What Plus Size Means

Posted by Jen Anderson on

What Plus Size Means

There are a lot of stereotypes and preconceptions about plus size clothing and plus size women. And most of them are as negative as they are inaccurate. On a basic level, plus size refers to a category of clothing. It's no more loaded than petite, juniors, or misses. It allegedly means that women who wear plus size clothing are larger than average, but we're 60% of the population in North America. (The stats for Australia and Europe are similar.) There's a lot to unpack here, so let's examine what plus size means, and what it doesn't mean.

allegra in a print kimono jacket

But first, I want to remind you that plus size is not a body shape. Plus size women are also pear shaped, apple shaped, and so on, which means you need to dress for your shape as well as your size.

What Certain Fashion Designers Think Plus Size Means

OK, so if more women wear plus sizes than regular sizes, plus size can't mean larger than average. What it means is bigger than what certain fashion designers deem acceptable. We need clothing to exist in public, so by refusing to dress us, these designers are trying to keep us out of sight. If you've ever watched Project Runway when they had the designers dress "real women" (aka non-models), you know that designers aren't taught to dress women who aren't models. In fact, plus size design is an elective course that designers don't get to take until they've mastered designing for smaller sizes.

Designing plus size clothing requires them to stretch their skills. Some designers rise to the challenge and others whine about how hard it is and blame us for existing because if only all women wore a size 2 they wouldn't have to consider the human being wearing their clothing. Some designers just want to see their sketches come to life without having to think about concealing bra straps or negotiating a woman's curves. I don't understand why misogynists want to design women's clothing, but here we are.

allegra in a blue print kimono jacket

It's a systemic issue, and people like Karl Lagerfeld make it possible (even comfortable) for some fashion designers to proudly and cluelessly declare their contempt for plus size women. Here's the thing, though - Karl Lagerfeld wasn't a good person. I refuse to respect the opinion of anyone who doesn't realize how awful they sound when they spout that nonsense. And I'm not going to take style advice from a grown man who wore fingerless driving gloves all the time.

Everyone is entitled to their incorrect opinion, and I'm pleased to report that those designers are rapidly becoming outnumbered.

What Plus Size Means to Good Fashion Designers

To designers who actually like their customers, plus size is a retail category in a system they have to work with. They know that you can't just scale patterns to fit any size. They know that women who wear plus size clothing want to look fabulous, and that trying to look smaller is often counterproductive. Their clothes tend to be more attractive and of better quality than what fatphobic designers produce.

What Plus Size Means to Plus Size Women

There's a lot of shame wrapped up in wearing plus sizes thanks to the Karl Lagerfelds of the world. It all comes down to respect. When brands and business expect us to shop in a tiny section way in the back of a department store, or the digital equivalent, that's disrespectful. It's all too easy for us to start thinking that we don't deserve respect, so if that's where you're at right now, that's totally fine. It took me a while to get to the point where I only buy clothes from people who respect me. My wardrobe and my mental health have both benefited from that. 

Check out our other plus size shopping tips.

1 Comment

Right on the money, as usual. You can usually tell when a designer or a manufacturer or retailer does not really want to sell to the larger women. Younger designers seem to get it, and have more inclusive attitudes, but as you correctly point out, the late Karl Lagerfeld and those who followed him, have to die off or be replaced before the industry can get to where it needs to be. Thank you for being blunt about that!

—Bill fabrey,

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