I’m going to admit something that might seem a little pedestrian to some of you, perhaps a little familiar to others: I watch a lot of television, all kinds. I’m simultaneously a television snob and a consumer of frivolous content. I’m not sure how I rationalize all of that, but to quote Whitman in a post about popular culture: I am large, I contain multitudes.
So, as a consumer of all of this entertainment content, I include among my weekly dvr selections a show called Project Runway. I’m going to go ahead and guess that most of you have heard of or watched this reality-based competition. If so, you may be aware that each season, the contestants are given the challenge of designing for “real women,” that is, women who are not models and have normal, everyday shapes and sizes. And, without fail, every season there is a designer who throws an absolute tantrum about how difficult this challenge is, about how this isn’t what they “do” as a designer.
I know that what happens on television might not be the most accurate representation of reality, how designers design in the privacy of their studios, or how garments travel from paper to product. But, the fact that this attitude continues to present itself causes me to ask: whom do designers think that they are designing for, if not real people?
If you watch actual runway shows or look at the photos, you know that there is an entire category of garment presented each fashion season that is never meant for practical wear. Rather, they are made to present a concept that furthers a collection’s theme; they are made to be photographed; they are made to be worn by a celebrity to Met Gala; they are made to create a spectacle. One of the most talented designers that ever lived, Alexander McQueen, designed many collections in just such a way. But, his design house also offers a brand-consistent line of clothing that is wearable and accessible.
Many designers create beautiful ready-to-wear collections that are appropriate for work- or everyday-wear. When I shop and I browse these collections, it is immediately evident that some (not all) of them aren’t meant for me. I sheepishly pick up the largest size, often a size 12, and hold it to my body; there’s not a chance that it will fit. On the days when I’m feeling particularly confident, I might even take one of those garments into a dressing room. The results are almost always either hilarious or humiliating, as I sweatily peel a sausage casing of a shirt from my busty size 14 frame. Size 12, my ass. And what does that number even mean?
Where do women like me fit into the world of fashion? I often feel invisible or unimportant. Are some designers embarrassed at the thought of a woman like me wearing their clothes? Am I forever trapped in the black hole that exists between department store garments and the unflattering curtain-like clothing offered to plus sized women (don’t even get me started on that)? Plenty of women smaller than I have the same problems finding clothes that fit, let alone flatter.
As the employee of a company that embraces all body types, I could probably use this as a platform to promote our own products. But, that’s not really the point here. I’m honestly, desperately seeking an answer. I want to know if I actually exist in the big picture of fashion – or am I the invisible, or worse, the untouchable? Designers – what’s the answer?
P.S.: The women featured in the images above are a collection of friends, employees, artisans, and, yes, real models. Some were cast for our Studio Book Series, some were shot for our past collections, and some are just an integral part of our ever unfolding world. Some of these beautiful ladies were discovered in our hometown of Florence, Alabama, and others are from far away. We thank each of them for shining their beauty our way.
Nothing that we do here at Alabama Chanin would be beautiful without the photographers who capture our world. A few to thank (in no particular order): Rinne Allen, Lisa Eisner, Peter Stanglmayr, Robert Rausch, Nick Wolfe, Russ Harrington, Sarah E. Lewis, Gina R. Binkley, Elizabeth DeRamus, Natalie, and a slew of others…