"What are your thoughts on plus size?" I ask my fashion design professor this afternoon. It was the end of the class hour. Only myself and a couple other students remain, going over our work one by one with her for an extra critique.
"I wouldn't do it," she says with a frown.
"You mean I should master this figure first?" I reply, thinking that perhaps we were focusing on the generally accepted fashion figure, and then later we could expand into a fuller female style if we so chose. That has been my assumption all along, and I was looking forward to finding out how to alter my designs for all the bigger gals out there.
"I know Tim Gunn just put out that piece criticizing the fashion industry for ignoring plus size," my teacher lamented, "but that's just not how it's done." Plus size should be a subset of a collection, she explained, not the collection itself. It should be based on a "normal" size.
I was dumbstruck. I further clarified, did she mean for my portfolio or for everything?
"I wouldn't put it in your portfolio unless you were applying for a particular job that required it." She replied. A lump grew in my throat.
Keep in mind, I have an incredible respect for this professor. She is not only an exceptional teacher and artist, but she knows the ins and the outs of the fashion industry from the time she was barely old enough to understand them to now, a seasoned influencer. She was born and raised in this industry, and I don't take advice like this with a grain of salt. She's been there. She knows. She tells me this because this is the way things have been done for decades and decades, and maybe times are changing, but change is hard. She's plus size herself. I trust her. She's telling me this because she wants me to succeed. She isn't to blame.
But I also know from hands-on experience that you simply cannot take a garment designed for a size 2 and make it work for a size 18. The lines are different. The shapes are different. In order to make a really flattering piece, you should design for that size from the get-go.
Fashion is weird because it seems so cutting edge, yet in many ways it's so behind the times. I am shocked that design flats are not entirely done on computer at this point. The requirements of students in the computer lab has only been increased and required for the degree itinerary THIS YEAR. This surprised me. Most rendering is still done completely by hand. And yet, somehow it's still 2016.
The "fashion figure" is a tall slender drawing of a model that is used to help design an outfit or collection of clothing. I have an entire class that is dedicated to learning how to draw this type of figure (by hand) and use it to design fashion. "Croquis" is another term to describe this exaggerated figure with long legs and only slight hips and bustline.
At FIT, top student work is displayed on many of the fashion-focused floors behind glass and on bulletin boards. Not a single one is a plus sized figure. Not. One.
On top of that, nearly every dress form in the entire school is a size 4-6. There are a few rogue 8s and one or two 10s, but generally they are out of date. When choosing my form assignments for the semester I immediately went for size 10s. I want to work on as close to my own size as possible. My dress form is a 1995 vintage and my pants form (a full size body with legs for draping pants) a '97. I would also probably estimate them to be closer to an 8 in today's standard sizes. But it's the best I could get.
I thought perhaps this size differential was a perception. That there WAS education available for those interested in different sizing, it just wasn't talked about or used as widely.
I am devastated to know that it isn't a perception, that it just isn't there. The resources don't exist.
I am studying fashion because I want to design for myself. I want to design for "me" kinds of women. I want to prove that any woman above a size 10 isn't shaped like a circle. That we DESERVE to feel sexy right now, not when we gain or lose however many pounds. That having goals for our health should not be mutually exclusive to what we are wearing right at this moment.
Why does fashion have to be for the elitist figures? Is my girlfriend who is 6'4" and wears a size 18 jeans (which still makes her quite thin for her proportion) somehow less worthy of having a great dress because she was not born to be a size 6?
Why does plus size, curves, or height have to be an afterthought? Why does it have to be "special" when Ashley Graham is on the cover of Sports Illustrated? Why is this not a norm already?
I met Susan Moses.
Last week I found myself at Mood Fabrics perusing the aisles for fabrics when I saw a book on the counter that jumped out at me: The Art of Dressing Curves.
I stopped and took a photo of the book thinking I'd order it later on Amazon because it looked interesting. Lo and behold, only 2 days later, I see a flyer at FIT telling me the author would be doing a talk and a book signing the next week. Which happened to be today, exactly 10 minutes after said conversation with my professor.
The world works in mysterious ways.
This woman, stylist for Queen Latifah & Kathy Bates, among others, immediately restored the faith I needed. I won't go into too much about her talk as this blog is already long enough, but when I told her about my experience in design class she assured me that it was wrong. That changing the world starts with students like me. With designers like me willing to challenge the norm.
"I've never met a woman who says 'Put me in a potato sack, I want to look horrible,'" Susan joked during her talk.
I plan on reading this book immediately and absorbing as much knowledge as I can from this intelligent and beautiful woman. Susan, if you somehow read this, you totally took a moment today that could have really troubled me and turned it inside out immediately. Your encouragement was very inspirational. You have provided me with at least one resource in a barren landscape.
I hope I can be a crusader in the fight for equality in women's wear. Because I don't personally think fashion should be an elite thing only for size 4-6 and the rest of us are out of luck. The world needs to change, and if we keep doing things the way they've always been done, we'll never achieve equality.
I'll end with one of the best things Susan told us tonight:
"We don't need to all look alike to be inspired by each other."