The Business of Plus Fashion: What Do Plus-Size Women Really Want to See in Fashion Advertising by Michelle Renee Krehl

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The Business of Plus Fashion:
What Do Plus-Size Women Really Want to See
in Fashion Advertising?
by Michelle Renee Krehl,
ElegantPlus.com Guest Contributor (July 12, 2007)

 
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I was recently given the opportunity to participate in something I had often been curious about, a plus-size focus group being held by a major ad agency. I was excited to have the chance to let my voice be heard. I was also looking forward to hearing what other women in my demographic had to say regarding plus-size fashion and advertising. The women in the group were between the ages of 18 and 40, with the majority of the women appearing to be in their 20’s and 30’s. We all had been selected based on our interest in fashion, and the amount of time and money we spent on our wardrobes, as well as our interest in some designers and companies for full-figures that are considered more fashion forward.

The group was meeting in a “party” atmosphere. There was food and music, and the setting was rather festive. I am sure it provided a comfortable backdrop to the discussions we were having with women who were, for all intensive purposes, strangers. I always find it interesting that there is an immediate kinship between plus-sized women, especially when the conversation turns to fashion or shopping. Within 5 minutes of my arrival I had integrated myself easily into a group that was soon chatting away like we had known each other forever. We talked about how hard it is to find the perfect pair of plus-size jeans, and how frustrating it is when clothing options look more like tents than dresses… the usual issues that curvy women have.
 

We were introduced to a fashion expert who was a consultant and personal shopper. She had several mannequins dressed in plus fashions from local retailers. They were dressed in different styles: casual, trendy, business, etcetera and we were invited to share our opinions about the styles and choices.


We were invited to have something to eat and drink and to socialize with the other guests and the ad people circulated and talked with us as well. On one wall was a very large collage of magazine tears of all different types of fashion ranging from lingerie to casual to dressy, some plus, some not, including shoes and accessories. We were given Sharpies and told to write our feelings and comments all over it. I intentionally was one of the last women to look at the collage, as I wanted to read the comments that the other women had written. It was very interesting. People wrote what they loved and what they hated, how they felt about the models and the designs and everything you can imagine.

“This looks trashy!”

“Very sophisticated.”

“I would not be caught dead in this.”

“Boring.”

“Even my Grandma would not wear this.”

“Simple, but classy.”

I will say something that does contradict what I often hear and read from women who say they want to see plus-size clothing modeled by larger women. I was one of the smaller women in the group that day. (I am a size 16.) Most were also a bit more conventional than I am in style and sense of fashion, as I tend to be a bit of a fashion “risk taker,” and a bit more trendy and eclectic. When shown images of larger plus models (I am speaking of a size range around 18-20) no matter what they were wearing, they received less favorable comments than the smaller plus models in the size 12-16 range. Some that I recognized were Crystal, Kate, Ivory and Nicole (the gorgeous plus model featured recently in a Fruit of the Loom ad in a pink bra) who were all given much praise no matter what they had on. But, most of these participants were not women familiar with plus models by name and therefore did not like them because they recognized or admired them. (This reminds me that everyone is not as aware of the models’ identities as I am as an industry insider!)

One shot in particular had a model who appeared to be about a size 18/20 in a very cute dress, which was above knee in length. Most of the women felt she was too big for the style and that it looked unflattering. For the record, I found it very appealing. They also thought that many of the images of the larger models in lingerie were not attractive, while the straight models in lingerie had favorable comments. This showed to me that the same women who had complained that the models should reflect a more realistic image or portrayal of “real women” maybe do not actually feel that way when they were confronted with the reality of a larger model, even if they do not realize it.

Later a few of us were invited to interview on camera; we were also taken shopping and given $125 to spend on whatever we wanted, and they came along and watched what we bought. I bought two tanks, two other tops and a jacket at Old Navy and a top and a necklace at Torrid. It was also interesting to see that when shopping many women were often selecting sizes smaller than what they needed. If they felt they were a size 20, for example, and could not get into the 20, they would often not buy or even try it in a larger size.

After we were finished shopping I was asked to be a part of a longer term study, which included keeping a fashion diary, and taking photographs of ourselves and whatever we chose while shopping or just in our daily lives. It was fun and interesting. After we were done keeping the diary and taking the photos we sent them to the advertising agency and they later returned them to us with compensation for participating. All in all it was a fun and eye-opening experience. I can definitely see how the images we are given in the media in plus-size fashion advertising are selected after first hand participation in this type of study.
 

About the Author

   Michelle Renee Krehl is a plus-size model in Los Angeles. She has modeled for many local companies such as The Greater L.A. Woman, Plus by Design, Zaftique, Big on Batik, and many more. She has television credits including an episode of the Style Network's How Do I Look? She is represented by Peak Models and Talent, L.A. She is also an Early Childhood teacher in a private non-profit program.

 

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Key words: plus models, plus-size clothing, plus-size fashion, advertising, body image, focus groups