The Ethics of Only Selling Clothes for the Very Thin

Remember that great scene in Mean Girls where the Plastics are prom dress shopping for Regina George at a store called 1,3,5? Regina’s trying on a dress in a 5 and it won’t zip up, so they ask for the dress one size larger and the saleslady dismisses them with, “We only carry sizes one, three, and five. You could try Sears.”

Well, what was hilarious ten years ago is now all too real: the coastal and web sensation Brandy Melville only sells clothes in XS and S. Their thing, honest to God, is “one size fits most.” Laura Bradley, an intern at Slate, disapproves.

A store has the right to sell to whomever it pleases, and Brandy Melville certainly has the right to only make clothes for the select few to whom every other store in the country already caters. But in the words of my mother and probably yours, “Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.”

Okay. But. Capitalism?

I mean, there’s a market here, and it’s being satisfied. According to a recent write-up on Racked, the chain originated in Italy 20 years ago and made its US debut in California in 2009. It has gotten increasingly popular through word-of-mouth, both online and IRL.

“This is the easiest place to shop,” one shopper enthuses, echoing a sentiment that’s repeated again and again. Why? Because almost everything comes in exactly one size. “You can pick and choose what you want,” Maddie says. “It makes it easier to decide if it looks good because you can’t get another size to try. You just ignore it.”

While some pieces, like a $28 sweatshirt with a square of floral print or a $21 deep green pocket tee, are explicitly labeled (the sweatshirt only comes in XS, the tee only in small), most just say “one size.” A small selection of the more fitted bottoms have two or three size options.

“It’s really easy to shop in there,” says Caroline Hickey, a 17-year-old high school senior who took the train in from Long Island to go shopping with a friend. “You can just pick something up and not look for a size, but it kind of sucks if it doesn’t fit you. You don’t have another option even if you like the shirt.”

The store, in other words, trades on exclusivity. (And on its reputation as “easy” — either something fits or it doesn’t, and if it doesn’t, you move on! Paradox of Choice, solved.) People saying it’s not nice for a popular brand not to include clothes for the chubbier among us are missing the point. Maybe country clubs should stop serving only the rich out of a sense of fairness, but if the economic model works for them, and makes the people who manage to get past the fence feel great, why on earth would they stop?

Meanwhile, at least the store is helping launch some (thin) young women’s careers:

“I love working there because not only do I get paid for shooting photos for the Instagram, I also get to share my ideas on the clothes,” she says. “I wear Brandy Melville clothing all the time, and I think that’s one of the reasons why they hired me. They want feedback from their customers and people who have been shopping at Brandy for a while.”

Some of the older girls, like 24-year-old Alex Centomo, have used their work with Brandy as a career stepping stone. In March of 2013, she was working at the brand’s store in Montreal while studying at Concordia University when she started helping out with social media with her friend Catherine Belle. Their photos on the Brandy Melville Canada Instagram piqued the interest of the U.S. team.

“They really loved the long hair look,” she says. “They thought that was really cool and beachy and different. They started sending us stuff and reposting our pictures a lot. They were like, ‘Oh, if you could take a bunch of pictures in this clothing, we would love to promote you more.’ It turned into something way bigger than I could have imagined.”

That something bigger is a burgeoning YouTube career. Her full-time job has become building her own channel, which currently boasts almost 80,000 subscribers, while also interacting with her 195,000 Instagram followers. “Brandy definitely got me started,” she says.

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