Tim Gunn Says the Dearth of Plus-Size Clothing Options is “Repugnant”

Tim Gunn
Tim Gunn

If there is one thing Tim Gunn knows, it's fashion - especially how to "make it work." He only wishes that the fashion industry would do the same for women who wear sizes larger than 12.

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Gunn, famous for his role in assisting up-and-coming clothing designers on Project Runway, told Huffington Post that options dwindle for women who wear size 14 and up:

"When I'm working in the real world with real women and we're shopping, we find that fashion seems to end when you get any larger than a size 12. How ridiculous is that?"

Gunn also feels like petite women have substandard fashion options, and that the industry should wake up to market demand for clothes in larger and smaller than average sizes.

"I've had my own moments in front of designers when I've actually said, 'You know, there's a market here for expanding your work, and here it is.' And frankly, there are two markets: The women who are larger than the 12, and then there are women who are petite. And most designers that I talk to have absolutely no interest in addressing either of those populations, which I find repugnant."

I'm positive that he is correct about the industry underestimating market demand for these sizes, or, worst case scenario, using this excuse as a smokescreen for a simple lack of desire to provide these options. I've heard weak arguments about why designers shouldn't make plus-sized clothes, particularly the reasoning that they cost more to manufacture because they use more fabric. (That definitely makes no sense for petite clothing options.) Designers and retailers at all price points would likely benefit from providing clothing options that women who are used to picking through very limited offerings - many of whom undoubtedly have income budgeted for clothing - would gladly buy.

I have been at a few different sizes on the retail spectrum accessible to a person with a typical middle-class income - think just about any store you'd find at an average shopping mall. Shopping for a size 14 prom dress many (many!) years ago was my first memory of the frustration of facing limited options for a special occasion. I found something presentable to wear, but looking at photos of it now, it wouldn't have been anywhere near what I'd have chosen if I'd had, well, reasonable choices. Over the years, when I've required a size larger than 12, the options, although I have to say they have improved slightly from my perspective, have not gotten better.

Gunn calls out a particular New York City shopping destination as an example of the bleak fashion landscape for women who wear larger sizes:

"Go to Lord & Taylor on Fifth Avenue, I think it's the eighth floor, and it's just a department called 'Woman.' It's rather devastating. You've never seen such hideous clothes in your entire life. I mean, it's simply appalling. Thank God there are no windows on that floor, because if I were a size 18, I'd throw myself right out the window [after seeing those clothes]. It's insulting what these designers do to these women."

Gunn's show Project Runway has featured plus-size challenges before, and it would be great if he could expand his influence in fashion and media to move towards solutions - or at least an expanded discussion - of why clothing options are so limited for plus-size women (and petite women, but I can't speak specifically to that challenge.) There is at least a season's worth of challenges to be found in creating outfits that flatter bodies 14 and up, rather than shrouding them in too-large pieces or resorting to stretchy pants and polyester. We just shouldn't be in this place in 2013. If anyone could encourage sexy and fun design creations for a woman of any size, it's Tim Gunn.

His comments are a start, and the fact that he was willing to make them is another thing that sets him apart as a fashion leader and critic of the culture. Clearly I'd let him take me shopping anytime. The fashion industry would be wise to listen to him, too.

- By Laurie White

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