Brooklyna’s loss, Portlanda’s gain: lesbian designer Bertha Pearl.
Born and bred in Brooklyn, N.Y., Bertha Pearl, founder of the clothing line Big Boxers of Brooklyn, is now Portland, Ore.’s answer to the community’s quest for sexy and frilly, not to mention handmade larger-size designer clothing. Pearl’s current business, Size Queen (“When large is just not big enough”), is in Portland’s hip eastside neighborhood and is open part time “to give me sewing time for custom work. I do a lot of wedding and commitment ceremonies,” says Pearl. Size Queen also operates online at bigboxers.com.
“Portland is where a part of the fat world is, which is a fantastic thing,” proclaims Pearl. Focusing on cute and sexy clothing for fat women, Pearl says that her fall line is frilly, girly and very femme. “I use a lot of lace, ruffles, floral patterns as well as edgier geometrics such as black-and-white horizontals. My clothing is curve-hugging and comfortable. I’ve also done really cute tiger detail pants for a butch woman and custom everything, though I don’t do suits, just comfortable and free-flowing pieces.”
Pearl started her career with classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City before moving to San Francisco, where she lived in a fat dyke household and put out the ‘zine Fatgirl.
Her training has been mostly self-directed. When she found the lack of clothing for fat girls annoying, she started Big Daddy Boxers (and was threatened with a lawsuit by the corporate Big Daddy Clothing Company), which were bigger in the hips, for women.
“When I got back into fashion, instead of trying to make myself fit, literally, into society’s preconceived notions about women’s bodies, in the way I was taught at FIT—where a fit model is size 8—I decided to celebrate being fat.”
Feeling like breaking another mold and moving beyond the ubiquitous queer boxer, Pearl says, “I wanted to make skirts and more femme clothing.” Her handiwork has resulted in one-of-a-kind pieces of plus-size clothing designs that flow from her imagination, such as her signature bustle skirt.
“I saw one at a costume exhibit and thought they would be great on fat girls—to take it one step further and with the stiff netting and fabric I use to turn it around and make fat chicks’ asses even more voluptuous,” Pearl laughs, a raucous and infectious laugh.
“Size Queen is my first physical space. I used to sell at fat, women’s and queer venues such as NOLOSE conferences, the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival and BBW conferences. My fat consciousness comes from all the fat-positive support from around the country,” says Pearl, “and the way I walk in the world as a fat woman is informed by that support and activism.”
Pearl is currently investing time and resources in sustainable clothing, using cotton wherever she can—“It breathes,” she says, “and lasts, is easy to handle and washes well. I’m doing pieces in natural bamboo fabric that handles like rayon. It’s super soft.” Pearl’s bamboo styles are in what she terms “flutter skirts” and also a line of bloomers. She is also investigating Soy Silk, organic cottons and hemp and wants to delve into more vibrant colors.