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Does The Fashion Industry Need A Size Makeover?

Picture of Jill Di Donato
Fashion Editor
Updated: 15 December 2016
“As a woman, I want to find clothes that make me feel good and reflect my aesthetic,” plus size model Melinda Parrish tells Culture Trip. Why then are retailers buying into the myth that plus size women don’t spend money on themselves? The answer is twofold, having to do largely with ugly and tired cultural tropes around thinness and success, and a false pretense that in order to have an aspirational retail experience, women have to fit a singular (straightsize) mold. None of these myths could be further from the truth.

Parrish tells Culture Trip that plus size women make up 67 percent of American women, a statistic that was backed up by Refinery29’s 67% Project – an initiative geared towards increasing visibility of plus size women in fashion media and advertising. According to a 2016 report from Business Insider, the plus-size market is worth $20 billion and has grown twofold since 2014. Despite these numbers, Danielle Brooks reports for Refinery29 that plus-size women make up two percent of fashion media.

Parish isn’t having any of it. This idea of healthy “has become thin and aspirational,” she explains. “It’s all advertising.”

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“Your weight is only one dimension of your overall health,” Parrish, a lifelong athlete, who rowed crew for the U.S. Navy, tells Culture Trip. “I know skinny people who chain smoke and pound vodka.” According to a new Harvard University study, even people who are obese are not necessarily unhealthy. “Obesity isn’t a homogeneous condition,” says Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health. “It appears that it doesn’t affect everyone in the same ways.”

However, it’s important to point out that Parrish, who is signed with Ford International and the TRUE Model Management agency in New York, is plus-size (sizes that range between sizes 14 and 34) and not obese. Guess who else is plus size? The majority of American women.

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“Would it surprise you to know that the average American woman now wears between a size 16 and a size 18?” Project Runway’s Tim Gunn asked viewers on a PBS special, pointing out that this accounts for more than 80 million U.S. consumers. 2016 Sports Illustrated cover girl and supermodel, Ashley Graham, along with influencers like fashion bloggers Nicolette Mason and Nadia Aboulhosn, not to mention models like Parrish, are helping the fashion industry revolutionize its take on sizing, becoming more inclusive of real women. Not only is this culturally sensitive, it’s profitable. “For the past three years,” Gunn says in the aforementioned PBS special, “[plus size women] have increased their spending on clothes faster than their straight size counterparts.”

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Designer Christian Soriano said in a report to Fashionista, “I think there will be new designers that will also embrace this—I’m sure there will be some coming out of the woodwork soon that you would never imagine, just because it’s a big business and a big customer base, and fun.”

Parrish agrees that major design houses are working on their sizing and designers like Soriano are doing capsule collections. Singer turned designer Beth Ditto launched the second collection of her signature line on November 1, and everyone from TheCurvyFashionista to Vogue is loving it. “The notion that plus-size fashion is about the pin-up look has got to go,” Parrish says. When it comes to her signature style, Parrish describes it as minimalist and laid-back. Her favorite brands are Lisa Aviva, a luxury knitwear brand (that Parrish happens to be the face of) Danskin, and Lane Bryant x Galmour, touted by Glamour editor Lauren Chan as “everything.”

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gwynnie bee, says Parish, is like the Netflix of clothes, with a whole range of designers to choose from. Traditionally, plus size fashion has been a hit or miss, with quality of fabrics varying (check out GwynnieBee for an example). But, all of that is on the verge of changing. Confident, poised, and articulate, Parrish, who branded the hashtag #HealthyAtAnySize, says she moves through the fashion world calling herself a plus-size model with pride.

©Justin Clynes

“Ultimately, it’s not about us as models – change has to happen in the fashion industry for the plus-size girl who wants to buy cool clothes, and so she can Google plus-size clothes and make friends online.”

Known for being mercurial, the fashion industry can handle a size makeover, not only for the commercial benefits, but as a step towards being more inclusive of beauty.