“Designers, make it work”
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Tim Gunn is a champion of all women—really, that’s no exaggeration. As a mentor and co-host on Project Runway, fans love Gunn for his sensitive nature and thoughtful, constructive feedback. On his spin-off series, Tim Gunn’s Guide to Style, Gunn elevated your average makeover into a tool of empowerment and a bona fide therapy session.
Most recently, Tim Gunn penned an open letter to the fashion industry via The Washington Post that eloquently explains his frustrations with size discrimination and the industry’s blatant refusal to acknowledge the majority of American women. Not one to shy away from criticism, Gunn, who was the former chief creative officer for Liz Claiborne Inc., explains how designers have failed not just plus-size women but all women who don’t adhere to very limited beauty standards as well.
He starts his letter with the fact that most American women are between a size 16 and 18, a fact that has been bolstered by a new Washington State University survey. While fashion designers have an opportunity to embrace these women and make a healthy profit in the process, Gunn says most are “dripping with disdain, lacking imagination or simply too cowardly to take a risk.” This is a huge problem considering most clothing lines only go up to a size 12, leaving out the vast majority of American women.
As Tim Gunn says (and has shown through his own extensive work in the fashion industry), the responsibility does not lie on female customers to conform their bodies to the clothes but rather on the designers to conform the clothes to evolving bodies. Proving he has more concern for the women he dresses than for his own self-preservation, Gunn even calls out his own show, Project Runway, for failing plus-size women as well. He says plus-size designer Ashley Nell Tipton’s Season 14 win “reeked of tokenism,” claiming her pastel, voluminous, sheer looks didn’t do justice to her models’ curvy bodies. “A nod toward inclusiveness is not enough,” he writes, arguing instead for comprehensive change.
As Gunn writes,
“There is no reason larger women can’t look just as fabulous as all other women. The key is the harmonious balance of silhouette, proportion and fit, regardless of size or shape. Designs need to be reconceived, not just sized up; it’s a matter of adjusting proportions. …
Based on my experience shopping with plus-size women, it’s a horribly insulting and demoralizing experience. Half the items make the body look larger, with features like ruching, box pleats and shoulder pads. Pastels and large-scale prints and crazy pattern-mixing abound, all guaranteed to make you look infantile or like a float in a parade. Adding to this travesty is a major department-store chain that makes you walk under a marquee that reads ‘WOMAN.’ What does that even imply? That a ‘woman’ is anyone larger than a 12, and everyone else is a girl? It’s mind-boggling.”
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether designers change their ways to boost female empowerment or their own profit margins—at the end of the day, the customer is always right. In Tim Gunn’s own parting words, “Designers, make it work.”