What the heck is a ‘standard size’ anyway?
In a time where readers and consumers hold great power, you’d expect size diversity would no longer be a pressing issue – after all, it’s 2021. But the retail market has long been serving a demographic based on an average size range that leaves little space for the portion of the population who fall outside these narrow numerical brackets.
And while there have been improvements in both retail and marketing over the years (a consequence of consumers’ relentless demands for the representation of all sizes), when it comes to finding clothing, the struggle for plus-sized bodies remains.
Not only this, but the industry itself has generalised the term ‘plus-size’ in its own skewed sizing model, a model that essentially relegates a third of the population to a very narrow market of accessible, fashionable clothing.
Australian artist and influencer Frances Cannon knows all too well how mainstream retail brands make and market to a demographic of bodies that they’ve coined as ‘standard sizes’ – a very small range that is generally sized six to 12.
“It’s not truly the standard, but it is the standard for a lot of brands,” she tells me. Often, it seems as though brands cater to what they perceive as an easy market. They slap a label on a small portion of the population, claiming it as ‘the standard’ for the entire retail industry.
There is little reason for this generalisation within fashion design, and if finances are a factor, the argument of expense just doesn’t cut it anymore. Frances understands that starting up a small fashion label is costly, meaning many brands have to begin with a limited style and size range, but tells me “… it does get to a certain point where it just seems like fatphobia”.
Fashion marketing has manipulated our global understanding of body size
Fatphobia has been a hugely unaddressed issue in the fashion industry for many years. From its inception, fashion marketing has been saturated by a singular standard of beauty: the stereotypical thin, flawless White woman. As a result, the general public has been grossly misinformed when it comes to what constitutes a ‘normal’ or ‘standard’ body shape and size.
“I grew up in Thailand, which is traditionally a non-White country, and still the beauty standards are thin and White. It just shows how massive the effect of White supremacy is within the fashion industry,” explains Frances.
While this whitewashed standard of beauty and body shape has persisted for many years, it has begun to evolve in recent years. Beauty is no longer restricted to one size, shape or skin colour and it’s no longer as lucrative – culturally or financially – for brands to strive to cater for this minimal portion of the market.
Like many of us, Frances has had enough of brands promoting this ideal. “Some brands who have been going for a few years, who have seen success and have a cult following are still refusing to extend their sizes. Where all the products and all the marketing on social media is essentially smaller bodies, it’s not about money anymore, it’s about image and we as an audience are over it.”
Is the fashion industry actually becoming more size-inclusive?
There is definitely an overall shift in the market when it comes to size inclusivity. The past five years alone have seen monumental changes in terms of size representation, but there is still progress to be made. As someone who is categorised as ‘plus-size’, Frances says that it is still no easy task to purchase fashionable clothing.
“My whole life has been not fitting into the clothes that I wanted to fit into. And as an adult, it is still pretty dire. I am on the smaller side of the fat spectrum, and I still find it difficult to find the things that I want to wear in my size. Particularly as a more masculine-presenting person at the moment, a lot of things that fit my hips and waist ratio tend to be very feminine which doesn’t always suit how I want to present myself.”
Frances also notes that with the increased awareness of sustainable fashion, it is proving consistently challenging for bigger bodies to support the industry in a conscious way. For some sustainable fashion labels, the inclusive size model is often neglected in order to cut costs, creating yet another hurdle for plus-size shoppers.
“It’s slowly getting better but there are still so many brands, in particular independent brands, who seem to be refusing to expand their sizes. Smaller labels who are trying to do things sustainably and ethically forget that so many people want to wear their clothes but they don’t bother making the items big enough to cater to this demographic,” Frances tells me.
While the progression of size inclusivity is occurring at a snail’s pace, thanks to a slew of small independent brands, changes are being made, and a much more diverse range of bodies now have options other than resorting to fast fashion to find pieces that will suit their shape.
And Frances believes that the changes we’ve already seen in the industry are just the beginning. “I have a lot of hope for the coming generation because I think representation in media and in fashion and in art and on social media is so much better than when I was growing up,” she says.
If you’re on the hunt for some great size-inclusive labels, Frances shared her favourite independent Australian brands best catering to diverse bodies: Anna Cordell, Oats The Label (who has introduced a custom-size tailoring model), Squint the Label and Sük. And while you’re browsing, check out our growing list of ethical size-inclusive labels.
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