May 5th, 2019, 12:00 PM

What About Plus-Size Fashion?

By Katie Zambrano
Image credit: Instagram/@universalstandard
Has the fashion industry failed the plus-size market?

Despite the positive affirmations and trends regarding body positivity, plus-size fashion remains obsolete. While great strides have certainly been made in recent years, there's still a massive lack of inclusion in media and it still challenges millions of women everyday struggling to find their own place in the fashion industry.

In March, streaming service Hulu premiered its newest show, Shrill. Based on the book Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West, this TV show stars resident funny woman and SNL cast member Aidy Bryant in her first leading role. According to the network’s description, Shrill is "a comedy series starring Aidy Bryant (Saturday Night Live) as Annie, a fat young woman who wants to change her life — but not her body. Annie is trying to start her career while juggling bad boyfriends, a sick parent, and a perfectionist boss."

Unlike most body positivity media, Annie’s character doesn’t dwell on her looks. In fact, the show is much more than the commentary surrounding Annie’s appearance, it chooses to focus on life after self-acceptance. With a 91% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, critics alike have praised Bryant’s remarkable adaptation of the role and shedding some much-needed light on a topic most people are too afraid to discuss.

In a recent interview with Amanda Needham (costume designer for Shrill) we learn more about what it's truly like to dress a plus-size individual. Needham recalls meeting with Bryant before shooting when Bryant expressed just how hard it would be to pull pieces off-the-rack for Annie's looks. Initially, Needham confesses she took a light-hearted approach and didn't take Bryant's fair warning too seriously. When it came time to shoot, Needham seemed to find herself in hot water. Bryant was right — it was near impossible for Needham to find appropriate plus-size pieces for Annie's character that didn't have the silhouette of a potato sack or skater-style dresses splattered with childish prints and patterns.



sun's out, we shining 😎 check the link in our bio to see how the Fat Babe Pool Party came to life.

A post shared by Shrill (@shrillhulu) on

Needham goes on to explain that almost every single outfit you see in all six episodes — including lingerie — were custom made. It's a disappointing sentiment to know that even the main character of a show about empowerment and acceptance doesn't seem to have a place in the fashion industry. However, Needham's struggle to dress Bryant's character sheds light on a more complex issue. It is no secret that the fashion industry does not tailor to women who aren't a straight size; for generations, the industry has avoided the issue. In recent years there's been talk of inclusion and emphasis on body positivity, but the movement is still lacking the much-needed representation it deserves. Plus-size shoppers make up a $20 billion market, yet the industry struggles to cater to them. In a study submitted to the International Journal of Fashion Designwe learn that the average American woman typically wears a size 16-18, sizes that are hardly represented on the runway or in fashion media.

The issue doesn't end there, however. In terms of the entertainment industry, there are many injustices, specifically on the Red Carpet. Actresses and celebrities alike who did not fall under sample sizing tend to have a more difficult time finding a designer to dress them for events. There could be many explanations for this. Some designers and their eponymous labels don't carry inclusive sizes or simply because it is just another form of discrimination.

Needless to say, there have been great strides made in recent times. Brands are listening to the consumer and not taking them for granted. Many are even expanding their size offerings to move one step closer to inclusivity. Just last month, sustainable, cool-girl brand Reformation decided to permanently add its extended sizes to its collection, guaranteeing new styles release every week.

Designers are making more of an effort to cater to all shapes and sizes as well. Newbee designer Christian Siriano has certainly established his presence in the industry by calling it upon himself to dress the "undressable." Siriano has been extremely vocal about his fellow designers not stepping up to the plate and dressing some actresses and celebrities simply because they don't fit a certain look or aesthetic. He has  dressed the likes of Whoopi Goldberg and Leslie Jones when no one else would and has vowed to remain inclusive with his sizing in his eponymous label. His  choice has skyrocketed his success; about "50 percent of Siriano's collection and have helped to nearly triple his business".

Ashley Graham models for the Christian Siriano AW18 collecttion. Image credit: Courtesy of Christian Siriano

More and more representation of a wide range of body shapes and sizes have been trickling their way into all forms of media and Shrill has proven to be an excellent example. While there are still plenty of holes for the industry to patch up, it seems to be moving one step closer in the right direction every day.