Any plus-size person will tell you shopping can be a challenge. The fashion world is slowly waking up to the idea that someone can be above a size 12—a group that includes 67 percent of American women—and still want to wear cute, on-trend clothes. Still, most options are only available online, not in physical stores, and not everyone wants to fork over their credit card repeatedly just to run the gauntlet of finding an outfit that looks as good in person as it does on the screen.
What I'm saying is that if ever there was a ready market for an online clothing subscription service, it's us, the curvy girls of America. And since I tried (and liked) the unlimited program from Rent the Runway, I was excited to see if plus-size-focused Gwynnie Bee would live up to expectations. Did it? Not exactly.
The main drawback about Rent the Runway's program is that they have limited options above a size 12 (mostly because you can't sell what doesn't exist) and because what clothing is available is too formal to work into a regular rotation (though I did enjoy swanning into the office in Monique Lhuillier cocktail dresses).
Gwynnie Bee focuses on the kinds of clothes you wear everyday—sheath dresses, button-up blouses, blazers, even jeans. The range is basically, weekend wear, office wear and date night dresses—nothing too formal. They offer packages of one, two or three pieces at home at a time, ranging from $49 to $95 a month. (I took advantage of a free trial month with three pieces, and then paid $69 for a month with two out at a time.) The way the system works is you add several pieces from the site into your closet, and then it randomly selects what to send from your choices. When you're ready to return, you notify the site of a shipment, put the clothes in the supplied bag (postage included) and drop it in the mail. Or, if you love something, you can buy it, usually for significantly under the retail price.
At first I loved everything about this. There were more hits than misses, and I quickly figured out that you could notify a return as soon as a shipment arrived to cut down on the processing time between them working on your next box of outfits and it arriving, which is about a week. I didn't love everything that came my way, but with three options at a time it didn't seem to matter. It was like carte blanche to try things I'd never typically consider in a store, like a boho printed dress that I was shocked to love. I'd wear questionable items once, just to see if they grew on me, or just try them on and send them straight back. The site will also let you input what size you wear in common brands to figure out what size you should buy—my size suggestions ranged all over the place, but they were generally spot-on.
I fell in love with an asymmetrical cotton striped dress, which I bought for the bargain price of $30, and with a flirty floral cocktail dress that played up my assets and had a layer of crinoline to make the skirt full and fun—that one I snapped up for less than $90. Gwynnie Bee works with emerging designers to offer exclusive designs in larger size ranges—I was a big fan of a dress by Corey. I loved having a new mix of dresses, skirts and tops to wear to the office every week—it really did feel like an endless wardrobe, and I loved not pulling the same handful of outfits out of my closet week after week.
Fairly soon, however, I struggled to find new options I wanted to bank into my online closet. I'm not a big fan of synthetic fabrics—they cling in unflattering ways, and they do not play well with the Houston humidity—so I quickly learned to avoid certain brands. I also can't imagine why anyone would want to rent jeans, which have maybe a 10 percent chance of fitting all your measurements properly. I got bored with the sheer number of solid-colored sheath dresses and waterfall cardigans—seriously, yawn. An endless closet has less appeal when it's just the same stuff, over and over again. I'd find something special, only to see that it had been reserved by too many members and was unavailable.
Though the service picks what goes in your next shipment, users can mark certain pieces as priorities, but soon my priorities started to be ignored. I saved two adorable daytime dresses in the hopes of wearing one to my bridal shower; even with them marked a month in advance they never showed up. I wonder if other users were holding onto them, or if they'd all been purchased. I guess I'll never know. After two or three shipments where nothing really excited me, I knew my money would be better spent elsewhere.
I still sometimes browse the new arrivals on Gwynnie Bee (they send me a lot of emails) and I am tempted by a handful of pieces that would probably be great. I'm hopeful that a better buyer or stock management system will make the options worth joining up again. Until then, my actual closet will have to do.