Brandy Melville: One size fits some

I remember the first time I walked into Brandy Melville. I was probably ten years old and while I felt very out of place, no one blinked an eye at my entrance; though it was a clothing store only high schools dared to enter at the time, I had the body type the brand targets: a small female figure. Shoppers and employees alike wore the articles of clothing displayed on the “definitive” size US 2 mannequins. A cult, maybe—just dressed in approachable florals and delicate pastels.
So I set off, hoarding half the store’s contents in my arms, eager to try things on. At the time, Brandy Melville had these black and white striped curtains on the fourth wall of their dressing rooms that I recognized from all the popular kids’ Instagram posts. When I tried on one of their classic floral wrap dresses and looked at myself in the mirror against the trademark curtains, I felt the coolest I ever had. The only issue, which I had failed to recognize at the time, was that I was ten fitting into the only size of clothing Brandy Melville sold.
Brandy Melville is a multi-million dollar company founded in the early eighties in Italy by father and son, Silvio and Stephan Marson. The brand has been popularized especially by teenage girls and is known for its trendiness. It is also known for its discriminatory one-size-fits-all sizing system.
The issue with Brandy Melville’s behavior and values has not gone unnoticed. “A lot of the [clothing] that’s [labeled] ‘oversized’ isn’t oversized on a lot of people,” said Jordan McCornock ‘24. “It’s pretty much only oversized on people who are really small sizes. The ‘one size fits all’ thing isn’t true. One piece of clothing can’t fit all body types” she said.
“The vast majority of the skirts available on the Brandy website list 12” to 14” as the waist measurement (capable of stretching to approximately 25”). Compare that to Urban Outfitters’ size chart, and you’ll see a garment that size would be labeled size 0,” wrote journalist E.D. Dumais in The Observer in 2015.
Paget Chung ‘22 sums up Brandy Melville’s sizing system’s effects on its target age demographic, especially those who do not fit into their clothes: “[Brandy Melville’s sizing system] promotes the idea that there’s only one acceptable body type, and that’s one that is very very small,” said Chung.
Noa Resnikoff ‘22 shares her experience with shopping there: “I’ve had body issues for at least ten years as of now,” said Resnikoff. “When I did shop [at Brandy Melville], going into a store that was mostly ‘one size fits all’—or where the largest size was only slightly larger than me when I’m a relatively small person—was just nerve-wracking.”
The impact does not stop there. Leili Kamali ‘25 explained her relationship with Brandy Melville. “[Brandy Melville] kind of had a negative effect on my body image for the majority of my middle school life. I just had to learn how to not think about it.”
After hearing shoppers’ takes on Brandy Melville’s sizing, I decided to ask the employees how they themselves fared with the size exclusivity. It had always seemed to me that all of Brandy Melville’s employees fit into the brand’s clothing.
I called several Brandy Melville locations across the country. Three out of the five locations I spoke with refused to respond, one immediately hanging up. One employee that did share their thoughts judgmentally replied with, “[The sizing system is]… fine?”
Another said, “The company makes the clothes, I just work here.”
When I asked that employee if it was a matter of not being allowed to share their personal take on the exclusive sizing due to some kind of non-disclosure agreement, they shamefully admitted, “I just don’t know where I stand.”
This sentiment is not unique to Brandy Melville employees. It seems a lot of people do not know where they stand on this issue and continue to shop at the controversial store anyway. Despite its harmfulness, it is clear there is still an attraction to Brandy Melville, with the brand having made an annual global revenue surpassing $250M as of 2019, according to Business Insider.
Kamali further explains the divide between Brandy Melville being a grade-A problematic company, while still tolerating something about it: “I like the clothes, like I’m wearing something from there now. I say all of this but then I still enjoy their clothes.”
This conflict Kamali expressed led me to wonder why so many people still shop at Brandy Melville despite the exclusive sizing it offers.
Arlo Sears-Bicknell ‘24 offered an explanation: “The fact that being this exclusive and… making people feel terrible about themselves—the fact that that is the most profitable thing to do…” Sears-Bicknell trails off, shaking their head. “That this can possibly be the best business model I think is ultimately indicative of an extremely unhealthy culture of body image in America… [It] speaks very ill of our country as a whole.”
“It became a thing where I would walk into a store and it would make me feel pretty bad about myself because the clothes were so small and most of them didn’t fit me…” McCornock said. “I still went [to shop there] because I felt like I should.”
McCornock said, “A worker complimented my outfit and that made me feel really good about myself, like better about myself than it should’ve,” she laughed. “It was just a compliment from a store worker, but since it was a Brandy Melville worker, it was like ‘oh my God, this is such a big deal.’”
What affects society in a way that makes exclusivity so attractive? I believe it to be the age-old factor of arguably the most craved, validating feeling for especially adolescents: acceptance. Fitting in seems to be a huge step closer to that ecstatic outcome.
So if this is true, and Brandy Melville in all of its popularity is so indicative of style, both in clothing and in body types, is Brandy Melville telling us being skinny yields acceptance? Is that what the brand’s limited sizing is telling their shoppers? Most importantly, pulling these body trends from the roots: who is determining and dictating what body is in versus out?
Chung offers her take on Brandy Melville’s founders and owners: “[Brandy Melville being run by men] is a physical manifestation of the male gaze. Because it’s kind of like men dictating what women’s bodies should look like, especially because it’s such an internationally popular clothing brand.” Chung said, “Women all over the world are wearing this clothing brand and succumbing to these ideals that they should be able to fit into these clothes. The fact that it’s men who are dictating this is…repulsive.”