For plus sized women, going to the mall can be a nightmare. Many if not most brands don’t carry their plus-sized lines in stores, and exclusively plus-size stores like Torrid and Lane Bryant can’t be everything to all shoppers. Dressing rooms can lead to traumatic try-ons, and most plus shoppers will either walk out of the mall empty-handed or with bags full of only shoes and accessories.
That’s why stores like L.A.’s The Plus Bus are so important. Catering exclusively to sizes 12 and up, The Plus Bus is both full of clothes that fit big bodies and staffed by fabulous and sympathetic workers who are there to help. At The Plus Bus, all bodies are fabulous bodies, and all bodies deserve to look supremely foxy.
Still, for co-owner Marcy Guevara-Prete, running The Plus Bus can be a bit of a challenge. She’s faced down smaller customers who’ve struggled to understand why the store doesn’t carry clothes to fit them, and who may have let a few sizeist words fly in the shop. She’s also dealt with customers carrying decades of fat guilt and who aren’t yet ready to let their plus-sized flags fly.
Byrdie talked to Guevara-Prete about nasty customers, doubting consumers, and the frustrations that come with being a fat fashion retailer.
Byrdie: What are some of the most frustrating or annoying comments you’ve heard from haters or even from your shoppers?
Marcy Guevara-Prete: I don't show my arms. I only wear maxi dresses. I can't wear stripes. People are so deeply entrenched in the fashion rules that we all grew up reading in teen magazines, like "never do this" and "to look slimmer, always do this." Those things really stick with people. Our mother's mother's mother also had those fashion rules. I think there is some breakdown happening, but they're still very present and a mother's voice in a customer's ear is very loud, whether she is physically present or not.
As a plus-size store on a main street with lots of foot traffic, we've definitely had people come in and ask why we don't carry their size, why we don't carry any small sizes, or why our clothes are so big. It's also just funny to see people walk in and quickly U-turn or look at a couple things and then realize, "Oh, this is not for me."
Let's talk a little bit more about the mother's voice. How do you combat that as a retailer? Is it your responsibility?
The Plus Bus is trying to push the envelope for everyone of what is socially acceptable to wear, what we think that we can get away with, and what we've been told is acceptable for plus-sized bodies. It's combating whatever voices exist in someone's head.
Do I think it's our responsibility? No, but we are there to sell clothes and so sometimes it behooves us to help with that. Plus, shopping is so emotional for a lot of people. Sometimes you have to do a sort of full-fledged life coaching or therapy session, because if you don't, this person is not leaving here with the dress for the wedding that they need for tomorrow. That is very, very common in the plus-size space.
I think that if we didn't combat that inner voice in our customers and help challenge them to rethink the way they've been trained to think about fashion and to think about their bodies, we wouldn't sell anything 75% of the time.
What’s your tip for combatting that, then?
My tip is to plan ahead. You may not have an invitation to a wedding right now. You may not have an invitation to a cocktail party right now, but you will. I love knowing that in my closet is a great dress waiting for that Oscar party, waiting for that red carpet, baby shower, barbecue, whatever it may be. I don't want to wait for the invitation and then be scrambling to find something, which is what most of the plus-size experience is. You're often left with very few choices, and you might not feel good about any of them.
That voice is a lot louder for some people than it is in others, and it does take some real work to get them to explore "what would happen if you wore the stripes," I'll say, "you're telling me that you really like this floral, but that you've always heard that you shouldn't wear florals?" It's really amazing when people open themselves up to possibilities beyond their previous knowledge or ideas about fashion.
There is so much brainwashing out there about what is right for our body or what is flattering, or you have to wear this or that under a garment. We have so many options now, and there's so much more clothing accessible, which makes it really fun to explore what your personal style actually is versus what you've been shoving yourself into because you think it makes you look smaller.
People are so deeply entrenched in the fashion rules that we all grew up reading in teen magazines, like 'never do this' and 'to look slimmer, always do this.'
I remember this hideous story that Kirstie Alley used to tell about these dresses from Target. When she was at her fattest, she would have one type of dress that she called her uniform. When she needed more uniforms, she would send her assistant to Target to pick them up. It's so sad that, even for a Hollywood celebrity with plenty of money, that's the only option she felt she had at that time. How many of us normal folks are doing that?
That's no judgment on Target, and it's no judgment on buying multiples. It's really not about that. It's more about the way she talked about this dress. It was the only thing that she felt comfortable in and it was literally a head-to-toe, black Rachel Pally knockoff maxi with sleeves. There was nothing special about it, but it was the only thing that she felt she could wear out in public without looking her size.
A lot of us have been told to minimize. We've been told to wear black. We've been told to wear billowy, big, shroudy things so that you can hide your figure, but that's not really what those are doing at all.
Accepting that you are plus size, accepting that you're fat and dressing in something that not only brings you joy but that makes you look good to yourself is really the most important thing. There is such a movement towards feminism and towards not dressing for the male gaze, and to each her own. But usually the more fabric you have on, you actually don't look smaller. You end up looking bigger, and you're not fooling anybody.
The Plus Bus has very affordable items, but it's not as cheap as, say, Forever 21. How do you convince people to invest in themselves?
I think that because fast fashion has been the primary provider of plus-size fashion options for people, it's very difficult for them to wrap their head around investing in themselves, investing in that leather jacket, those staple pieces, those iconic wardrobe moments that you are going to have for a long time that are going to make you feel like a million bucks when you walk into a room. You might feel like a million bucks in a $50 Fashion Nova dress, but you'll also be surprised that you feel like a million bucks in something that's designer and luxe, but you've just never had the option to buy.
We do have luxury partners and it's been incredible for all of us, whether it's customers, staff, or the team. We are also experiencing these things at the same time with our customers, having never had access to half of these brands that we carry now, not to mention all the new indie brands.
The reality is that, in the fashion industry, if you're shopping sustainably and you're buying from an indie designer, if something's made locally, if something's made ethically, it's going to cost more money. If you care about any of those things, then you will be paying money. If you don't care about any of that, but you just want to wear something that not everyone else has that looks cool, that is interesting, that is luxe, you are also going to pay money.
We are not used to having these options, because they just never existed. Yet our thin counterparts have had tons of designers to shop from since the beginning of time. Think about this whole Kate Moss generation or any of the supermodels and fashion houses that have showed at New York Fashion Week and that we've all lusted after. We've settled for knock offs two seasons too late and made by fast fashion brands. Now you're seeing Chloé and Versace and other designers showing at least some body diversity on red carpets, which means it's starting to trickle down to us.
So yes, investing in yourself is definitely something that I think plus-size people need to explore more. I always call it fashion math. If you think about the per wear cost of something, it's very different than thinking about wearing that thing once. If you're going to buy a $700, beautiful Camilla caftan from The Plus Bus or from Camilla or 11 Honoré, you're going to wear that thing many, many more times than you might wear something you like less. If you divide that $700 by the number of times you wear it, then it starts to feel a little bit less expensive. That's how I rationalize it.
It also depends on your industry. It depends on what rooms you're in and how you want to be considered. If you've watched Inventing Anna, and it's kind of a joke in the show, but she does reference clothes a lot, and the importance of the fact that how we present ourselves does tell people something about ourselves. I have customers that are lawyers and judges and have really big jobs like executives and producers, and they want to look and feel just like their thin counterparts. They deserve designer brands and nice quality pieces.
I think it's an exciting time to finally have access to these things. Now, it's just about really letting go of that credit card and showing these brands that we want what they're offering.
I also think about it in terms of, "I love what this small brand is doing, so I want to give them money so that they can not only keep doing it, but expand."
The only money I spend on clothes is with someone that I really want to keep making clothes. I make sure to spend my money with brands that I love and that I want to encourage to continue making plus-size clothes. When Anthropologie launched their plus line, I spent probably $2,000 at once just because I wanted so badly for them to continue to carry plus sizes. I just bought a Tamara Malas jacket, because, while one might get to The Plus Bus someday, I'm not willing to wait. It's so cute.
I just don't feel like we've ever had this amount of people making cool clothes and making things that I actually really want to wear. I had the experience not too long ago of walking into a mall and really nothing at Torrid or Lane Bryant felt like me, like I couldn't even pay them to take my money. And then, Fabletics didn't even carry the plus line in store, even though they had a huge store so they absolutely could have put it out on the floor. That's such a frustrating experience.
Right now, I really want to focus on spending my money where it matters, really encouraging these small brands. I care about sustainability, I care about ethical fashion, I care about wearing something where I know I'm going to be the only person at that event wearing that item. The way to do that is to really invest in these brands that you really care about what they're doing.
Nobody at Fashion Nova is doing a happy dance when you order from them. It's important to remember that. Also, most of these fast fashion brands are knocking off indie designers, and that's super disheartening as well.
It's also worth noting that for some of these pieces, there's such a demand out there in the plus world that, if you tire of it and want to resell it, you can get a good amount of money and then turn that around into something new.
While we live in an Instagram economy, we also live in a resale economy. So if you're one of those people that only wants to wear something once or twice because it's for a picture or it's a color you wouldn't normally wear but you were going to an event where everybody had to wear that color or whatever it is, you can absolutely sell it on Depop or Poshmark or eBay or Facebook Marketplace or at a retail store, like The Plus Bus. More and more plus-size resale shops are popping up everywhere you go. Even Buffalo Exchange and Crossroads are starting to take plus sizes.
I just want to look and feel good when I walk into the rooms and I want to look expensive and feel confident. I believe that that starts from the outside in. Especially as a plus-sized person, I want to look professional and I want to look put together. I also don't want to be distracting. I also don't want to draw attention, I kind of want to look just right.
That takes effort to accomplish, too. I think people really diminish how much work that actually takes and sort of phone it in. People are starting to go back to work right now and getting out of their sweats. They're getting out of pandemic fashion. It's gonna take some effort, but you're worth it.
Nobody at Fashion Nova is doing a happy dance when you order from them.
Last question: Have you ever just had a super rude customer who didn't understand what The Plus Bus is?
Honestly, it's so rare that we get a person being rude. The most memorable experience was a woman that came in who had bought something a year ago that was way too big. She'd had it for a year and she wanted to return it. One of my girls was like, "you can get store credit and get something else," and she said that was fine. Our return policy is only 10 days, but the woman was just so insistent so we gave in.
So then she started shopping and I had a new customer in the store. All of a sudden, super loud, she's like, "Why is everything so big? Everything is so huge!" I walked over to her and said, "You are not allowed to say that stuff in here. You are more than welcome to look around and there's always something for everyone here, but we do cater to plus sizes.
Later the new customer that was in the dressing room that whole time came to me and said, "Thank you so much for saying something to that person. It took a lot of strength and I just really appreciate having this space." So, in that moment, it was worth it because I do hate confrontation.
Here's the thing: Anytime anyone walks through the door, we don't know why they're there. We don't know if they're a stylist, we don't know if they have a sister that they're shopping for. We don't know if they have body dysmorphia or if they're a drag queen. We have no idea what they're shopping for or why they're there, and so it's really important for us to treat every single person exactly the same. I always joke, "You gotta make sure that you give the skinnies some attention." More often than not, they are there for a specific reason.
The moral of the story really is that, at the end of the day, we're serving the majority that have nowhere to shop. It's hard to articulate that, but basically, you can go into a mall and there are 90 stores that offer straight sizes and maybe one or two that offer plus. Yet at the same time, 65% of American women are a size 14 or above.
We're more than happy to show people that there is something for everyone at The Plus Bus. We take all green money. But at the same time, we really are about valuing our fat customers and giving them a safe space to belong. There aren't that many of those spaces around.
We really do value our local thin customers who come and maybe just buy shoes from us or a gift just to support our business. Most people these days are sensitive to the fact that there is more than one body type, and that the rhetoric around bodies is changing.
We get people coming in saying, "My sister's plus size, and I love your store, I want to buy these sunglasses and I can't wait to bring her here." That's actually more common than people questioning why we exist.