What’s in a label? Well, washing instructions and fabric composition. And, of course, the dress size. The dreaded dress size; a category that can cause delight and trepidation in equal measure. But why should it have this effect on women? And how real is it, anyway?
When the actual size of garments seems to vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, a woman can be a size 14 in one high street shop and an 18 in another. There is little consistency and it increasingly appears that the concept of ‘dress size’ is just another cynical marketing tool.
“Hey, ladies – shop here and your dress label will say size 12!” Never mind that the actual garment is the measurement of a standard size 16.
This pattern of behaviour amongst high street retailers makes shopping more of a chore than it should be, both for ‘regular’ and ‘plus size’ women. So surely it’s time to stop the segregation between the two? They’re just a fiction created by decades of fashion industry marketing, after all.
However, dress sizes do have their practical uses. They guide women to choosing the correct garment that fits. Assuming there is some level of consistency of course. Look at men’s sizing: they are simply neck, waist and leg length measurements in inches or cm. These are imperial or metric constructs that cannot be tweaked by a marketing executive in a boardroom. So should we aspire to classify clothes more along these lines?
Shape and Style
The one argument for dress sizes, then, is that a woman’s shape is more complex and varied and dress sizing is, or should be, a way to decipher the different combinations of shape, size and curve. Sadly, what it has become is a method of classifying a woman. The ‘plus size’ label is a symbol of this attempt to control through classification.
The most unhelpful result of this are alterations in style, for example plus size clothing ranges rarely feature bold patterns or stripes, or even the complete eradication of styles over a certain size. On the high street, therefore, women become classified and dictated to in terms of the styles that they can and cannot wear. In fact, research indicates that over 60% of women would prefer retailers to extend their core lines rather than have a plus-size offshoot.
So is it the plus size classification itself, or rather the stigma that should come to an end? Well, when it is the classification that creates the stigma, they are not mutually exclusive.
The average dress size of a woman in the UK is a size 16. On the catwalk, ‘plus size’ is categorised as size 12-24. There’s something askew here. It’s the intimation that ‘plus’ is somehow excessive, or out of the ordinary. When in actual fact, we are anything but.
There’s no such thing as a ‘regular’ shaped woman anyway. Individual women are a multitude of people. They can be ‘Mum’, they can be ‘CEO’, they can be ‘Athlete’, they can be ‘Siren’! And they are likely to shape shift depending on which of these people they are today. You may have an outfit that looks great with a streamlined silhouette, or a dress that creates a bang with a bit of cleavage. These are features that are out of the realms of ‘normal’ – and that’s a positive thing!
So, what is the future of the ‘plus size’ label? In a world where flex is everything, labels of any sort are on the way out. Size, age, gender – we are human first and foremost. Central to our individuality is our self confidence. Shapewear is not a tool to support labels and classifications, it is a tool for any woman to dress as she pleases with confidence.
Here at Elle Courbee, we use the label ‘plus size’ for our shapewear collection as that’s the market we cater for, not as a way of marginalising the demographic. In the future, we may well move away from this label, but given that this is the search term our customers use when searching online, for now we’ll stick with it, but in the future, who knows? Curvy, voluptuous, fuller figure, the choices are out there and as public perception shifts, we’ll definitely be happy to move on.