Not Enough Designers Understand What Plus-Size Women Want

Cristian Siriano’s Spring 2017 runway. Images via Getty.
Cristian Siriano’s Spring 2017 runway. Images via Getty.

An important reminder for anyone interested in designing for plus-size women: Conservatism isn’t necessarily your friend.


Reporting from New York Fashion Week, Washington Post critic Robin Givhan highlights what she liked and didn’t like about Christian Siriano’s show. She says that it was the designs worn by the plus-size models that really shone:

Siriano has made a host of striking one-of-a-kind gowns for the red carpet. But the gowns that he showed as part of his spring 2017 collection did not have the same sophistication and elegance as those he has made for actresses such as Christina Hendricks or Leslie Jones. His runway clothes often overwhelmed the models — except, notably, the plus-size women.

More often than not, they were the models on the runway who looked best. Because of their size and stature, they could wear the sweeping jacket, the exuberant bell sleeves and the bright teal, and not simply fade away.

“His collection is especially adept at showing plus-size women at their best. But his smaller models often look cowed by their clothes,” Givhan added. “A palette of orange and teal, ruffles and floppy hats are high hurdles.”

Tim Gunn’s recent op-ed for the Washington Post calling out designers for ignoring the plus-size market and therefore an enormous percentage of American women was nice to see, but there are a couple of lines that betray a misunderstanding by even the most open fashionistas of what plus-size shoppers want and what works for us. He complains of existing options in which “half the items make the body look larger, with features like ruching, box pleats and shoulder pads.” Turns out Gunn also didn’t like the collection that won Project Runway for Ashley Nell Tipton; he criticizes “bare midriffs; skirts over crinoline, which give the clothes, and the wearer, more volume; see-through skirts that reveal panties; pastels, which tend to make the wearer look juvenile; and large-scale floral embellishments that shout ‘prom.’” But as an actual plus-size shopper, I loved those skirts over crinolines in all their pastel glory.

For many of us who are fat, there’s no designer magic that can hide it. You can maybe disappear 20 pounds with clever tailoring, but not 100. The question is, what displays the actual body to the best effect? And sometimes the answer is loud colors and bold, even voluminous silhouettes. You’re going to take up space; why not take up space vibrantly? This is what has worked about the Eloquii relaunch. My personal taste doesn’t run to their wildest offerings; I don’t care for crop tops. But they don’t shy away from lines that might make you look “bigger,” preferring a metrics of impact and, well, fabulosity.

Of course, the trick is knowing what sorts of boldness work and which don’t. Indifferently designed patterns featuring big, stupid roses in off-trend colors and lazily chunky accessories scream “we’re stuck in 1998 before the Internet, don’t buy our stuff.” But that’s why fashion is an art, not a science.

Senior Editor at Jezebel, specializing in books, royals, romance novels, houses, history, and the stories we tell about domesticity and femininity. Resident Windsor expert.


RaisedByHeathens Orange Meanie-Pants

As a fat person, I would really like to see decent basics. A fucking white button down that doesn’t immediately pop open at my boobs. Jeans that aren’t jeggins- or “mom jeans”. Tee shirts and cardigans that aren’t priced 3 times as much as the skinny version (ahem-Old Navy) Just plain, well tailored clothes. Jesus, is it THAT hard?