Hold On!

Hold Up

Please select a minimum of three sectors in the menu above.

Got It
  • How can stylish plus-size apparel impact one’s job prospects?
  • How can stylish plus-size apparel impact one’s job prospects?
    Henning (2019) ©
CASE STUDY

Henning: fashion fit for plus-size professionals

Plus-size fashion may be gaining momentum in the US, but shoppers’ options remain limited when looking for high-end, work-appropriate outfits. Fortified with stretch fabrics, hidden elastics, and strategically placed seams, Henning’s high-quality clothing fills a gap for professional women.

Location United States

Scope
Fall 2019 may have been the second most size-diverse New York Fashion Week on record, but plus-size models made up only 1.7% of those who walked the runways. [1] A similar imbalance is apparent in ready-to-wear fashion. “The plus-size market is the fastest-growing segment in the US, but it still accounts for 1.6% of the market,” says Katie Smith, a trends and insights strategist for the Independent Fashion Advisory Board. [2] With high-quality professional clothing making up only a fraction of this minuscule market, the launch of Henning in August 2019 couldn’t have come at a better time.

 ----

Former Glamour fashion editor Lauren Chan is the brain behind the brand, acting as both CEO and designer. As a plus-size woman working in the fashion industry, she found that she couldn’t sport the luxury labels she wrote about and resorted to wearing fast fashion in the office as these brands were among the only ones offering on-trend and well-fitting clothes. [3]

Speaking to Vogue, Chan described Henning’s aesthetic as “minimal, professional, and fashion-conscious sharply tailored look had been missing for women over a size 12. That’s what I wanted my entire career in fashion and was never able to find.” [4] The brand’s inaugural line of essentials includes power blazers – one stretch-wool and black, another dusty blue satin with shoulder pads – and matching pants, as well as t-shirts, dresses, and jackets. The garments, which are produced entirely in New York City, range from size 12 to 24 and sell for anywhere from $65 to $995.[5]

Besides the brand’s fashion-forward aesthetic, inventive tricks here and there set Henning’s pieces apart from what’s widely available to plus-size shoppers. Chan’s personal experiences with wardrobe malfunctions inspired such innovations. “On my way to my first cover interview, my pants ripped because they were so poorly constructed. When we don’t have access to clothes that are in this category, there are tangible effects on our ability to work,” she told Vogue. [4] Henning’s pants, for example, contain elastics on the inside of waistbands for a more expensive look, while inner-thigh seams are reinforced to prevent wear-and-tear caused by thigh chafing.

Size inclusivity needs to extend beyond fast fashion
Size inclusivity needs to extend beyond fast fashion
Henning (2019) ©

Context
Vogue’s March 2017 issue marked a significant milestone for the size inclusivity movement. The magazine featured a plus-size model, Ashley Graham, on its cover for the first time. Taking cues from the fashion bible, size inclusivity is gaining more attention among US-based retailers who can no longer afford to miss out on such a substantial market. After all, the average American woman now has a plus-size body – Racked reports that she weighs 168.5 pounds, has a waist circumference of 38.1 inches, and wears a size 16 to 18. [6] As a result, the plus-size apparel segment is growing faster than the wider market, at an annual rate of 6%. [7] Established brands like Anthropologie, J.Crew, Mango, ASOS, and ModCloth have responded by launching plus-size lines, and new companies like Universal Standard and Eloquii were born specifically to serve these consumers. [8]

Although it’s rising rapidly, the plus-size industry still has a lot of catching up to do before it can fully meet the demand for clothing that fits American women, 68% of whom wear above a size 14 and above. The supply of high-end clothing is especially lacking; plus-size clothing makes up 2.3% of women’s items sold by the 25 biggest multi-brand retailers, and only 0.1% of the luxury market. [6] Alexandra Waldman, the co-founder and creative director of Universal Standard, blames this shortfall on the “misperception that bigger women just don’t have the money to spend on luxury clothing,” as well as the reputational risk brands feel they may take when “aligning themselves with bigger bodies.” [9]

Michigan is the only state in the US to explicitly prohibit discrimination in employment based on weight, which Waldman refers to as “the last acceptable prejudice.” [10][9] Considering that 21% of employers surveyed by career site Fairygodboss looked at a photograph of a plus-size woman and described her as ‘unprofessional’, the stakes for dressing sharp are much higher for those who don’t conform to old-fashioned beauty standards. [11] Having access to quality, professional apparel can help larger women bolster judgments based on their appearances, which is exactly why brands such as Universal Standard and Henning were created.

Inconsistent sizing between brands fuels frustration
Inconsistent sizing between brands fuels frustration
Henning (2019) ©

Insights and opportunities
Henning’s offerings can affect the psyche of its wearers through ‘enclothed cognition’. Coined in 2012 by psychologists Hajo Adam and Adam Galinksy, the term refers to “the systematic influence that clothes have on the wearer’s psychological processes,” caused by “the co-occurrence of two independent factors – the symbolic meaning of the clothes and the physical experience of wearing them.” [12] A 2014 study suggested that American women are well aware of this phenomenon, with 90% of respondents agreeing that ‘what you wear can affect how you feel’. [13] Yet a major roadblock to finding a mood-boosting outfit is sizing – 71% of American women say that clothing sizes are inconsistent across brands and 63% feel frustrated by this. [14] Dia&Co avoids this pitfall by focusing on body shape rather than size. It provides in-house stylists to curate personalized looks and sends five hand-picked outfits that shoppers can try at home, paying only for the ones they want to keep.

With research from 2017 finding the 68% of plus-size shoppers in the US are interested in participating in fashion trends, social media holds great potential in teaching people how to harness the power of style at any size. [15] For instance, California-based marketing consultant Anh Sundstrom runs the Instagram account @9to5chic, which she uses to showcase trendy, office-appropriate outfits to her 310,000 followers. Then there’s the full-figured Nicolette Mason, whose 179,000 followers look to her for wardrobe inspiration. Accounts like these remind American professionals that workwear has the capacity to make you feel good and look good to others. “When your colleagues see you dressed in a beautiful outfit – something sharp, something luxury – there’s a different perception of who you are,” says Waldman. [9]

The fashion industry has historically worked to maintain size-based social hierarchies, as “the companies that dominate American malls and e-commerce help decide which bodies get to be perceived as professional or capable or sexy,” writes Amanda Mull for The Atlantic[8] The more brands that dress bigger bodies in quality, fashion-forward clothing, the more these bodies can be taken seriously. As Waldman puts it: “How you are allowed to present yourself to the world – how you’re allowed to tell the world who you are – absolutely affects your professionalism and your chances of being promoted.” [9] Thankfully, brands like Henning are working to overthrow the outdated pecking order by allowing plus-size women to project power, competence, and sophistication.

henningnyc.com

 

Sources
1.'Report: racial and age diversity rise, size and gender representation fall at New York Fashion Week Fall 2019', The Fashion Spot (February 2019)
2. 'Better late than never? The fashion industry is finally embracing the plus-size woman', Forbes (May 2018) 
3. 'Lauren Chan couldn’t find the perfect plus-size workwear, so she designed it herself', Refinery29 (June 2019)
4. 'Henning is bringing size-inclusivity to your 9-to-5 wardrobe', Vogue (August 2019)
5. 'Meet Henning, the plus-size workwear brand from former fashion editor Lauren Chan', Fashionista (September 2019) 
6. 'Size, by the numbers', Racked (June 2018)
7. 'Plus-size is the new average in America', Apparel (March 2019)
8. 'A sea change in plus-size fashion', The Atlantic (March 2019)
9. Interview with Alexandra Waldman conducted by the author
10. 'Eloquii's #ModelThat campaign challenges unconscious weight bias at work', Forbes (May 2019)
11. ‘The grim reality of being a female job seeker’, Fairygodboss (2017) 
12. ‘Enclothed cognition’, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (February 2012)
13. 'The plus-size industry is on the verge of a revolution', Business Insider (June 2014)
14. '71 percent of TODAY viewers say clothing sizes don't make sense', Today (April 2018)
15. 'Plus-size shopper attitudes to plus-size clothing offerings in the apparel industry in the United States as of 2017', Statista (February 2017)
 

Featured Experts

Alexandra Waldman

Alexandra Waldman is the creative director and co-founder of Universal Standard, a fashion brand based in New York that carries high-quality, contemporary staples for women in sizes 00 to 40.

Author

Erin Levitsky is based in Toronto, where she is equal parts writer and photography curator. Her background is in media theory, technoculture, and photography history and preservation.

Canvas8