LLNYC cover star Tim Gunn is fed up with how fashion designers treat plus-sized women


The fashion industry has always been about exclusion. Those who are not tall, thin and rich cannot fully participate in it, they can only observe and admire it — a situation that leaves many women frustrated and angry.

According to Tim Gunn, our upcoming cover star, this situation is completely unacceptable. In a new op-ed piece in the Washington Post, Gunn slams designers, “Project Runway” and the fashion industry at-large for its failure to design clothes for women of all shapes and sizes.

“I’ve spoken to many designers and merchandisers about this. The overwhelming response is, ‘I’m not interested in her.’ Why? ‘I don’t want her wearing my clothes.’ Why? ‘She won’t look the way that I want her to look.’ They say the plus-size woman is complicated, different and difficult, that no two size 16s are alike.”

True, but that’s no excuse for not designing clothing that could fit her. There is no reason, Gunn says, that designers cannot make flattering and beautiful clothes for plus sized women the way they do for supermodels. “The key is the harmonious balance of silhouette, proportion and fit, regardless of size or shape. Designs need to be reconceived, not just sized up.”

Even his own show, “Project Runway,” has not adequately addressed the problem. Though this season, designer Ashley Nell Tipton won the grand prize for her plus-sized collection, Gunn was not impressed by it. About her collection, Gunn writes “I’ve never seen such hideous clothes in my life,” and “her victory reeked of tokenism.” Apparently one judge even told Gunn that she voted for Tipton because “she was ‘voting for the symbol’ and that these were clothes for a ‘certain population.'” Yikes.

Perhaps one of the strangest aspects of the plus sized fashion debate is that by not designing beautiful and fashionable clothes for women to wear, designers are missing out on a huge economic opportunity: Gunn cites a recent survey, where 80 percent of plus-sized women said they’d spend more on clothing if they had more choices, and almost 90 percent said they would buy more if they had trendier options. The plus-sized fashion industry as a whole is worth about $20.4 billion.

So will greed and economic opportunism win out over designers’ snobbishness? Only time will tell, but Gunn hopes for the best. His advice to designers: “Make it work.” [WP]