Torrid: Hot Topic for heavy girls

Salon has a fascinating piece on Torrid, a growing chain of alterna-clothing stores for "XL-teens" (overweight kids, apparently mostly or all girls). This is the sister-store to Hot Topic, a wildly successful chain of mall-goth stores that aggregates head-shop wares, hipster tees, Nightmare Before Christmas tchotchkes, etc, and brings them from the Haight to the mall.

The social factors inherent in selling large-sized clothes to teens are really complicated (when a group of girls goes shopping together, do the skinny girls join their heavier friends at the Torrid?) and the article does a good job of turning them up, including a coda about whether a plus-size fashion botique encourages obesity ("You don't lose weight by tough love, whether from your mother or your local clothing store. It's a personal choice, and a difficult choice -- and if I can't do it for myself, I'm not going to do it for the Gap.")

For some girls, even one piece of clothing can mean the difference between enjoying a party and hiding in a corner, or not going at all. Erica Santiago, a 17-year-old with orange-streaked hair, giant rave pants, and zipper-pull earrings, was shopping recently in Torrid's Staten Island store. While fielding calls on her pink cellphone, Erica, who says she feels "really comfortable" with herself at about 185 pounds, described the thrill of finding a trendy bathing suit that fit. "Before, I wouldn't even dare try them on. I would just guess, get home, have them not fit, and then return them," she says, noting that those that did fit were hideous. If forced to go near the water, she'd wear a T-shirt over whatever abomination she'd settled for. At Torrid, however, she found a suit she loves, black with star-shaped studs near the neck. She's now done away with the coverups, she says. "I feel more confident -- really good. It feels great to be able to go to a pool party and actually wear a bathing suit." (Torrid also does big business at prom time and Halloween.)...

But here's the problem with shopping online -- and off -- for teens, though: For many of them, shopping is inherently, or at least ideally, a group event. "Girls especially are incredibly social about shopping," says Callender of Teenage Research. When they shop online, they miss potential hangout time with their friends. But when they shop in an actual store, one that's not wall-to-wall plus sizes, it sucks. "I typically avoid certain stores because the people that work or shop there make me feel uncomfortable, says Savannah Rios, 16, of Las Vegas (who wears size 14 to 16). "There have been a few times where I'll be at a store and I'll ask for my size and they give me a weird look and tell me they don't have it. It's frustrating." But at Torrid, she says, "You feel comfortable when you're in there because you don't have girls looking at you weird because you're not a size zero."

Sub/Ad-req'd Salon Link

Update: Megan sez, "I worked at Torrid for over a year from July of 03 to September of 04. From the time I started, I could tell they were trying to change the store. I had know it to be the perfect store for me, a plus sized girl into alternative types of dress. I could leave that store easily spending $200. It was a great alternative to lane bryant's, stuffy middle age clothing. As the time passed when I was working there, You could tell they were changing the style, saying they were trying to open the store to all women and girls, and that they would still have clothes for us alternative girls. This was a crock of shit. By the time I left, the sign and bags had changed to pink instead of the old black and red. The clothes were all pinks, turquoise and pastels. They had used hot topic's plus sized patrons to bring torrid to life, then tossed them to the way side once the store had taken off. The only problem with this was the fact that they alienated their base clientele, and were not bringing in enough "normal" people. We rarely made sales our quotas after the change. Now that torrid has changed, I once again struggle to find clothes I love, and have to settle with clothes I can stand."