Belfast Telegraph

Shunning size-zero

By Frances Burscough

The fashion industry is at long last joining the real world by shunning size-zero catwalk models in favour of women with figures more akin to the national average.

London Fashion Week was in an uproar over the latest collections. Hissy-fits, tantrums, tears and tiffs ensued — even more than usual — as one after another influential designer chose realistically sized models instead of emaciated stick insects to showcase their collections on the catwalks.

One designer in particular — Mark Fast, who specialises in glamorous “body-con” mini dresses and figure-hugging knitwear — had a mutiny on his hands when, in the middle of his runway collection, his backstage stylist downed tools and walked out in protest at the inclusion of three average-sized models.

How very dare he?!

So, it seems that the final fashion taboo is at last starting to be broken, piece by piece, bit by bit, inch by curvaceous inch.

And you’ve got to agree this can only be a change for the better. In fact, I’m certain the consensus among style-conscious women and concerned parents of fashion-victim youngsters is “About bloody time!”

Whereas in the real world an average woman is a good size 14, in the high-end of the fashion industry, which these shows cater for, ranges often start at a UK size six and stop at a below-average 12. Crazy isn’t it? The only explanation, which I’ve ever heard to justify the heroin-chic look that prevails in fashion circles, is that “clothes hang better from skinny frames”.

But surely fashion is an industry which must cater for the general public, not just a tiny percentage with tiny, weeny waists?

Having worked as a womenswear designer for a number of years before I moved to Northern Ireland, I can let you in on a trade secret.

In the 1980s a survey took place within the industry which studied the psychology of fashion buying habits on the high street. Among other things, it found that women were more likely to buy an item of clothing if it was labelled a smaller size than they were expecting to fit. When shown two identical outfits, one labelled 12 and the other 14, time and time again the women chose the item labelled 12. Well, you would wouldn’t you? Don’t ask me to explain but any woman will understand.

This may seem like a pointless and banal discovery but its effects were far reaching and still felt today. Certain chain stores took it on board and altered their sizing charts, adding a few crucial inches to each pattern so that their “standard” grew accordingly. The smaller chains and independent boutiques could not afford to follow suit and therefore kept their original fittings.

Coincidentally, over the same period of time, the national average size of women has gradually increased and the typical physique has changed due to a variety of factors including diet, lifestyle and social habits. In short, we’ve got bigger, heavier and more curvy. Or, as they say on America’s Next Top Model: “Girl, you’ve got a lot more junk in yo’ trunk!”

As a result, the discrepancy between shops is more noticeable than ever and explains why some labels seem to fit generously when others, apparently in the same size, are straining at the seams or don’t have a hope in hell of making it past ground zero. I’ve experienced this myself on countless occasions. What for me would be a size 10 in Mark’s is a 14 in Topshop and Miss Selfridges. Crazy, but true.

So if it wants to keep up with the social trends, it’s clear that the fashion industry needs an extreme makeover of its own. Regulate the sizing; use more plus sizes and adopt zero-tolerance for size zeros if it is to be true to real women and not just the thin end of the wedge.

And another thing

Meanwhile, Belfast bridal guru Anthony Miller has taken on board the changing trend for using plus-sized women in fashion shows. His new television venture, Northern Ireland Top Bridal Model, is a series of beauty pageants which are specifically looking for “real” women who don‘t necessarily fit the usual bill of top-model material..

The first heat kicked off in November and was hosted by the gorgeous and very real woman Lynda Brians and the panel of judges included yours truly.

Anthony said in his opening speech: “I love real women with stories on their faces who aren’t necessarily stick-thin and underage. The female form should be celebrated in all its glory and models should inspire our girls instead of being unreachable icons who project an unhealthy lifestyle and figures that are impossible to maintain.” Hear, hear is what I say.

Belfast Telegraph