Among the many demands on the fashion industry for change, a call for a body diversity revolution is among the loudest. Everyone wants an answer to the mystery of why fashion isn’t embracing plus-size.
Here’s what we know. One - everyone is blaming brands. Yes, brands are turning their backs on apparently a huge business opportunity to save their luxury positioning and not risk alienating the traditional fashion consumer. Two – the media outlets that are vilifying the industry insist that there are hoards of plus-size luxury consumers desperate for merchandise.
And yet, for argument’s sake, let’s examine these claims. If we put the moral high ground and the platitudes aside for just a moment, uncomfortable truths emerge.
The luxury customer is predominantly thin. Go to the neighbourhoods where people with a healthy amount of disposable income live, and you’ll see lots of healthy people. And a lot of unhealthy underweight ones too. Physical fitness and the luxury lifestyle are bedfellows, and the fact that you can’t go most places in Manhattan without walking into a SoulCycle is just one of many proofs. Yes, while there are plenty enough plus-size women who would like luxury ready-to-wear, it is not a majority. Plus-size brands doing well such as Good American sit in the casualwear space.
“There’s a reason why the billion-dollar health and wellness industry is a billion-dollar industry.”
Another uncomfortable truth is that a high level of aspiration is integral to the identity of luxury fashion brands. This factor, more than anything else, is what justifies the high price points - the moment when we look at an image and think, "I want to be that". What we are not allowed to say anymore, but what most surveys tell us is that most women want to be thinner. We can argue until the sun comes down whether that’s societally or biologically driven, but this is what we aspire to. The explosion of juice bars, availability of calorie information, tracking devices, fitness apps and #bodygoals Instagram accounts don’t lie. There is a huge increasing affinity between fashion and wellness, and there’s a reason why the billion-dollar health and wellness industry is a billion-dollar industry.
We are crying “body diversity” because it makes us feel like good people, but are also happily re-enforcing the opposite by buying the outrageously priced juices, hitting the HIIT class, and clicking on those cleanse elixir recipes and Angel abs tutorials.
But what about Ashley Graham? Ashley Graham has a truly exceptional face that trumps all. She can be literally any size and shape and sell. (Most people don’t.)
There does need to be better clothing available to women of all sizes. But it probably won’t be at Saint Laurent.
The opinions detailed in Op-Ed features are of the author and do not always reflect those of The Psychology of Fashion.