Fashion Friday: Fashion's Invisible Woman
Normally I try to just link up to articles but this one (2009) I've seen before and decided to highlight it on today's Fashion Friday! (My thoughts/comments as you read the article)
Fashion's invisible woman
Even as Americans get larger, designers and retailers cling to the idea that style comes in one size: small. Really you could just stop reading now. Synopsis of the whole article. And it pisses me off.
March 01, 2009|Emili Vesilind
When it comes to shopping, the average American man has it made. At 189.8 pounds and a size 44 regular jacket, he can wear Abercrombie & Fitch, American Apparel or Armani. Department stores, mall retailers and designer boutiques all cater to his physique -- even when it's saddled with love handles, a sagging chest or a moderate paunch. In menswear, shlubby is accommodated.
But the average U.S. woman, who's 162.9 pounds and wears a size 14, is treated like an anomaly by apparel brands and retailers -- who seem to assume that no one over size 10 follows fashion's capricious trends.
Fashion-forward boutiques such as Maxfield and Fred Segal rarely stock anything over a size 10, and in designer shops, sizes beyond 6 or 8 are often hidden like contraband in the "back." Department stores typically offer tiny sections with only 20 or so brands that fit sizes 14 and up -- compared with the 900-plus brands they carry in their regular women's wear departments.
|I'm sorry...you're how old?|
It often seems that it's easier to find and buy stylish clothes for Chihuahuas than for roughly half the country's female population. Holy crap!! I loved this line.
|This is what a plus-size model looks like|
"Plus-size has been a challenge for the industry for decades," said Marshall Cohen, chief industry analyst for the research firm NPD Group. "When I interview plus-size women, there's really nothing [in the market] that the consumer says they like. Because of this, women in this demographic have learned to make fashion not a priority." The longing for style is strong, but the hopes of finding it are low, and shopping is less fun than frustrating. Maybe if we had options it'd become a priority!!
The message board at figuremagazine.com, the online incarnation of Figure, a magazine for full-figured women, reads like a laundry list of ways that brands and retailers aren't connecting with the demographic.
"Are all big girls supposed to dress like Midwestern farm wives?" asks one reader. "We have money -- why don't they want to sell to us?" Midwestern farm wives of the 1800 - long skirts, shapeless blouses...might as well just become Amish when you reach size 10+
Another adds, "I don't want any more polyester, hip-hop gear, frumpy jeans and themed capris! I want the designers not to assume that I am a frumpy 55-year-old, middle-management employee. . . . Is anyone listening to us?" Thank you!! What is with the giant Hawaiian themed capris in every catalog I get. I have a big ass I don't need a big-ass-flower highlighting it thank you.
It's a which-came-first scenario, Cohen said. Because plus-size women have been ignored for years, they've stopped actively looking for shopping opportunities. But when retailers bring savvy style to the plus-size game (as Gap Inc. did with its short-lived concept, Forth & Towne, which carried fashion-forward clothing for career women in sizes 2 to 20), they often shutter their efforts before they have a chance to bloom.
"Retailers don't have the patience to allow it to evolve," he added. "This is a market that's been underserved for 50 years. Customers are saying, 'For 50 years, you've ignored me and now you expect me to react to it instantaneously?' No."
It's true that the development phase of a plus-size collection is costly, because fitting bigger bodies is more complicated than simply making smaller sizes larger. When bodies get larger (especially over a size 18), they take on a different proportion -- there's generally more girth in the middle -- and the ratio between hip and waist changes. Yes, we are shaped different and true, it's not a matter of just "making smaller sizes larger" but that's what often happens and that's when we get formless pieces of polyester with no form (when we're not just having a potato sack thrown over us). Our bodies are shaped differently, and frankly with the clothes I see designers putting skinny girls in I don't want them to just make it bigger for me. I want shape. I want structure. I want DESIGN.
But the payoff for sustaining a successful collection is worth the investment, said Rachel Pally, perhaps the only designer who sells a contemporary collection in trendy boutiques and a plus-size line -- Rachel Pally White Label -- in department stores. Pally's full-figured collection is one of the top-selling vendors for Nordstrom.
|Crystal Reen - GORGEOUS|
Many retailers aren't even game to discuss "plus." When contacted for this story, nearly every major retailer -- including Nordstrom, Macy's, H&M, even Wal-Mart -- declined to give interviews on the subject or didn't respond to requests. It's an odd silence, considering how ripe the market is. With hardly any high-end resources at their disposal, full-figured women still spent $18.6 billion on apparel in stores and online from December 2007 to November 2008, according to NPD Group.
That's only around 20% of the $109.7 billion spent in the regular-size ranges, but bricks-and-mortar plus-size retailers comprise far less than 20% of the total women's apparel retail industry -- and high-end options in the category are extremely rare, so purchase prices are substantially lower.
At the crux of the inequity, according to some plus-size designers, models and retailers, is prejudice toward women the industry doesn't find particularly glamorous or sexy. Like fifth-grade girls who secretly live in fear of being ostracized from the cool clique, they don't want to be caught talking to the fat girl. Don't even get me started here. This is a whole other can of worms!
|Don't tell me fashion &|
full figure don't mix!
"It really does come from very few edicts from a few people," she said. "You have to ask yourself why they are [defending] against this. Seriously, there are issues there."
Fear of the full-figured runs through every cog of the industry once you leave the realm of retailers and brands that are exclusively plus-size. "My sales team was adamantly opposed to me doing a plus-size line," said Pally, because they feared it would cause her signature line to lose cachet.
"There was a lot of resistance, but I did it anyway. I used to say my brand was for everyone, but it really wasn't." She's not concerned, she said, with "the few . . . who are offended that I'm accommodating women who make up the majority of the population." Thank you.
Designers whose bread and butter rests on their ability to create an aura of cool exclusivity (basically, the bulk of designers seen on the runway, save brands with lifestyle extensions, such as Michael Kors and Calvin Klein) worry that sallying into the market will dilute their brand's mystique and, ultimately, their sales. Prada designer Miuccia Prada may have had these concerns in mind when she stated that she would not sell clothes over a size 10.
And it's on these loftiest of perches that the hypocrisy of the fashion industry seems most glaring. Some of the world's most lauded designers and fashion critics are -- or have at one time been -- too broad in the beam to fit a leg into the designs they create and coo over.
Still, compassion is in short supply. When Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld, who spent most of his adult life battling a serious weight problem, created a capsule collection for H&M in 2004, the newly svelte designer was incensed that the retailer manufactured the collection in larger sizes. "What I designed was fashion for slender and slim people," he said. And in an interview in the March issue of Harper's Bazaar, he sniffed, "The body has to be impeccable . . . if it's not, buy small sizes and less food." Issues, indeed. I almost stopped reading here. Karl Lagerfeld can kiss my curves.
While it was heartening to see that Vogue's influential editor Anna Wintour styled plus-size British chanteuse Adele for this year's Grammy Awards, we probably won't be seeing the singer on the cover of the magazine any time soon ("Most of the Vogue girls are so thin, tremendously thin, because Miss Anna don't like fat people," Vogue editor-at-large Andre Leon Talley told Oprah Winfrey in 2005.) According to Adele she doesn't want to be on Vogue anyway.
|Far From Fat!|
But it doesn't take a casting call to make plus-size women feel like cultural lepers. They just have to cruise into any of L.A.'s trendiest boutiques, which create the illusion that this is a town of size 0s and 2s. Fraser Ross, owner of the Kitson boutiques, said he wishes more trendy brands would manufacture 12s and 14s -- but he adds that he doesn't have the square footage to carry true plus-sizes. Because carrying a 12 or 14 suddenly means you need extra space? It's clothing not armor.
"Stores feel they don't want to give in to women with more flesh," Emme said. "There's this idea of slovenliness and all those stereotypes and myths that have been embraced since the '50s. It's ridiculous." I'm sorry but just because you don't want to carry clothing that fits me doesn't mean I'm suddenly going to do anything I can to trim down to a size 4. Just won't happen. And if anything I'm going to rebel and stay a size 26. So take that sucka.
Certainly, there are enough retailers out there to ensure that plus-size women won't be walking around naked any time soon. But resources for fuller-figured women looking to follow trends (and even dabble in the avant-garde) are close to nil. The perception in the industry, said Cohen and Pally, is that full-figured women have less disposable income, and are less concerned with current styles. LMAO. Let us walk around naked....wanna see my fat ass and cellulite. Might start carrying clothes my size then won't you?
This may or may not be another Catch-22. Did the demographic give up on fashion before fashion gave up on the demographic? Or was it the other way around?
Jaye Hersh, owner of the L.A. boutique Intuition on West Pico Boulevard, discovered that the fashion-conscious plus-size customer -- who has money to spend -- is one of the most underserved markets around when she started stocking designer jeans in sizes 32 to 38, and upping her inventory of one-size-fits-all merchandise.
|Kiss My Curves!|
Similar tales of success would no doubt blossom should more companies decide to start thinking big.
Emme, who was once called a "fatty" by a photographer who refused to shoot her (she was 5 foot 11 inches tall and a size 10), said responsiveness to the average woman can't come quickly enough. "The market has to change -- fashion can't be just for the exclusive few," she said. "We're responsible for ourselves. They're responsible for clothing us." The market and all the narrowminded size-ist people it in can just keep doing what they're doing. Someone will realize that fashion for full-figured woman is a giant market (no pun intended) and then everyone will jump on board.