Clothing For All Shapes and Sizes?

Biscuit doesn't care about flatteringIn a recent press release, Linda Chang, Forever 21’s VP of Merchandising wrote:

“We are pleased to introduce 12×12 Denim as a part of our continued focus on celebrating fashion for all sizes. A key part of our mission is to empower our customers, to be confident with the bodies they have and for their fashion to be an extension of this.”

The 12×12 Denim line comes up to 3XL, but as Refinery29 found, those sizes are less than inclusive — ranging from a 2/4 to just a size 18 (which they are calling a 3x.)

The first issue this highlights is the complete mess that is the “some number of X’s and an L” sizing system. I’m a size 26/28 and, typically, I wear a 3XL. But I certainly can’t count on that. As I was (procrastinating) writing this piece, two different dresses from the same manufacturer appeared on my FB feed. The first dress has the sizing that I’m used to — XS (2–4), S (6–8), M (10–12), L (14–16), XL (18), 1X (18W–20W), 2X (22W–24W), 3X (26W–28W).

The second one… not so much — XS (0), S (2), M (4), L (6), XL (8), 1X (10–12), 2X (14), 3X (16), 4X (18), 5X (18W), 6X (20W), 7X (22W). Yup, you read it right: a size 8 is considered extra large and I would need it to come in a XXXXXXXXXL in order to fit into it.

So this new line by Forever 21 goes up to “3X” which they’ve defined as a size 18. Forever 21 may be better than some in terms of carrying larger sizes, and they may want to “celebrate fashion for all sizes,” but let’s be clear that they aren’t even close to creating fashion for all sizes. They aren’t the only ones either, despite lots of “all shapes and sizes” marketing language. Most plus size stores stop at 26/28, and you can maybe get “extended sizes” — or, as I like to call them, sizes — online, which means you’re paying for shipping (and possibly return shipping) to try on clothes with questionable sizing, that may or may not fit you, and are unlikely to be shown on models who look anything like you. (Those in between“standard” and “plus” sizes face their own challenges.)

It doesn’t have to be this way, though to hear many people in the industry talk, you’d think otherwise. It can be difficult to be size inclusive for sure, but it’s far from impossible. And too often in discussions of fashion, justification take the place of innovation.  I spoke to Mallorie Dunn, creator of Smart Glamour, an “affordable, fashionable, and customizable ethical clothing line for people of all shapes, sizes, heights, ages, identities, and styles” about how she does it:

“The thing about being inclusive is that if you are using words like “all,” “everyone,” “every body,” etc., then you need to mean it. Saying “all bodies” but stopping at a 22/3X isn’t “all.” Saying “every body,” but only showing one euro-centric version of beauty, isn’t it. Just not using heavy photoshop but then only making clothes up to an XL — [that] isn’t it. 

“Companies will cite reason after reason why they can’t do true inclusivity — demand, money, etc., and none if it is valid. I’m one human, hand making every item and casting every model.

“True, if you continue to exist within the corporate structure of fast fashion that ties heavily into fatphobia, sells confidence in a never ending circle where no one can reach the “goal,” and you care more about the bottom dollar (and how cheap you can make things off the backs of marginalized folks), then no. You can’t do it. But no one is going to actually own up to that. 

You can read more from Mallorie and the rest of my piece here!

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6 thoughts on “Clothing For All Shapes and Sizes?

  1. It is true that you can’t mass-produce clothes for every single permutation of shape and size (including shaping issues for people in wheelchairs, with prosthetics, without prosthetics, and various other things that make their shape non-standard), while keeping the prices low, without some serious exploitation of someone or other.

    Mass-production lends itself to exploitation, and customization is not cheap.

    However, what you CAN do, oh, clothing manufacturers, is choose a new, underrepresented niche, and focus your inexpensive mass-produced line on that. Then, once you’re established there, and have some profits to invest in something new, find another under-represented niche and focus on that. Repeat and repeat, and eventually, all the under-represented niches will have clothes that they can wear, and that they can afford.

    I guarantee you that if you make a quality product at a decent price, and you get the word out, via proper marketing, then it won’t matter what your niche market is. You can make a profit. In our global economy, all the niches are big enough to support at least one clothes producer.

    It’s the people who want to jump on the same old bandwagon that has been leading the parade forever who say they “can’t” make it work.

    Or, you can do bespoke clothing, without any exploitation, and charge a lot for it, because customization is not cheap. But, golly, if you know how to customize for an under-represented niche market, people will be willing to pay as much as they can afford for clothes that ACTUALLY FIT. and there again, you can make a profit. Mind you, fat people generally have less money to spend on tailored clothes, but with proper marketing, you widen your customer base, and find more people who are willing to spend a higher percentage of their clothing budget on that one special outfit that makes them look and feel fantastic, and fills them with confidence to rock that job interview, and yes, you’ll make a profit. And they’ll come back for more, as they can afford it. It’s slower growth, perhaps, but highly profitable, long-term, at the same time that it delights a niche market of under-represented people.

    Too long, Didn’t read: There are a variety of ways to make a profit by providing clothes for a variety of under-represented sizes and shapes of people in this world. It can be done!

  2. I have REAL ISSUES with sizing for women’s clothes. You don’t see this sort of wide variation in clothing made for men. My husband isn’t a common size (very broad through the shoulders, barrel-chested, limbs on the short side while still being fairly tall). Yet, I can walk into most stores – and any “big and tall” store – and buy a shirt or pants that fit him without any issue. He doesn’t even have to try them on. Because they are by inches, he knows they’ll fit.

    I see no reason why women’s clothes can’t have waist/inseam and neck/sleeve measurements as well. We’d probably have to have bust and hip measurements too, but I don’t see why it can’t be done except that the fashion industry thinks we are special snowflakes who can’t be bothered to memorize our size in inches and WANT to try on everything in the store to see if it fits.

    I’m on the cuff between plus and straight sizes. Not only do I have to try on a mix of sizes, but I find myself bouncing between two sides of a department store to find what I want.

    1. I think the discrepancy between men’s and women’s sizes stems from that coy don’t ask/don’t tell thing that applies to women’s sizes and ages. I’ve never understood why stigma applies to age (I know that women in particular are considered less valuable as they get older), and why people should gasp when they know your waist size in inches instead of a whole size is a puzzlement too, especially if they have ever seen you.

      I’m in between sizes, too, and while I still have a good bit of thin privilege, it’s annoying. Sometimes an 18 Junior fits, sometimes a 20 is too small.

      Often bigger sizes are Xeroxed up from smaller ones, so they’d fit someone 7’10,” but not if they were fat, and I’m lost in them.

      Then there’s the diversity of fat bodies and how the size is distributed. Big calves sometimes prevent me from being able to pull up pants that otherwise fit and so on.

      Seems like in this age of automation we ought to be able to step into a booth, have a body scan, choose clothes from a catalog showing how those clothes would look on our body, and have them swiftly made to order.

      Just fantasizing. I also don’t want to put anyone out of work, but as long as I’m talking a perfect world, they’d be better employed elsewhere anyway.

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