FOR A CITY so prolific in clothing production, the market for plus-size apparel is just catching up. The past year has seen boutiques and lines debuting or expanding plus offerings, from Mag-Big to Amelia to Hubris Apparel to Clair Vintage Inspired. Plus sizing, in general, has a relatively short and controversial history, but both big-box and independent retailers are warming up to the plain fact that customers with money to spend have disappointingly few places to spend it.
"We thought we were doing something different," says Mag-Big's Cassie Ridgway, whose plus range debuts at this week's Summer Strut fashion show. "We just thought it was an untapped market. All of a sudden, it's super cool." Perfectly timed with an influx of new lines catering directly to an underserved audience, the recently formed PDX Fat Fashion Collective decided to showcase the industry niche with an event celebrating self-acceptance and relevance within what organizer Coco Madrid terms "legit fashion."
Madrid (an occasional Mercury contributor) founded the collective with Shawna Farmer and Leigh Rich. She describes the lack of options she's faced as a plus-sized shopper in the past. "Before I found Torrid, I just thrifted all my clothes.... It was at a time when I had no body acceptance whatsoever, and I didn't want to be humiliated by some store girl." Since then, stores like H&M and Forever 21 have started or expanded plus ranges, though shoppers in the market still resort to creative solutions known as "fat hacking" to maximize their resources, in which regular-sized items are modified—a dress becomes a skirt, an oversized piece is worn as bodycon—to fit a plus shape. To have these sizes actively addressed within Portland's own manufacturing economy is doubly progressive.
Stigmatization has been one hurdle to the market's ability to flourish, with plus-size advocates having been accused by detractors of encouraging unhealthy lifestyles. "The word 'fat' has been used as a weapon against women of all sizes," says Madrid. "What we're promoting is self-love, and anything beyond that are lurkers and trolls that we won't feed. [Summer Strut is] a fun, good time to celebrate everybody's body. You can wear things that you never thought you could, and you can get it local."
The first half of the show will be dedicated to more practical pieces, while the second half captures a certain sense of adventurousness that Madrid associates with summer. And non-professionals will model all the clothing from eight small companies. "We didn't want to limit it by height either," says Madrid. "We wanted people to see their own body type on the runway." Summer Strut, w/DJs Beyondadoubt & Bruce LaBruiser, emcee Carla Rossi, White Owl Social Club, 1305 SE 8th, Sun July 13, 5 pm, $5
• Montana artist Nicholas Coleman is setting up at Beam & Anchor with his paintings of the West. Kicking off the show is tonight's opening reception, with Roman Candle food and Union Wine Co. vino. Beam & Anchor, 2710 N Interstate, Thurs July 10, 6-9 pm
• Backtalk joins N Mississippi's Second Thursday art walk with a show for tapestry artist Kayla Mattes, in whose work "triangles, stripes, and squares intersect with smiley faces, pizzas, and pie charts." Backtalk, 3962 N Mississippi, Thurs July 10, 6-10 pm
• This weekend marks the fourth annual Summer Style in the Pearl, where 13 boutiques in walking distance of each other team up to offer various discounts. This year's participants: Mabel & Zora, Folly, Bonnet, Consigning Women Handbags, Christopher David, Porch Light, FlairWalk, Garnish, Monique's Boutique, Silkwood, Flor, Rachelle M Rustic House of Fashion, and Jack Spade. Pearl District, Fri July 11-Sun July 13, hours vary by store
• If you needed another push to join the throngs at the Mississippi Street Fair, try this one on: Slightly removed from the fray will be a little oasis of local style called Designer Flea. It'll have its own dressing room, complimentary cocktails with purchase, and merchandise from Portland accessory and apparel companies like Sticks & Stones, Mag-Big, Seaecho, Julia Barbee, and Haunt, to name just a few. Lot 13, N Mississippi & Shaver, Sat July 12, 10 am-5 pm