You may already know that Etsy is a middle-class fat girl’s dream when it comes to stores like Jane BonBon, MissBrache, and SelenaEon (reviewed by stitchtowhere on Fatshionista), all of whom specialize in or at least explicitly advertise plus sizes. If you’ve got the money to buy new clothes but don’t think you have the money to get everything bespoke, Etsy sellers skirt that line — affordable personal seamstresses for all! Marianne collected a bunch of plus-size sellers in a recent post, and her readers actually turned me on to a few shops I hadn’t known about (I spend a LOT of time on Etsy, but it’s also a vast site with a lot of chaff to sift through). For fatties with the freedom to spend about $100 on a dress, there are plenty of talented dressmakers working in 14+. Kate, incidentally, wore a Jane Bonbon custom creation for her party; there was some waiting involved, as there always is for handmade stuff and especially for Jane because she’s in high demand, and the dress still required a little alteration when she got it, but she got to set the parameters of the dress herself and work with someone who knows how to design for fat bodies. (Jane’s making me a skirt too, and she asked me whether I had a sticky-out butt — she likes to add a bit of length in the back for the big-arsed among us, so that our skirts maintain an even hemline. That’s service!)
What you might not have known is that not all the plus sizes on Etsy are out in the open. Because of the high level of customization and personal attention that’s generally involved in an Etsy store’s business model, many stores displaying a standard straight-size range will happily open their size charts’ borders to let in paying customers. SM and I both had experiences recently with sellers whose posted size charts top out at L or XL, but who are still body-positive and happy to make their wares you-sized. Below the fold, we offer reviews, with links and (headless) pictures.
SM – Ureshii
If I were suddenly presented with piles of cash to spend, WNTW style, I would get a whole new wardrobe from Ureshii. I recently picked up two tops — Aviatrix and Life in Plastic — from their sample sale, and I could not be happier. The jersey material is soft but pretty, and the designs are retro without having the unforgivingly wasp-waisted silhouette you often find in vintage/repro clothes. I am aching to buy the Sunday, Sailor, and Classic Wrap dresses, all of which are drapey without being blousey, and sleeveless but bra-friendly — and the latter two are even reversible! Seriously, I am pretty sure that if I bought three or four of these dresses, I’d never have to shop again in my life. Not that that would stop me, natch.
As for sizing, all of Ureshii’s listings are custom order except for the sample sale items. Their standard size chart goes from XS (32″ bust) to L (41″ bust). These days, I generally wear a 10/12 (with a 34E bust), and their sample M fit me beautifully — many of the designs seem very Rack of Doom-friendly. I asked Emily and Amanda, the seamstresses behind the curtain, what their policy on plus size pricing is, and here’s what they had to say:
At the moment, we price things out on a case by case basis. Very generally, we charge $6 more for any separate (top or bottom) that is outside of our size chart, and $10 more for dresses. Our patterns are often designed to fit as efficiently as possible into the width of our fabric, so larger pattern pieces can result in more wasted fabric. If that isn’t the case, then we don’t charge more.
We have a few customers who will hopefully be sending us some personal photos soon, wearing our garments. We have our fingers crossed that they’ll follow through! Then we can start to have a better idea of how to standardize our larger sizes.
We’re always happy to customize a garment to a woman’s personal preferences. Higher or lower necklines, different sleeve or (minor) hem lengths, better bra coverage – these are all important changes for which we do not charge an additional fee.
They add that they’ll be starting a shop blog soon, and they plan on featuring pictures of women in a range of shapes and sizes wearing their designs (which I look forward to, because my only complaint about their shop is that their model stands in a pose I have never once made in my entire life). Apparently one reason they do not have a standard set of plus size measurements is that they have been having a hard time finding larger women to be their test models (any Vancouver Shapelings want to volunteer?). So, the upshot is, this is a body-positive store run by a couple of friendly Canadian moms with a retro touch. Depending on how the design sizes up, you may have to pay a little more for a plus size item, but it will be customized to your actual body, and not the imaginary one some mass designer thinks you have. They ask that you convo them before purchasing a custom sized item, so they can give you an accurate price.
FJ – Black Rabbit
I actually found Black Rabbit when I was looking for dresses for SM, but I found that I couldn’t get this dress out of my head for weeks. Finally I gave in and contacted Carina, the seller, to see if she could size it up a bit and do a short-sleeved version in black and turquoise. A week or so after ordering, I found myself (due to mail problems) without something to wear to Kate’s party, so I asked Carina when she thought she’d be done — I didn’t intend to rush her, just wanted to know my options, but as it turned out I was nervous and she picked up on that and rushed on my behalf anyway. She could have said “sorry, no can do,” but when I showed up in email wringing my virtual hands and going “er if it’s not too much trouble and you happen to get finished do you think you could overnight it to me?” she made it happen (and she was incredibly kind and professional about it in the bargain). Even if she didn’t also do custom sizing, that would have been above and beyond anything you’ll get from another store.
As you know, I found something a bit dressier at Marshall’s at the last minute, but even though I think of this as a work/semi-casual dress, it could easily have done double duty as a cocktail frock. On top of being a really striking design, the fabric feels substantial and luxurious, nicely drapey but not too heavy. There’s a bit of loose stitching at one side of the belt, no doubt because I was riding poor Carina like a pony about the damn thing, but they’re not load-bearing stitches and on the whole it’s incredibly well-made. The crossover neck even covers my bra without gapping — they NEVER do that!
Here’s the best part. I asked Carina how much extra she would charge for plus sizes — she hadn’t charged me more but I was only an inch or so outside her usual range. Here’s what she said:
As for plus size charge..I don’t do that, I think it’s rude and perpetuates certain ideas I don’t value. So, I factor the cost across the sizes and create a mean average that is distributed within the cost of goods.
Could you kiss her right now or what? We keep hearing about how dreadfully difficult it is to provide plus sizes — the extra fabric costs alone are enough to drive you out of business, not to mention all those special patterns and fit models! Yet somehow, when the sartorial becomes personal, it’s possible not only to get clothes that fit you but to get them from someone whose business plan acknowledges your existence and even welcomes your patronage. I will drink to that, in my hot-ass dress.
If there’s one complaint I have about the dress, it’s actually that it doesn’t fit me perfectly — but that’s entirely my fault. Carina said she could size up from my bust measurement, and since my proportions cleave pretty closely to size charts I said “cool, that’s easier on me.” What I was forgetting was that I usually look at plus size charts — Carina sized up perfectly for a straight size chart, which tends to be proportionally a little narrower in the waist. The upshot is that, though you can’t see it in this photo, the dress is just a hair too small in the middle, making the waistband tend to roll up.
The moral here is twofold. One, when buying custom, make sure you know your measurements (I do) and don’t be too coy or embarrassed or just lazy to verify and communicate them (I was). The other is that if you think you’re a little smaller than me — say you wear about a 16W too but you don’t have a fat belly — and you love this dress as much as I do, please email me and I will sell it to you! Then I can start over again with Carina working on a new dress — which I’m really keen on, because otherwise I have to come up with a new idea for color combos before I get to work with her again.
Meanwhile, of course, the larger moral is that you never know until you try. That seller whose size chart tops out at a 44″ bust might think that charging extra for plus sizes perpetuates ideas she doesn’t value. The one whose clothes don’t officially go beyond a size large might be actively looking for plus-size fit models and pictures of her wares on real bodies. Fashion is an intimidating milieu, but a lot of Etsy is more Craft Mafia than Project Runway — the sellers like making things, like selling those things to actual people, realize that actual people come in sizes, and will do all they can to see to it you’re clothed in their creations. Don’t be afraid to click “contact the seller” and see what they can do for you. And share your good — and bad — Etsy experiences in comments.
(P.S. just in case it needs to be said — we’ve gotten no incentives from these sellers except good shopping experiences, though I’m sure we wouldn’t say no. ;))