For some reason, the fashion industry still can't seem to get its shit together when it comes to serving plus-size consumers. For every beautiful Isabel Toledo for Lane Bryant collection, there's a store condescendingly robo-complimenting plus-size shoppers.
Fashionista asks the question: Are Plus-Size Women the Problem With Plus-Size Fashion? The quick answer for most of us is probably: No. Of course not. Fashionista's answer turns out to be much, much longer and not quite as offensive as the question would lead you to believe.
The better and less snappy question is: Why aren't plus-size consumers being served and represented they way they should be?
The article boils the issue down largely to commerce and supply and demand, particularly as it relates to high-end designers. On one hand, while consumers say they want to see a more diverse spectrum of body shapes and sizes in plus-size models, that's not always proven where it counts: with their wallets. Plus-size blogger and retail consultant Sarah Conley describes a brand that displayed the exact same clothes on both a size 8 and a size 14 model. Turns out, "the size 8 model sold better every time."
Along the same lines, they argue that some designers believe even if they do create more plus-size options, women won't necessarily be buying them.
The outcry for high-end designers to increase their size ranges has also grown steadily louder for years. The plus-size community has wondered why they are being ignored by major fashion designers like Prada and Marc Jacobs, and by retailers like Target and H&M when they do designer collaborations that so many of their straight-size friends snap up. The problem is that while plus-size sales are modestly on the rise, generally the customer still gives the impression she won't spend the money when it counts.
This is where we get into the unhelpful advice portion.
An anonymous plus-size blogger continues: "Don't ask Marc Jacobs to make you something if you can't even afford Marc by Marc Jacobs. You should have to put your credit card down before you can even have this conversation."
Eeek. That suggestion is difficult to even understand because how exactly can plus-size consumers prove they will or won't buy designer collections if no one is making them in the first place? Should they just drop tons of money on Marc Jacobs handbags so they can prove that they can afford a Marc Jacobs skirt?
Plus-size blogger Nicolette Mason adds that with the timeframe closing between when new trends emerge and the clothes showing up in the plus-size market, plus-size consumers are having a difficult time adapting to all the new choices.
"Because there are so few options available, brands really have to start in the middle of the road, and not everyone is willing to meet them in the middle of the road and take those options to their tailor," Conley says. "We need to do a better job as a community of building up those retailers and encouraging them in the right direction even if it isn't exactly perfect for us and making sure that our dollars speak for us when we do see something that we like."
Why should these women be forced to buy clothing that isn't exactly right for them just to prove a point to retailers? (I think I'm reading that correctly, but I'm certainly open to other interpretations if someone else is reading it differently.) Is it not the job of retailers to be able to accurately predict what their consumer wants? Brands like ModCloth seem to have figured it out, so why can't the others catch up?
Sarah Conley makes a better suggestion.
"We just need to become more conscious as a community to only buy things that we really, really love, that we really want to wear and support those brands and tell them, thank you so much for making this, here are my dollars," she says.
When plus-size blogger Gabi Gregg launched a swimwear collection with Swimsuits For All, the line sold out in hours. Women were more than happy to spend money on fashionable garments designed to flatter their bodies. Again, how can consumers buy clothes that don't exist?
Fashionista's suggestion seems to be that the focus should shift from looking for acceptance from larger retailers and instead supporting plus-size brands. Plus-size blogger Nicolette Mason says:
"I think people put too much energy in expecting existing brands to go into plus when there's so much talent that's excited about it and passionate about doing it right," Mason explains. "And they're often coming from a place of honestness and earnestness where it's plus-size women themselves designing clothes that they would want to wear."
Encouraging plus-size women to carve out their own spaces and not rely on the mainstream to represent and cater to them is certainly one tactic. It is similar to the mission behind magazines like Essence for the black community.
It's an approach that could be satisfying and leave plus-size consumers with more and better options—even if it does ring a bit "seperate but equal."
Image via AP.