Plus size fashion actually began in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century when ready to wear fashion became increasingly popular. Before then, clothes were hand made or professionally created to fit individual bodies. You’d hope that this meant that it wouldn’t matter what size you were but this did not stop society pressing the idea of an “ideal weight” on to women with adverts for corsets, diets, cleanses and other such things. Pretty much like now.
But ready to wear garments meant that companies could mass produce popular items and began creating their own sizing charts. Ready to wear really took off in the 1920s as clothes that were ready to wear were advertised and seen as more modern and fashionable according to the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
“Instead of seeing the purchase of mass-produced clothing as entailing a loss of individuality, American women began to accept the pieces of ready-made merchandise as convenient, affordable, and up-to-date fashion items that could be replaced easily as styles changed.”
The cost of having modern clothes was that they fit poorly. As mentioned, companies created their own sizing charts which were confusing, particularly if a woman wanted to shop at different stores. Sounds familiar, amirite ladies? In America, efforts were made to standardise these measurements but it meant that any measurement outside of the ‘standard’ became marginalised.
“Plus-size garments require specialty, they require a very thorough understanding of pattern-making. You can’t just enlarge a pattern and gradually hope that it will fit your plus-size model, you have to spend a lot of resources on that, and that was something that many brands just weren’t ready to invest in.”
Luckily, a few were. In America, Lane Bryant, a company that originally sold maternity clothes, noticed that their small selection of clothing for the “stout” woman was selling well and decided to take it further. In the UK, Evans (a dedicated plus size fashion store) opened in the 1930s. Through out the mid twentieth century, plus size fashion could be found in special catalogues such as Lane Bryant’s.
However, in the 1950s, home sewing became popular again.
“In the years following the Second World War, the notions of public, active femininity that had prevailed during the war were rejected, and expectations of women returned to quasi-Victorian ideals of modest respectability and selfless devotion to home and family.”
This suggests that fuller figured women may have returned to making their own clothes at home, using patterns that were readily available to buy.
In the 70s, Mary Duffy (a plus size model herself) started up the first plus size modelling agency in the world and integrated it with an agency for petite women, thus creating Big Beauties/Little Women. Over the years, more modelling agencies established their own plus size section and plus sized models achieved huge success. However, dividing models into categories like these mean that plus size models were considered “niche” and arguably, still are.
In the last twenty years, plus size modelling and fashion has come so far. Some plus size models are household names such as Tess Holliday and Ashley Graham. Some high street shops have dedicated ‘curvy’ or ‘full size’ sections. Diversity in models and fashion made with every type of female body in mind is becoming normalised. However, it’s not perfect. It’s still unusual to see a larger model on the catwalk. Plus size models that do ‘make it’ also receive a lot of shit just for loving their own bodies.
I love that progress is being made but we’ve got some way to go.