Fillyjonk, Other Stuff We Read, Plus Size Fashion

Wait, you mean there are supposed to be WOMEN inside these clothes?

You might have noticed that there hasn’t been a lot of content lately, because things happen — most notably, Kate and I have to go be professional writers sometimes, not to mention the fact that we’re both pretty strenuously ADD, and SM and A Sarah have the equally if not more time-consuming demands of academia. Also, sometimes we burn out on blogging. We’re grateful every time you guys pick up and run with an open thread or a Friday Fluff, because even though this is one of the most rewarding hobbies in the world it is still a hobby, and some days when you only have the mental energy to keep yourself fed, exercised, and employed, it falls by the wayside.

Anyway, like last time we were silent for a while, we’ll offer up as a consolation prize a little behind-the-scenes glimpse of how it works at SP. A reader sent us a link to this article, and the following conversation ensued:

FJ: Can anyone tell what the hell this article is SAYING?

Kate: No, no I cannot. I think maybe it’s that fatphobia doesn’t exist because capitalism does.

FJ: I’m getting something like… standardized sizes don’t fit anyone, so they don’t fit plus sizes, so you should stop selling plus sizes.

Sarah: My most charitable read is that she’s distinguishing the average weight from the mean weight.  Her argument, as I see it, is that it’s in the economic interests of the clothing companies to make clothes near the mean (rather than the average simply because that’s how they can maximize the number of people who can wear their clothes while minimizing what they spend on developing different sizes.

IOW, even though the “average” size may be a 14, that doesn’t mean that’s the single size (or range of a few sizes) that the greatest number of women can wear.  There’s a big range of sizes above a 14, obviously — and those all affect the average size, but that doesn’t mean that any *one* (or two or three) of those plus sizes is common enough to pull in lots and lots of customers, at least to a brick-and-mortar store.  So the sizes promising the greatest numbers of customers wouldn’t be the *average* size (or range of sizes), but the *mean* size, which (she claims) brick-and-mortar stores already do try and cater to.

As I say, that’s my most charitable presentation of her case.  I have no idea if it’s true.  I also think that her main thesis – i.e. that not carrying sizes over size 14 isn’t sizeist, just good business – is hogwash.  Indeed, though she doesn’t say so, her own analysis kind of calls attention to the reason why it’s horseshit.  If having an “uncommon body” (her words) means you shouldn’t expect to be accounted for by apparel companies, then whence the proliferation of size 0 models, mannequins, and readily-available clothing?  Oh, uh, well, you know, we meant “uncommonly BAD, i.e. FAT” not “uncommonly BEAUTIFUL, i.e. extremely thin.  Because we’re happy to have THEIR business.”  Sort of like Paul Campos’ point that finding Keira Knightley attractive isn’t seen as this odd, weird fetish… whereas finding someone 350-plus pounds attractive is.  Even though both kinds of bodies are equally “uncommon,” statistically.  So even if her math is correct, her presentation of it is still really othering.

Also, this isn’t the first time this point has come up about plus size women not spending as much on clothing in the recession.  What’s going on there?  I’m intrigued and pre-emptively pissed off.

FJ: OK, Sarah can write about it.

A Sarah, as it happens, is working up something else, but luckily the good folks at Jezebel (which I used to turn my nose up at — why?? I still skip all the celeb stuff but they do meaty topics with aplomb) have offered an insider’s take on the “it’s more cost-effective to clothe size 8s even though the average woman is a 14 because the majority of people are not average” argument.

Tatiana the Anonymous Model’s article makes really good use of the analogy between plus and petite clothing, but in my book the last graf is the real money, and the nut of my initial reaction to the Postrel article. She writes: “Moreover, the excuse about cost boils down to complaining that making clothes that fit most women is really hard — and that doesn’t sound quite right coming from companies who are in the business of clothing women.” Word up — how lazy is it to say “oh, fat women’s bodies have all these idiosyncrasies, we’re just going to throw in the towel”? I’ll buy, I suppose, that the average size 8 woman is shaped a little more like a size 8 fit model than the average size 20 woman is shaped like a size 20 fit model. That claim erases a lot of women’s bodies if you cleave to it too strongly, but I could be convinced, at least temporarily for argument’s sake, that there’s less range among most thinner women in a particular size. (Of course, most non-fit-model-shaped fat women I know deal with this by buying one size in tops and another in bottoms, but moving on.) If I believed that clothing manufacturers responded to body variation by actually trying to accommodate various bodies, I’d buy that this puts a bigger burden on them — and even though they don’t, I can see why they might find it more cost-effective to simply stop making the sizes that tend to fit more women less well, and keep making the ones that fit fewer women better. Maybe.

But I’d still find it fucking reprehensible. This is your excuse? That fat women are hard to fit? I watch Project Runway; I’m not surprised that fashion designers would grouse about the fact that there are supposed to be women under those clothes. Making clothes wearable for women who don’t look like models is so harrrrrrrrrrd! But using that as the basis of a claim that the fashion industry isn’t fatphobic is just a bit absurd. If you deliberately ignore a huge portion of your potential clientele allegedly because working with them potentially makes your job a little tricky, you’re pretty much either a bigot or a lazy ass. If clothing manufacturers aren’t fatphobic, they’re even bigger slackers than we are at this blog (and they’re getting paid).