Size 10 Is Curvy, Not Plus Size: 3 Ways Fashion Is Hurting Its Sales – Forbes

Fashion is an industry that prides itself on changing by the hour and yet sometimes stubbornly resists change for decades even when it makes no sense economically. I remember when I started out as a designer. There were certain areas of fashion you did NOT want to design for, namely, plus size, petite, and missy. These were the areas where style went out the window and originality went to die.  Plus size meant clothes that were gigantic with few fashionable details and often in terrible prints. Fashion treated the Petites category as an annoying afterthought as if to say women who weren’t towering glamazons didn’t deserve style. Missy, well that meant you were over 40 and had given up on fashion all together. No, as a young and passionate design student you wanted to be in designer or bridge, working for somebody like Ralph Lauren or Calvin Klein (who use size 6 fit models).

Times have changed and fashion has finally caught on to the fact that women of taste and style come in all ages, shapes and sizes. These women want fashion and they have the money to buy it.  Yet fashion is still blindly following old habits. Calling larger sizes “plus size” is hurting brands economically because who wants to be called plus? Plus means big, more, larger than. Sure, plus size brands are blowing up but that’s not because larger women love the name. They’re just so excited to finally have fashion that they are willing to forgive anything. How much better would you feel as a woman if you walked into a store and they said “size 12?” why honey, you need to go to our “gorgeous, luscious curves” section. A brand that called size 10 or 12 curvy would have my loyalty for life.

Unfortunately, mislabeling the larger size market “plus” is not the only area where fashion is missing out on opportunities. There is a whole segment of women who are “healthy,” aka size 8-12. Take Kristin Hendricks from Mad Men. She has a beautiful size 10 figure. She’s nowhere near plus size and yet go to any contemporary sportswear store and the majority of clothes won’t look good.  Why?  The proportions were designed for size 0-6 women or what Bridget Jones called “stick insects.” To properly design for women in this size range designers have to think about more than height. 40 may be the new 20 but no matter how great you look, as you get older, your arms change. Women who are size 10 often have larger busts which need different style lines.  Take a certain contemporary brand. Every time I walk by I think “great prints, gorgeous fabrics, not one of those pieces of clothing will look good on me,” and I’m their demographic. A gorgeous Grecian dress in a catalog looked stunning on the model. On my friend with a chest, it looked like a refrigerator and she has a great figure. Designers should take a page from the 1950s when trying to create clothes that fit women with curves.

One of my favorite movie scenes of all time is in Designing Woman with Gregory Peck and Lauren Bacall. It demonstrates so clearly how long it’s been since the fashion industry celebrated curvy women. In the scene, Lauren visits Gregory Peck’s apartment for the first time. She noses around as most of us do to see if he has any skeletons, aka old girlfriends in his closet, only to find a picture of a bold and beautiful blonde with curves that would give the drivers of the Grand Prix a challenge. The look of dismay on her face as she measures the width of her competition against her own and comes up short is priceless.

When the 1960s Youthquake came around with Mary Quant we gave up on curves in favor of the figures of younger bodies and we haven’t truly made it back since.  Take the increase in size of the average American woman over the past few decades. Amazingly, as America grows bigger, stores have favored putting smaller and smaller sizes like 0, 2, and 4 on their shelves. Fit models, traditionally size 8 have been co-opted for slimmer size 6 models.

While I am so happy to see fashion brands finally embracing larger sizes, I’m concerned for the number of opportunities they are missing at a time when most brands are fighting for their lives. I am also disappointed to see the lack of regard for naming. Words have power. Calling women plus size is denigrating.  Women turn to fashion for safety and to feel good about themselves in a world of media that holds them to impossible standards. It would be great if fashion would have our backs and come up with designs that fit our many shapes and names that fit who we are. Real. If they can do that, we all win.

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