If you’re reading this blog, you are almost certainly familiar with a national chain of boutiques dating back to the 1980s and ’90s that catered to full-figured women, by the name of The Forgotten Woman. The chain focused on designer and upscale clothing, and included designs by Geoffrey Beene, Oscar de la Renta, Adrienne Vittadini, Pauline Trigere and Bob Mackie. Sadly, the chain went out of business in 1999. Yet with a substantial portion of the adult female population wearing so-called plus-size fashions, you would think that this segment of the fashion industry would be thriving.
The good news is there seems to be fresh interest in catering to the full-figured woman. The less good news is that the target customer is decidedly younger than the typical customer of The Forgotten Women.
The Los Angeles Times published a piece on Sunday, June 19, 2016, entitled “Pluses and minuses: The fashion industry improves its variety of sizes, but still lags.” Three young women - Nadia Aboulhosn, Gabi Gregg, and Nicolette Mason – are touted for the “hundreds, if not thousands, of outfits detailed on their blogs and Instagram profiles . . . they shop, and so do their readers. Their combined reach to followers on Instagram alone is creeping up to a million. What’s more, the three multi-hyphenates (blogger-designer-model-creative strategist, among others) have been pushing the fashion industry forward when it comes to broadening the range of sizes offered as well as the general messaging from brands.”
The CEO of plus-size-focused fashion website Eloquii comments that the customer “is buying the trend-driven fashion items the minute they’re available–there is no hesitation. . . . Off the shoulder, ruffles, ’70s, chambray–if it’s a fashion trend, it’s selling and selling well.” Research firm NPD Group views full-figured teens as “reinvigorating the plus-size market. Today’s young consumers know what they want and won’t settle for less.”
Ruffles and off-the-shoulder looks at popular price points (dresses under $59) are not what the successful mature full-figured woman wants to wear, yet the needs of this extensive and affluent group are being met by very few designers.
The Times reports: “The plus-size bloggers say there must be a larger representation of different plus-size women. ‘There’s still a lot of work to be done– and still not a lot of diversity in plus fashion, despite the fact that it’s a highly diverse market, in terms of race, financial means and location,’ says Mason. . . . ‘We now know it’s OK to be a white, well-proportioned curvy woman, but what about everyone else that’s part of this demographic?’” And, one might ask, what about the more mature woman?
To the designers out there who are committed to serving the plus-size market, and to designers thinking of expanding their size ranges, here’s something to consider: If our next President is a woman who embraces the flattering long line look of a pantsuit as her signature look (and who reportedly receives fashion advice from Anna Wintour of Vogue magazine), isn’t it time to emulate that look and to start designing flattering quality professional wear for the mature full-figured woman?