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:

Gabifresh
Curvy Canadian
GarnerStyle
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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