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Excellent Article from the NYT | Manolo for the Big Girl

Excellent Article from the NYT

about the “Plus-Size Wars” from critic Ginia Bellafante, and hey! This time there aren’t any plus-size models standing in the frozen food section of the grocery store, holding a bag of meatballs.  Progress!

All joking aside, this is an outstanding overview of the struggle of plus-size retail and fashion’s relationship with the pudgy stepsister.  It’s worth reading the entire article, but here are some relevant quotes:

“Mainstream fashion magazines have always purported to embrace diverse images of the female body, publishing periodic “shape” issues that juxtapose the thin and very thin with the moderately fleshy.”

“In the series “More to Love,” broadcast on Fox last year, 20 women who weighed up to 279 pounds competed for the affections of an overweight single man: heavy women might be worthy of “The Bachelor”-style indignities but were decidedly unworthy of “Bachelor”-looking bachelors.”

“According to a 2008 survey conducted by Mintel, a market-research firm, the most frequently worn size in America is a 14. Government statistics show that 64 percent of American women are overweight (the average woman weighs 164.7 pounds). More than one-third are obese. Yet plus-size clothing (typically size 14 and above) represents only 18 percent of total revenue in the women’s clothing industry.”

“The market for plus-size clothes is effectively a Catch-22: women purchase less than they might because what they see on the racks doesn’t appeal to them; manufacturers and retailers cite poor sales figures as evidence of low demand and retrench, failing to provide the supply that might meet changing tastes.”

“To make these high-end plus-size clothes, Marina Rinaldi employs 50 people in the paper-pattern department alone. Three fit models are in the design studio every day. Because most of the fabric is stretch, its tensile strength must be tested: 80 percent is manipulated mechanically or by hand to measure resilience. Cutting a stretch fabric is more complicated, because it doesn’t rest easily on the table; stitching it requires using a yarn with elasticity. By the time a Marina Rinaldi tunic-length, drawstring cardigan arrives for sale at $395, it can seem almost economical.”

If a certain revulsion toward fat has characterized American life for more than 110 years, it is not so surprising that there is more than a little dissembling in selling plus-size clothing. Online and in print catalogs there is often little effort to reflect the realities of the customers’ proportions. Neiman Marcus uses thin models to sell plus-size, as does Woman Within, a retailer devoted solely to this market.

4 Responses to “Excellent Article from the NYT”

  1. Thea August 4, 2010 at 5:46 pm #

    Thank you so much for posting that article. It is a fair description of the sizing issues and an accurate (and wholly unfair) view of the way we’re treated in the marketplace.

    I really don’t get why someone hasn’t slapped that report down in front of the board of director or venture capitalists and said “Ladies and Gentlemen – we have a goldmine here and we’re all about to be driving vintage Jags.” (well, that’s what I’d be driving if I had the money for one – and the live in certified Jag mechanic required to keep it running. And his names would be Niles). But I digress…

    Yes plus size women come in different shapes – so make clothes for DIFFERENT SHAPES. The perfect black dress, dress trouser, straight skirt in Apple and then the same again in Hourglass and Pear. Once you have cleaned up on basics, you can start on jeans, cocktail dresses and day wear……Who’s with me here?!

  2. zuzu August 4, 2010 at 7:34 pm #

    I’m gonna have to disagree with a couple of points made in the article, particularly about the patternmaking/fabric. Marina Rinaldi makes paper patterns instead of using software, which is going to be more expensive (so, indeed, will Marina Rinaldi’s dedication to craftsmanship).

    HOWEVER. That whole thing about stretch fabric being more difficult to work with, and thus more expensive? Um, when did straight-size manufacturers start using non-stretch fabrics exclusively? Because I see a whole hell of a lot of cheap clothes of all sizes in stretch fabric.

  3. txbunny August 6, 2010 at 4:35 pm #

    I agree with Thea about the business opportunity in the plus size market with the consideration of body shape as well as size. A manufacturer just determining the appropriate silhouette to be created for each body type and advertising as such would be a godsend.

    As a plus sized hourglass I have almost every item of clothing I wear altered. Most changes are proportional in order to have the garment look right on my 5’11” frame. An extensive knowledge of sewing and alterations is needed so I am able to state what has to be fixed to the lovely ladies who do this work for me. Lucky, this knowledge came from a mother, grandmother, aunt, and 2 great aunts instructing me as to what was proper fit from when I was small through my teen years. Because of this I have clothes that fit but every customer should not be expected to have this level of knowledge to get appropriately fitted clothing.

    Many times I have had to sit down with a new store alterations professional and show them where to alter a seam to fix a sway back adjustment or how to fix a gape under the arm due to having larger then D cup breasts.

    It is sweet to hear from these ladies how much they enjoy and learn around me but I still feel there has to be a better way.

    For now I stick with a few brands who’s silhouette works with mine and alter as needed (ie Donna Ricco, JS Boutique, Suzi Chen, Maggy London for example). I try other lines at the beginning of each season but normally this is an exercise in frustration.

    As for zuzu’z statements: With seam stabilizers, overlock sewing machines, and lazer fabric cutting; knit clothing can be created quickly and does not have to be fitted to the degree non-stretch fabrics do. However altering poly lycra knit garments after they are created is not for the faint hearted. I have had it done but it definitely was not easy for the seamstress doing the work.

  4. Emi!y August 18, 2010 at 10:19 pm #

    My BFF sent me this article last week. We like to email back and forth so we look really busy at our respective jobs. :D Anyway, Here’s the beginning of the email I sent back:
    “Interesting article, but there’s hardly anything new in it. I’m waiting for some journalist to get a straight answer from a label/designer. The whole excuse about the patterns being harder to make is bullshit. Women’s wear patterns are harder to make than kid’s wear or men’s wear, and yet, that’s the largest segment of the fashion industry. Women’s bodies already come in a wide variety of sizes and shapes, even in “regular” sizing. Just look at any fashion mag article on buying the right jeans for your body type or t-shirt or dress or swimsuit. How many kinds of prototypes do designers have to come up with just for pairs of pants? It’s simply a matter of admitting that you make clothes for people who are a different size and than you. Plus, they say that clothes don’t hang as well on plus-size figures. But some outfits just look ridiculous on skinny models. Every time I see a corseted ball gown on a size 0 or 00, I giggle a little. There are no curves to it, no fluidity”