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Runway fashion not more accessible in larger sizes

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ATLANTA - It is possible to walk into the Chanel boutique inside Neiman Marcus and purchase an outfit eight sizes larger than Kate Moss or Naomi Campbell would wear.

But designer garments in size 18 are harder to come by than those in size 2. And they're not always out on the racks waiting to be plucked. They're stored away until requested.

Clothes from prestige labels rarely have been accessible to women of ample proportions. Cost, production, demand and distribution issues have prevented upscale designers from super-sizing their clothes. Stan Herman, president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, which runs New York Fashion Week with marketing firm IMG, says the situation is not likely to change.

"Runway fashion was never meant to do anything more than enhance the bodies of women no bigger than size 10," said Herman, who also is a best-selling designer of signature loungewear on the QVC network.

"One of the main reasons 'couture' came into being is because women who wanted the ready-to-wear looks by the likes of Dior couldn't fit into them, so they had to have them made."

Conventional sizing restrictions don't hinder London-based designer Eskandar, who recently visited Neiman Marcus.

His designs don't skim the body; they box it - often as separates. He relies on blousey silhouettes that allow him to size his clothes "0, 1, 2, 3" instead of extra-small through extra-large.

"The clothes I make don't pigeonhole people," he said about styles that range from a cotton blouse that costs $95 to a wrap-style coat dress that sells for $1,550. "I can fit anyone from a size 2 to a 22. But I don't size things that way anyway."

Kaye Davis, the executive director of fashion and trade shows at AmericasMart, said she rarely sees plus-sized samples when buyers converge on the apparel center for shows. Size 6 is the standard .

"If a line goes up to a size 18, vendors just let their customers know it," Davis said. "But the samples are always smaller."

Major department stores such as Bloomingdale's offer the latest from designers such as Marc Jacobs, Elie Tahari and BCBG's Max Azria in sizes as large as 18. But that's typically where off-the-rack options end for label-conscious women of size.

According to industry experts, the clothes that appear on the runway in major designers' preview shows are generally made to the exact proportions of models who wear sizes 2 to 4. Patterns for clothes made for the masses are generally sized 6 to 8.

"If you look at the Armani label, you're looking at clothes that are meant to be fitted," Eskandar said. "When a jacket that's meant to be fitted is made in a size 20, it's not a fitted jacket anymore. It loses the whole feel of what it's supposed to be."

Flattering looks for plus-sized women typically come from companies that cut patterns with bigger women in mind, said Melissa Sweet, design director for the eponymous bridal label she opened in Atlanta, as well as her Priscilla of Boston label.

"This might be brutally honest, but as we get older and gain weight, our proportions become exaggerated," said Sweet, who has designed a bridal gown as large as size 46.

Many labels don't feel compelled to dedicate resources to plus-sizes, Sweet said, because there isn't enough loyal demand.

Plus-sized women "do not wake up every day and say, 'I'm a size 20 and I embrace it and I'm beautiful and I'm going to go out and buy myself some nice clothes.' The ones I meet are always talking about losing weight. ... And if you're approaching dressing from that mindset, you're not going to go spend big money.

"There is that slice of the [plus-sized] population that accepts it and wants to dress beautifully," Sweet said, but it's not enough to support an entire department of plus-sized fashion at Saks or Neiman.

Accommodating plus-sized women is an expensive proposition, Herman said. Patterns would have to be revised, and each piece would require more fabric.

A larger woman's best route to prestige labels is through designers' secondary and third-level licensed labels, Herman said. The further away from the "Collection" tags of Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan and Calvin Klein, the wider size options grow and prices shrink.

"Chances are, 1 [percent] or 2 percent of what you see on the Fashion Week runway is going to wind up in plus sizes," Herman said. "If Michael Kors does a white cotton dress with six layers of lace inserts, he's not gonna size that up. But there are people who'll make knockoffs that bigger women can wear."

A. Scott Walton writes for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. E-mail:

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