Tim Gunn Opens Up About Plus-Sized Women in the Fashion Industry

“Project Runway” mentor and judge, Tim Gunn, is speaking out against a major problem in the fashion industry: the neglect of plus-size women.

Missed Opportunities

In a recent op-ed written for the Washington Post, Gunn opens up about his experience with working in an industry that still does not represent all women equally.

“…if the past years are any indication of what’s to come, plus-size looks will be in short supply,” Gunn writes.

The design educator points out the average American woman wears between size 8 and 16, according to new research done by Washington State University.

And there is money to be made here.

According to Modcloth, more than 80 per cent (of plus-size women) said they’d spend more money on clothing if they had more choices in their sizes.

No One Wants to See Curvy Women..?

But designers are just not interested.

“They (designers) say the plus-size woman is complicated, different, and difficult, that no two size 16s are alike”, pens Gunn, who has worked under designers such as Liz Claiborne.

Gunn continues with a 2009 quote from Karl Lagerfeld, head designer at Chanel, who said, “No one wants to see curvy women” on the runway.

And it’s not only the fact that designers stop at size 12, according to Gunn, but the clothing selection itself is also an issue.

Clothing that is offered to plus-size women is very slim compared to what size 2 women can find.

According to a Bloomberg analysis, only 8.5 per cent of dresses on Nordstrom.com in May were plus-size, J.C. Penny had 16 per cent, and Nike.com had only five items in total on their website.

A Design Failure

Gunn believes it is not a customer problem, but a design failure.

“Designs need to be reconcieved, not just sized up; it’s a matter of adjusting proportions,” Gunn writes.

Gunn admits he has been shopping with plus-size women and it is “insulting and demoralizing” for them.

According to ModCloth, 74 per cent of plus-size women described shopping in stores “frustrating” and 65 per cent felt “excluded.”

Most of the clothing items make the woman look either larger, with features like “ruching, box pleats, and shoulder pads,” or childish with the “pastels and large-scale prints.”

Plus Size Appearance on Project Runway

He also confesses his show “Project Runway” has not addressed this problem.

Every season the show does a segment called “Real Women” in which the contestants must create looks for non-models.

He said this season for the first time ever, one contestant designed a plus-size collection, but says he had “never seen such hideous clothes in my life” which included bare midriffs, see-through skirts, pastels and large-scale floral embellishments.

One judge told Gunn she was “voting for the symbol” of the collection, and these clothes were for a “certain population.”

Gunn was baffled.

The 63-year-old television personality believes plus-sized clothes should be garments ALL women would want to wear.

“A nod toward inclusiveness is not enough,” Gunn writes.

But Gunn claims there is hope and change is possible.

Hoping for Change

He points out multiple examples, including last year’s New York Fashion Week, when both Marc Jacobs and Sophie Theallet each featured a plus-size model, and the recent story of “Ghostbusters” star Leslie Jones.

Jones, who is 5′ 9, tweeted a couple of months ago that she could not find a designer willingly to dress her for red carpet events.

Designer Christian Siriano stepped in, scoring a design and a major public relations victory, and presented her with a full-length red gown for her “Ghostbusters” premiere.

*Note: Jones looked fabulous.*

Gunn claims designers won’t touch this market because they are continuing to operate within “paradigms that were established decades ago.”

Gunn believes women of all sizes can look good, but the designers must give them the choices and the chance.

“Designers, make it work.”


What do you think?

What needs to be changed in the fashion industry in order for plus-size women to have a chance for options in their clothing?

Read the full op-ed here.


Featured Image Photo Credit: David Shankbone






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