Meet Marie Denee, plus-size fashion blogger and the founder of both The Curvy Fashionista and TCFStyle Expo. Read on to learn why she’s dedicated her career to the plus-size community. (Photos by Howell Designs Studio LLC/Courtesy of Marie Denee.)
Fashion has always been a part of my life. Once I started to fit into my mom’s clothes, I would play dress up. When she would go out or go to work, I’d put on her fancy dresses and try to put them back without her noticing. I also used to sketch clothing and women when I was around 11 or 12. That’s probably one of my earliest, fondest memories.
Growing up, Queen Latifah was one of my first icons. I remember thinking, “Oh, she kind of looks like me!” The same with Missy Elliot. Then, on a more personal level, my grandmother. She was always a size 16 or 18, but she would confidently walk around the house in a tank top and panties, and there was never any embarrassment about it. If I wasn’t able to find my size in a style I liked, she never said, “Oh well.” We’d make it ourselves. She taught me how to sew when I was a junior or senior in high school. So I always thought, “If you can’t find it, make it.”
I’m a Virgo, so how I dress is often based on my mood. But I don’t like to fuss over things: If I have to overthink it, I don’t wear it. I straddle the world of boho and rock and roll, but I like to look polished. What’s interesting is that as I inch closer to 40, it’s becoming more about comfort and what I want to communicate, rather than what’s popular or trendy. It’s more about how something makes me feel.
Sometimes I like to be little bit saucy or sexy, but if I’m not feeling that way, I may put on a dress that reflects that. Or something that helps pull that out of me. I have this yellow mini-dress, and it makes me feel sexy. When I put it on, I feel playful, flirty, bold, and unapologetic. Do I feel that way every day? No. It’s all about what’s going to help reflect and pull out the mood that I’m feeling, or help me come out of what I’m feeling.
For me, “plus size” was just how I described myself. That’s all it was: a descriptor. There was no equating it to self-worth. It was just like, “Oh, you think you’re big-boned. You’re healthy. You’re sturdy.” These are descriptions that we use to describe ourselves, especially in the black community. So, it never felt like a shame. It allowed me to find my own personal worth. And not attach it to my looks, but to my character and integrity.
When I was 13, I remember this boy saying, “Oh my god! You’re 150 pounds!” And I’m like, “And?” He tried to say it as this dig, and I was like, “You’re stating an objective fact. Is that supposed to hurt my feelings?” For me, it was so perplexing. It was so off-putting and hilarious in hindsight because I didn’t take offense. But I remember that being one of the earliest memories of me sticking out. Growing up as a military brat, you’re exposed to diversity and different cultures. So you end up finding the beauty in the differences rather than celebrating the homogeny.
We’ve been here since before the fashion industry found us. All of a sudden, the media is starting to talk about plus-size fashion, and they keep going to the same four movers and shakers within the community. But there are many more who have helped contribute to the growth and advancement of the community. I think it’s important to realize and recognize that a lot of the people who have helped champion this movement are women of color, and they often don’t make the news. It’s almost like women of color don’t exist. But this is a grassroots industry, and there are tons of women of color who have paved the way—even before myself. You don’t see them getting the same media coverage or PR. People aren’t always listening.
It sometimes feels like people are a little lazy, or it feels like they’re taking the easier way out. There’s so much to share and show. I wouldn’t have been here had it not been for different publications and different social media platforms that existed before me. And it’s always important to know where you came from in order to know where you’re going. A lot of times, people think, “Oh, we’ve just realized that plus-size fashion is cool.” But we’ve been cool.
The Curvy Fashionista
I started The Curvy Fashionista after I finished my BA in Marketing. I wanted to start a boutique and sharing my story was an opening to that. I found all these amazing brands featuring the latest trends and styles. That was the big thing ten years ago: current and trendy styles were missing. I lost my job on Friday the 13th in 2009, and my girlfriends around me knew what I wanted to do. They said, “Go, girl. Just go for it. Like just make it happen because it ain’t gonna happen any other way.” I just kind of went from there.
I launched the TCFStyle Expo to bring great plus-size brands offline because most of them weren’t accessible in person. Back in the ’90s or the 2000s, malls were the place to be. I wanted to create my own version of that. We have panel discussions, workshops, performances, and fashion shows. We’re now in our fourth year!