During one of the many industry downturns that have plagued me, us and everyone in media since the advent of the Internet, I took a job folding clothes at a Macy’s in North St. Louis County, Mo.
It did not pay anywhere near as much as my long-lost job as a newspaper reporter in Bakersfield, Calif., but it kept my parents from wanting to kill me and paid for my cellphone bill as I looked for better, greener pastures far, far away from their basement.
The Macy’s where I worked, which has since closed, was a dying Macy’s in a near-dead mall, the kind of store where people in the neighborhood no longer went. Even though it sold all the same things, it wasn’t a “nice” Macy’s in a “cool” mall, like the one in wealthier West County or at the Galleria near Clayton, Mo. People in North County, even though they lived nowhere near those Macy’s stores, liked to go to them; but if something didn’t fit or if it was time to return a gift, they’d come to our older Macy’s to make our profit-losing store ever more profit-losing.
We weren’t hip. We didn’t have cachet. And that’s what really matters in fashion sales. But that goes beyond old malls with old stores. Fashion is about fantasy. They’re selling aspirational, overpriced dreams in size 4 pants. They are selling an aesthetic, a brand identity that people can buy into.
From Lululemon to Givenchy, it’s about that “it” factor, that coolness, that status. And to the fashion industry, nothing says “status” like thinness. Which means that what it’s not doing is selling to the plus-size market—one of the largest-growing markets, at $17.5 billion, and the most underserved market—because to the fashion industry, fat people are like “the dead Macy’s in the dying mall” of clientele: Nobody in the industry wants to go there because selling clothes to the average woman is not cool.
“Nobody” now includes Beyoncé.
If “sales” were what mattered, the music superstar wouldn’t have taken her new “athleisure” line, Ivy Park, to Topshop, a U.K. retailer that doesn’t even bother to carry plus sizes. And Beyoncé is Beyoncé, so I doubt Topshop was her only option. (Nordstrom’s website lists Ivy Park among clothing size 16-18, or XXL, but when you click on the items, the largest size available is still a 12-14. A quick call to a Nordstrom representative clarified that 12-14, or XL, is, in fact, the largest size you can purchase.) Beyoncé could have taken Ivy Park to any retailer and acknowledged that some of her fans—the main people who would gladly pay whatever to be just a little bit closer to her—come in sizes larger than a 12 or 14, but she didn’t.
Instead, she’s yet another retailer taking part in the “aspirational” fantasy, this industry standard of ignoring fat people. These are the same retailers who pretend that fat people don’t exist, and claim that fat people don’t “fit our brand”; don’t like overpriced, stretchy yoga pants; and won’t do in those yoga pants the same things skinny people do—which are mostly watch Netflix and go on grocery-store runs while looking “sporty.”
“But … but maybe this will inspire some woman to lose weight so she can buy Ivy Park,” says some person who thinks that shame is the best motivator.
If shame made people skinny, all of America would be thin.
It doesn’t. I can speak from personal experience that it does make you more likely to hate yourself and fall into depression, though. And depression makes you want to eat more and exercise less. And that will make you even more overweight. So … is there another option?
The other option is to just sell nice clothes to fat people. We need clothes. We like clothes. We have money (or at least I do since I stopped working at Macy’s in 2009). Why should my only option be to hide in my house until I gradually burn my weight down to Beyoncé size? Should no clothing (or only ugly, poorly made, misshapen clothing) be available to me as some punishment for being overweight? Should I feel bad about myself all the time, cry myself to sleep and die alone?
Probably not going to do that. Probably going to keep trying to dress nicely while also being overweight. Probably going to spend my money on stretchy exercise pants elsewhere. Beyoncé’s not going to get my money when it comes to Ivy Park, but then, her decision to go with Topshop says that she never wanted it. So I guess we’re cool? But what about all those larger-than-size-14 Beyoncé fans out there? If you’re fat, you can’t get in “Formation” with some Ivy Park gear?
The “average” American woman is a size 14. The average African-American woman weighs around 187 pounds. There’s no excuse for not selling to the plus-size market, and it’s not as if Beyoncé doesn’t know better. The clothing line she had with her mother, House of Deréon, used to sell jeans in all sizes, jeans I used to hang up and fold at that old Macy’s.
I guess I’m somewhat disappointed because Beyoncé, for the most part, has been so on point on everything else of late, from feminism to the embracing of her roots in “Formation” to her Black Panther-themed Super Bowl performance—all flawless, all welcoming. But this doesn’t feel welcoming. This feels like the same fashion elitism that has always existed within the industry—the same industry that doesn’t like women with hips, butts or thighs; that seems wholly ignorant at times about women of color; that engages in blackface with far too much frequency and often says out-of-touch or offensive things.
This seems like a pretty big misstep, and maybe she’ll correct it. Maybe she’ll eventually open up Ivy Park to the plus-size market. Although, again, given that her partner is Topshop, which sells only tall, petite, maternity and straight sizes, that doesn’t bode well. But if anyone could get Topshop to change its tune, it’s Beyoncé.
But why did it have to be “maybe”?
Why do so many women’s Ivy Park dreams have to be relegated to the dead and the dying until someone changes his or her mind?