How Tim Gunn Got it Wrong

yellow skirt
Warning: May add volume …and fabulousness.

By now you’ve seen the article Tim Gunn wrote in The Washington Post about how the fashion industry has long-ignored plus-sized women and how that needs to change.

In a statement I can totally get behind, he said:

“I love the American fashion industry, but it has a lot of problems, and one of them is the baffling way it has turned its back on plus-size women. It’s a puzzling conundrum. The average American woman now wears between a size 16 and a size 18, according to new research from Washington State University. There are 100 million plus-size women in America, and, for the past three years, they have increased their spending on clothes faster than their straight-size counterparts. There is money to be made here ($20.4 billion, up 17 percent from 2013). But many designers — dripping with disdain, lacking imagination or simply too cowardly to take a risk — still refuse to make clothes for them.”

Yep, we can’t figure it out either. Though soon enough, the picture becomes clear:

“I’ve spoken to many designers and merchandisers about this. The overwhelming response is, “I’m not interested in her.” Why? “I don’t want her wearing my clothes.” Why? “She won’t look the way that I want her to look.” They say the plus-size woman is complicated, different and difficult, that no two size 16s are alike. Some haven’t bothered to hide their contempt. “No one wants to see curvy women” on the runway, Karl Lagerfeld, head designer of Chanel, said in 2009.”

It’s no surprise that size bigotry and a laziness to design for any body outside of the narrow range of sizes represented by fashion models that leaves us with so little to wear – but it’s shameful as all hell. Again, nothing new to those of us who live in the plus-sized fashion world, though that designers find our bodies so repulsive to dress hurts a little a lot. If you’re a skilled designer, how hard it is to draw a few more round lines?? So I really liked that Tim was calling out this bullshit front and center.

But then he rounded a corner at the intersection of WTF and Hell, No!:

“The key is the harmonious balance of silhouette, proportion and fit, regardless of size or shape. Designs need to be reconceived, not just sized up; it’s a matter of adjusting proportions. The textile changes, every seam changes. Done right, our clothing can create an optical illusion that helps us look taller and slimmer. Done wrong, and we look worse than if we were naked.”

And later:

“Half the [clothing] items make the body look larger, with features like ruching, box pleats and shoulder pads. Pastels and large-scale prints and crazy pattern-mixing abound, all guaranteed to make you look infantile or like a float in a parade.”

Oh. That old trope. Adjust the proportions and the fat body simply just disappears into slimness! Pastels, ruching, box pleats and shoulder pads are all fine for thinner women – but not fat women. Yes, our bodies are different – but they aren’t so different that we can’t wear the same styles that thinner women wear. With limiting rhetoric like this, no wonder fashion designers don’t want to make plus-sized clothing.

Tim, allow me to enlighten you: that “flattering” shit is old and doesn’t even work. We don’t want to hear it anymore. We don’t need tips and tricks on how to appear less or different than we are because it’s damaging to our self-esteem to think that way. What many of us want (I won’t speak for all of us) is simply the same cool clothing choices that are available for “straight” sized women. We’ve all tried that small patterns/wear all black/vertical stripes are slimming/avoid ruffles and ruching crap and guess what – we were still fat, and with a boring wardrobe. Worse, we were paranoid that we looked fat and that looking fat was so, so wrong. In short: it sucked.

That’s when it hit me: Tim still thinks fat bodies are wrong and need to be disguised. That he can’t envision fat women in anything other than the most slimming silhouettes tells us that he can’t envision a fat body that is just fine as it is. Even worse, he tells us how bad we would look if we were naked. Gee, thanks a bunch!

He then takes Project Runway to task for allowing Ashley Nell Tipton to win with the first plus sized collection the show has had because she dared to design haute couture clothing that looked easily as ridiculous as it usually does for thin women. High fashion, in my opinion, is more about art than about practicality, and from what I saw of her collection, it didn’t look all that different from what is usually designed for thin women, except that it was on fatter bodies.

The article was a much-needed plea to the fashion world to make clothing for bigger women, and for that, I truly do thank him because he has a public platform to affect the kind of change that most of us can’t. But I do hope that he doesn’t get to be in charge of this project. His comments about what fat women should wear smacked of old-school patriarchy and condescension toward fat bodies, and I’m not having it. Tim, please challenge your assumptions about fat bodies, and maybe even consider asking a few more fat women what they want to wear and how they want to feel in their clothing. My guess is it would simply be a request for more more more choices, from the sublime to the silly.  I also invite you to check out the work that fat fashion bloggers have been doing for the last few years to bring about change in the fashion industry (see my list of favorites below). They don’t worry about whether their clothes “hug” vs “skim” their bodies, they just wear what they like and they look fucking fabulous because their best accessory is confidence.

I want to embrace Tim’s plea wholeheartedly but I’m weary of any sort of non-change change, ya know what I mean? This kind of “disguise your body” thinking is what led me to hide my French Connection sample sale orange and teal floral satin dress in the back of my closet in 1997 with nary a wear because I thought it made me look “fat” (this was back when I wasn’t). So what if it did make me look fat? It was a fabulous dress and it deserved to be worn. Worse, the mentality of creating the illusion of thinness from my very wrong fat body is what led me to starve myself more and more, wanting to create the reality of thinness instead of embracing exactly what I was.

“Flattering” is the concept I now eschew when I’m putting on my swishy pleated floor-length skirts that make me feel like a fierce and formidable fashion princess. It’s the symbol of all that I’m not supposed to wear on my fat body. We all deserve our own version of that swishy skirt without worrying if it transforms us into alternate versions of ourselves.

Here are my favorite fat fashion blogs:

Curvy Canadian
Le Blog de Big Beauty
Flaws of Couture
The Curvy Fashionista
Curvy Girl Chic
Life and Style of Jessica Kane
Nadia Aboulhosn
Nicolette Mason
And one for the dudes: Chubstr

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12 thoughts on “How Tim Gunn Got it Wrong

  1. Sabrina September 12, 2016 / 11:10 am

    Hear, hear! Why should any of us feel we need to dress to “flatter” and create an illusion of thinness? I am a “straight-sized” woman myself, but have a very curvy lower body and shorter legs. I am really tired of never finding jeans that actually fit my waist but will accommodate my larger thighs and butt, or reading stupid fashion articles that tell me I should wear nothing but A-line skirts to draw attention toward my smaller waist and away from my thighs, or that J should wear heels and tailor my pants to just graze the floor in those heels to create the illusion of longer legs. I like my big, powerful thighs, dammit! I want to show them off! And I hate wearing heels! No way am I going to hem my pants so that I have to wear them, or risk tearing up the hem when they drag on the floor? And why should I have to hem all my pants anyway? Why can’t women buy pants according to waist and length, like men do?

    The truth is that ALL bodies are different. It’s not like one size 4 has the same body type as another size 4, any more than one size 18 has the same body type as another size 18. We’re all differently shaped and proportioned. And we should all get to wear fun clothes that make us feel fabulous, regardless of size, shape, or what someone else thinks we “should” wear.

    • GlenysO September 12, 2016 / 1:40 pm

      I wholeheartedly agree! MOST women have different bodies and no two bodies wear the same pair of pants the same. I kind of feel like there are probably just a lot of “straight” sized women going around wearing ill-fitting clothing because that’s all there was that season – their size, but fits another body type. And totally agree that we should get to pick clothing by measurement the way men do!!

  2. mmapes2 September 12, 2016 / 2:02 pm

    You mentioned including a list of fashion bloggers you love, but I don’t happen to see it. Can you point me in the right direction? Thanks!!

    • GlenysO September 12, 2016 / 3:25 pm

      So sorry I forgot to put those in! I’ve edited the post to include my favorites at the bottom. Thanks for the heads up!!

      • mmapes2 September 13, 2016 / 6:58 am

        Awesome! Thank you =D

  3. Grab the Lapels September 14, 2016 / 3:44 pm

    I get the feeling he was saying don’t design clothes that make women look fatter, life a parade float… But then he said the naked thing. I can’t help but feel my best in clothes that render me feeling naked: loose, allow movement, nothing tight. To be naked all the time is the dream, clothes–the enemy. If he’s working from the perspective of hiding the naked body in the best way possible, he’ll never get it right.

    • GlenysO September 14, 2016 / 4:02 pm

      I agree he was saying don’t design clothing that makes women fatter, but why not? We can only go one direction with this? If you buy the “fat is bad” idea then this would seem like a good idea, but I’m rejecting that idea completely and I want him to too. So what if we look wider?? And then yes, he hammers it all home with a naked insult. I love near-nakedness too! I can’t wear anything constricting anymore. I think this is something that happens in middle age, if my mother’s polyester stretch pants and my addiction to jersey are any evidence.

      • Grab the Lapels September 14, 2016 / 8:42 pm

        I see what you’re saying now! I guess the way I think if it is I want to look exactly like me, no bigger or smaller, so a parade float isn’t me. But you’re right, he’s implying (and saying) wide is bad.

        • GlenysO September 14, 2016 / 9:49 pm

          Right! The way I see it is, some clothes will make me look thinner, others fatter, and yet others exactly the size I am (of which I am not a good judge anyway) – and I want to have the opportunity and choice to wear them all!

  4. KatieComeBack September 18, 2016 / 2:38 pm

    I hear you. But given the perspective that’s certainly been drilled forcibly into his head for decades, I think he has a decent start – and a good base to build on. Hard to fix it in a day.

    • GlenysO September 18, 2016 / 4:05 pm

      Usually I’m in agreement with that line of thinking, but the problem is that if he’s the one making the suggestions for this brave new world of fat women’s clothing, all we’re going to end up with is separates with vertical stripes on them (an exaggeration, but you know what I mean). Even worse, he doubled down on his “fat is ugly” sentiment on NPR recently saying (and I’m paraphrasing but it was essentially this) “Long and lean will always look better than short and fat.” Yes, if we buy into the BS that society has us investing in. I’m just afraid his way of thinking will reinforce the idea that “fat is bad” and improve nothing.

      • KatieComeBack September 18, 2016 / 4:57 pm

        Valid point!

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