Fashion’s A-plus


Italian Vogue, June 2011

I’ve been told that 2014 was the year of ‘plus size’; the year when high fashion’s love affair with all things size zero apparently came to an amicable end. So-called ‘normal’ models like Myla Dalbesio and Candice Huffine made it ‘big’ last year with viral campaigns for Calvin Klein Underwear and the infamous Pirelli calendar. Moreover, not only did plus size make a serious entry into the US fashion industry, but Britain also led the way with the launch of ‘Slink’, the UK’s first plus size women’s magazine.

However, I can’t help but think that this is simply a case of déjà vu. Remember when we all thought this ‘plus size revolution’ was imminent in 2006, when Lara Stone’s breasts stole the show at Givenchy? Or even when that Italian Vogue cover featured a trio of ‘real beauties’, including Huffine, posing at a breakfast table in their underwear in 2011? I’ve come to realise that those moments when ‘real bodies’ make an appearance is a trend in itself. Fashion is partial to throwing a plus-sizer into the mix every few years to create a little polemic, shaking up the armies of leggy waifs that parade through the pages of every high fashion magazine in the world. Although a less than average size 10 blonde model, Stone made us all think that perhaps ‘normal’ was going to have a moment. However, almost a decade on we are still clamouring for reasons to give fashion a pat on the back for allowing size 8 women, like Dalbesio, to be a serious part of their industry.

Lara Stone
Lara Stone – a plus size model?

Amnesia is endemic in the fashion world. Its symptoms are found in the heralding of ‘fringing’ as a new trend annually, and the floral dresses that always seem to crop up around spring. Although hailed as a landmark year for widening the scope of beauty to include slightly curvier girls, 2014 was also that year when Topshop’s mannequins went viral, and not for the clothes they were wearing. Pictured beside a size 8-10 customer, the mannequin’s legs looked sickening thin, reigniting the age-old debate over whether the fashion industry should take responsibility for promoting healthy body image. Retweeted over 6,000 times, the photo reminds us that fashion can never quite be sincerely congratulated when it features so-called ‘real’ women like Dalbesio.

I am all for ‘real’ bodies finally breaking into high fashion; to be able to see a woman with hips and legs a bit more like mine on a billboard is – forgive the pun – huge. Indeed, in a fashion culture ruled by crash health food diets, stick thin mirror selfies, and the ‘thigh gap’, strategically emphasised by black skinny jeans, 2014 was in some ways a veritable triumph.

Even so, plus size is a deceptive term. Shockingly it can range from size 8 to 20, and in reality just leaves the rest of us ‘real’ women feeling a little at a loss. As a size 10, I look at Dalbesio’s body and find it difficult to believe that we are the same. If she is ‘plus size’ what does that make me?

Myla Dalbesio

Ultimately, there should be no distinction. A size 10 woman in a mainstream campaign should not stir up a storm on Twitter. Magazines like Vogue should not have to make special editions to justify having a different kind of woman on their front cover (I’m looking at you French Elle with your 2010 ‘Curves Ahead’ edition). Similarly, we must ask ourselves what does it even mean to be a ‘real’ woman? Is there even such a thing? At the end of the day, are we not all just women?

Whilst 2014 certainly saw some significant gains in the body debate arena, 2015 is the year to start making a habit of including all body shapes in all areas of your world – yes even the catwalk. It’s time to stop using ‘real’ women as exciting gimmicks to boost magazine sales and brand recognition, and start including, valuing and respecting all types of beauty.

Photographs:, the guardian and trendhunterstatic .com.

One thought on “Fashion’s A-plus

  • Hi there,

    Interesting article, I study fashion at university and am currently researching my dissertation on plus size women. There’s a few things that I would like to point out, not to be picky, just what I have learnt.

    – Modelling plus size is different to commercial plus size, hence the Calvin Klein campaign model being labelled as plus size (i know, ridiculous just look at her stomach!) A model is considered plus size when she over a size 8 (UK) and commercial plus size starts at a 16 (UK).

    – The mannequins with the skinny legs, the reason behind this is because the mannequin is made from fibreglass which makes it extremely difficult to put and remove clothes on the mannequin. The legs need to be designed in a specific shape to help with this manoeuvring and it is also for retail theatre, it dramatises the clothing making them more eye catching. They aren’t meant to represent real women in any shape or form.

    – Finally, you will never eliminate slim models for the price of creating those one off pieces of fashion is already expensive so by introducing more fabric and a different cut it would raise the price right up. Even those designer brands are on a tight budget.

    Best wishes



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