to exist outside of society’s gaze and expectations of being entertainment such as My 600-Lb Life,” K. says. She goes on to describe how the media often represents super fat individuals as “faceless fat bodies,” backs turned to the camera — stripped of their identities. 
The experience of fat folx already comes with its challenges, but when adding intersectionalities like race, ability, gender, sexuality, and socioeconomic places, the odds of equity are even less favorable. Fat, Black femmes are especially at a disadvantage. When it comes to influencing and consulting work, they are paid less than their white counterparts, if they are even paid at all. Additionally, Black, fat content creators are often excluded from the fashion narrative they helped pave way for. Recognizing the disparities that Black, fat people face is crucial in fighting anti-Blackness and fatphobia in fashion spaces. 
The Lena Dunham x 11 Honoré partnership sheds light on the outsize role that privilege plays in how ideas are conceived and ultimately produced in the plus-size field. On the development side, alone, that fact that a celebrity — and in this case a white, smaller fat celebrity with a problematic track record — can create a clothing collection for a major plus-size brand speaks volumes. 
“If you are a white person or someone with proximity to whiteness, it is so much easier for you to conduct business with these brands,” Brown says. “It’s all rooted in a white supremacy and social brainwashing to subject not only the fat community but all  marginalized communities to generalized thinking and standards.” The onus is on plus-size fashion brands to take women over size 26 into account — by carrying a wide range of sizes, centering them in their campaigns, and uplifting the voices who have long been doing the work in the plus-size community. Only when they start doing that will they be able to claim they’re creating true equity for fat folx.

More from Fashion

R29 Original Series