Plus-Size Fashion: Do its Problems Begin In Fashion School?

Since the relationship between fashion and “plus-size” is a never-ending fount of discussion, dissection, frustration and sometimes outright dismissal, the Frisky wonders today if the absence of available upmarket clothing in larger sizes is deceptively simple: is the problem with plus-size fashion in fashion schools? In other words, rather than the fashion world’s widespread marginalizing of larger silhouettes (the popular culprit) could it be that young fashionistas just don’t learn how to tailor and cut garments for larger bodies?

Short response: I hope not.

Says the piece, “Apparently, it’s not just a question of designers not wanting to create plus sizes; it’s also a mechanical matter of not knowing how to do it, or not being able to make a runway look larger without it turning into something completely different …”

I had always figured the problem started a little later.  In the ferociously competitive world of fashion, there are only so many slots for great designers, and while trying to distinguish yourself as a young up-and-comer, the struggle to be noticed (moreover, taken seriously) is already dramatic enough. Overcoming that and designing plus-size is enough to be permanently dismissed as irrelevant (if even noticed enough to be dismissed at all).

But that can’t be entirely true, because most Americans had never even heard of London’s Mark Fast–and his lux, ultra-sexy knits–before he sent size 12 and 14 models down the runway in September last year (pictured). The delight and uproar caused such a commotion that Fast found himself in such demand he even snubbed Lady Gaga.

So if the answer is as uncomplicated as young fashion students don’t know how to make clothes for larger women and girls, then the problem is either with 1) fashion students or (and here it gets a little stickier) 2) the fashion industry, for devaluing plus-size fashion to the point that students have zero interest in learning the trade. Then again, I can’t remember the last fashion student I met who wasn’t a size nothing.

I find it kind of hard to believe that there aren’t enough aspiring designers wanting to do plus-size that fashion programs simply don’t offer the training. It strikes me that fashion students face enough uncertainty and hardship that learning how to design plus-size clothes is no more a death sentence than going to fashion school at all. For that matter, with hardly anyone catering to the plus-size customer, the market is wide open (and extremely lucrative) for someone to come along and be the de facto provider of cool double digit designs. It almost seems like interested fashion students would be doing themselves a disservice to neglect plus-size offerings.

So what do you think? Is the plus-size discussion a cyclical blame game in which designers cite buyers and buyers cite magazines and magazines cite consumers? Why are there next to no plus-size clothes in fashion forward or, hell, even cute styles? Could it be that fashion students are to blame or are there just too many factors to even single out a responsible party? The debate continues…

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    • stephanie

      I wouldn’t be surprised if it did indeed start in the classroom. Though new students have grown up in a world devoid of plus-sized examples in the fashion world so I guess it’s a bit of a chicken/egg situation at the moment? I also think that designers are more likely to design for very thin women because they are (sorry if this seems crass) the closest to a hanger. There aren’t curves to “distort” the silhouette they have in mind, and there’s little reason to restrict elements of the design to allow for flattering shapes. However, I don’t mean to say that all fashion can’t be worn by normal/plus-sized woman and I don’t think everything on the runway is automatically unflattering if you have curves. I DO think, though, because it’s their art/creation etc, that designers often focus on the design and not a mainstream buyer. Now that I think about it, the mainstream is often derided in fashion. For example, I can’t count the number of time I’ve heard Project Runway contestants roasted on the runway for making something too commercial. Christian Siriano was one of the BEST on that show, but the one time he designed for a plus-sized girl his dress looked cute but, seen next to his sketch, utterly unrecognizable

    • magda

      I agree that perhaps the problem is coming from were the aspiring designers are learning their trade. The vast majority of fashion is geared toward women who you couldnt see if they turned sideways, but this problem goes beyond fashion. It requires all of society to be reprogramed for what they find aesteticly pleasing.

      Try being “plus sized” and petitte. Im short and stout and entire ignored by the fashion world. If i try to buy plus sized clothes, they dont fit right because the lines are longer. I end up swimming in over-sized garments. But if i try buying just regular or petite clothing. then i look like a wrapped up pumpkin. Also, having DD breasts doesnt help my case either.

    • Lo

      Know-how has a lot to do with it, and I mean knowing how to make clothes that are flattering as well as original. Only the very skinny can get away with wearing an artfully-draped bag. Faced with all the other body shapes (not just sizes), you have to compromise on wackiness – and why not? I’d rather see designers making people look awesome than trying to outdo the latest stuffed-weasel shoulder braces from whatshisface. I’m not saying that they should forget about art, but if they’re making a range to sell, it has to have some element of practicality.

      I’d like to see fashion students given the opportunity to make outfits for different body shapes, because a lot of those shapes have their own advantages (cleavage! Waists! Various other curves!) It’s harder to do and makes the quality designers stand out. It’d give fashion-conscious consumers the message that you don’t have to have a ridiculously standardised body to look good in original new clothes.

    • Marie

      When I was studying for my degree in fashion, we were told by the tutors that we could design and create plus sized garments, however we would have to have ‘excellent justification’ for why we were differing from the ‘standard fashion silhouette’.

      So, there’s a lot of problems coming from the tutors and the schools.

    • Erika

      As a former fashion student I can attest that part of the problem comes from the training.

      You would not believe how many times I was chastised for drawing my models too heavy. My illustrations came back marked up like pre-op plastic surgery patient…”slim down here…here…here..here… lengthen here… here…here..”

      My argument was that if I designed on a stick figure, how would I know how it would translate on a woman? Their argument I guess was if I designed on a woman, how would I know how it would translate on a 14 year old size zero runway model (where fashion really counts! Amiright)?

      The kicker is I didn’t draw them plus-sized. I drew them average.

      I only stuck it out 2 out of 4 years so I can’t say when (or if) they learned to grade patterns for different sizes and shapes. But I certainly spent lots of time, money and material making clothes I couldn’t wear.

      I still love design, and if I ever started my own line it would definitely include a plus sizes! There are way too few options for young women especially.