The Fashion Industry: Ignoring the Plus-Size and Petite Communities

It is common knowledge by now that the fashion industry is not as inclusive as it could or should be. One of the areas of the fashion industry that lacks inclusivity is the size range that clothing stores and companies offer to customers. Generally, ‘regular’ women sizes in the UK consist of anything between a size 6 and a size 16. Anything outside of this ‘regular’ sizing is then considered to be petite or plus-sized. Whilst the fashion industry is trying its best to be inclusive by featuring petite and plus-size ranges as parts of their collections, it doesn’t always hit the mark.

In women’s clothing, petite is aimed towards people who are 5’3 and under, whilst plus-size is considered to be size 18 and over, with ASOS’s largest size in their curve range reaching a size 30. There is even more confusion added to this categorisation debacle, as luxury fashion houses and modelling agencies tend to consider people who are 5’6 and under as petite, and people who are size 12 and above as plus-sized. The issue with this lack of transparency is that women are being shamed or set apart from the norm due to the size of their bodies. When clothing stores provide the majority of their items in ‘regular’ sizes and then offer a meagre petite or plus-size range, and in some cases no extra ranges at all, they exclude a lot of the population, which can lead towards body dysmorphia and eating disorders. Notably, the average woman in the UK is a size 16, which means that designers and stores consider the majority of the population as outside the norm of the ‘regular’ female body type.

Recently, writer and activist Aja Barber called out sustainable fashion brand Lucy&Yak for their lack of plus-sized options. In her Instagram post, she claimed that the brand were ‘fatphobic’. Additionally, she declared that Lucy&Yak were favouring thin Instagram influencers over the plus-sized sustainable influencers who had been promoting the brand’s ethos and message for years. The Lucy&Yak founders were forced to release a statement apologising for their lack of accountability and inclusivity. However, this point, raised by Barber, is also something that applies to numerous companies who exclude plus-size and petite customers. An excuse that companies have used to justify their lack of plus or petite sizes is that it is too expensive to create these extra sizes due to the costs of extra material and extra labour. Whilst this is a valid response from a business perspective, these companies continue to release new items in ‘regular’ sizes on a monthly basis. This is not only problematic from a sustainable perspective, but it also excludes petite and plus-sized customers and instead presents them as an afterthought.

Not only does this apply to sustainable brands, but also to fast fashion brands as well. The recent Inside Missguided: Made in Manchester documentary (you can read Megan’s review here) depicted the process of creating a plus-size range. However, this was no more than performative inclusivity as the process of choosing a plus-size model involved the statement that ‘plus-sized models are too expensive’ and that some models didn’t look curvy enough. Furthermore, the episode showed hundreds of plus-sized items being returned due to them not fitting the customers correctly. With fast fashion brands like Fashion Nova introducing 600 to 900 new items a week on to their websites, why aren’t these companies able to use some of their income to create accurate sized clothing for their plus-size and petite customers?

However, there is some good news in that plus-size models are being featured on luxury fashion runways and high fashion editorials. Plus-size models such as Paloma Elesser, Jill Kortleve and Precious Lee are truly killing the fashion game at the moment, and recently made headlines as they were amongst the first plus-size models to be featured on a Versace runway. Whilst this is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, we should ask ourselves why we’re applauding luxury fashion houses for doing the bare minimum. Rather than congratulate Versace for including three plus-sized models in their show, shouldn’t we be questioning why this is only happening now? Why have brands only recently started to include models who represent the majority of the female population? Whilst the inclusion of plus-size models in luxury fashion is absolutely a step forward, there is still so much that needs to be done to improve inclusivity within the fashion industry.

Steps to Improve the Fashion Industry’s Inclusivity:

Stop Making Excuses

Fashion brands claiming that plus-size and petite clothing is ‘too expensive’ is an excuse that further marginalises plus-size and petite customers, which leaves them feeling like a burden. Additionally, this excuse really does not add up when brands continue to release new items and clothing ranges in ‘regular’ size ranges. Instead of continuing to do this and contributing to the excessive fashion consumption that is already a huge global issue, why not reduce the number of new items being created and instead increase the size ranges of the clothing that is already available? This is a win-win solution, as not only will brands be catering to a more varied customer audience and supplying an inclusive size-range, they will also introduce a new group of customers to the brand whilst reducing textile waste.  

Do Better Research

As proven by Missguided, better research needs to be done into the sizing for plus-size and petite customers. For the majority of these customers, it is already frustrating enough being unable to find their clothes size in stores, let alone having to return items once they finally find them. Companies need to invest money and time into researching the different body types of plus-size and petite women so that they can make clothing that is sized accurately. In the long run, this will lead to less returns, less clothing waste and happier customers. It is also important to make clothing that is equally as stylish and current for plus-sized and petite customers as ‘regular’ customers. ASOS has an excellent plus-size and petite range which provides current trends, and also uses accurate plus-size and petite models who represent their customer base.

WWRD (What Would Rihanna Do?)

The age-old question: what would Rihanna do? As a consumer, Rihanna’s brands are the perfect example of inclusivity and representation. They are diverse and they accurately represent every type of customer whether it be by gender, race or size. SavageXFenty is constantly using models with diverse body types on their website and in their fashion shows. Most recently, SavageXFenty introduced a male underwear line that featured a plus-size male model. As well as this, Rihanna’s iconic SavageXFenty runway shows feature a diverse selection of models of all sizes. Whilst it is clear that more needs to be done in regard to plus-size and petite inclusivity within male fashion, Rihanna is definitely showing other brands how it’s done and proves that inclusivity and representation is the way to go.

Megan Finch

Featured Image Source: Pexels

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