That might feel dispiriting. But there’s an antidote to the whims of a fickle, fatphobic fashion industry. I know exactly where I can find a perfect dress that fits me well and makes me feel great.
As my grandmother said, I just make it, toots.
Even as the fashion industry is scaling back its plus-size offerings, indie pattern designers who cater to bigger women have exploded in popularity. In 2019, after Instagram posts flagged the lack of size diversity in sewing patterns, a communitywide discussion began in the D.I.Y. crowd. Pattern designers, rather than digging in their heels, listened — and responded. Now there are offerings for all the natural variations in waists, hips and breasts, with an array of plus-size sewing patterns in a wide range of measurements. There’s an annual celebration every May on Instagram for people who make their own clothes, #MeMadeMay, in which thousands of hip, modern sewers flaunt the fruits of their own designs. For plus-size accounts like @tanglesandstarlight, @fat.bobbin.girl, @husqvarnaqueen and @frocksandfroufrou, the purpose isn’t to sell you the clothes they’ve made; it’s to inspire you to make your own and discover how empowering it can be.
This is the lesson that mass retail should be studying with intense interest. Plus size is now the American average, as two-thirds of American women wear a size 14 or above, according to a 2016 study by Plunkett Research. If the major brands have driven us out of their stores and into our own communities, they have no one to blame but themselves. My guess is that once women discover how much better it feels — and fits — when they make clothes for their own bodies, they won’t be coming back to the standardized, one-size-fits-some options available in stores. If mass retail is about uniformity, trends and disposability, the me-made movement is about recognizing the fact that each body is distinct, different and worthy of celebration.
In “Butts: A Backstory,” the journalist Heather Radke explored the garment industry’s history of trying and failing to standardize sizing for women’s bodies. “Bodies are bespoke, and most clothes made since the 1920s are mass-produced industrial products,” she wrote. Because of the complicated nature of pattern grading, which is used to create multiple sizes from one design, “as clothing sizes get bigger, it is less likely they will fit,” she explained. While men’s sizing utilizes inches in a straightforward manner, with measurements like inseam and chest, women’s sizes have no consistency from one brand to another. Whether a woman is tall or short, large-busted or thin-hipped, doesn’t provide any formula for sizing her body as a whole.
Women’s bodies are anomalies, unwilling to be solved, which is part of why, for as long as the clothing industry has attempted to homogenize them, women have been branching out to make clothes of their own. Abigail Glaum-Lathbury, an associate professor in the fashion department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, put it to Ms. Radke very simply: “Unless your clothes are made for you, they don’t actually fit.”
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