“I have never been particularly fashionable,” is probably not a good start to an article about fashion, but stick with me for a few more lines.
At my skinniest, I’m a size 12. I’m tall and I have wide hips (but please don’t refer to them as “child-bearing”). That means, even at my “best,” I am considered plus-size by most high-fashion designers – and designers don’t want plus-size people fatting up their fashion, so many don’t make clothing above size eight.
I have not been “my skinniest” for a few years, which means I’m no longer just unable to wear high fashion, I’m unable to wear most fashion. I can’t walk into a trendy Short North boutique or even most stores at the mall and find something in my size.
It’s not that I don’t want to wear cute clothes – it’s that I can’t find them. T-shirts and hoodies, though, those are abundant. So that’s been my “style” for… how old am I? 25? For 25 years, then. Give or take a few years of diapers and such.
Then I discovered Gwynnie Bee, an online clothing retailer, which relocated its distribution center to Columbus last month.
The simplest way to describe Gwynnie Bee is “Netflix for clothes.” You add clothes to your “queue,” the site ships you some number of items depending on your plan (one to 10 items checked out at a time), you keep the clothes for as long as you want, send them back (dirty, even damaged – no charge), and they mail you something else from your queue within a few days.
It’s also exclusively for plus-sized women – well, if you consider sizes like 10 a “plus-size.” CEO Christine Hunsicker doesn’t like to call Gwynnie Bee’s customers “plus-size,” but rather describes her site as servicing sizes 10-32. Let others make the “plus” designation if they want.
“It’s a hugely underserved market that’s disenfranchised and ignored by traditional retail, and that just doesn’t make sense to me because it’s such a large percentage of the population,” said Hunsicker.
Gwynnie Bee’s inventory is endless, with new items added every week, ranging from pants and skirts to blazers and blouses. I’m partial to the substantial selection of dresses, because throwing on a dress, even without adding accessories and high heels, is an easy way to look nice. (Also I hate wearing pants.) There’s a wide range of designers available in the Gwynnie Bee closet, some of whom cater mostly to larger sizes, but also some big-name designers like Calvin Klein and Michael Kors who are accepting the size (number of people, not number of pounds) of the plus-sized market and launching lines that go up to 24 and beyond.
“For many years there was this cultural attitude that people just needed to lose weight,” said Hunsicker. “We could shame people into losing weight, we could tell them there was something wrong with them, but they just needed to lose weight. But you’ve got this huge group of consumers who are saying, ‘I’m comfortable with the way that I am. I deserve to look as good as the next person. I deserve to have cute fashion. I deserve to feel good about myself. I’m not less than somebody else just because they’re skinny.’”
As for me, I would like to lose weight. I’ve had a personal trainer for a year now, and I work my ass off, or at least try to. You should see the looks I get from skinny people when they learn that I work out – “Then how are you still fat?!” their eyes shout with wonder. (FYI, I’m still fat because I write about brownies and beer for a living. Thanks, (614), et al.)
So yes, I would like to lose weight, but I’m also comfortable with who I am right now, and I am accepting, with the help of Gwynnie Bee, that I deserve to look cute, too.
“The model that we have really encourages women to feel great about themselves,” Hunsicker said. “You’re allowing women to come into work every day in something new, which, anytime you wear something new, people notice and they say, ‘Oh I love that, where’d you get that?’ You’re getting constant compliments and positive reinforcement, and it makes you feel good.”
She’s right. Recently some asshole kid on a bike rode past me and called me a “big girl,” followed by some sexual innuendo, which I’ll spare you. I guess my skin isn’t as thick as my waistline (hey-o!) because my feelings were hurt.
Until I remembered the dozen people who had complimented the Gwynnie Bee dress I was rocking that day. And how good I looked wearing it.
I called to mind the words of the great poet Beyonce:
We flawless. Ladies, tell ‘em. Say, ‘I look so good tonight.’
God damn, god damn, god damn.
Hunsicker said she would like to start having members-only events in Columbus, similar to events they have hosted in NYC where the company is headquartered, now that their warehouse is operating in Grove City. In the meanwhile, update your closet/queue at www.gwynniebee.com.