- Mandy Shunnarah visited the redesigned Victoria’s Secret store at the Polaris Fashion Place mall near Columbus, Ohio.
- The store swapped its bubblegum pink decor and size-zero mannequins for muted colors and fuller figures.
- Shunnarah noticed fresh changes but says the rebranding still doesn’t feel inclusive of plus-size women.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
As part of a turnaround effort to make itself less racy and more inviting to all types of women, Victoria’s Secret is giving a makeover to its brick-and-mortar stores, trading the signature bubblegum pink decor and the six-foot, rail-thin mannequins for a modern blush pink and fuller-figured displays.
I got the chance to visit one of the newly revamped stores at the Polaris Fashion Place shopping mall, near the company’s Columbus, Ohio, headquarters.
While I noticed plenty of new and welcome changes during my visit, I left still feeling like Victoria’s Secret is peddling a version of womanhood that’s unattainable to lots of women – myself included.
Seeing curvier mannequins at the entrance made me hopeful the rebrand would be inclusive of plus-size women and girls.
In fact, the first thing I noticed when I entered the store was that I didn’t immediately hate myself. I turned 12 in 2002, right as the Victoria’s Secret PINK line for teenagers was launched. Through high school and college, as I rocked VS-branded underthings in every color, it never occurred to me that one day I wouldn’t fit into Victoria’s Secret panties – perhaps because I was too busy starving myself in hopes of looking like the angel wing- and lingerie-clad models whose pictures hung throughout the store I shopped at.
And when I recovered from my eating disorder by gaining 60 pounds, I found that even their stretchiest XXL panties – the largest size VS makes – dug uncomfortably into my hips.
So it was a welcome change to see full-figured mannequins, some as short as five feet, placed throughout the store.
The store’s boudoir furniture and velvet couches had also been replaced by sleek black and white tables and muted gold racks.
Some of the mannequins looked like healthy grown women, with curvy hips and thighs.
In line with the toned-down color changes in the store’s decor, some of the clothing and undergarments on display are also more muted and subtle.
The pink in the classic Love PINK has also been toned down to match the walls.
While some of the iconic bubblegum pink remains, it’s mostly a few articles of clothing rather than covering the store.
The newer clothing designs seemed to emphasize comfort and confidence over being concerned with the male gaze.
Instead of photos of Angels on display, there were photos of models living life, happy and confident. For example, near the sports bras were photos of models carrying surfboards and wearing athleisure; neither of them appeared to worry about looking sexy.
For a company that’s been woefully slow to change, these are much needed steps in the right direction.
However, upon closer inspection, I realized that ‘full-figured’ mannequin didn’t mean plus-sized.
Even with full-figured mannequins mixed in, several displays still featured exclusively slim mannequins. And when I checked what size panty a full-figured mannequin wore, I found it was an XL.
Victoria’s Secret CEO Martin Waters said on a recent earnings call that the rebrand is about ‘including all women.’
Walters said it’s about “going from a look to a feeling, from excluding most women to including all women, from mostly unattainable to grounded in real life.”
And while Victoria’s Secret has embraced models of color and sells nude undergarments in several skin tones, the brand has not yet embraced plus-size women in the same way.
Full-figured mannequins may have greeted you at the entrance, but once inside the store, some displays appeared much like they have in the past.
I’m a size 14, the same size as Victoria’s Secret’s plus-size model du jour, Paloma Elsesser. A size 14 was once thought to be the average size of American women until a 2017 study found that the average American woman “wears between a misses size 16 to 18, which corresponds to a women’s plus-size 20W.”
I couldn’t help but wonder how the brand can achieve the goal of ‘including all women’ without expanding its limited sizing.
If I’m a size 14, which is on the smaller end of the plus-size range, and the largest panties Victoria’s Secret makes are uncomfortably tight on me, I think about the 50% or more of women who are still unable to wear the brand.
Even with the updates, many of the displays look largely the same to me.
When shoppers have criticized the brand, I don’t believe they were asking for new wall colors and different furniture; they were asking for inclusivity, including expanded sizing.
After all, by including full-figured mannequins, it wasn’t as though those with thigh gaps had all been replaced – there were just curvier mannequins placed alongside them. I’m still larger than every single mannequin in the store.
For much of its history, Victoria’s Secret has sold an aspirational ideal of femininity.
Even with the new VS Collective of models chosen for their accomplishments – a group that includes Megan Rapinoe, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, and Amanda de Cadenet, among others – the store rebrand without sizing expansion still feels like they’re peddling a version of womanhood that’s still unattainable to me.
The decor updates are aesthetically pleasing, but at the end of the day, I still can’t buy VS panties.
The store still feels familiar and like overall little has changed. In short, the updates feel like the bare minimum the brand could do to garner goodwill among its customer base.
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