Why cute plus size clothes are so damn hard to find

Beth Ditto... plus size fashion icon.

Beth Ditto... plus size fashion icon.

If you've ever shopped for plus-sized clothing and been tempted to hurl yourself out of the nearest window due to the "range" and options, take heart: it's not you. It's them. Clothing designers simply don"t design clothes for women above certain sizes — in many cases it"s because they haven't a clue how to cut or sew clothes for larger women.

And no, this isn't just the view of larger women or fat acceptance activists. None other than the wonderful Tim Gunn — the mentor to designers on the US version of Project Runway — has confirmed what we were all thinking.

"When I'm working in the real world with real women and we"re shopping, we find that fashion seems to end when you get any larger than a size 12. How ridiculous is that?" Gunn who was, up until 2007, a Faculty member of Parsons The New School for Design, told the Huffington Post.

Even when the fashion industry and fashion designers do attempt to design plus-sized clothing, the results can leave you looking, in the words of Tim Gunn, "like a pterodactyl from a gay Jurassic Park."


In case you think Gunn is being a tad melodramatic, the Tumblr WTF, PLUS SIZE CLOTHING MANUFACTURERS? ably demonstrates just how craptacular plus-sized clothes can be. One of the highlights has got to be this Lane Collection asymmetric drama top.

As the Tumblr's creator Roxy makes clear, this number manages to combine every cliché of plus-sized clothing: "One shoulder. Check. No shape, billowing. Check. Asymmetric hem. Check. Overpriced. Check."

And even when the fashion industry does try to reach out with a token effort to embrace full-bodied beauty, they get it spectacularly wrong. For example, the June 2011 issue of Vogue featured Australia's Robyn Lawley and two other plus-sized models in a cover shoot kitted out in designer lingerie and $30,000 Gucci and Dior dresses.

According to a report in The Guardian the designer gear "had to be cut up on the day because none of them fitted us". As Lawley told The Guardian, "No one there had ever worked with anyone even close to our size before. No one knew what to do with us."

But perhaps there is light at the end of the tunnel. For example, psychologist and convenor of the UK chapter of Endangered Bodies Susie Orbach, who was recently in Australia for a speaking tour, has been working with fashion schools in the United Kingdom to expand their repertoire.

Orbach said that one of the reasons plus-size fashion — which on present evidence is close to an oxymoron — is so terrible is because few people in the fashion industry seem to have the skills to make it.

"Fashion schools only teach pattern cutting in one size so students don't know how to design for other sizes. If you size something up to size 16 the lapels don't look right because you need to change the proportions but they haven"t been teaching those kinds of skills. Let alone treating the body as something you want to dress for the person rather than dressing for the clothes," Orbach said. 

It's bizarre that an industry that prides itself on creativity and innovation would need an intervention led by a psychologist to get them to start thinking about something as obvious as proportions.

But if the fashion industry doesn't change, they may end up designing for female body shapes that don't actually exist. 

As Tim Gunn points out, one of the reasons why Australian male androgynous model Andrej Pejic is so popular in female couture shows is that, "he doesn't have any hips, and women aren't going to look like that."

Caryn Franklin, British fashion commentator and supporter of Endangered Bodies says that it"s not just designers that need to be better trained, but also the image makers, photographers, and journalists.

"People who enter into fashion endorse a system where value judgements are made about a woman's body and a woman's appearance, unthinkingly."

The consequence of these value judgements that ignore all other body types, is, as the WTF, PLUS SIZE CLOTHING MANUFACTURERS? Tumblr states, "When you take sadness and make a skirt out of it, it probably looks like this."


Kasey Edwards is the best-selling author of 30-Something and Over It and 30-Something and The Clock is Ticking.www.kaseyedwards.com