So Harris began begging on social media for plus-size consignment and hunted down her young customer through Facebook, offering a private appointment and free dress from about 40 she'd collected. "She was so sweet," Harris said. "I just couldn't get her out of my head."
Operation Prom, which offers free donated dresses to girls in need in eight states, has also had to hunt for plus-size dresses. Noel D'Allacco, founder of the decade-old project, took in about 7,000 gently used dresses and new ones from corporate partners last year, but only about 700 were size 18 and up, she said. The shortage of donated plus-size garments forced her to purchase some.
"We are going crazy trying to get plus-size dresses," said D'Allacco, in Bronxville, N.Y. "We have this problem, unfortunately, every year. A lot of times we get plus-size donations and they're not appropriate for a 17-year-old. They're for your grandmother to wear. It's difficult."
Online options for plus-size prom dresses have proliferated in the past decade. But shopping that way for an already difficult fit, along with restrictive return policies, can feel risky. Giorno was not comfortable searching for her dress online, yet many retailers carry few to none in stores and on trend for teens. Many designers don't bother making them in larger sizes, prospective customers say.
Sixteen percent of women's clothing sold in the U.S. is size 14 and up, according to the market research group NPD. But the plus-size women's business has "pretty much been ignored by the big stores," said Marshal Cohen, NPD's chief retail analyst.
The shop in Pine Beach, N.J., where Giorno found her dress, called New York City Glitz, makes it a priority to stock trendy plus sizes. "There's not that much made," owner Cat Hutton said. "I have companies that I deal with that only carry up to a size 16."