An NYT Magazine piece on "The Plus-Size Wars" makes a point we've heard before: fat women are really different from other people. So is it true?
Ginia Bellafante's article examines the discrepancy between the number of plus-size women in America and the availability of attractive plus-size clothes. Her analysis (including a discussion of the Lane Bryant ad ABC wouldn't show) is wide-ranging and at times pretty interesting. But it leaves unexamined this particular point: according to designers, making clothes for fat women is hard. Bellafante writes,
The most formidable obstacle lies in creating a prototype. If you already have a line of clothing and a set system of sizing, you cannot simply make bigger sizes. You need whole new systems of pattern-making. "The proportions of the body change as you gain weight, but for women within a certain range of size, there is a predictability to how much, born out by research dating to the 1560s," explained Kathleen Fasanella, who has made patterns for women's coats and jackets for three decades. "We know pretty well what a size 6 woman will look like if she edges up to a 10; her bustline might increase an inch," Fasanella said. "But if a woman goes from a size 16 to a 20, you just can't say with any certainty how her dimensions will change."
Oh, and stretch fabric is hard to work with. And "armholes are an issue." An obvious (and valid) response to all this would be: so the fuck what? Want to tap into the growing market of plus-size women who want and can't find cute clothes? Learn to make a fucking armhole! But it's also worth asking whether the "so much harder" hypothesis is even true.
For an expert opinion, I talked to plus-size designer Lucie Lu, who says that while plus designs do require more fabric, there's "nothing that comes to my mind that could be used as an excuse" for claiming plus-size clothes are more difficult to make. "Maybe it's harder for a company that only sells smaller sizes" to develop the expertise and employee base necessary to move into the plus market, she explains, but, "Is it harder to make plus-size clothing, period? No."
Human bodies are complex and various and hard to reduce to a single numeric size. And yet somehow, manufacturers have figured out how to make straight-size clothes in such a way that most straight-size women can assemble a decent wardrobe with a trip to the mall. It's not always easy (many a straight-size woman might question how accurately designers really "predict" her body shape), but it's possible — and making it possible for plus-size women wouldn't constitute some kind of crazy paradigm shift. Sure, plus-size women carry their weight in different places, but so do straight-size ones, and when people claim they "just can't say" what will fit a larger woman's body, I wonder if it's because they haven't spent enough time thinking about it.
Plus-Size Wars [NYT Magazine]