Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Bianca, this is your life!

Fashion's invisible woman, by Emili Vesilind, LA Times via some other blog post I can't find now.

When it comes to shopping, the average American man has it made. At 189.8 pounds and a size 44 regular jacket, he can wear Abercrombie & Fitch, American Apparel or Armani. Department stores, mall retailers and designer boutiques all cater to his physique -- even when it's saddled with love handles, a sagging chest or a moderate paunch. In menswear, shlubby is accommodated.

But the average U.S. woman, who's 162.9 pounds and wears a size 14, is treated like an anomaly by apparel brands and retailers -- who seem to assume that no one over size 10 follows fashion's capricious trends.

Capricious trends like finding a suit at Macy's. Not all of the stores carry suits in plus sizes, because larger women don't work in corporate settings or in professional positions ever.

Fashion-forward boutiques such as Maxfield and Fred Segal rarely stock anything over a size 10, and in designer shops, sizes beyond 6 or 8 are often hidden like contraband in the "back." Department stores typically offer tiny sections with only 20 or so brands that fit sizes 14 and up -- compared with the 900-plus brands they carry in their regular women's wear departments.

. . . plus-size clothing is largely relegated to the Internet, where customers who already have a complicated relationship with clothes are unable to see, touch or try on merchandise.

. . . Americans are getting larger, and 62% of females are already categorized as overweight. But the relationship between the fashion industry and fuller-figure women is at a standoff, marked by suspicion, prejudice and low expectations on both sides. The fear of fat is so ingrained in designers and retailers that even among those who've successfully tapped the market, talking plus-size often feels taboo. The fraught relationship between fashion and plus-size is far from new, but seems particularly confounding in a time when retailers are pulling out all the stops to bring in business. Carrying a range of sizes that includes the average female would seem like a good place to start.

I agree; it would be a good place to start. A place to continue would be airplane seats. When the population is getting bigger and also spending less money on air travel, airlines could afford to make accommodations more spacious and comfortable. I don't need my entire lower body to go numb from compression in a tiny space.

It's a which-came-first scenario, Cohen said. Because plus-size women have been ignored for years, they've stopped actively looking for shopping opportunities. But when retailers bring savvy style to the plus-size game (as Gap Inc. did with its short-lived concept, Forth & Towne, which carried fashion-forward clothing for career women in sizes 2 to 20), they often shutter their efforts before they have a chance to bloom.

"Retailers don't have the patience to allow it to evolve," he added. "This is a market that's been underserved for 50 years. Customers are saying, 'For 50 years, you've ignored me and now you expect me to react to it instantaneously?' No."

That's how I feel about many things, most recently about video games for girls and women. Or actually, any media for girls and women. You can't put out a store like Forth and Towne, or a show like Campus Ladies, or a women's radio network like Greenstone and expect it to be an immediate hit. Building a sustainable audience takes time, especially when the people controlling the methods of distribution are not women.


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