Plus-size style maven Nicolette Mason is queering fashion with new dress line

On Friday a new dress collection by blogger Nicolette Mason hits the market, via leading plus-size brand Addition Elle. Consumers may be familiar with Addition Elle’s “I Am Size Sexy” campaign, which helped rocket supermodel Ashley Graham (of the historic Sports Illustrated cover) to stardom. As one of the largest and oldest plus-size fashion brands in North America, Addition Elle is riding the sea change of fashion’s increasing inclusion of diverse body types—and many of its models are slowly gaining entrance into a larger beauty industry that previously slammed its doors in the face of the body positivity movement. 

But even in this corner of the fashion world carved out by otherness, Nicolette Mason stands out. The 29-year-old’s tattoos, often changing hair (sometimes two-tone, sometimes pink), and girly-yet-punk style have helped her gather hundreds of thousands of fans online. With 109,000 followers on Instagram, more than 39,000 Likes on Facebook, and 24,000 Twitter followers in addition to her popular blog and a four-year-old column at Marie Claire (where she is a contributing editor), Mason is queen of her style empire. 

Courtesy of Addition Elle

What makes Mason’s success all the more exciting is the fact that she’s been out about her sexuality from the very start. Mason, who married her wife Ali Talan in a much-blogged-about Brooklyn ceremony last year, imbues a proudly queer femme sensibility into all of her work. It’s a certain edge to her style—a cute toughness embedded in the fabric of her retro-influenced Addition Elle dress collection, a distinctly femme line where each piece is named for one of Mason’s friends. The Jesse dress is named for Jesse Lackowitz Crozier, a stylish queer from the menswear label Outlier; the Janet dress is, of course, named for Mason’s famous fellow Marie Claire editor (and transgender icon) Janet Mock.

Courtesy of Addition Elle

Mason’s style supremacy is inextricably linked to her gayness, size, culture, and relationships. Hers is a career realm that only seems possible in 2016, when social media has driven demand from the bottom up by consumers who not only want to see themselves represented, but also crave someone real to walk virtually alongside them on their lifestyle paths. 

The Daily Dot went to see Mason’s new dress collection in person this month at the Row NYC hotel. Immediately upon entering the room, her attention to detail popped: Mason’s heels matched the Champagne, which in turn matched the flowers, which matched her acrylic nails, which matched the macarons. Everything in a shade of lavender-tinged pink, delicately femme.

Heading straight to the rack of dresses, Mason was all business. As she caressed the fabric of her creations, she talked about the collaborative design process that built the collection over an endless series of emails and images: “There were points when I think the designers wanted to strangle me a little because I was being so specific about my design needs, but it was a lot of fun,” she said.

Each of the seven occasion dresses (sizes 14-24) are high femme, with lace elements and pink and retro 1950s-inspired cuts. The bigger purpose is simply to look cute, but Mason also took care to fill in some gaps that plus-size women often encounter with certain dress styles—literally. The shirt dress has a flat-laid button strip down the center that’s designed never to pull apart in that annoying “shirt gap” way—one that so often frustrates busty fashionistas. The dresses are designed to be easy; specifically, to fit into a multi-hyphenated, busy lifestyle like Mason’s own.

Courtesy of Addition Elle

“Women have a lot to do. In our generation, we have to wear so many hats in order to make our careers work,” Mason said, explaining that each piece was designed to be travel-friendly and flattering without a bunch of special undergarments. “All of the dresses I wanted to be wearable with just a bra. You don’t need a slip or shapewear, the body con dress does it for you because this fabric is nice and heavy. The dress should just enter your life and be easy.”

The ethos behind this particular collection is work-to-weekend; the wearer should be able to work any of the pieces at a client meeting, then take it straight to happy hour and out on the dance floor. It makes sense that this would be Mason’s approach to clothing, given her own career as blogger-editor-model-designer-influencer.

Sitting in the luxurious hotel suite, Mason described her self-made career. 

“I started blogging before that was a thing,” she said. 

A graduate of the Parsons School of Design, Mason initially went to work for a brand strategy firm. When she started her blog in about 2008, it was similar to “a really primitive Pinterest” and mostly served as a place for her to assemble her own style inspirations. But the timing couldn’t have been more perfect: With the people issuing a growing clamor for plus-size representation, Mason’s blog quickly entered the emerging canon—and stayed there. 

“Social media has given women a platform,” said Mason, “To say that they matter, to tell brands that they want to shop! Being a blogger and an influencer has fed into that—it helps give a platform to very frustrated consumers who, for years, have been feeling left out of the conversation.”

Soon after starting to blog, Mason was asked to write for Italian Vogue’s newly launched Vcurvy section in 2010. After what she describes as an exhausting year of working a day job while running to cover fashion shows and events several nights a week, Mason quit her main gig and gave herself a year to make it on her own. Time was almost up when, 10 months into that year, Marie Claire offered her a position as contributing editor. In 2012, her column “Big Girl in a Skinny World” helped usher in a new era of mainstream inclusion of plus-size voices in fashion.

The rise of plus-size influencers like Mason—along with bloggers GabiFresh and Nadia Aboulhosn, models like the aforementioned Graham, Candice Huffine, and Marquita Pring—corresponds to the expansion of brands like Addition Elle. The bulk of the company’s business used to come from its 200 retail stores in Canada. But according to Addition Elle’s social media guru Jen Patterson, the Internet has radically transformed the market.

“Now, with the Internet and all these amazing bloggers that we’re working with, it makes for more international visibility,” Patterson told the Daily Dot during the New York collection preview. “E-commerce is really the go-to spot for plus-size fashion now.”

Does that mean Addition Elle stores are coming stateside?

“We have a lot of exciting plans for the future. We are definitely looking ahead at possibilities,” she said, before issuing a key caveat: “The U.S. is expensive and our Canadian dollar isn’t worth much.”

For now, the plus-size fashion explosion lives online. And while that makes careers like Mason’s possible, it also has its drawbacks. The anonymity of online expression has emboldened fat-shamers and misogynists, who not only harass many of plus-size fashion’s superstars in comment sections, but also create entire trolling campaigns like Thinner Beauty (where plus-size beauties are Photoshopped to look thin) and Overweight Haters Ltd. (which targeted women in the U.K. by handing out offensive fat-shaming cards).

Mason said that she’s been lucky to avoid this ire for the most part. But in its place is something even more hurtful: homophobes.

“Honestly I’m very lucky in that the percentage of mean, hateful comments I get are so minuscule compared to the positive. But by far, the thing that people are the most mean about is my gayness,” Mason said. “Oh my god—the vitriol that people have. The comments about my sexuality are so much meaner are more horrifying than anything anyone has ever said about my body.”

Photos of Mason’s wedding to Talan, a doctoral candidate in public health, have been circulating on style blogs since the ceremony last May. But Mason grew visibly tense as she recalled the comments that have popped up under some of the photos shared to social media recently. 

“The bottom line was people saying ‘you should go away and hide yourself,’” Mason said. “There were other comments that were even more aggressive and kind of scary, but the one that stuck with me the most was the person who wrote that they hated ‘having to lie to my nine-year-old about what you people are.’ What if that child is gay? What if that child is transgender? What message are you sending them?”

When the harsh ray of homophobia is aimed at Mason’s wife online, she feels especially outraged.

“The comments that people direct specifically towards my partner are devastating. She’s not choosing to put herself out there,” said Mason. “I feel very protective of her.”

But for all the hatred, there’s an enormous outpouring of love in the plus-size online community. In fact, love is what sparked the design partnership with Addition Elle. Mason was first approached by the brand to shoot scenes with Talan for the #MeetMyLove campaign, which showed plus-size models and influencers with their partners. 

“There’s so little positive visibility of women who are outside normal beauty standards in their relationships,” Mason said about the project’s appeal.

“So many times I’ve worked with brands who were like, ‘can you tone that [gay] side down a little?’ And there was absolutely none of that when I started working with Addition Elle,” Mason said. “It was really celebrated… And it didn’t feel tokenizing, which was really affirming and empowering.”

And Mason knows as well as anyone else that her presence—out, proud, and stylishly attired—could make all the difference for a young, isolated person desperate for a mirror image.

“That’s not something that I had growing up,” Mason said. “I was very depressed as a teenager, which could be for a multitude of reasons, but it all comes down to feeling like the person you are is not OK. Being told actually that the person you are needs to change in order to be acceptable.”

Just two femmes who love to play dress up. 💄💋?? #dittoxo

A photo posted by nicolette mason (@nicolettemason) on

For every depressed and isolated LGBT teen now, there’s a Brendan Jordan and a Jazz Jennings and a Rowan Blanchard. For every queer, plus-size femme kid who dreams of growing up to be a design superstar that goes to fancy lunches at Chateau Marmont, flies off to Hawaii for a weekend, hangs out with celebs like Beth Ditto and Aidy Bryant, goes to Barbie parties in Los Angeles, and has their wedding dress specially tailored by Christian Siriano—well, there’s Nicolette Mason.

Correction 10:50am CT: An early version of this piece misattributed a quote by Addition Elle’s Jen Patterson to Nicolette Mason.

Photo via Addition Elle

Mary Emily O'Hara

Mary Emily O'Hara

Mary Emily O'Hara is an LGBTQ reporter. Her work has appeared in Rolling Stone, NBC Out, Daily Dot, Broadly, Vice, the Daily Beast, the Advocate, Huffington Post, DNAinfo, Al Jazeera, and Portland's Pulitzer Prize-winning newsweekly Willamette Week, among other outlets.