THE BLOG

Size - Dressing The New Normal

09/10/2017 11:02 BST | Updated 09/10/2017 11:02 BST

As the curtains draw on this year's Women's Fashion Weeks, we're reminded of the disparity that still exists between luxe visions of size and real-life proportions.

Fashion's slow response to embrace plus size, or 'extended sizes' - a far healthier use of language - is enveloped in historical perceptions of 'thin' that reach right back to the last century. Positioned as the correct aesthetic, it has led to this sizing becoming the norm in western driven fashion terms.

This has also been driven, and continues to be, by a lack of modernisation within education. Historically, designing for plus-size has not been part of the curriculum at international design colleges. In fact, students at Parsons New School of Design in New York launched a petition demanding plus-size mannequins be made available to them. So it comes as no surprise that luxury fashion is often never offered in anything over a size 14, nor that plus-sized women increasingly rely on buying better designed maternity-wear offers.

As average sizes change - the average woman in the UK is a size 16 [US 12] - what constitutes as 'normal' needs to be rewritten. Net-A-Porter, for instance, offers a tiny percentage of its clothing in X- sizes.

The fact that fashion has been so slow to respond has left many shoppers feeling body-shamed, while categorisations like the 'plus' tag, are marginalising and fraught with stigma.

And it's an industry-wide issue too. Fashion's underrepresentation doesn't just extend to women's clothing, but equally menswear. Luxury brands have paid little attention to extended sizes for the male consumer, halting their lines at size XL. Yet it's a market that's worth around $2bn. It's disappointing to see how slow fashion brands have been to respond to this need, and is currently a more extreme underrepresentation than we see in womenswear.

The tides are turning however.

While this year's womenswear catwalks were littered with traditional concepts of body perfection, we did see mid-market fashion retailers like Simply Be, N Brown, and Addition Elle in the US, use the catwalks to project body confidence.

This reflects a broader trend of high street brands responding more quickly to the needs (and untapped spending power) of modern fashion buyers, leaving luxury retail lagging behind.

But it's not all doom and gloom within luxury. Launched in July 2017, Los Angeles-based

brand 11 Honore is the first of its kind to challenge the neglected sector, with the luxury e-tailer stocking high-end designers like Michael Kors, Prabal Gurung and Marchesa in US sizes 10-20.

The number of extended-size models on the runway is also increasing: 26 non-standard-sized models walked in the A/W 17/18 catwalk season. My hope is that one day 'standard', which is an equally loaded term, will become all encapsulating.

Last month we also saw some big news from the fashion houses behind brands such as Christian Dior and Gucci. Not only have they pledged to stop using models under the age of 16 for adult clothes - yes that happens - but they have said that all models must be bigger than a French size 32 - a UK size 6 or US size 0.

Such change seems incremental, but for these brands it rewrites some of the very principles on which they were built.

Dolce & Gabbana, for instance, offers a more diverse size repertoire than what we see in print and on the catwalk, however what's lacking is any real influence behind the messaging. Very little is being done to make D&G an authoritative brand on the topic of extended sizes, which is likely driven by fears that loyal consumers will question its integrity.

Poor representation of size in the traditional fashion and lifestyle press more broadly is driving people to social media where they have the freedom and ability to incite change.

Influencer Brandon Kyle has created a fashion-forward concept in Brandon Kyle Menswear, while model-turned-activist Emily Bador uses her Instagram to document her anti-transformation, comparing her current appearance with her previously industry-sanctioned figure. Not only does she point out the industry's unrealistic size standards, but also the visual 'flaws' often excluded from fashion imagery - highlighting her own scars, stretch marks and eczema as an act of defiance and self-acceptance.

Social media hashtags, like #VBO (Visible Belly Outline), #Hip Dips and #Cellulite Saturday, are also playing an important role, encouraging women and men to forgo archaic clothing industry perfection.

Possible brand implementations are self-evident here, and slowly, some are responding. In July 2017, multi-brand e-tailer Asos received praise for its quiet omission of Photoshop in bikini product images - where featured models' stretch marks and scars were on show.

Looking to the future, we can be confident that change will come, but a greater education piece is needed. Extended sizes doesn't have to mean loss of integrity or exclusivity - luxury price points make sure of that.