Home to Neiman Marcus, outposts of many of the world's top fashion houses and an eclectic collection of independent boutiques, Dallas has long been known as one of the country's great shopping meccas. From couture designers to fast fashion, this city is positively packed with open-air shopping centers, malls and independent designers hawking the trendiest, most fashionable wares.
That is, of course, unless you're one of the millions of American women who wears bigger than a size 16.
When plus-size women in Dallas walk into Neiman Marcus, NorthPark Center or the Galleria, the options are surprisingly limited. Most often relegated to dusty, outdated displays in department stores or cheaply made, practically disposable garments from Forever 21 and Lane Bryant, plus-size shoppers in search of the most fashion-forward looks are forced to buy online, where a cadre of size-inclusive, relentlessly trendy retailers cater to self-described "fatshionistas."
There's something to be said for an actual in-store retail experience, where shoppers can feel the quality of a dress' fabric or try on a pair of jeans before buying, and those options are woefully inadequate in Dallas and beyond. But in October, two up-and-coming independent designers will bring an inclusive, welcoming shopping experience for plus-size women in Dallas.
Considering that Dallas, like the rest of the country, is packed with women who are desperately in search of stylish, well-constructed garments in plus-sizes, many are left wondering: Why is this segment of shoppers generally almost entirely left out of Dallas' otherwise perpetually strong shopping scene?
"That's the $24 billion question," says Alexandra Waldman, co-founder of New York City-based "size-inclusive" retailer Universal Standard, known for its on-trend, top-quality options for plus-size women. "Some brands might consider having plus-size options as diluting their brands, that the people buying those clothes aren't pretty enough or desirable to customers."
Alongside her longtime friend Polina Veksler, Waldman founded Universal Standard after turning down an invitation to a ritzy party because she didn't have anything to wear. Veksler, who is not plus-size, recalls Waldman telling her, "There is not a single store on Fifth Avenue that I can walk into and buy clothing,"
"That's when I started doing research, and Alex always knew that there's this huge space in the market and what is currently available is mostly fast fashion," Veksler says. "When you look at brands like Theory, Helmut Lang, Rag & Bone, the quality and visual aesthetic just isn't there."
Veksler and Waldman will head to Dallas for stops Oct. 18-21, part of a cross-country tour of pop-up shops that they're hosting to introduce more women to their brand, which has earned a cult following among plus-size bloggers and online shoppers. More than that, though, they want to provide plus-size women in Dallas with a shopping experience that doesn't induce anxiety.
"Plus-size women have led the online shopping revolution because they always felt so unwelcome in brick-and-mortar stores. Why would you put yourself through this harrowing experience when you can sit down at your computer, order, and use your living room as your changing room?" says Waldman. "Our customers are telling us that these pop-ups are the first time that they have actually enjoyed shopping. It's weird -- we're subverting the traditional retail experience for plus women by providing a traditional retail experience. Just being welcoming, offering an opportunity to browse and find something that they like is so unusual for plus-size women."
Alongside Universal Standard, another brand that is making waves in the plus-size retail space is also planning to introduce itself to Dallas with an appointment-only event in October. 11 Honoré, founded by fashion industry veterans Patrick Herning and Kathryn Retzer, offers an "edited" version of fashions found on the runways of New York and Paris.
While an "e-tailer" for now, 11 Honoré is set to host a pop-up shopping session at The Mansion on Turtle Creek on Tuesday, Oct. 10. At that event, chic and moneyed plus-size shoppers will be able to browse looks from top designers such as Monique Lhuillier, Prabal Gurung, Zac Posen, Badgley Mischka and Christian Siriano. Instead of the typical "sample size," though, 11 Honoré focuses exclusively on sizes 10 through 20.
Dallas may still have a long way to go for true size inclusivity at its department stores and shopping malls, but for women who are tired of shopping online, these major pop-ups point toward a promising future.
Universal Standard: There'll be a model search and pop-up at the Lawley Art Group Oct. 18, from noon to 8 p.m. at 1507 Dragon St., Dallas. The brand will also be at Nordstrom in NorthPark Center, Oct. 19, 20, 21 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at 8687 North Central Expressway, Dallas. Find more info at universalstandard.net/blogs/roadtrip.