Sometimes, you have to try to turn a negative into a positive. That’s exactly what Alysse Dalessandro did when naming her body positive apparel brand Ready To Stare, after being fat shamed while walking through Chicago. It seems things have turned out just fine for Dalessandro, who, in addition to being a designer, has become a fashion writer, model, and blogger in her own right. I had a conversation with Alysse about overcoming fear, moving away from designing and wearing whatever you damn well please.
How did you first get involved in plus size fashion?
I started designing and making jewelry in 2011. I started selling it officially as Ready to Stare in early 2012. I shot the first collection in a friend’s apartment and I had basic metalsmithing skills at the time. I started making body chains a few months in and I realized I wanted to make those in plus sizes. I did that custom at first and the chunky chain belt was my first piece I made available up to a 3X in 2013. I designed t-shirts that same year.
When I did my first photoshoot to promote the t-shirts for my fashion brand, I used myself as a model. I had really no idea what kind of community was out there when I did that. A friend gave me some hashtags to use and [pointed me toward] other pages that focused on plus size fashion and body positivity. Right away, I found that I was welcomed into the community with open arms.
At first, I really just wanted to make more accessory and clothing options for plus size people. I knew that I wanted there to be more visibility for plus size people who looked like me. I didn’t plan on being an active participant myself!
Did you always know you wanted to be a designer?
If you asked me as a kid, that’s what I would’ve said, but as I got older, I didn’t see anyone in fashion who looked like me and I stopped believing in myself. I went to college for journalism rather than fashion design because I told myself that writing about fashion was the closest I could get. I ended up starting my first design business while still in college. I think that my passion and desire to work hands-on in fashion just won out in the end. Now that I am blogging more than designing, I’m still really grateful that I pursued design for that time period. It’s a skill that I’ll always have and an understanding of production and how things are made makes me a better blogger now.
Where did the name Ready To Stare come from?
I came up with the name Ready to Stare when I was actually harassed on the street one day. I was crossing a busy street in Chicago and wearing a short orange sweater dress and blue wedges. Someone yelled out their window to me “HEY FAT GIRL, STOP TRYING TO LOOK SKINNY.” And that experience was when I realized that when you’re confident in who you are and you fall outside of the beauty norm in any way, people are gonna stare at you. If they stare at you, you’re making them think and when they’re thinking, hopefully, you can change their mind or at least challenge this idea of who gets to be fashionable.
So Ready to Stare was the name of a blog that I was too afraid to start in 2011. It was inspired by my own experience being fat shamed. Because I was still too scared of my own visibility, I made it an accessory brand and I used models that I felt represented my brand.
Can you describe your style for us?
My style is unapologetically gaudy. It’s in-your-face and it’s bold. It’s like the Golden Girls meets Mob Wives.
That’s amazing! Did your style evolve to get you to that point?
That’s a good question. I think stylistically my roots have always been in all things gaudy but not kitschy. So I ground myself there. As I look back at my style over the years, I really don’t have a lot of “I can’t believe I wore that” moments. I just feel like my style has evolved to be slightly more polished. It’s like the same aesthetic just slightly elevated.
I think I’ll be 80 and still wearing blue lipstick and chain belts.
It’s hard for a lot of people to find their style, and it feels like that is probably because they’re not really encouraged to try different things and figure out what they like.
I think that has a lot to do with the fact that [most] fashion advice for plus size folks that’s out there has to do with dressing your shape and not about finding your style.
I try really hard not to contribute to this noise at all. I try to say “that’s not my style but I’m glad it exists for someone” rather than ever putting anything down because at the end of the day, even if I think a dress is ugly that really doesn’t matter because someone else may love it and I want to encourage plus size people to find and wear what THEY love as much as possible!
There’s the dreaded advice I always see for big guys: lose weight, then you can wear things.
Ugh yes, this idea that our bodies are temporary so there’s no point in finding a personal style. Fashion rules are just another form of body policing so when I approach personal style, I do it from the place of trying to figure out what someone would like to wear if their feelings about their body played no role.
Let’s talk about modeling – is that something you want to continue doing, and do you see it growing into something that is a larger part of your day to day life?
It’s funny because I don’t consider myself to be a model, even though I totally understand that a lot of what I do as a blogger is similar to modeling. To me, modeling is: you show up to a shoot, someone else styles you, does your hair and makeup and creatively directs the shoot. At this point, I have only ever done that once.
That’s not to say I wouldn’t do that, but I am still styling and creatively directing a lot of my own shoots. That’s why I say I’m a blogger because that distinction is important to me! If a brand wants to fly me out to model, I AM THERE! What you see now is content that I am mostly putting together on my own. I have a team of folks I trust that I work with creatively on certain projects.
It seems like what you’re doing has changed a bit from being more about the things you’re designing to blogging and creating content. How do you envision Ready To Stare growing as you move forward?
I love designing but I have been stepping back from designing to focus on blogging and creating content. I really enjoy helping people explore their personal style and try out new things. I realized that I could do that by connecting my readers with brands rather than being the one creating the new pieces. The business side of designing was stifling me both financially and creatively, so taking a step back has helped me realize how much I really like blogging.
I definitely see myself continuing to grow as a blogger. I want to travel more to work with other brands and connect with more people in person, whether as a brand ambassador or a speaker at events. I see myself getting back to designing at some point but not in the near future.
What do you hope people get out of the work you’re doing?
I hope people get inspired. The absolute most rewarding thing is when I get messages from people who say things like “Because of you, I wore a bathing suit on vacation with my girlfriend,” or “I showed my arms for the first time because I saw you do it.” There’s absolutely no better feeling in the world for me. Fashion is my freedom. Sharing that journey helped me learn to see that I was worthy of being visible and having a voice in fashion so when I see that I am inspiring others to wear what they really want, that’s the ultimate reward.
Fashion is my freedom. Sharing that journey helped me learn to see that I was worthy of being visible and having a voice in fashion, so when I see that I am inspiring others to wear what they really want, that’s the ultimate reward.