Portland’s plus-size fashion scene

Local designer Claire Doody explains what makes Portland a plus-size shopping destination.

_74A6403-cropClaire Doody works on a garment for her plus-size fashion label, Copper Union.
Ashley Anderson

Each September, style floods the New York runways for its annual fashion week. But in Portland, September belongs to Knock Out — arguably the most joyful fashion event the city has to offer, all devoted to the plus-size community.

Picture this: It’s a sunny Sunday morning in September 2017. Most Portlanders are flagging down brunch checks or drinking coffee at home. But inside the windowless Wonder Ballroom, a full party is popping. A DJ blasts David Bowie over the speaker system while happy shoppers literally dance around vendor booths. Women emit joyful squeals over leggings from visiting Seattle designer Bombsheller. Running up to size 6X, the legwear brand specializes in funky patterns, like cat silhouettes and colorful outer-space prints. Others chat about body autonomy with author Jes Baker (known online as the Militant Baker). Baker is on hand with her best-selling book Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls: A Handbook for Unapologetic Living.

“Knock Out is for community building; I wanted to bring these women into a space literally dedicated for them by people in their community,” says founder Claire Doody. Unlike most fashion events, Knock Out centers on women who identify as curvy, body-positive, fat or plus-size.

Portland-based fashion line Copper Union offers sizes 12-30. Photo by Ashley Anderson.

The Plus-Size Fashion Industry

According to Refinery 29, 67% of American woman wear a size 14 or above — yet these women are represented in only 2% of media. This means, of course, that most American women don’t see people who look like them on television, in magazines or in ads. On top of that, the fashion industry is woefully behind. Scroll through the offerings of most mass-market plus-size retailers, and you’ll find joyless black tunics and snooze-worthy full-body-covering numbers. These pieces are often designed by non-plus-size people who don’t fully understand the needs or fit issues of plus-size women.

“[The industry] hasn’t caught up with the fact that there are radical babes that want to wear flashy pieces and to show off their bodies,” Doody says. “The body-positive movement is happening here in Portland and has been for many years, but we’re in a bubble that isn’t in the rest of the country.”

“The body-positive movement is happening here in Portland,” says designer Claire Doody. Photo by Ashley Anderson.

Plus-size Shopping in Portland

That bubble translates to a local shopping haven for fans of plus-size fashion (sometimes called “fat fashion” by body-positive activists). In addition to Copper Union’s colorful pieces, local clothing line Chubby Cartwheels boasts over 100,000 Instagram followers. Fans of the brand clamor for designer Shawna Farmer’s fun pieces. Favorite ensembles include her signature “Diet Industry Dropout” tees paired with velvet skater skirts, flirty fishnet pencil skirts and even a hooded mesh swing dress. In photos, models are laughing and loving their looks — without a hint of the dour vibes often associated with fashion catalogs.

With similar fun vibes, Northeast Sandy Boulevard’s Fat Fancy has been a pillar of the plus-size community since opening in 2009. The shop has been featured everywhere from Bust and Bitch to The New York Times. Portland singer and international style icon Beth Ditto has called it out as one of her favorite places to shop. The store offers a mix of new pieces and vintage looks, all size 12 and up.

Local boutiques are stepping into the plus-size world as well. Southeast’s Union Rose and Northeast’s Amelia both run their in-house lines from a size XS to a 3X, and aim to inspire other small shops to do the same. The owners hope that plus-size shoppers — who might not typically even enter these shops — will feel welcome to come in and explore the inclusively-sized garments.

Knock Out Plus-Size Pop-Up and Fashion Show

Despite these efforts, the plus-size world remains a fractured one to shop. That’s all the more reason Knock Out was greeted with such a joy. It’s not only a place where the 67% see each other and celebrate each other, but also a great resource. Doody spent hours diligently compiling a shopping guide for plus-size folks, which was included in the Knock Out event program. (Browse the full list of Knock Out vendors.)

“The plus-size community online is very vibrant and very large, no pun intended,” Doody says with a laugh. “We’re all a part of the body-positive movement that says love the body you’re in, be beautiful and be bold right now.”

Mentioned in this Article