Of all the truths and half truths and lies that swirl around the conversation about plus size clothing, one of the most important is the question of what exactly constitutes “plus size”.
How big is it, and what is the “norm” that it is compared against? According to statistics, the average woman in Australia is about a size 14 and that number is edging towards 16.
The average model, the one you see in the advertisements, is about a size eight. On the runway, more like a six.
I attended a runway show recently, which I haven’t done for a while, and was taken aback at how tiny the models were. Not unhealthy, just tiny in terms their proportions, small heads, long necks, long skinny limbs.
I’d forgotten, because when you are on the fashion/model circuit constantly these proportions seem entirely normal. But in reality they’re not. So what do we mean when use the term “plus size”?
I introduced the very successful Australian “plus size” model Laura Wells at a fashion workshop last month, and when she walked on stage I felt ridiculous for even saying those dreaded words.
She’s tall, curvy, healthy, bosomy, drop dead beautiful and a size 14. Admiring waiters were spilling champagne, smitten, as she walked past. And there I was telling size 20 and upwards women in the audience that gorgeous Laura was plus size. I was embarrassed and I said so.
Laura took it all in her stride. “I’ve been a size 14 since I was 14,” she said, admitting she used to cut the size labels out of her clothes, embarrassed because her friends were all 10s and 12s.
She’s left that mindset behind now, a wonderful example of a model owning her curves and having a successful career because of it.
Indeed, the size 14-plus customer has been complaining, for years now, how hard it is to find fashionable clothes in larger sizes.
Despite the fact that this represents the majority of women, the clothing for bigger women has in the past been separated in special plus size departments stocked with shapeless clothes in horrible, cheap-looking fabrics.
Why and when was it decided that because you were bigger than a size 12 you liked purple? Or large prints? Or ultrasuede? Of course, there are certain things women who aren’t models won’t want to wear, but it shouldn’t mean that one has to head straight for caftans.
There is so much that still needs to be addressed, fashionable clothes that are well cut, flattering, made of luxury fabrics and featuring beautiful embellishments such as embroidery and beading. It’s not good enough to offer the customer a badly made sack dress and advise her to invest in an interesting scarf.
I was chatting to a stylist who specialises in the “plus size” market, a subject close to her heart as she has been larger size all her life.
“I could never buy fashionable clothes growing up” she admitted. “I was forced to make things, buy menswear, shop at vintage stores. But this is thankfully changing.”
Labels such as City Chic and TS are introducing far more on-trend options, good staple pieces like denim and shirting and jackets that wholeheartedly embrace the fuller figured customer who is tired of being patronised and ignored.
But there is still a gap at the higher end. A friend was recently lamenting the end of the Easton Pearson label, which has always catered for larger sizes with its gorgeous brocade opera coats, trapeze tops, silky trousers and generously cut dresses.
A larger size doesn’t indicate a lack of taste, or of income, for goodness sake. The customer is out there. And she deserves better.