Tim Gunn is “a design educator, author and Emmy-winning co-host of “Project Runway” according to the byline of a piece he wrote for the Washington Post. The piece is called “Designers refuse to make clothes to fit American women. It’s a disgrace.” with the subtitle “Far more women in this country wear a size 16 than a size 6, but the industry seems not to have noticed.” I’m a fan of Tim Gunn on Project Runway and I had high hopes when I opened the article. And it started off strong:
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 new research 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.
Yes! This! All of this! Tell it Tim Gunn!
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.
I know, right! This is ridiculous. Thanks Tim Gunn, I feel like you really get me!
This a design failure and not a customer issue. There is no reason larger women can’t look just as fabulous as all other women.
Right On Tim!
But then things took a disturbing turn:
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.
Wait. What? No. World of no, Galaxy of no. Universe of no. Nooooooooo. Optical illusion? I don’t need to be a walking magic trick, Tim, I just want options for clothes in my size. Also, it seems like you might be insinuating that fat people aren’t smoking hot naked, and if you are, then you’re wrong about that my friend.
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.
You are so close, Tim – you are almost there. Here’s the deal: The idea is that fat women should have the same kind of clothing options as thin women in style, quality, and price point. We should be able to buy clothes that work for the reasons we want to buy them, whether it’s comfort, functionality, a personal style, something else, or some combination.
Some women may choose to wear clothing for the purpose of creating an optical illusion, and they are allowed to do that. But many of us are members of the Fuck Flattering Club and don’t have a personal style that could be described as “now you see me, now you don’t.”
This season [on project runway,] something different happened: Ashley Nell Tipton won the contest with the show’s first plus-size collection. But even this achievement managed to come off as condescending. I’ve never seen such hideous clothes in my life: 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.” Her victory reeked of tokenism. One judge told me that she was “voting for the symbol” and that these were clothes for a “certain population.” I said they should be clothes all women want to wear. I wouldn’t dream of letting any woman, whether she’s a size 6 or a 16, wear them. Simply making a nod toward inclusiveness is not enough.
…I profoundly believe that women of every size can look good. But they must be given choices. Separates — tops, bottoms — rather than single items like dresses or jumpsuits always work best for the purpose of fit. 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.
So what I’m reading is that Tim is for more plus size clothes but only as he envisions them – created for the purpose of making us look smaller than we are, and certainly not as envisioned by an actual plus sized designer who wants to dress fat bodies instead of disappearing them. The problem isn’t Ashley’s collection, the problem is that it’s only one collection – one designer’s aesthetic. What we need is lots more fat people making clothes that they and other fat people want to wear. If Tim Gunn wants to help out with that, and it seems like he does and I genuinely appreciate that, then his job is to make way for them, not stand in their way. Trust me, they’ll make it work
If you want to hear fat designers like Alysse Dalessandro and Yolanda Williams, and plus size models like Saucye West and Velvet D’Amour talk about plus size fashion, check out the Fat Activism Conference:
THE FAT ACTIVISM CONFERENCE:
TOOLS FOR THE REVOLUTION!
This year we have a kick ass line up of speakers talking about everything from “Re-Imagining Fashion from an Inclusive Framework” to “Activism for the Introverted and Anxious” to “Building Fat Patient Power While Accessing Healthcare” and more. This is a virtual conference so you can listen by phone or computer wherever you are, and you’ll receive recordings and transcripts of each talk so that you can listen/read on your own schedule. We also offer a pay what you can afford option to make the conference accessible to everyone. The Conference will be held September 23-25, 2016
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