Tim Gunn is trending on Facebook again. This time, it's for a video that reiterates some of the points he made in his recent op-ed: inclusivity is good, more women are plus size than ever, there's money to be made, designers "should" start designing more and better plus sized clothing, and retailers "should" call up Marc Jacobs and demand that he either design for plus size women, or they'll boycott his clothes.
There's a lot we can agree on, here. Inclusivity is important, and I'm sure there's money to be made in this market. But there are also a few things we disagree on. For example:
1. Designers are artists. No one should be telling them what they "should" do.
Maybe for you, fashion is about making money. But for designers, what they do isn't their job. It's their art. Would you tell pianists that they "should" play their music a certain way? Would you tell a singer-songwriter what her lyrics "should" be about? Would you tell a painter what he "should" paint?
No, of course not. Because art is a deeply personal exploration of your creativity and self-expression.
It's also deeply challenging. Just because someone is great at designing handbags, doesn't mean they can design shoes. Just because they can make clothes that look amazing on a size 0-10, doesn't mean they have the know-how to scale those designs up to look great on a size 16.
Which leads me to my next point -- on which I know we agree, because you've made the same one yourself.
2. Designing for plus sizes is incredibly difficult.
You said it yourself, Tim:
"There is no reason larger women can’t look just as fabulous as all other women. The key is the harmonious balance of silhouette, proportion and fit, regardless of size or shape. Designs need to be reconceived, not just sized up; it’s a matter of adjusting proportions. The textile changes, every seam changes. Done right, our clothing can create an optical illusion that helps us look taller and slimmer. Done wrong, and we look worse than if we were naked."
And again in your most recent video:
"[Designers] say the plus size woman is complicated, different and difficult, and no two size 16s are alike...The key is the following: it's the harmonious balance of silhouette, proportion, and fit. Right now, most plus-size designs make the body look larger, with box pleats and shoulder pads. Trust that I'm not trivializing the task: it's challenging! Designs need to be reconceived, not just sized up."
Plus size fashion isn’t a simple matter of making things bigger. It’s making a whole different set of things, with different proportions, fabrics and seams. When you tell designers they need to start making plus-sized clothing, you're basically telling them, not only do you have to paint different pictures -- you also have to trade in your paintbrush to be a sculptor.
But say someone does it. Say Marc Jacobs decides to launch a high-end plus-size line... and because it's hard, and he's never done it before, everyone looks terrible in his clothes.
It hurts his brand. And, probably, instead of recognizing his efforts to be inclusive, the toxic participants in "call out culture" are all running around on Tumblr calling him a bigot because he didn't get it right the first time.
3. No size 16s are alike, and designing "for her" is less profitable.
To be fair, no size 4s are alike, either. I'm 6'0 and 150 pounds, and I typically wear a size 2-4, sometimes a 6. (Because, yes, sizes vary by brand. But unlike the outraged feminists at Vox, I'm not upset by it. It is what it is.)
One of my best friends is 5'2 and 130. She also wears a size 2-4.
So, clearly, neither of us looks our best when we dress off the rack. (According to Joan Brumberg's The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls, this might be one reason why girls' self-esteem has plummeted in the last century. Girls look worse in their clothes than their ancestors did.)
But literally everyone looks good in yoga pants.
Because "size" isn't just determined by your weight. It's determined by your bone structure, fat distribution, height, musculature, and many other factors.
And "size" is also not normally distributed. As I wrote in One Model Tried On 10 Different Pairs Of Size 16 Jeans. Here's Why They All Fit Differently,
While there is a lower limit to how small a woman can be... there's really no upper limit. As a result, many retailers make their plus size to accommodate a larger range of bodies per size. In other words, a size 16 is usually more like a size XXL than an actual size 16. Read more >
Need a visual? Here:
Saying that the "average" woman is a size sixteen... that's a strange way of thinking about it. Because there's more to profit than averages. There's also the mode.
Look at this graph. What size/weight appears the most often? In the graph, above, it's pretty clear that women who weigh 120-160 appear the most often -- especially among the younger age groups.
Now, in order to make money, designers/retailers have to make the smallest number of sizes, and the sizes they make need to fit the most people. Lots of people fit into each smaller size. Large people span a huge number of sizes, with fewer fitting into each size.
And what does "average" even mean? Turns out, it could be no one. Say you have a group of five women, weighing 120, 135, 140, 200, and 235 pounds. Their average weight is the U.S. "average" of about 166. If all the designers started creating for this woman... who in the actual sample could wear those designs?
In other words, basing designs and inventory on an "average" weight is definitely problematic.
Speaking of inventory...
In his video, Tim Gunn encourages retailers to call up designers and say, "We're not going to give you floor space in our store anymore if you don't start making more plus sizes."
Where are all those sizes going to go???
You've got X square feet devoted to Marc Jacobs. Now, in addition to stocking sizes 0-10, which each fit a large number of women... you think retailers can also stock sizes 12-30?
Something's got to go. That can't all fit in the same amount of space that Marc Jacobs already had.
Meaning most retailers can never make that phone call. It doesn't make business sense.
The exception would be retailers whose aesthetic is more H&M/outlet mall than Bloomingdales/Kate Spade. They will find some way to cram all those sizes into the same small space, at the expense of customer experience.
But if you're a retailer, and you're still in business, it means you're probably giving your customers the experience they want. And chances are, that's not the crappy outlet mall experience.
This isn't even to mention that plus-sized women look better in tailored clothing. But with the large variations in what a 16 can look like, it's hard to make something that looks good on all or most of your shoppers.
For example, as I wrote in The Surprising Trait that Carbs and Valium Have in Common,
Excess calories can be stored in the abdominal fat (your belly), or your gluteal fat (your butt). People who store their fat in their belly tend to develop the “apple shape,” and people who store their fat in their butt tend to develop a “pear shape.” Read more >
So what is the right way to tackle the challenge of a) making more sizes, that each fit a smaller range of bodies, b) making clothing that is more tailored, even though "no size 16 is the same" and c) still making a profit?
This isn't even to mention the fact that the cost of clothing is determined more by materials than labor -- it costs more money to make bigger clothes (duh), and more of your resources get tied up in garments on racks.
(And, as any small business owner would tell you: inventory is expensive!)
The point is, it's pretty ridiculous for Tim Gunn, who presumably has some rudimentary understanding on the fashion industry, to pretend that the shortage of plus-size designs is a moral issue, rather than a business one.
Yes, there are more plus-sized women now than ever. But that doesn't mean that making money off of them is easy. It doesn't mean designing clothes for them is easy. It doesn't mean retailers have floor space to carry more sizes, that each fit a smaller range of bodies.
It's clearly a harder problem than Gunn says it is. Like, who here truly believes that there's all this free, easy money just sitting around waiting to be made... and no one's smart or willing enough to grab it?
Moreover, I really don't like the attitude that artists owe us something. Like, what dystopian future is this that people think they get to control other people's art? It's great to be responsive to feedback -- I mean, where do you think The Martian came from? But at the end of the day, the artist decides what and how they want to create.
As an aside, there are several retailers and designers who are tackling plus-size fashion, and that's awesome. Modcloth has thousands of quirky plus-size options.
Lane Bryant has always been awesome -- I don't know why women complain about it. I've bought shoes there, and it was a great experience.
So it's not as though there are no options. Sure, many are only available online. That's true for me, too. As a woman who's 6'0, I have to order a lot (most?) of my clothes online, or have them tailored.
It's inconvenient, I guess. But, let's be real. The majority of people in the year 2016 do a big chunk of their shopping online, anyway.
That's part of the reason retailers are having such a hard time staying in business.
Thoughts on this? Feel free to comment. But keep in mind: if your criticism is that I'm "conventionally pretty" and I have "thin privilege," I'm going to have a hard time taking you seriously. The way my body looks has no bearing on my ability to understand statistics, business, or design.
About the Author
Eva is a content specialist with a passion for play, travel... and a little bit of girl power. Read more >
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