Let’s Talk The Changing Landscape of Plus Size Modeling & Its Evolution
Fashion has evolved greatly over the years and that has also changed the landscape for plus size modeling.
We can’t discuss the evolution of plus size fashion without the acknowledgement that models have played a big part in how much the industry has changed.
They wear the clothes. They bring the clothing to life and essentially are the selling point of a garment. Customers want to see how a garment will fit them and it is because of this simple fact that the size of models has gradually gotten bigger and expanded beyond just showing the standard hourglass or pear shape.
The landscape of plus size modeling has especially changed dramatically in the last 10 years. It may seem as if change has been slow but it truly hasn’t.
We can thank Influencers for that change as they played a big role in educating brands on what customers want to see.
Ten years ago, agencies were only signing models size 16 and under so that was what brands had to choose from. Back then, the typical plus size model was a size 14. To use a size-16 model and show some kind of roll or back fat was considered revolutionary.
In 2011, plus size models Tara Lynn, Candice Huffine and Robyn Lawley graced the cover of Vogue Italia’s June issue along with a cover story shot by famed photographer Steven Meisel. At the time, all models were a size 14 and tall with hourglass shapes. And this was considered groundbreaking.
In retrospect, it was because it opened the door and paved the way for others who desired to push the envelope even further.
In terms of mainstream fashion runways, designers Jean-Paul Gaultier and John Galliano both used plus size models in their Spring 2006 runway shows in Paris with Gaultier using plus size models Marquita Pring and Crystal Renn in his Spring 2011 Ready-to-Wear show.
Gaultier was truly before his time, using size-26 model Velvet d’Amour in his 2007 Spring/Summer prêt-à-porter runway show.
Then in 2008, influencers really burst onto the scene. Despite not being professional models, these everyday women being seen styling looks in professional-looking imagery forced brands to see that customers yearned to see larger bodies that were more reflective of themselves.
Back then, Facebook was new to the scene, Twitter was about two years old and there was no Instagram. So influencers relied on their blogs to show off their looks, which also crafted stories around the imagery and offered readers a personal look into the clothing, how it fit and styling ideas.
Many of those influencers, primarily called bloggers back then, still maintain their blogs today in addition to using social media to support their brands. Those veterans went on to do amazing things and venture out into the industry in other segments.
Alissa Wilson went on to expand her blog Stylish Curves into a full-on media outlet, while also creating a movement with her #MyStylishCurves hashtag. Stephanie Yeboah is now a freelance writer for a few major media outlets and working on her first book.
And Marie Denee’s The Curvy Fashionista brand has not only evolved into a major media outlet but also has expanded to include an annual event, cruise and more. All of these veteran bloggers and others have paved the way for plus size fashion AND modeling to evolve over the last 10 years.
“Before brands began to work with visibly plus size models, the community rallied around influencers because they provided the only way for customers to see clothing on bodies that looked like ours.” _ Maddy Jones, PMM Editor-in-Chief
As a result of the rise of the influencer, social media has now become an educational tool for both brands and the next generation of customers. It’s a way for influencers and customers to use their voice and a way for brands to truly hear those voices.
A perfect example of this is Target. Chastity Garner was the main driver in pushing the mega-retailer to expand on its plus size offerings, calling for a boycott of Target in 2014.
Target responded to Garner’s boycott by partnering with her, Nicolette Mason and Gabi Gregg to launch their Ava & Viv line in Spring 2015, featuring the three bloggers as the faces of the brand.
This has led to Target using more visibly plus models, including more models of color.
Now, it’s the norm at Target to feature a diverse set of models and it truly shows the power of the customer’s voice and influencers, when it comes to letting the brand know what the masses want to see.
Other brands such as Lane Bryant, American Eagle and Macy’s now have models larger than a size 14/16 shown prominently on their websites and in marketing campaigns. They also feature visibly plus size models in ads in-store.
After working with influencers for many years and seeing the impact on sales and engagement, it has led agencies to sign larger models and brands to hire them.
This is why our voices are so important and should be expressed in an educational and conversational manner.
Complaining is one thing but to actually question a brand or agency on their model selections and size ranges, opens the door to a conversation that could lead to more changes happening within the industry.
So what’s next in plus size fashion and modeling?
The need for more inclusivity is apparent.
The average American woman is now a size 18 so more inclusivity must start within agencies, adding models above a size 18 and with different shapes/heights to their rosters. Most brands go to agencies to hire models so it’s important for agencies to have more diversity in body size, color and shape.
We can’t just challenge the brands to show more diversity. We must also challenge the agencies to expand their rosters, not only in print models but fit models as well.
Brands such as Universal Standard are pushing the envelope and leading the pack on that front. They are doing so not just from a size aspect but also spotlighting different races, ethnicities, shapes and heights. They’re also one of the few brands that offer a broad size range (up to 40). So Universal Standard is truly setting the tone for what changes should be next in the fashion and modeling industries.
Ivan Bart, President of IMG Models, the agency that has supermodels such as Ashley Graham and Zack Miko on its roster, recently shared with Hollywood Reporter what has been the hardest part of pushing for change:
“Just running a business and making sure that we’re solvent, that we make money, that our models are working — that in itself is tough. Every day brings all kinds of challenges, so, I don’t know if there’s anything that I could say that was specifically challenging. But forget fashion, I think in a lot of fields — whether it’s entertainment or what have you — we underestimate the consumer. We believe we know what the audience wants to see or buy, and it’s not true. On the issue of size, I’ve been told, ‘It just doesn’t sell.’ But was it marketed correctly? Did we reach out? Did the consumer know it existed? You just have to keep pushing, pushing, pushing.”
Yes, we must keep pushing because representation matters.
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