Dear Ashley Eckstein,
To begin, I’d like to thank you for giving women a voice to express their love of fandoms through fashion. I remember all too well the days when we had to make due with ill-fitting Star Wars T-shirts from the men’s section, or the thrift store, or our boyfriends’ closets.
Because of Her Universe and the geek fashion empire you’ve created, women have so many more options for self-expression and have been inspired to boldly and unashamedly celebrate their love of Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who, Marvel, Studio Ghibli, and many other fandoms and franchises.
Your pioneering work in the geek fashion industry and your partnerships with Disney and Hot Topic place you in a unique position to create positive change, which is why I’m writing to you about a specific, industry-wide problem that geek fashion designers, manufacturers, and retailers need to address.
I’m talking about the fashion industry’s size problem, which makes shopping for clothes a source of frustration and discouragement for any woman who doesn’t happen to have the body of a teenager. (I’d say that’s most of us.)
Inconsistent sizing, lack of availability of plus-size products, higher prices for plus-size clothing, flimsy and unflattering fabrics and materials, and other related issues often combine to make shopping for geek clothes a fangirl’s worst nightmare.
Clearly, addressing and resolving these issues isn’t just Her Universe’s responsibility. I’m writing to you, Ms. Eckstein, because Her Universe markets itself as an inclusive fangirl fashion company and lifestyle brand that caters to a diverse spectrum of women.
Your brand prides itself on catering to women and girls of all shapes, sizes, and styles, from plus-size shoppers to kids. The company’s motto is “Fashion for Every Fangirl.” Too often, though, it seems the brand’s actual target demographic is an extremely narrow one, namely young women and juniors with a very specific body type.
My friends who wear plus-size clothing have been talking to me about their concerns for years. This Christmas, however, I had my first personal experience with the geek fashion size problem when my husband gifted me with Her Universe’s adorable, vintage-style Star Wars Endor Landscape Dress.
Since the picture of the model wearing the dress on the Her Universe website screamed “teen heroin chic” more than “40-year-old lady in a cosplay dress,” I probably should have been prepared for the fact that I couldn’t even get the zipper to close halfway on my medium-sized frock.
Now, I comfortably take a medium in every item of clothing I purchase, from T-shirts, to blouses, to dresses, so I was surprised, even shocked, and saddened that I wouldn’t be able to wear the dress to WonderCon as planned.
Around the same time, I was shopping on the Her Universe website for a gift for a family member. I found several plus-size dresses I knew she would adore, including designs from Doctor Who and Star Wars. Every time I clicked on a dress, however, I found that her specific size was out of stock. This happened over and over again, until I eventually gave up and went to another retailer’s site to find what I needed.
Now, it’s entirely possible the Endor Landscape Dress was designed for a younger, slimmer gal than me and I just didn’t realize it. And it seems geek fashion retailers have an ongoing problem with maintaining their plus-size stock, for whatever reason, be it demand or lack of supply.
But if the issue is that companies like Her Universe don’t in reality cater to a demographic of average-size women and plus-size fangirls, then the company needs to be transparent about that.
I polled my friends about their experiences shopping for geek fashion items and they all seemed to have disheartening stories that suggest this particular niche market is just as focused on youth and twiggy, anorexic beauty as the rest of the fashion industry.
By far, the biggest complaint I heard was about inconsistent sizing and labeling.
“I shouldn’t be a 3XL in a dress when I’m a large in a shirt from the same company,” said one of my friends.
Her solution? Switching from companies like Her Universe and We Love Fine to smaller outlets, like Elhoffer Design, that she feels care about her and her body.
Another friend who wears plus-size clothing recounted three failed attempts to purchase items from Her Universe, which culminated in a frustrating and overlong return process. She now has resolved to buy only shoes from the company.
Those I spoke to also described a constant struggle with thin, clingy fabrics and form-fitting cuts that are unflattering to their body types.
“See-through is not what I’m going for,” one of my friends said. “Also, I don’t want form-fitting. My fix for this is wearing men’s T-shirts instead. But it would be nice to have better options.”
Another major pain point for plus-size shoppers is the unavailability of desired clothing items, which always seem to be sold out or out of stock when they go to click and buy them.
“I think most times that I think to myself, maybe I’ll buy that, it’s sold out already,” a fellow geek shopper said.
Then there’s the fact that plus-size dresses and other clothing items tend to cost more than smaller-size items, which is just patently unfair and discriminatory. A quick glance at the Her Universe website reveals the cost of a plus-size dress can run about $10 to $15 more than the equivalent outfit in a smaller size.
The friends I polled mentioned lots of other things they’d like to see change in the geek fashion world, as well, including more dress-length options for taller fangirls and less gender-stereotyping when it comes to designs, like the over-feminized, flowery fashions that tend to be marketed to women and the edgier, artsier fashions targeted at men, for example. Why not make a wider variety of designs available to both genders and let fans decide for themselves what they want to wear?
I realize the problems I’m presenting to you won’t necessarily be easy to solve. Fangirls come in all ages, shapes, and sizes, and have lots of strong opinions. However, the fact that a large percentage of the female geek population isn’t being represented by companies that claim to represent them is a serious concern.
Ms. Eckstein, you’re at the forefront of the geek fashion world. If anyone can raise awareness and begin to address these issues, it’s you.
Thanks for your attention and consideration.