the "brandy" factor
Fashion powerhouse Brandy Melville skyrocketed across the 2010s. But the way it conflates vintage style with the glorification of thinness will be its downfall.
Over the past few years, the Italian clothing store Brandy Melville has become notoriously controversial. From backlash for their questionable “One Size Fits All” sizing standards to allegations of racist, homophobic and fatphobic treatment towards employees, the brand’s identity and contentious history arguably work against their recent efforts in promoting mainstream body positivity.
Through the brand’s consistent glorification of unrealistic body types, they are not only selling clothes— they're also selling a lifestyle that insists that teen girls will only be happy if they are a size XS.
One often underlooked way that Brandy profits from an aesthetic centered around skinniness is their underlying use of nostalgia— it is the cornerstone of Brandy Melville's identity. If you take a scroll through the store’s Instagram or website, you can see that the style of most of their garments mimic trendy clothes from the 1990s and early 2000s, featuring sweater vests, camisoles, and vintage t-shirts. The way Brandy styles their clothes is identical to what a girl in a 90s teen rom-com would wear, and that’s precisely the problem.
Looking back at culture in the 1990s and early 2000s, especially in teen movies and fashion trends, there was an extreme fixation on body type. Beyond the fact that women and girls were catcalled and itemized for their bodies, films like She’s All That and Clueless featured characters who were internally misogynistic and celebrated for their slim figures. The fashion and modeling industries at the time were even worse — within the runway world, there was little to no representation of realistic body types. The glorification of an almost sickly looking body was promoted through emblematic heroin-chic models of the time, like Kate Moss, who once said “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” Through Brandy Melville’s active promotion of antiquated styles they, by proxy, normalize the decade's unhealthy beauty standards.
Some, like Brandy Melville employee Emily Le, however, believe that “Brandy Melville’s intentions aren’t to promote unrealistic and harmful body standards of the 1990s,” and the store’s “one size” tags are “extremely misleading and have people believe the store’s only size were small.”
Perhaps, then, it is not the store itself that subjugates young girls for profit; instead, it is the current relevance of 1990s fashion and its exacting standards that is the real issue.
Nevertheless, trends of the past resurface quite frequently, though many of which have not been so body-focused compared to the 1990s and 2000s. We must remember that just because a vintage or aesthetic may look cool does not mean it is necessarily fit to be something popularized today. While feeling nostalgic about 10 Things I Hate About You or low -rise jeans is completely fine, remember that, like today, times then were not utopic, fair, or necessarily inclusive for all.
Brandy Melville’s issue with nostalgia is not that they use it in general but that they employ it to amplify the trendiness of their already-exclusive sizing, allowing them to use the current prevalence of the 1990s and 2000s as a way to avoid embracing inclusivity. What is most puzzling about Brandy Melville and their toxic relationship with sizing is that if they really wanted to be inclusive, they could. Sure, they would have to reevaluate how their manufacturing systems would essentially function, but stylistically, the brand would not have to change very much about their products. So why do they resist change?
This question deserves an article of its own, but Brandy’s exclusivity possibly reflects the unfortunate lack of body positivity in Europe, specifically Italy and France. Despite today’s modern culture generally becoming a more welcoming space for diversity in body size, race, and religion, European fashion has not been as quick to embrace inclusivity compared to the United States. To exemplify, iconic creative director of Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld, was quite open about his disinterest in using more substantial models, saying to German magazine Focus, “No wants to see curvy women.”
This mindset is genuinely toxic. At its core, humanity is unquestionably diverse. When a clothing brand does not represent that, whether through only hiring white models or exclusive sizing, they are creating and emphasizing a reality that does not accurately depict our world.
This aspect of Brandy Melville is especially worrying, as their audience mainly consists of impressionable young girls. Speaking to this, editor of Our Era Magazine, Lucy Ivey, reminisces on how she went to the store and could not find any jeans that fit her, which made her “hate herself.” This hate has the power to linger and transform into something limiting future self-confidence. Their outdated sizing methods can traumatize girls, potentially leaving them more significant issues regarding confidence and body dysmorphia as adults.
You do not have to be skinny to be fashionable. If you do not fit in a size XS, this does not mean you are not fashion-forward. Brandy Melville reverts this idea with their “One Size Fits All” policies, preventing us from reaching a world where no matter what size, all people feel represented. ✰
Eloise Moulton is the Fashion Editor at HALOSCOPE. She also is a freelance writer and stylist who's worked in the fashion industry for many years. Her favorite things include Ashley Williams hair clips, comfy sweaters, The Girls by Emma Cline, and Studio Ghibli's movie Spirited Away. You're most likely to find her sifting through comic books at her favorite comic book store, Forbidden Planet, scouring for the perfect babydoll dress at L train vintage, or watch RuPaul's Drag Race with her dog Peanut. You can follow Eloise on Instagram @eloisemoulton.