“Project Runway” has run its course with this writer, but one of the show’s stars is continually proving himself to be a great guy. At first flush, Tim Gunn is a little drippy, and very demanding, but the more he’s in the public eye, the more the guy shines.
This week in New York, fashion designers from everywhere are gathering to show off their latest collections, and Tim Gunn has a HUGE criticism: they are ignoring the bulk of American women. Why? Because we are larger than a size 12. In a touching, and very much needed piece in the Washington Post, Gunn distills the American fashion scene in a way that has all of us busty, curvy gals cheering:
I love the American fashion industry, but it has a lot of problems, and one of them is the baffling way it has turned its back on plus-size women. It’s a puzzling conundrum. The average American woman now wears between a size 16 and a size 18, according to newresearch from Washington State University. There are 100 million plus-size women in America, and, for the past three years, they have increased their spending on clothes faster than their straight-size counterparts. There is money to be made here ($20.4 billion, up 17 percent from 2013). But many designers — dripping with disdain, lacking imagination or simply too cowardly to take a risk — still refuse to make clothes for them.
In addition to the fact that most designers max out at size 12, the selection of plus-size items on offer at many retailers is paltry compared with what’s available for a size 2 woman. According to a Bloomberg analysis, only 8.5 percent of dresses on Nordstrom.com in May were plus-size. At J.C. Penney’s website, it was 16 percent; Nike.com had a mere five items — total.
Gunn goes on to dissect the American fashion scene as perceived by mall shoppers, and as an expert in the industry. The reality is that fat shaming is alive and well in the fashion world. The names that market themselves as hip and cool want the cute, flat-chested, boyish looking females sporting their clothes, leaving those of us who have more traditionally full figures out in the cold.
His one bright light is the company Lane Bryant, which is fine for people who are five foot six and taller, but not always for the more petite.
Have you shopped retail for size 14-plus clothing? Based on my experience shopping with plus-size women, it’s a horribly insulting and demoralizing experience. Half the items make the body look larger, with features like ruching, box pleats and shoulder pads. Pastels and large-scale prints and crazy pattern-mixing abound, all guaranteed to make you look infantile or like a float in a parade. Adding to this travesty is a major department-store chain that makes you walk under a marquee that reads “WOMAN.” What does that even imply? That a “woman” is anyone larger than a 12, and everyone else is a girl? It’s mind-boggling.
The situation has gotten worse in the last few years, actually, paricularly since the show Project Runway has been around, and women’s clothing has taken on the look of slips and underwear. The fact of the matter is, even BEFORE the rise in obesity and the population packing on the pounds thanks to high fructose corn syrup in the food supply, and the high-carb, low-fat diet craze that preceded the gluten free issues, fashions for larger women have been unattractive, and really hard to come by. It does make dressing more difficult, and it is demoralizing for those who do not naturally have tiny figures and have to fight to keep BMIs within “acceptable” limits.
For decades, designers have trotted models with bodies completely unattainable for most women down the runway. First it was women so thin that they surely had eating disorders. After an outcry, the industry responded by putting young teens on the runway, girls who had yet to exit puberty. More outrage.
And perhaps that is part of the problem. The fashion industry set up its own echo chamber to reinforce the thinness of their preference rather than looking to the larger population, no pun intended. Tim Gunn’s admonishment of the industry as a whole is most welcome – and very much worth a read in its entirety.
Larger women look great in clothes skimming the body, rather than hugging or cascading. There’s an art to doing this. Designers, make it work.
Yes, please. No more ugly clothes. Thanks, Tim.