Fashion is full of label queens, but Queen Latifah, who is about to launch a new clothing collection on the Home Shopping Network in the U.S., is aiming to do away with at least one label: “plus size.” The actress-singer’s line, which she announced in May, will include sizes usually referred to as “plus,” but she refuses to use the term, she says.
“It is a word we need to bury at this point,” the star told Women’s Wear Daily. “We all want to wear beautiful, fly clothes no matter what size.”
There are few beauty icons who can be referred to as plus-size these days. Big girl Beth Ditto, singer for the punk band The Gossip, proudly opened and closed Jean Paul Gaultier’s spring 2011 runway show in Paris, while Crystal Renn is sometimes classified as a plus-size model, sometimes not. These few examples, however, have been slow to translate into better selections for consumers.
Toronto-based stylist/photographer Roslyn Griffith Hall, who is often charged with styling contestants for reality television, bemoans the lack of choices on the plus-size rack. “Tonnes of polyester, tonnes of shapeless pants, bad prints and bad colours,” Hall sums up. Noting that there are few walk-in retail options for larger-figured women besides such specialty stores as Addition-Elle and Pennington’s, she adds that Queen Latifah may be doing a clever thing by sidestepping bricks-and-mortar stores altogether and targeting buyers directly through the Home Shopping Network.
Toronto-based designer Jessica Biffi made the same move, launching MizBiffi, a plus-size clothing line, on The Shopping Channel in Canada in May.
“I went with The Shopping Channel because it goes into people’s homes and it’s across Canada as opposed to specialty stores that are only in Mississauga or Calgary and aren’t really available to everybody,” Biffi says. Unlike Queen Latifah, however, she defends the use of the term “plus-size.”
“I understand what Queen Latifah is doing by not calling [clothing] plus-size but at the same time it can be confusing,” Biffi says. “The customer needs to know where to go to find what she’s looking for.”
Her point is well-taken, as the fashion industry is rife with euphemisms – some clever, some cloying – for higher-sized clothes. ASOS, a U.K.-based retailer that has just started shipping to Canada, calls its plus-size line Curve, while Forever21 labels its big-sizes collection Faith21. H&M calls its new addition to the field Inclusive, although it hardly lives up to the name: The collection is only available online, in Europe and for a limited time. (H&M’s more established plus-size line – called BiB, short for Big is Beautiful – is also unavailable in Canada.)
On top of this, some of these retailers (such as ASOS and Forever21) openly use the term “plus-size” to clarify their size range, while others (H&M) do not.
So is Queen Latifah’s mission to eliminate the label a helpful one? Perhaps number sizes do the job well enough.
The only problem is that, in the hands of fashion marketers, numbers can be just as creatively utilized as marketing terminology.