The New Femininity

An Aesthetic Restoration in Fashion

“She was dressed in pure white, with a fluffiness of ruffles that became her. The draperies and fluttering things which she wore suited her rich, luxuriant beauty as a greater severity of line could not have done.”
         -Kate Chopin, The Awakening.

i. Romantic Details
ii. The Body as Fashion Accessory
iii. Twenty-First Century Opulence


For years, this site existed in a state of perpetual frustration with the fashion world. We celebrated plus-size models as living embodiments of the Classical ideal of beauty, but despaired at the clothing that they were asked to wear, which ranged from flowing formlessness to deadly dullness.

But mainstream fashion was hardly any better. Women’s wear in every size range consisted largely of redesigned men’s apparel, from incessant variations on the business suit, to jeans and slacks, to baggy exercise wear.

The exciting peasant/gypsy trend of a few seasons ago was the first sign of a renaissance after the long, dark age of modernity. However, despite the popularity of this “romantic revival” with the public, the fashion élites resented it—and resisted it—and buried it under a resurgent tide of boring basics.

But even as the romantic rage was suppressed, the idea behind it survived—the idea of reintroducing femininity into a world that had all but forgotten it. And today, evidence of this “New Femininity” in fashion is everywhere—blooming right before our eyes, like an orchard of cherry blossoms.

The phrase, “New Femininity,” (which is what the revival of distaff wardrobe is often called,) is particularly intriguing, because it is as much a paradox as was MODE’s famous slogan, “The New Shape in Fashion.” After all, the plus-size female figure was the acknowledged ideal of beauty in every century prior to the twentieth, and femininity was revered as the essence of womanly allure throughout human history. So how can these timeless ideals be considered “new”?

Well, in a very real sense, they are new—new, at least, to the majority of people living today. Entire generations have now grown up in a world that denies and rewrites the past. Much of the populace suffers from an induced state of cultural amnesia, and is unaware of its own heritage. The notion that a woman can be full-figured and beautiful is just as much of an unexpected discovery to the general public as is the idea that women’s apparel can be soft, and flowing, and ladylike, rather than boxy, and angular, and masculine.

Therefore, to a majority of the population, these eternal principles are actually…quite novel.

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Despite the fact that it harkens back to a time when the plus-size female figure was revered as the ideal of beauty, the New Femininty might never have impacted full-figure fashion at all, had it not coincided with an ongoing search, on the part of today’s plus-size models, for a “fashion of their own.”

And like so many developments in the world of plus-size modelling, this one originated with Barbara Brickner.

At the time that her test series with New York photographer Douglas B. hit the world of plus-size fashion with the force of a stray comet, most aficionados were well aware of Barbara’s work for MODE, and for countless commercial clients.

But these images were different.

They were new—but they were not “new” in the way that every straight-size designer’s runway concoctions are supposedly “new”—i.e., further retreads of minimalism, deconstruction, and androgyny.

These images were genuinely unique and original, because they exhibited a quality that had all but disappeared from the fashion world for as long as…well, for as long as poems had not rhymed, and buildings has resembled glass crates, and paintings had consisted of randomly-scattered clumps of paint.


They were…feminine.

But they were not feminine in the manner of a dowdy mother-in-law’s dress, or of something that you might buy at Talbot’s. They were daring, and youthful, and exciting, to a degree that was unprecedented in plus-size fashion.

So, while they were feminine (which is a timeless concept), they were also novel (and therefore, “new”) to our culture, a culture in which the very concept of femininity had been all but erased.

Hence, the New Femininity in “mainstream” fashion paralleled the introduction of femininity into the world of plus-size modelling.

And the results of the synthesis of these two developments are wondrous to behold, and do much to affirm fashion as an art form in its own right.


Because the soft fullness of a curvaceous figure represents the most feminine of body types, a discourse on the New Femininity inevitably becomes a treatise on to topic of, What Type of Clothing Suits Plus-Size Beauty Best?

The answer to this question revolves around three basic principles:

1. Romantic Details

Kate Chopin’s succinct fashion advice quoted at the top of this page remains as true today as it was when the author penned those famous words, nearly a century ago.

And yet, throughout the twentieth century, “ruffles, draperies, and fluttering things”—significantly, the very details that suit “rich, luxuriant beauty” best—all but disappeared from the world of fashion.

Why? There are many reasons, but the bottom line is that it reflected a desire on the part of the fashion élites to eliminate the notions of femininity, and of “rich, luxuriant beauty,” altogether.

And what did the fashion world offer in place of the romantic styles that it discarded? “Men’s suits,” “pencil skirts,” and similar fare.

The names of these outfits indicate just how unsuitable they are as women’s wear. “Men’s suits” are tailor-made for hard, muscular, masculine shapes, not for soft, feminine, curvaceous figures. And “pencil skirts” belong on individuals whose figures resembles pencils, not on voluptuous seductresses with sinful curves.

Fortunately, we are now seeing the re-emergence of romantic details in fashion. From frills and ruffles, to ribbons and waist-sashes, romance has finally returned to women’s apparel.

2. The Body as Fashion Accessory

What do full-figured women have that underweight women lack?

Curves, of course.

There could be no better indication of the media establishment’s conspiracy to suppress true, feminine beauty than the nonsensical (and highly suspect) fashion rules that it imposes on plus-size women—i.e., that they “skim over,” “cover up,” “disguise,” and “hide,” their curves.

Could the conspiracy to suppress true femininity find a more obvious means of expression? It is Orwellian doublethink at its worst.

And what is the result of following such rules? Plus-size women end up hiding their most attractive features.

Think about the implications of such a directive:

Hide what makes you beautiful.

Could anything be more insidious?

It would be like gagging the Mona Lisa to “cover up” her smile; or “skimming over” the Ode to Joy in Beethoven’s Ninth.

Not only should fashion work in harmony with feminine curves, but the greatest goal of fashion should be to function as a “frame for the female figure,” whereby it accentuates and draws attention to the beauty of the womanly curves, directing the eye towards the soft, natural contours of the womanly figure, just as a great frame leads the eye into the beauty of an exquisite painting.

3. Twenty-First Century Opulence

Just as a life-negating, minimalist aesthetic is tailor-made to suit emaciated, androgynous frames, so is a lush, opulent aesthetic ideally suited to adorn the lavish charms of the fuller female figure.

Long, cascating tresses arranged in captivating hairstyles, eye-popping cosmetics, and ornate accessories, are just three of the ways in which an opulent aesthetic can express itself in dress.

Let the waifs present themselves in a humble manner, if they like. They have much to be humble about. But wardrobe of a full-figured goddess should let the world know that she deserves to be worshipped as the deity she is.


Since Barbara Brickner’s Douglas B. test first appeared, we have seen the New Femininity revolutionize the straight-size fashion world. However—incomprehensibly—plus-size retailers have been slow to adopt this exciting development, despite the fact that these fashions are tailor-made to suit naturally full, feminine figures.

Nevertheless, a few plus-size models have produced test images exhibiting some or all of the characteristics of the New Femininity. And the results are simply breathtaking.


Here we see two more images from Barbara Brickner’s groundbreaking test. Note how harmoniously the dress embraces the contours of the model’s figure, and that said figure is not distorted by any unnecessary “shapewear.” This is a shining example of the “body as fashion accessory” principle, whereby the cut of the dress emphasizes the beauty of the model’s décolletage and shapely arms, and the exposed beauty of those features, in turn, heightens the attractions of the dress. (On an underweight frame, the dress would hang limply, without any shape or substance.) Note also the cord around the hips, which breaks up the verticality of the piece, and further emphasize’s what French Elle would approvingly term the model’s “guitar-shaped” figure. This example of masterful styling is by Samantha Weston.


Here are two gorgeous images featuring Valerie Lefkowitz. Not only do full-figured goddesses have lovely arms, but shapely legs as well—as sculptors have lovingly depicted in marble, throughout the ages. How delightful, therefore, to see styling in which the dresses terminate above the knee, in order to draw attention to the model’s curvaceous legs. Also, the close fit of the dresses emphasizes the model’s seductive, “guitar-shaped” figure, which in turn gives the dresses an appealing silhouette. Note the lovely romantic details here, such as the blossom in Valerie’s hair (complimenting the floral pattern in her dress), as well as the neckerchief that she is holding in one image, and the scarf that she has around her neck in the second.


The styling in this pair of images featuring Donna Simchowitz (Ford/PB) is remarkable in every detail. This is another shining example of the “body as fashion accessory” principle, but the elegance of the dress creates an impression that is chic, rather than vulgar. The lavish earrings, and the clasps on the straps of the dress, showcase the “twenty-first century opulence” that suits the lavish charms of plus-size beauty so well, and the scarf is a wonderfully romantic touch. Everything about these images says, “goddess”—including the use of a venerable wall-hanging (of the sort that one might find in a European castle) as a backdrop, rather than a bare white wall.


These styling masterpieces featuring Kristin (Wilhelmina) also say “Goddess,” but in a different way. Whereas Donna’s images are Classical, these are more exotic. This manner of styling emphasizes the organic nature of full-figured femininity, linking the beauty of plus-size models with the beauty of the natural world. Flowers in the hair are always a lovely touch, and the skirt and top have a tropical quality. That top invokes the “body as fashion accessory” principle, allowing the beauty of the model’s shoulders, arms, and décolletage to contribute to the attractiveness of the ensemble. The gilded, beaded necklace wrapped around the model’s bare neck is an eye-popping addition. And, as is the case in every one of these images, the longer the model’s tresses, the better.


Long, luxuriant tresses provide goddesses with many options that models with shorter hair lack. As we see in these images of Anna Shillinglaw (Wilhelmina), the hair can either cascade freely over bare shoulders, or be pinned and tumble down the model’s back. The effect in either case is intoxicating. The outfit here takes full advantage of the “body as fashion accessory” principle, framing the model’s décolletage, arms, and shoulders. But the ruffled skirt is what really gives the ensemble its romantic flair.


These images featuring Tracie Stern (Click/PB) and Victoria Lewis (Ford) reveal how a model can achieve a breathtaking look using delicate, feminine colours (such as pinks, baby-blues, and yellows) if she possesses a peaches-and-cream complexion, and flaxen hair. The hues in the wardrobe can either be gentle pastel shades, as in Victoria’s image, or can be more vibrant, as in Tracie’s. The results are stunning in both cases. The soft delicacy of the fabrics gives the ensembles a youthful quality. And all of the pieces work in harmony with the models’ figures, integrating their womanly curves into the overall look. The styling in Tracie’s image is by Samantha Weston.


Earrings are perhaps the most gorgeous accessories that a goddess can possess (apart from her own lavish curves), and they provide her with a fine opportunity to exhibit the “twenty-first century opulence” that perfectly compliments her own rich, luxuriant beauty. The image on the left, featuring Ljubenka (Ford), is a truly remarkable headshot in every detail. The earring itself—an authentically Classical disc-and-pendant style—is one of the loveliest we have ever seen. Note how the model’s long, luxuriant tresses draw attention to it, framing it beautifully. The lipstick also contributes to the “posh” look. In the image on the right, showing Kate, the extravagance of the earring harmonizes with the model’s romantic tresses and her darkly passionate gaze. The more artistic the earrings, the more they underscore a goddess’s own identity as a living work of art.


Opulent accessories need not be pricey, merely lavish. Note how the colour-cooridnated beaded necklaces in these images of Liis and Kristin transform a casual look into something far more exotic, and enticing. Liis’s image benefits from the romantic top, which allows the model’s bare shoulders to serve as appealing fashion accessories. And, as is true of most of the ensembles featured on this page, this look serves both casual and semi-formal purposes. Kristin’s outfit could be classy as well, if, instead of dungarees, the model were wearing an attractive skirt.


These images of Maiysha and Lara Johnson (Ford) perfectly illustrate how wardrobe can function as a “frame for the feminine figure.” Maiysha’s romantic, frilled top draws the attention to her décolletage, but does so in a way that is still tasteful. And this “framing” style works for beautifully for Lara, whose dress is very demure, but at the same time, offers a subtle hint of the model’s figure. Note also that Lara’s hairstyle, although short, still possesses a touch of fairytale curl.

Here, Barbara Brickner shows off another shining example of the “body as fashion accessory” principle, which is even more persuasive because the model’s figure is so luxuriously proportioned. The dress guides the eye along the model’s graceful curves, effectively framing her shapely arms and generous décolletage, This item also indicates the particular attractions of dresses made from soft, light fabrics, which swirl around the figure like mist, both revealing and intimating the contours beneath.


“The New Femininity meets MODE” could be the caption accompanying this ensemble, modelled by Wilhelmina L.A.’s exciting young star, Kelsey O. These images give us a sense of the kinds of layouts that MODE would be producing today, if it were still in print, and if it had adhered to its original vision. The skirt is very feminine, with romantic frills, and although Kelsey’s top and accessories are more contemporary, they still possess a girlish quality, and successfully harmonize with the skirt. And incidentally, the tropical background evokes the spirit of the Bahamas, giving the images the pleasurable vacation mood that distinguished the most memorable issues of MODE.


This romantic dress provides us with a stunning example of how timeless styles, such as the flowing “wet drapery” that adorns so many goddesses in the great artworks of the past, can be updated for the present day, and retain its original allure. This dress effectively frames Kelsey’s curvaceous arms and soft shoulders—features which artists venerated in masterpieces throughout the ages. The “body as fashion accessory” principle is perfectly realized here; however, in an interesting variation, rather than stressing the model’s décolletage per se, this style directs the eye to the shoulder area, which is an especially gorgeous feature for plus-size models, free as they are of the jutting clavicles possessed by their anorexic counterparts. Note the attractive floral motif.


Although this is not a styling point per se, a significant aspect of the “New Femininity” is the renewed appreciation of what, in other times, were dubbed fair features—i.e., a peaches-and-cream complexion, light-coloured eyes, and blonde hair. These are the traits that poets and painters regarded as the epitome of feminine beauty throughout the ages, the “plump and pink and flaxen attributes” (to use the words of Charlotte Brontë) that distinguish the most irresistible vixens in Western literature, such as Ginevra Fanshawe, Georgiana Reed, and Adèle Ratignolle. Here we see how those qualities characterize the entrancing allure of two contemporary vixens, Valerie Lefkowitz and Charlotte Coyle. Valerie’s eyes are sapphire-blue, while Charlotte’s are the blue-green of the sea, and Valerie’s blonde tresses arrange themselves into fairytale curls, while Charlotte’s tumble over her shoulders in thick masses of spun gold, but both models richly deserve the epithet “fair.”


Plus-size beauty is lush and sumptuous, and it deserves ornamentation that is correspondingly regal. In these two images of Liis, we see how the glamorous fullness of the model’s facial features is enhanced by such extravagant accessories. The necklace on the left and the exotic headdress on the right epitomizes the “twenty-first century opulence” that befits such a gorgeous model, testifying to her love of luxury. “New Femininity” styling is an expression of a state of mind, and such lavish accessories reflect the captivating vanity that plus-size goddesses rightly possess, their supreme confidence in their own allure.

This spectacular dress, modelled by the gorgeous Melissa Masi (size 14, Wilhelmina LA/Heffner), exemplifies perfection in a plus fit. It embraces the model’s figure snugly, lingering over every exquisite contour, and showing off the alluring beauty of her curvaceous midriff and womanly shape, but does not constrict the body in any way. The ornate, vintage style perfectly compliments the model’s own opulent attractions, and, with the 19th-century bridge backdrop, the result is a harmonious image of timeless beauty (photographed by Stanley Debas). The finest examples of the “New Femininity” in fashion always look best on genuinely curvaceous goddesses.

Next to a feminine dress, perhaps the most attractive garment that a goddess can wear is a romantic “Old World” blouse, such as the one modelled by Lisa Tam (Wilhelmina/Ford Chicago) in this image. What makes this particular item so appealing is its very gentle floral pattern, and the delicate ruffles around the edges of the sleeves and the buttons. But even more important to the success of the look is the way in which the model wears the blouse. By unbuttoning the top and bottom buttons, she adds contemporary sexiness to this traditional design, with the bared midriff injecting an especially sensual element. Note also the well-chosen setting for the image—a rural environment, with greenery in the background. The overall effect is very natural and organic.

In this masterpiece of visual softness featuring Anjie (Ford, size 14), the outfit harmoniously compliments the model’s cherubic look—most evident in a complexion so fair, that it almost seems translucent, with just a whisper of colour at her cheeks. The white dress (attractively sleeveless) radiates reflected light, giving it an almost ethereal quality. The thick, rounded bracelets draw attention to the model’s curvaceous arm. The nail polish appears to be either nude, or the most delicate pink. The model’s blonde tresses are arranged in romantic waves, and cascade freely over her shoulders. Her graceful pose exhibits the soft fullness of her arms, and her expression is direct, but gentle rather than aggressive.

In these highly romantic pictures of Kailee O’Sullivan (Ford NY), the top is delicate and feminine, exhibiting generous décolletage (décolletage which is teasingly hidden by the edge of the image). The ensemble is a textbook example of the “body-as-fashion-accessory” principle, inasmuch as Kailee wears no necklace, because the fair canvas of her own person is the real fashion accessory. The gentle but intense sensuality of the image is achieved by the manner in which the top frames Kailee’s shoulders, focussing the attention on the softness of her figure, and on the fact that she exhibits no visible clavicle—a particular detail that poets throughout history have praised as betokening ideal feminine charm. And note how the top hangs very loosely on the model’s shoulders, adding to the allure, and demonstrating that eye-catching effects are achieved not just by what a model wears, but by how she wears it. Note also how colours in the image compliment each other perfectly, from Kailee’s sapphire-blue eyes, to her candy-pink lipgloss, to her pastel-yellow top, all balanced by the vibrant emerald green in the background.

Another styling gem from the aforementioned shoot presents Kailee in a dress that is alluringly cut to frame the model’s curvaceous figure. The daring neckline is particularly flattering for opulent décolletage. The print is a traditional rustic colour and pattern, and the way in which the red contrasts with the lush background shows why this design has been a favourite of the countryside for ages, defying all trends to become truly timeless. Only the shirt might have been an unnecessary touch, as the dress exhibits attractively delicate straps, which should have been visible. (And no photographer should ever crop a model’s shapely arms). The elegant natural environment provides the ideal backdrop for the sight of such a comely model, dressed in so feminine a manner. And Kailee’s fresh features perfectly harmonize with the look. She breathes with a flesh-and-blood reality, underscored by the slight flush that renders her fair complexion even more attractive. Although her wardrobe is exquisitely soft, the self-possession in the mode’s gaze betrays an irresistible touch of vanity.


In two of the finest examples ever created of the “body as fashion accessory” principle, models Kailee O’Sullivan and Candice Huffine showcase ideal intimates-and-swimwear options for plus-size goddess. Observe how the black lingerie plays up Kailee’s voluptuous charms, yet leaves the model’s generous waist and sensual curves along her side openly displayed. Candice similarly possesses luxurious curves along her side, which her swimsuit frames in an alluring manner. The close, tight fit of the garments helps to create the seductive effect, with Kailee’s bustier and Candice’s swimsuit gently pressing into their soft physiques. The ensembles attractively highlight the sensual swell of the models’ midsections, whether exposed, as in the left image, or covered, as in the right. Kailee’s figure is a tad richer, but Miss Huffine benefits from appealing accessories, like the thick, heavy bracelets. The models’ luxurious tresses, shown flowing over their bare shoulders, are styling assets in their own right. Kailee’s pose is more intimate and engaging, while Candice’s is wilder and more passionate, but both demeanours play up the seductiveness of the apparel. Nothing is more beautiful than an untoned feminine physique, and these outfits accentuate the luscious curves of these well-fed goddesses in the most attractive manner imaginable.

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These are just a few of the most outstanding examples of the New Femininity that plus-size models have created over the past several seasons. We hope to add more examples over time, so if you know of any styling masterpieces that should be added to this page, please let us know.

After a century of curve-o-phobic fads and thin-supremacist trends, plus-size goddesses finally have…“a fashion of their own.”

Timeless Beauty

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PAGE CREATED 2004.12.12