Have you ever walked into a clothing store only to find hideous pieces of clothing on the plus-size rack? For many plus-size women, this is normal. The perpetual lack of trendy outfits for a night out, work, vacation, or special occasion is saddening. What happened to fashionable, timeless pieces? What happened to bold colour, stylish cuts and designs for the plus-size frame? Here’s why plus size fashion is ugly.
Plus-size ladies want chic fashion staples. But, designers refuse to create apparel that caters for these needs. With great effort, brands sell the lie that it is expensive to clothe thick women in lush clothing, disguising the true reason why only ugly designs exist on the plus-size racks – bias.
Despite the rapid growth of the multi-billion dollar plus-size industry, a lot remains to be done to meet the plus-size market’s needs. You would assume that with such great progress, the recognition of the plus-size fashion market as a distinct and lucrative segment of the women fashion market, fashion houses would harness their resources and flood the market with competitively priced stylish and forward-looking outfits.
Quite to the contrary, there remains a slow entry rate of new players into this niche. As if that isn’t bad enough, several of those who hurriedly ventured into this fast-paced fashion market continuously disappoint with outdated and depressing fashion pieces. It seems that they simply want to carve out for themselves a slice of the big pie without putting in the work to provide beautiful pieces of clothing that meet the fashion needs of their ‘target market.’
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Bias Against Plus Size Women
It is one thing for brands to design ‘plus size clothes’ that do not fit. Perhaps the designer accidentally miscalculated the needed measurements or the blazer, skirt or dress was designed to only fit the less thick members of the plus-size fraternity. We can try to understand if that was the case. But it is an entirely different thing for designers to design clothes that fit but do nothing to flatter your frame. Such incidences cannot be said to be purely accidental.
The unspoken, yet conscious bias against plus-size frames continues to be the order of the day. Unfortunately, many designers and fashion outlets do not believe that satisfying the fashion needs of plus size frames is worth their time, money and resources.
Undeterred, several fashion houses continue to produce plus size clothing that is baffling. Apparels with no taste, style or flamboyance. For several players in the market, plus size design and fashion is deemed inferior and secondary to the regular-sized fashion market. A mere afterthought, once they are done attending to the needs of the non- plus-size market.
Ugly Plus Size Clothing
Many may argue that ugliness is subjective just as beauty and politics which ride on an individual’s personal beliefs and interests. But universally, there is general consensus on what is considered ugly clothing and what is beautiful clothing. Ugliness here is used quite broadly. It does not just refer to the beauty or lack thereof of the fabric used in the dress or top but includes the clothes’ fit, design and cuts and the overall appearance of the wearer when clothed in them.
A short black plus size evening dress may look lovely perhaps even enchanting. It may have the right detail and embellishments, perfectly stitched and sewn together. But when worn by any plus size woman, it is upsetting. It may have hardly any wiggle room because of the stiff non-stretchy material used. The outcome is a plus-size lady whose fat underarms, bust, belly and thighs are squeezed, hanging awkwardly from every conceivable angle, giving the impression that they are about to burst at any time.
It is incorrect to suggest that it is the cost of production that deters brands from creating beautiful clothing. Rather, bias is perpetrated in various forms throughout the whole industry. The whole process of designing, producing, marketing and retailing fabrics and clothing is permeated with it.
Here is why even with the increasing demand for body equality, a ready plus-size market and the promise of great returns, plus- size fashion continues to be ugly.
1. Regular- sized patterns and designs are merely blown up to fit into the plus-size category
This ‘blow-up’ methodology of creating plus-size collections is probably the worst of all ills perpetrated by fashion companies. No effort is put into designing clothing specific to the body of a larger frame. They simply enlarge all measurements of meticulously created designs of smaller frames and call the result ‘plus size fashion.’
Not only do the measurements and dimensions of curvier women differ from those of their slimmer counterparts but also their fashion needs are different. When it comes to selecting an appropriate piece of clothing, different considerations will be made by women of different body sizes. For example, support is a paramount consideration made by women who have larger hips and busts. It is not a ‘must-have’ for most women with smaller busts.
Additionally, plus size women will appreciate clothes that do bring some definition to their silhouettes. These clothes are designed to effectively highlight particular body parts, more particularly the leaner areas, create optical distractions or emphasis that distinguish them from the rest of their bodies as well as guise other areas. Designs such as empire waists and attached waist belts make mild distinctions between the bust and belly region, giving the appearance of a curvier frame.
Smaller women may not necessarily need this type of definition as they are less flabby. Regular sized clothing that are blown up will be ‘shapeless’ and mirror ‘potato sacks’ as they have added no definition to plus-size bodies.
Patterns and cuts that are simply blown up to fit bigger silhouettes prove insufficient in catering to the unique fashion needs of curvier women. These clothing honestly appear lopsided.
2. No research, study, and development into the fashion preferences tastes, and needs of plus size women
Needless to say, where there is no careful inquiry and study into the needs of a target market, designers proceed blindly and make erroneous assumptions. Without perspective or knowledge on the prevailing and current what, why and how of plus size fashion, any ‘expert’ will fall short of producing pieces that satisfy that niche’s fashion needs.
Fashion is not a mere wild guess. It is a fine art, a craft of sorts. The crafter proceeds to plan and produce a thoughtful piece for the purpose intended. Plus-size fashion is ugly because no enduring thought or query is made into plus size fashion.
Research helps designers appreciate their audience and clients. It gives the practical, actionable feedback of what needs to be incorporated to make designs more appealing and compatible with larger frames. It enables designers to stop and think about their designs, before mass production. They are forced to ask whether the pieces are trendy enough, comfortable enough and durable enough. Or whether the apparel conveniently meets the needs of larger frames.
This forces them to reflect and utilize data and studies to arrive at a transparent and probable answer. Rather than simply assume the outcome.
3. Unequal representation
Ironically, a majority of publicly trading fashion companies are largely managed by men than women. This is not wrong. However, wouldn’t it be better to have women calling the shots and creating designs alongside their male counterparts especially when it comes to women clothing?
He who wears the shoe knows where it pinches the most. A woman is better placed to fully understand the fashion needs of fellow women. She will tell you that it is more than colour, a brand name or daring cuts that women go for when choosing a clothing item.
If this is true, it is also correct to state that plus size women in the fashion industry are also better placed to understand the various fashion needs of women in the plus-size spectrum. However, there is significant under-representation of these groups when it comes to the fashion industry. The power balance is tilted in favour of more slender women as a lower percentage of plus size women are hired into fashion companies.
Therefore, the fashion business remains a male-dominated industry, with little to no representation of women let alone plus size women. So who is left to push for plus size interests?
4. Limited designs and options
Outdated fashion theories of how plus-size women should dress, continue to inform the designing process. There was a time when plus size women were ‘advised’ to dress in dull colours to mask their large bellies and thighs. They were told to avoid, daring cuts, prints and body-hugging dresses because they did not ‘flatter’ their frame. Then, we did not know better, but now we do.
Curvy girls can now get away with color and slits, show off their arms and legs and wear body-hugging pieces such as bodycon dresses. No longer are curvier women afraid to flaunt their curves. No longer are they afraid of color and bold cuts, slits and other designs. These women want to be fashionable like everyone else. The error is that designers continue to be influenced by these misconceptions of what ‘flatters the plus-size frame.’
There are very minimal attempts to expand the color range of clothes, the texture and use of various fabrics in designing plus size clothing. There remains a limited range of designs and prints in plus size clothing. Plus size clothing collections generally remain duller, less fancy and restricted in design. This is primarily because of little study into the evolving needs of plus size fashion and sheer prejudice.
5. Lack of appreciation of the various sizes and shapes in the plus-size category
The plus-size camp is quite diverse. It is erroneous to lump all plus size women together and assume they all have the same needs, tastes and preferences. Fundamentally, their differences in size and shape present unique needs which should be appreciated when it comes to fashion. The more specialized a piece of clothing is, the greater the probability that it sits better, looks better, feels better and is better!
Many women find themselves at the intersection of two or more groups. There are those who though smaller are significantly top-heavy and conversely, those who are bigger and shorter etcetera. Nevertheless, they too deserve to look and feel beautiful. They too deserve to have clothing that appreciates their shape, size, height, skin color, style and preference. Fashion outlets, however, have failed to distinguish the various women who form part of the plus-size fraternity. There are no designs specific to the given niche.
6. Inaction when brands receive feedback
This affects the whole cycle of the designing process. Every organization looking to increase sales and raise its profit margin understands how vital feedback is. It is a fundamental piece of the review process, to ascertain whether the product produced meets the needs of the target market. Valuable information about customer concerns and suggested areas of improvements are also captured. Using this, the organization can effectively re-strategize, capitalize on their strengths and address any weaknesses and gaps in their production and supply chain.
Shockingly, there continues to be a lot of inaction by brands when they receive feedback from the plus-size community. Several suggestions have been raised by dissatisfied customers. Whether it is to add shorts underneath dresses to avoid chaffing or cups to the bodice for extra support, dresses still come bare- without any small shorts and luxurious beautiful tops come without the needed support – every time round.
Amidst all talks and clamour by plus-size celebrities and other notable characters for designs that are tailor-made for the plus-size frame, nothing has been done. The indifference is stiffening.
Though many fashion outlets remain indifferent to the fashion needs of plus size women, there are a few players who strive to produce quality trendy plus size clothes for the day to day needs of the plus-size woman. In the meantime, plus size women may be forced to wait a while longer before any equality is experienced. But there is a ray of hope. The change will surely come.
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