Or so concludes the fashion industry, according to Plus Size Wars by Ginia Bellafante in Sunday’s Times Magazine. I give you Exhibit A:
The most formidable obstacle lies in creating a prototype. If you already have a line of clothing and a set system of sizing, you cannot simply make bigger sizes. You need whole new systems of pattern-making. “The proportions of the body change as you gain weight, but for women within a certain range of size, there is a predictability to how much, born out by research dating to the 1560s,” explained Kathleen Fasanella, who has made patterns for women’s coats and jackets for three decades. “We know pretty well what a size 6 woman will look like if she edges up to a 10; her bustline might increase an inch,” Fasanella said. “But if a woman goes from a size 16 to a 20, you just can’t say with any certainty how her dimensions will change.”
A paragraph later, Fasanella follows that up with this:
“You’ll have some people who gain weight entirely in their trunk, some people who will gain it in their hips,” Fasanella continued. “As someone getting into plus-size, you can either make clothing that is shapeless and avoid the question altogether or target a segment of the market that, let’s say, favors a woman who gets larger in the hip. You really have to narrow down your customer.” A designer must then find a fit model who represents that type and develop a pattern around her. But even within the subcategories, there are levels of differentiation. “Armholes are an issue,” Fasanella told me, by way of example. “If you have decided to go after the woman who is top-heavy, well, some gain weight in their upper arms and some do not. There are so many variables; you never win. It’s like making computers and then deciding you want to make monitors; a monitor is still a computer product, but it’s a whole new kind of engineering.”
All of which leads Bellafante to surmise: “Thin people are more like one another; heavier people are less like one another. With more weight comes more variation.”
Well, I call bullsh*t.
Because here’s Exhibit B: My best friend A. and me. We are pretty much the same height, weight, and clothing size. We have the same taste in clothes. And yet, we rarely buy the exact same thing because it never, ever looks right on both of us.
I have a short torso and longer legs and gain all my weight in my middle. She has a long torso, tiny waist, and shorter legs. We figured out a long time ago that if you sliced us in half and put her torso on my legs, we would be roughly Heidi Klum’s height and if you did it the other way around, we would be Snooki-sized. This means that whenever we go shopping, we grab all the clothes we both like, then go into the dressing room and pass things back and forth as we figure out which dress is sized for someone with a waist and which jeans assume an absence of hips and so on.
We are not plus sized. We are just women, doing what women always have to do, because standard clothing sizes are always making generalizations about our bodies that in no way reflect reality. Check out this comment from Becca, a few weeks ago, about being told that Gap jeans — Gap! The epitome of All-American Every Girl mall fashion! — don’t fit her “body type” for Exhibit C.
So, attention fashion industry: Please do get over yourself. The variety of larger bodies does not explain why you can’t make a wider variety of clothing sizes. The whole “plus size” debacle is just the most glaring example of your failure on this front, because most brands don’t even try. Obviously the economic pressures of mass-market fashion dictate cookie cutter clothing. So let’s just admit that, shall we? You suck at making pants that fit. Passing that buck to larger women for daring to be shaped differently (read: just like human beings tend to be)? Now, you just suck.
To everyone above a size 12: There’s no doubt you have it rougher on the average retail outing and it effing blows. But if it helps (I mean, I know it doesn’t, but still) whenever you see a smaller woman dragging armloads of clothes into a fitting room, know that it’s not just a fit of “Anthropologie makes the prettiest dresses!” ecstasy. It’s mostly because Anthropologie (or insert-your-favorite-store-here) dresses are cut for people without rib cages and she has to try on that much crap to find anything that works.
A lot of the time, we don’t really have that many more options. It only looks that way on the store mannequins.
[Photo of the most terrifying store mannequins I could find: “clothes!” by s2art via Flickr.]