“Horny with excitement” is not a phrase that I had heard—just me?—until it came out of Aidy Bryant’s mouth when she, Tanya Taylor, and I sat down to talk dresses. Glamourhad arranged the meeting between the Saturday Night Live star and the New York City–based designer because Taylor had agreed to make Bryant a piece for an upcoming event. Why did Glamour get involved? No high-fashion designer had ever offered to make one in Bryant’s size (an 18) before. “There’s no conversation happening between plus-size women and designers,” she says. “The door is never open.” We are ready to change that, and Bryant is too.
Her frustrations with fashion are common among celebrities. Cases in point: Leslie Jones said, in a tweet that went viral in 2016, “It’s so funny how there are no designers wanting to help me with a premiere dress for [the Ghostbusters] movie. Hmm, that will change, and I remember everything.” (FYI, Christian Siriano ended up making her a gorgeous red number.) Melissa McCarthy revealed that no one would dress her for the 2012 Academy Awards, despite her asking five or six designers. Hell, even actress Bryce Dallas Howard, a size 6 (size 6, people!), said she had to buy her 2016 Golden Globes dress from Neiman Marcus.
Some stars have managed to get around the issue by using costume designers as stylists, since they are miraculously able to dress an array of sizes for TV and movies. (Bryant does so with Remy Pearce of SNL.) “I’ve never shown up to the set of SNL or Girlswithout having a million options for me to try on,” says Bryant, who appears in Lena Dunham’s series this season. “They don’t bat an eye at my body or how to dress me because they dress all kinds of bodies as costumers.” And while she always looks top-notch on SNL—highlights include her furry Lil’ Baby Aidy look, leather Twin Bed outfit, and Adele costumes—there are crickets when it comes to the red carpet.
For that, she and the SNL tailoring team often get crafty and sew two size-12 pieces together to make an outfit. But a sign of better times came at the 2016 Primetime Emmys, when she partnered with fast-fashion plus-size brand Eloquii to create a dress. “It was the first time that it wasn’t my stylist and me asking all the favors,” she says. “I actually got to make choices as opposed to having two options that are junk or junk-er.”
To keep Bryant’s momentum going, we asked Taylor to take the reins on the look that Bryant will wear for her January appearance on Late Night With Seth Meyers. It’s the first plus-size piece she’s ever made, and—fun fact!—it was modeled after the dress she created for Michelle Obama to wear to the 2016 White House holiday party. “We didn’t approach this any differently than we would with any other custom piece,” says Taylor. “The only difference was not intuitively knowing if the fit looked right before Aidy put it on.”
Seems simple enough. So why don’t designers make plus-size dresses more often? “Designers don’t want to take the effort to customize for bigger sizes,” says Taylor. “They don’t have their usual solution of lending a sample.” Let me explain: Most dresses you see celebs wearing on the red carpet aren’t in stores yet; they’re samples, fresh off the runway, made for an upcoming season in a size 2 only. Until a full size run of the style is shipped to stores the following season, that one dress serves as the piece used in photo shoots and for celebrities to wear to events.
Sometimes stylists dress clients who aren’t a size 2 in current-season dresses from department stores. But that “automatically takes me out of a circle of A-list quality that my peers have,” Bryant points out. And it also assumes retailers actually stock sizes above a 14, which many do not. “We would absolutely be willing to broaden our size range, but our retailers only buy up to size 12 from us,” says Taylor.
Designers who want to solve this issue—and dress the many fantastic actresses, and, you know, humans who are not a sample size—could produce samples in two sizes, say, a 2 and a 14, to make lending a plus-size garment easier. “That takes time, money, and energy,” says Siriano, who tackled this for spring. “You have to fully commit.” He also managed to land sizes above a 14 in stores. “It’s a major up-front cost,” he says. “To make a size run up to 16 could mean there’s $200,000 to $300,000 tied up in fabric alone. You could go out of business in one season if the pieces don’t sell!” The payoff: “We took a risk, and retailers bought up to size 18.”
And as a last-ditch effort, Bryant says, “there is never a time that I go to a photo shoot without bringing at least six options,” a lesson she learned from her worst experience. “I was at a magazine shoot for the new hires of SNL, and I remember getting there with Cecily [Strong] and Kate [McKinnon] and noticing that there were just three things on my rolling rack—each something like what an 80-year-old woman would wear to sing at a funeral. I was paralyzed.” Now she hauls separates from her own wardrobe to set, to work with what the stylist brings. “I shop almost exclusively online, from brands like Eloquii, ASOS, Elizabeth Suzann, or Rachel Comey, if one of their straight-size pieces has a little extra room,” she says.
Yes, Bryant does the legwork for beautiful outfits, but it’s also to set a good example for her fans. “Representation matters,” she says. “This takes a lot of planning, but to me, it’s worth the extra effort for the girls who are looking at my clothes on Instagram or tweeting me to ask what I wore in a sketch.” Oh, and it’s personal. “I know seeing bigger women looking great would have mattered to me when I was younger—that’s why I try not to wear a black dress every day,” she says. “I feel for the girl I was, wanting to wear cool clothes but only being able to find retro gowns, full-on animal-print craziness, or sacks. It was transformative for me to see girls who looked like me and were killing it. I realized I didn’t have to dress like a clown; I could dress cool.”
Now what? First, Bryant plans to take this dress to the Meyers’ stage, and then “wearing it on repeat is a big part of my plan,” she says, laughing. But seriously, “I do feel like a door is opening. There’s been hesitation for me to ask to do custom work with designers, but now it feels doable. And I’m motivated because this dress has a level of quality that is missing from plus-size clothing. I feel unapologetic when I wear it. It sounds hokey, but it says, ‘I’m worth it.’ ”
So designers, get on board! Bryant’s final message for you: “Either you’re for inclusiveness and diversity, or you’re against it,” she says. “And being passive means you’re against it.”
Update: Taylor gave us an exciting update following the publication of this story. “I was so excited to work on this project with Aidy and the Glamour team. It was such an incredible experience and it only strengthened our desire to move into the space. To coincide, we’re thrilled to announce that we will be launching select styles in plus size with our Pre-Fall collection.”