I got love for B & Lu; But it’s tough love.

By | March 26, 2009

Several weeks ago, before I vanished on vacation, the good people at B & Lu contacted me about reviewing some of their fine wares. Sure, I said, always happy to test drive a new dress in the interest of making sure y’all are well informed about fatshion. I chose a couple of items and, working from the size chart, asked for them in a 5X. Based on having seen my copious outfit photos, B & Lu was dubious that I needed that large a size, since I don’t always seem to photograph accurate to my real-life fatness. However, I was pretty sure I needed the biggest size available, so we agreed I’d try the 5X and if it was too big, we’d reconvene and cross that bridge together when we got to it. The site owner struck me as pretty fantastic in a general customer service sense, so I felt good about this right away.

Hence, I got the Gretta dress in emerald and the Avery dress. The Gretta dress is pretty great – the color is gorgeous and the fabric is soft and comfortable. In fact, it reminds me quite a bit of the first B & Lu dress I ever bought, a knit burgundy surplice-top deal, which I literally wore to tatters. The Avery dress is adorably retro and eye-catching and comfortable as well. However, my problem, as usual, is with the size. The Gretta dress fits pretty exactly, but the Avery dress is a bit on the small side.

Now, I am consciously not a person who gives a shit about the size on the label. As long as a garment fits appropriately, I couldn’t care less how a manufacturer marks it. So this isn’t really a question of vanity so much as it is a question of predictability. B & Lu is pretty adamant that their garments are made in true plus sizes, and not the deceptive “junior plus” range common amongst many trendy and inexpensive plus-size shops, which tend to run at least a size small, if not more. And yet these 5X dresses fit me, or just barely at that – they fit in a 5X, and under normal circumstances I don’t actually wear a 5X. I wear a 4X or 3X (depending on manufacturer), quite reliably. According to most standard (i.e., non “junior plus”) plus size charts, a 4X is roughly equivalent to a 26/28, and a 5X to 30/32. So technically these dresses should not fit me; they should be a size too large. My problem with this is not OHNOES A 5X FITS, WHAT OF MY VANITY!!! My problem is that this can be misleading for people who actually wear a standard 5X or 30/32. My problem is on behalf of the folks who see “sizes to 5X” and think that this includes them, when a closer inspection of the measurement charts for each item – which, in B & Lu’s defense, are extremely useful and include information specific to the individual garment in question, no doubt to avoid misunderstandings – may reveal otherwise. It’s true that some of those 5X dresses might run truer to size, but that was not my experience, and my experience is all I have to report on.

If you wear a 3X or smaller – which I suspect is the majority of you reading this – then B & Lu is a great option, and well worth a look. They’ve got cute, trendy and youthful stuff at reasonable prices – plus a solid selection of dresses, which can be challenging to find in numbers in plus sizes – and their customer service is reliably excellent. Also, the people who run the business are really fabulously dedicated to producing plus-size clothes for a style-starved market. Thus, they make a worthy contribution to the slim plus-size pickins in the on-trend arena (particularly considering Lane Bryant has apparently decided that producing clothes that are even marginally stylish is no longer a good marketing plan), and I give them huge props for that. My only problem, and it’s the one I can’t let go, is that they don’t make enough of it in my size. According to a recent accounting I did (with math and everything!), of twenty-nine dresses on the site, only six went to a 5X (that’s not counting each color of the same dress separately).

In the broader cultural discourse, I feel like all I hear from all quarters, all the time, that people my size or fatter cannot possibly dress stylishly and attractively, since evidently once a body hits a certain mass, then making it look good in clothes becomes a physical impossibility. I call bullshit on this. Extreme fucking bullshit. The only reason people my size or bigger cannot dress stylishly is because stylish clothes to fit us do not reliably exist, or because the ones that do are inaccessible. The only reason people my size or bigger cannot dress stylishly is because we are constantly informed that our bodies have placed us past salvation, stylistically-speaking, and this information is reinforced by our exclusion from readily-available and affordable fashion. We are discouraged from experimenting with color or with fit. This means many of us never take the risks necessary to develop a personal style that makes us feel good about ourselves.

Once upon a time, years ago, I ordered stuff from B & Lu frequently. And I loved it! I had two dresses from them in particular that I wore until they virtually disintegrated. Since they’ve narrowed their sizing range, however, I’ve stopped perusing their site, as it’s just too frustrating and annoying to have my options limited even at a plus-size site. So when I originally got the email from B & Lu, I sort of felt like a heartbroken girlfriend who’d been sitting tearstained and morose for hours while the object of my affection was too engrossed in the Xbox 360 to notice. B & Lu! I want to like you! I like the mission statement on your site! I want to believe you’re doing your best in a difficult market!

And I want you to like me back, B & Lu! I like and admire your Commitment to Dresses in particular. I want you to like me back, enough to make lots and lots of dresses in my size. Truly, I feel somewhat sad to write this post, as I’m sure a diatribe on unpredictable sizing is not what the nice people at B & Lu were looking for when they contacted me. But if I weren’t completely honest about my experiences with plus-size retailers, then my opinion wouldn’t be worth much.

In conclusion, smaller fats should love B & Lu. You will have to enjoy their bounty in my absence, however, as for the time being I’m going back to avoiding their site, as it pains me too greatly to find cute dresses only to discover they can’t accomodate my fat ass.

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