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Tim Gunn on why the fashion industry needs a makeover

October 28, 2016 at 6:15 PM EDT
Fashion consultant and television personality Tim Gunn thinks it’s time clothing designers offered styles that work for everybody -- not only extremely thin models. After all, the average American woman is between sizes 16 and 18, or what the industry calls “plus size.” He admits the task of democratizing fashion will be a challenging one, as designs must be re-imagined and not merely resized.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: And, finally, a “NewsHour” Essay.

As we just discussed, this presidential campaign has raised a lot of questions about how women are seen and talked about.

At the end of the first debate, Hillary Clinton mentioned former Miss Universe Alicia Machado. During her reign, pageant owner Donald Trump repeatedly commented on Machado for gaining weight, just one example of size consciousness in our society.

Tonight, fashion guru Tim Gunn shares a challenge for American designers.

TIM GUNN, Fashion Consultant: To begin, I love the American fashion industry, but it has a lot of problems.

Consider this: When the actress Leslie Jones couldn’t find anything to wear to her “Ghostbusters” premiere, she had to call out on social media to find someone to dress her. How did that happen?

Would it surprise you to know that the average American woman now wears between a size 16 and a size 18? She is what the industry calls a plus-size woman, a term that I would like to erase.

There are more than 80 million of these women in America, and for the past three years, they have increased their spending on clothes faster than their straight-size counterparts. But many designers refuse to make clothes for them. They pretend that they don’t even exist.

I have spoken to many people in the industry about this, and the overwhelming response is, “I’m not interested in her.”

They say the plus-size woman is complicated, different and difficult, and that no two size 16s are alike.

Let’s decode that. The fashion industry works from standards established decades ago. Habits are hard to break. From the runway, to magazines, pictures of how clothes are supposed to look, how women are supposed to look, are set. And it all revolves around thinness.

For decades, models have trotted down the runway with bodies that are completely unattainable for most women. Yet we have been conditioned to think that that’s what looks good. There is no reason why larger women can’t look just as fabulous as all other women. It’s a design issue, and not a customer issue.

The key is the following: It’s the harmonious balance of silhouette, proportion and fit.

Right now, most plus-size designs make the body look larger, with box pleats and shoulder pads. Trust that I’m not trivializing the task. It’s challenging. Designs need to be re-conceived, not just sized up.

And done right, our clothing can create an optical illusion that helps us look taller and slimmer. But, done wrong, we look worse than if we were, well, naked.

Plus-size women deserve fashion, and they deserve choices. I’m not looking for solutions from high-end designers, because it’s a given that they don’t want their precious brands tarnished by the likes of a size 16.

This message is for more accessible designers. It’s time to step up to the plate.

Furthermore, why aren’t retailers demanding that this be done? The retailers have plenty of leverage, as in: Marc Jacobs, if you want to continue to own the current space that you have in our store, then we also need clothing for our larger market; 14-plus is now the shape of women in this nation, and designers need to wrap their creative minds around that.

I profoundly believe that women of every size can look great. And in this time of inclusiveness, why should 80 million women be marginalized?

Designers, make it work.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Hear, hear. It’s about time.

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