Tim Gunn Supports Plus-Size Fashion, But Disappoints Plus Women

Photo: Pawel Kaminski/Lifetime.
Tim Gunn took the fashion industry to task, again, for ignoring the needs of plus-size women. In an op-ed for the Washington Post, the Project Runway co-host called out designers for ending collections at size 12, even though recent surveys suggest the average American woman is between size 16 and 18. "Despite the huge financial potential of this market, many designers don’t want to address it," Gunn writes. "It’s not in their vocabulary. Today’s designers operate within paradigms that were established decades ago, including anachronistic sizing." He goes on to criticize the uncomfortable shopping experience retailers have created for larger women, citing the way stores label their plus-size sections "woman."
"What does that even imply?" he asks. "That a 'woman' is anyone larger than a 12, and everyone else is a girl? It’s mind-boggling." Despite the very good points Gunn makes, his argument is far from perfect. On Medium, writer Ariel Goldberg posted a critique of Gunn's opinion piece, which she calls, "fatphobia dressed up to look like fat acceptance." At issue are several points where Gunn describes what he sees as successful plus-size fashion: "Done right, our clothing can create an optical illusion that helps us look taller and slimmer," he says, also regretting the way some larger sizes result in making their wearer look even bigger.
"Telling plus-size women that we need to look slimmer is not supporting us," Goldberg argues.
Gunn also rips into last season's Project Runway winning plus-size collection by Ashley Nell Tipton. He hated the bare midriffs, the see-through skirts, and the garments with too much volume. Again, Goldberg points out that this implies larger bodies should be hidden and made to look slimmer.
Is it okay to agree with both Gunn and Goldberg? The flaws in Gunn's argument seem to come from the established aesthetic in which he's been trained, which values symmetry and harmony above all else. His reeducation is not complete. Still, the purpose of his piece is to achieve something we all want: a solution to the problem that women over size 12, 14, 18, or wherever you want to set the bar, also deserve to have as many clothing options as their smaller sisters. Fashion should be a pleasure for all who want to partake in it without dictating an ideal body shape, size, or presentation.

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