Welcome to Now You Know, Eric Wilson’s column that will help you become a fashion know-it-all in one easy read. Each week, he’ll take a look at an endearing fashion influence and why it’s relevant right now. Enjoy!
Few terms in fashion carry as much baggage as “plus size.”
The industry standard used to describe clothing from size 12 to size 24 (though even the exact range is a matter for debate) has provoked outrage for decades for many reasons, not the least of which is that it stigmatizes many consumers based on an arbitrary, and ultimately meaningless, standard. As a common complaint goes, the average woman in this country wears a size 14, so why shouldn’t that be a standard, or “straight size,” as designers currently classify anything size 10 or below?
The plus-size designation, and what appears to be overwhelming distaste for it, became the subject of renewed criticism this week over the appearance of Myla Dalbesio (pictured, above), a size 10 model, among several others in a Calvin Klein campaign for its Perfectly Fit underwear collection. The company’s intention was to show its products are designed to be inclusive of many body types. And it should be stressed here that Calvin Klein never used the p-word to promote them. Yet the images caused an outcry on social media, faulted for suggesting a myopic vision of “plus size.”
But the resulting fuss nevertheless underscores the frustration many consumers have about the narrow standards of beauty that are represented in designer fashion, from age to race to, in this case, size. Although the origins of the term “plus size” are hazy, and likely the result of an attempt to market larger sizes in a way that was more palatable to retailers, its usage has been common since at least the 1960s. It came about at least 20 years after the introduction of standard sizing and the manufacturing of clothing in mass quantities after the Industrial Revolution.
Though it remains in common usage primarily because no one has come up with another name, at least you can note that this one is better than “stout,” a term previously used in advertising. But fashion would probably be far better off doing away with the designation altogether, as many models and consumers have demanded, and just call them clothes.