Most women have experienced that crushing disappointment when a pair of fabulous boots can’t be buckled over the calf or the sleeves of a delicious winter coat can’t slip over a sweater without cutting off circulation in the arms.
It’s not just about fashion brands thinking about designing beyond size 14. It’s not even that “plus-size” fashion is so often plastered with finicky details to “disguise” the figure when what most women want is a beautiful, chic silhouette.
Coat, £200, and boots, £159, Johnlewis. com
Fashion designer and blogger Erica Davies (pictured) launched her own brand to create clothes that fit women the way they wear them
This is a failure on the part of the High Street to think about how women actually wear the clothes we are sold. How we use them. How we like to put things in real bags instead of accepting fake pocket flaps as a style feature. As we will probably wear a sweater under our coats in the winter. And like normal women who exercise, go to work, support families and generally get by with our busy days, don’t necessarily have as slim calves as a 6ft 1in runway model and might need a heel with some weight if it – and we – are supposed to get through the day.
It was this very issue that prompted fashion editor, blogger, and author Erica Davies to share her despair with her 191,000 Instagram followers.
Coat, £220, and boots, £129, Johnlewis. com
“I was trying to find some knee length boots – I’ve seen all these beautiful Jimmy Choo and Victoria Beckham but I couldn’t find anything I liked on the high street. And when I found some, they wouldn’t close. If I’m a size 14 and have issues, what does that mean for a woman who’s 16 or 18 or 20?
Erica asked her followers, “Is it just me?” And the floodgates opened. Reader after reader shared tales of sobbing at the trauma of being cut out of a pair of too-tight boots in a store; or hating the humiliation of going shopping with friends and being sent to the “plus-size store” next door. The comments just kept coming.
coat, £280 and boots, £109, johnlewis.com; Dress, £265, wyselondon.com
It was the start of a journey that would see Erica create boots and coats for real women with the help of John Lewis – which is why she traveled from her home in Essex, where she lives with her husband and children aged 12, to me speaks and ten.
Erica’s designs continue to draw directly from that first “Is it just me?” Talking to their online community – what they all wanted to talk about was the gap between what the high street is producing and what many women want to buy.
So, armed with anecdotes and research, Erica put together a presentation and, bitingly between her teeth, approached John Lewis to tell them: This is what your customers want.
coat, £220 and boots, £109, john lewis.com; Trousers, £38, Riverisland. com
To their amazement, they agreed to try it. The result was last fall’s first collection of knee-length boots for John Lewis, which quickly sold out.
“I had a woman write to me that she bought five pairs because she was so excited that she could finally wear the stylish long boots she had been waiting for years,” Erica recalls.
Such was the success that this year there are 16 boot styles and a new collection of 12 Erica Davies coats inspired by the same source: real women whose bodies have been at the back of fashion’s mind for too long.
coat, £280, and boots, £169, johnlewis.com; Dress, £247.50, meandem.com
Erica took her favorite coats over the years – from vintage cocktail coats to chic wraps – and gave them a modern twist. The result is a collection that doesn’t fall into the plus-size category – they’re cut so you can wear them fitted or loose and style them your way.
“We don’t want to dictate sizing – some are oversized, some are slimmer, so it’s really a matter of trying them on and seeing what works for you,” says Erica. “It’s about giving people choices and also being aware of the practical aspects.”
That explains the signature silhouette of this collection – a raglan sleeve that curves over the shoulder to a wide ‘bracelet’ over the wrist. The chic, structured yet roomy cut allows the wearer plenty of room to layer – or slip elegantly over a classy dress without the risk of it being crushed.
Coat, £200, dress, £65, and boots, £169, Johnlewis. com
“I love the wristlet sleeve because it gives you additional styling options – you can wear it with a contrast color sweater or longer colored gloves,” says Erica.
“I love the Carrie Bradshaw thing of making a nice coat part of the evening outfit. But it’s also a coat that a mom can throw over her pajamas at the school run when she wants to feel a little more pulled together.”
Of course, in a livelihood crisis, it’s fair to ask whether a cocktail coat will be a top priority when shopping, and Erica acknowledges that these are investment coats rather than fast fashion, with price tags to match – they range from £180 to £280, with boots from £69, which are more accessible – although they look more expensive, particularly the tuxedo coat with satin lapels.
Coat, £220, dress, £65, and boots, £129, Johnlewis. com
“The idea was that you could treasure these coats and pass them on, but they will also be available for rent on John Lewis’ rentals site (rental.johnlewis.com), so if you’re having a party or wedding, you can enjoy them.”
Social media has allowed designers to speak directly to their customers — or at least those who are willing to admit that the customer may know best (Scamp & Dude and Heist are among labels to be congratulated for have joined this rich stream of inspiration ). And for Erica, that’s what makes her work so valuable.
“If I can be the middle person to find the gaps in the market, that’s an incredible place,” she says. “People judge fashion as frivolous, but it’s so important to women’s self-esteem. And if a reader can influence the creation of something they’ve never found before and feel great about it, that’s all I can ask.”
- The Erica Davies X John Lewis collection is available tomorrow.