An Interview with Nicolette Mason, Marie Claire's New "Big Girl in a Skinny World"

This magazine just got even more fabulous.

Dec 22, 2011 at 3:00pm | Leave a comment

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In 2009, Marie Claire took a bit of a leap for a big-deal ladies' magazine, and created a specifically plus-size monthly fashion column entitled "Big Girl in a Skinny World." It was a move I appreciated, as usually fashion-focused magazines tend to ignore plus sizes, or only acknowledge them infrequently.

More recently, the ever-fabulous Nicolette Mason, a longtime fashion blogger, plus-size stylist, hyper-talented photographer and devastatingly gorgeous lady, has taken over "Big Girl in a Skinny World" as of the October issue. I talked to her about it, and about the challenges of plus size clothing in general.

Lesley: Tell me about taking over the Marie Claire gig. How did that come about?

Nicolette: So, getting in with Marie Claire was actually a bit of a surprise to me. I got an e-mail from their Deputy Editor in the middle of June that they were working on a project and wanted me to come in for a meeting. I had little context, but I had been spending the majority of the last year trying to develop my print and writing portfolio, so I obliged and hustled up to Hearst a few days later.

Once I was there, it turned out that they found me through my blog, after one of their staffers distributed the link to his colleagues! After a couple of meetings and writing samples, I was asked to write for their "Big Girl in a Skinny World" column.

Wow, that had to be a good feeling, knowing that they already dug your work coming in!

To be honest, I wasn't sure what I was being brought in for, but I felt incredibly reassured once I sat down and was told one of their staffers was "a fan" -- something that is still strange for me to say out loud!

"Big Girl in a Skinny World" has been the site of some controversy. Were you at all concerned about that, coming in?

Even on xoJane, there are worlds between each writers opinions -- and I think that's something to be celebrated. I adamantly and fiercely support the freedom of speech -- and with any group as diverse as an entire staff of writers and editors, there's going to be enormous differences of opinion. I've made it pretty clear, and I hope it translates into the column, that I'm absolutely not interested in being the voice of any kind of body-shaming, and my editors have completely been behind me on that.

That's really good to hear, for sure. What are your feelings on plus size "rules" in general -- like women over a certain size should never wear horizontal stripes, or bodycon dresses, etc.?

I think the rules are ridiculous! I've been contributing for Refinery29.com for about the last year, and one of the most popular pieces I've done for them was about breaking the rules of plus-size fashion. In my opinion, women should feel empowered to wear whatever they want to wear. From a fashion point of view, I think those rules are more of a suggestion - and really a matter of proportion, layering, balance, etc.... Like, I would never say "plus size women can't wear spandex" -- but I would say that head-to-toe spandex on anyone of any size might look questionable.

Agreed! I feel like plus sized women get rules imposed on them as a matter of course, simply because their options are so much more limited. Like, you can't wear something that doesn't exist in a size that fits you.

Right, and I think the issue of what's "flattering" is something that's consistently imposed on women of size, where as a general rule, it's not really a conversation in high end, designer fashion. I mean, are harem pants or jodhpurs flattering on anyone? Are they? No.

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So, speaking as Marie Claire's plus size authority, give me a rundown of plus fashion these days. What seems to be the big trends? Also, is it me, or does plus fashion tend to lag behind non-plus stuff in terms of what is popularly available?

Plus size trends always lag behind by a couple of seasons. Most retailers are too scared of taking the risk on jumping on trends at the same time as mainstream fashion, probably because of those same "rules" that have been imposed on women for so long.

THAT IS SUPER ANNOYING. But I'm glad I'm not imagining it.

It's so annoying! I have noticed a handful of retailers and designers going against that, though. ASOS Curve is doing a tremendous job, in my opinion, and there are also contemporary labels like T-Bags LA, Amanda Uprichard, and Phoebe Couture by Kay Unger that don't differentiate design or aesthetic between their "straight size" and plus size collections. As for indie designers, I love what Damn You Alexis and Carmakoma are doing. Then, when it comes to workwear, I really respect that companies like Rafaella and Talbots offer virtually the same styles in sizes 2-22.

That said, I'd love to see more mainstream, contemporary designers and high street brands offering the looks from their core collection in plus sizes. I'm still dying for the release of a Marc Jacobs plus-size line (though Marc Jacobs Collection does go up to a 16 in most styles!) that Robert Duffy teased us with over a year ago.

I feel like a lot of companies in the UK and Europe [Also Australia, which apparently I think is in Europe ] have really actively gotten on the plus train in the past couple years, and they tend to be a lot more.... fashionable. ASOS Curve, which I am obsessed with, is the most obvious. Why do you think US shops have been slower to catch up?

I don't know. I thought American companies liked to make money, but I guess not. Real talk: The plus-size apparel industry is a $17 billion market. 

That's a lot of money, damn. It just seems weird to me: The US gets all this heat for being so fat, and you'd think the one possible upside would be that we'd have the most awesome plus size clothes. But no.  

Obviously there's still a huge stigma against "plus size" in fashion, but I do think that's changing.

I hope so. What item are you dying to get your hands on right now? (I'm sort of plumbing you for fatshion post ideas.)

I'm totally into that! Resource sharing! I've been hunting down the perfect denim/chambray shirt for a long time and finally found one that I love -- only problem is it comes with a $315 price tag! It's from Marina Rinaldi and fits so well. It might be a self-gift situation.

Ahhhhh Marina Rinaldi!

Seriously -- the Marina Rinaldi collection is incredible. I think it gets overlooked, but the quality is so outstanding, and the pieces are gorgeous. It's funny, I have no qualms forking over cash for big-ticket accessories, but I think full-figured women have kind of been conditioned to buy inexpensive clothes.

They really have. I think of it as connected to diet culture: If you're thinking of your current body as a temporary thing, why spend money on clothing it? The idea that only a slender body is worth investing in and treating well is problematic for lots of reasons, obviously.

I think part of it can be attributed to diet culture, but I think the majority of it is that for most women (especially in more remote parts of the US), the only options for them to buy clothes tend to be at big-box stores like KMart and Wal-Mart. It's hard to make the jump to buying investment pieces if you're used to spending $20 on a dress.

And then the other reason, in my opinion, is that the only place where full-figured women can consistently participate in mainstream, designer fashion is in the accessories department!

Truth. That's an excellent point about the limited resources. It IS difficult to reconcile spending $300 on a shirt when you've never spent more than $50.

Exactly. I think there's a major learning curve (really in the entire US market, but especially in niche markets like plus size fashion) in buying quality, long-lasting pieces. The American spending ethos is generally to buy the most that you can (and more) for the least amount of money.

So to close this out, can you give us a little bit of semi-universal style advice? I know so many women who want to dress a little more consciously and stylishly but don't know where to start. I'm asking you this question even though I hate it when people ask it of me! Sorry!

Haha! That's so open ended. I think there are a few points. The  first is to just WEAR WHAT YOU WANT. I feel like a broken record sometimes, but I think it's so much more important for a person to wear what they want, what they like, and what excites them. The confidence you get from wearing clothing you're HAPPY about wearing translates way more into your appearance than something you feel pressured or restricted into wearing because of "rules." 

So, "you do you," is a big part of my fashion-mantra.

And for people who are trying to define their style, there's nothing wrong with finding people (bloggers! celebrities! noble laureates!) who have style that you admire and creating moodboards based on what they would wear. My alter-ego is a very Dita von Teese inspired lady. (I don't actually have an alter-ego, but if I did, she would be a very Dita von Teese-inspired lady).

It's true! It's always useful to have a mentor. Even if they don't know they're your mentor.

I met Dita for 2 seconds at the premiere of "God Save My Shoes" and definitely told her I was in love with her... and then I died.

When you're not reading Nicolette's Marie Claire column, you can also check out her amazing blog.