An Open Letter to the Clothing Industry About Diversity

fashion model diversity

I’ve tried to write this post half a dozen times and never quite felt like I’d accomplished what I’d set out to do. The whole “open letter” thing feels a bit like yelling into a well – satisfying for a moment, but with little lasting impact – and this particular open letter always gets pretty rant-y when I tackle it. It also gets pretty rambly, as I have thoughts for both high-end designers and mall stores.

But, boatload of caveats aside, I’ve got diversity on the brain right now so I guess it’s time to just give it a whirl.

* * * * *

Dear Fashion, Style, and Clothing Industries,

You are doing it wrong.

There may have been a time when presenting customers with an idealized, scrubbed, socially-sanctioned, mind-blowingly narrow version of beauty and fashionability sold stuff, but I’m here to tell you that time has passed. Long passed. You are operating under the assumption that your outdated version of “aspirational images” are motivating consumer actions. They may be squeaking by for the time being, it’s true. But people have learned to resent images and messaging designed to make them feel inferior or excluded. People have begun to rebel against the notion that there is one kind of beauty. People have had enough of the insultingly racist, classist, ageist, sizeist bullshit that you’ve been shoving at us for decades. It’s time you updated your strategies.

If you really want to create brand loyalty, cultivate passion for your products, and break new ground, try being inclusive. And I don’t mean casting a size 10 model and saying she’s plus-sized, or putting a single woman of color on the runway. That is not diversity. Diversity is short, old, scarred, hairy, tattooed, fat, thin, neither-fat-nor-thin, tall, flat-chested, busty, frizzy-haired, wheelchair-using, non-hourglassy, and jiggly. Diversity is gay and bi and hetero and trans and every possible combination and variation of gender and sexuality you can imagine. Diversity isn’t just African-American and occasionally Asian, it’s Latin, Native American, Polynesian, South American, Middle Eastern, Indian, and hundreds more. Diversity isn’t just that one gorgeous silver-haired model, it’s the rosy-cheeked 35-year-old and the vibrant 47-year-old, and the stunning 69-year-old. Diversity is also hundreds of other things that I’m omitting here, and it is changing all the time. It behooves you to celebrate that messy, difficult, ever-changing morass of humanity, even if it scares the pants off of you to contemplate doing so. Because there is beauty in every human, and when you finally start to accept and portray that undeniable fact, you will be amazed by the reaction it will prompt.

I know you’re trying, and strides have been made. The models may all still have the same body type, but there are more women of color modeling now than before. They may still be relegated to their own, separate events, but there are plus-sized fashion week shows and promotions. But in all honesty, it’s not enough. Because you are now sitting around congratulating yourselves for token inclusions and falsifying size diversity. You are claiming to promote positive body image when you’re just trying to sell stuff. You’re starting to do some aggravating laurel-resting, and that simply won’t do.

Promoting true diversity will be difficult and expensive. Representing the gamut of women in ads will be challenging, fitting a variety of body types for the runway will be costly, and expanding your size offerings will be tough. But you must believe me when I say that the goodwill, enthusiasm, and support you’ll generate by doing even ONE of these things will make it worth your while. You don’t need to constantly re-package the same stuff and tell us it’s new and improved. If you just re-cast the same stuff, make versions that fit the actual population, and present it to us as new, we’d be utterly overjoyed to see ourselves reflected back in your ads and merchandise. We’d buy. We’d love to buy your stuff. But we don’t really want to buy it unless you tell us that it’s FOR us, and believe it.

And the “us” I’m referring to definitely includes the lithe, willowy, Caucasian blondes with perfectly straight teeth that you adore. But it includes the rest of us women, too.


Image source

Originally posted 2011-10-05 06:14:51.

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68 Responses to “An Open Letter to the Clothing Industry About Diversity”

  1. Jen

    Much applause, flowers thrown at your feet, hoots and hollers! Well said Sal, well said.

  2. Cynthia

    I do tend to have some brand loyalty to clothing companies that didn’t size me out when I was a size 18/20, and that don’t size me out now at a 12/14. Say what you will about Boden-based style, I could continue to HAVE Boden-based style even if I gained 20 pounds this year. And although J. Jill has gone way too far into the realm of drapey solid neutral “simplicity”, I still look at their catalog because they sold me some nice work clothes when I was bigger. I’m firmly “low fashion” because even the lesser fancy lines (I’m squinting at you All Saints and Theory) size me out, and I’m not even a “difficult” body type, I’m just a proportional scale-up of their standard “misses” form. You’d think they could handle it but no.

  3. Elizabeth Ann

    I couldn’t agree more. For what it’s worth (should anyone from the fashion/clothing/style/cosmetics industry be listening): I am white, under 30, thin and fit. I have good skin without large “flaws” or scars. I am middle class with disposable income. I am traditionally “pretty.” I am your target market. And you know what? I will not stop buying your products because you show them on a fat woman or a black woman or a short woman or a woman over 50. I am not going to turn away in disgust because your models have tattoos or because that dress goes up to a size 24. You will not alienate me by diversifying, but you can and have alienated me by refusing to. I hate that I cannot go shopping with one of my dearest friends because there isn’t a store that makes clothes we both fit into. I hate hearing that certain brands or styles are “something that white girls wear” because friends have never seen a woman of coloring wearing them. Your refusal to diversify isn’t making me want to associate myself with your brand, but making me feel ashamed of things that are fundamentally beyond my control, my age and appearance, because they give others the impression that I am better or think I am better than they are. Beautiful comes in a wide variety of shapes, styles and colors. The sooner you acknowledge this the better it will be for all of us.

  4. yancey

    You had me at the beginning and all the way through to the end. Then….you had to point out that the model in the photo was “plus sized”, huh?
    You are fantastic, as ever.

  5. déjà pseu

    Bravo!! I think women are smart enough and media literate enough to want to see themselves represented. Great post, Sal!!

  6. Xtine

    This is quite possibly the BEST thing you have ever written! Is it any wonder there are so many of us thrifting our wardrobes? Kudos!

  7. Linda W.

    RIGHT ON! Spread the word. Have your article published in every thing!

  8. Tara

    This will likely not be a very popular opinion here, but I honestly don’t want to see every day reality on runways and in fashion magazines. I agree that the fashion industry could do with more diversity in race and size, but I still want to see beautiful people when I crack a Vogue or watch footage of runways from fashion week. The model in the image you selected is a great example. She’s beautiful – not “old” or “scarred” or “frizzy haired” or “jiggly”. You selected her because she’s attractive, toned, and has amazing skin, eyebrows and hair. There’s a reason she’s a model; she’s beautiful and not in an “everybody’s beautiful” way. Seeing gorgeous people in fashion magazines is eye candy, every bit as much as the clothes and shoes. I don’t believe most people want to see average looking people staring back at them from the pages of a magazine. If they did, that’s what magazines would already show. I don’t need to see myself reflected back at me from the pages of a Vogue or in a TV commercial for Gap; that’s what my bathroom mirror is for.

    Additionally, just because a model is beautiful (more beautiful that we ourselves might be) doesn’t mean we have to feel bad about ourselves. Stephen Hawking is a hell of a lot smarter than I am, and I’m glad for that. It doesn’t take away from my intelligence that there is a Brian Greene in the world just like it doesn’t take away from my attractiveness that Heidi Klum exists. It’s OK to admire physical beauty alongside the bevy of other traits we admire in others.

    My two cents.

  9. Kat

    Preach it!

    If only someone out there in power was actually listening…

    I just sent off another of my e-mail rants to a company that continues to send me sale promotions even though they no longer really carry my size. (10 petite items out of a 200 item catalog is NOT inclusive.) I keep hoping that they’ll take the hint because they would have my business back in an instant if they carried clothes that FIT.

  10. Susan Tiner

    Thank you so much for this wonderful post! I am pretty sure one of the reasons I gave up on style for so long is that I didn’t see myself represented. It was a depressing experience going shopping!

  11. Lisa

    Quite true. And as economics joins forces with morality, influenced in part by the alternative fashion voices offered on the blogosphere, we should see more of a shift. In other words, every ad dollar spent here is a dollar spent convincing the fashion industry that diversity is not only right, it sells.

  12. sarah

    I really, really appreciate your last line. Far too often, posts on body image veer into bashing thin, Caucasian women as if somehow being thin or fair makes us less of a “real woman.” Ouch. Trust me, we exist, we’re human, and we want to see true diversity in the fashion industry too.

  13. Debbi@SheAccessorizesWell

    I cannot say THANK YOU enough times. Very well written and I totally agree with everything you said. Being plus-size, I cannot tell you how many times I see something I love and find it does not come in my size. I really hate seeing plus-sizes being modeled by women who cannot be larger than a size 8.
    One of the things I love about the blogging community is that we are seeing diversity and not just model perfection that few can live up to.
    Thank you again, Sal.

    • Tracey

      I agree that the blogging community has opened up fashion to regular people of all ages, shapes, sizes, cultures, ethnic groups and shoe sizes. We just need the rest of the fashion industry to wake up and smell the beauty.

  14. Miss T

    Couple of things: I think the Etsy model of retailing is a good one. There’s usually a real-life ordinary person modeling the clothes, and they provide the garment measurements. My success rate in purchases is consequently very high. NOTE TO CLOTHING RETAILERS: WHAT THE HELL IS SO DIFFICULT ABOUT THAT?? However, Etsy also follows this bizarre practice of labeling size 12 “plus” size, but perhaps they are just trying to present things in the context we are used to. Whatever, they need to set an example and eliminate the word “plus”. Permanently.

    The other thing is that I notice is that the upscale clothing retailers in particular KNOW that we want “diversity”, that “diversity” is a huge aspect of our society, one that people have strong feelings about, but instead of addressing the diversity of the CUSTOMER, they throw that faux “ethnic” clothing shit at us. In other words, to placate that desire for unity, diversity, and a global culture, they give us vaguely Middle-Eastern fabrics and embellishments, but MODELED ON THE SAME SIZE 0 BLOND WHITE WOMEN. They must really think we’re stupid. It’s insulting as hell.

    • ily

      Yeah, I was going to say something similar to your second paragraph. I’d like to see more diversity in ad campaigns, but I don’t trust companies to do it right, or do it resepctfully. Usually, it ends up being offensive, some form of cultural appropriation, or something used for shock value.

  15. Francie

    This letter is fantastic! Thank you for this post.

    One friendly critique–I would replace “wheelchair-bound” with “wheelchair-users/using.” “Wheelchair bound” is often criticized by people in the disability community as perpetuating a misconception that wheelchairs “bind” people, rather than liberating people with mobility issues by allowing them to get out into the world and participate more fully in life. Saying “wheelchair-using” also supports that idea that people with disabilities are subjects who act, rather than objects who are acted upon. I’ve been corrected on this usage myself, and I offer the information to you because I know how committed you are to diversity and inclusion. Thanks for listening!

  16. Suburban Princess

    Instead of writing a blog about it…why dont you just stop shopping at these stores and let the company know why. If a company doesnt cater to me I simply spend my money elsewhere. If enough people did this companies would have no choice but to change.

    • Sal

      What companies do you feel meet your criteria for representing diversity in advertising and sizing? I cannot name a single one that I feel is up to my standards on all fronts.

      Furthermore, a blog post can speak volumes. Who’s to say that sending an e-mail to a large corporation is a more effective course of action?

      Finally, I mention quite specifically that this post is mainly to express my own feelings and frustrations. Since I offer no alternatives or solutions in this particular post, I don’t see how I could contact any one vendor and tell them how or what to change.

      • Miss T

        I have written both Nordstrom and Anthropologie about their lack of full-spectrum sizing, with special emphasis on how I am unable to spend my money with them because of it. In both cases, I got a polite but whining response about how “it’s the manufacturer’s fault”. Implying they have no control over the quality of the goods they carry, which is not true. It is a problem, for sure, because while we all know who the vendors are, we don’t know who the manufacturers are. There is zero transparency on that end. So, we are stuck making our feelings known to the retailers, but I think the problem there is that retailers will still make money even if we boycott — someone else will always buy it even if we don’t. Ever notice that they don’t do “consumer focus groups” for fashion? That’s because they just don’t care if we are happy. In fact, it might be in their best interest for us to be unhappy with a purchase. We’ll chalk it up to an impuse buy that didn’t work out, we give it our friend or sister who mentioned she likes it, and then we just go buy something else.

        • Sal

          Indeed. My impression has been that consumer satisfaction and happiness hardly even rate for most clothing manufacturers. Perhaps they rely on the “fashion is fleeting” excuse. Regardless, my experiences contacting companies through regular channels has been frustrating at best, infuriating at worst.

  17. Elizabeth

    I have this dream that within the next 10 years the current models will fall by the wayside and the “plus-sized” models will rise to the top. I hear the industry’s concern that it’s the size 0’s who have the runway experience and they don’t want to hire larger modes with no experience. But the more experience the “plus sized” models get, the less potent that argument becomes. I envision a time in the not-too-distant future when a major label will present their entire line on “plus-sized” models. Then others will follow suit. Then, essentially, we’ll be back where we were in the 1980s, when the average model was an 8.

    I thought mine was a bold vision. Yours is so much bolder. Thank you for that!

    • Frankincensy

      No firm that routinely hires very young models with no experience at all (Kate Moss and Gisele Bundchen were both scouted in their early teens) can make excuses about plus-sized models “lacking experience”.

  18. anotherjen

    Good on ya Sal! Now add a sustained critque of capitalism and you are well on your way to changing the world in even more significant ways.

  19. Tabithia

    Dear Clothing Stores,

    How about actually carrying all your available sizes in the store instead of saying you can order them online? I can almost understand telling me I have to order my extra tall pants online. I get it you have space constraints, but don’t tell me you only carry up to a size 10-12 in the store but I can go online and order other sizes! (BTW, I have no clue what size I am, but I was an 11/12 pre-pregnancy after losing 50lbs). Just because your clothing is “in my size” does not mean it will fit. WHY when I wore a size 18 or 16 or even a 14 could I not try on clothes in the store like everyone else? Why would I have to shop from my computer, wait for the clothes to get to me, and then pay to send them back if they didn’t fit? I already had to pay more for my clothes because you know that size 14 used soooo much more material than the size 12.
    So we get it, you have space constraints in your store so somethings may have to be put online like tall or short pants..but not larger sizes. If you put it in the store, they will come.

    Also, to the vintage and vintage inspired stores. Stop acting like no one in the 50s had hips or that everyone in the 60s was thin. There’s nothing wrong with being thin or not having hips, so continue to carry those clothes, but really carry something other than that too!

    • Frankincensy

      There’s a theory that vintage shops tend to be full of very small sizes because those sizes actually *weren’t* common, so more of the clothing has survived in good condition. (The same goes for vintage sewing patterns.) Your frustration is justified, but I’m not sure how much of it is the store owners’ choice and how much is dictated by what they can find.

      • Tabithia

        That theory makes good sense. I think I’m more frustrated with vintage-inspired shops that make new clothing that is suppose to look vintage and yet they do the same thing other retailers are doing. The one shop I have found that does a great job, compared to most is they have everything from x-small to xx-large. That’s not all encompassing but they’re doing better than many!

  20. Karen

    Agreed! I hate that I can’t go shopping with one of my plus-sized friends because stores rarely make clothes that will fit both of us. Even if I’m a thin white girl, I don’t need to see clothes on other thin white girls (or other thin girls in general) to appreciate them. This reminds me of a shopping trip with a couple of my friends last summer, where we went into one of the mall stores and the sales girls immediately started talking to me and my other petite friend about a promotion that was going on, and they completely ignored my plus-size friend. I was outraged when we realized what was going on, and I refuse to shop there now. Although some progress is being made, the blatant refusal of fashion/clothing companies to recognize diverse types of women is still alive and well.

  21. Mel

    Right on, Sal!!!

    Are you listening Target???? I have the money to spend….if you could possibly find it in you to stock more than one rack of plus-sized clothes….that aren’t ugly polyester, with orangutan arms.

    And because you choose not to sell me any clothes, I don’t even go to your store. My other items I can pick up at the grocery store. Why bother with the extra trip to Target?

    I find it so annoying to be excluded from clothing purchases that Target isn’t on my list of shopping destinations for anything. Doesn’t even hit my radar.

    Do they think that because I’m plus-sized:
    That I don’t wear underwear, tights, or outerwear????
    I’m not worthy of trying on clothes in the store?
    I shouldn’t have a choice of clothing?
    That I LIKE all my clothes in ugly 100% polyester?
    That I have 7′ arms, and like my pants to have a crotch down by my knees?

    What are they thinking???
    I’m the one with discretionary funds to spend on clothes. They’re looking for ways to increase profit.

    Why is this so hard for them to fathom?

  22. Eleanorjane

    Awesome Sal! You could work this into a campaign if you wanted. Have a form letter that we all sent to clothing stores and magazines with some concrete examples of what they could do to improve. You could also raise awareness with an online petition to be presented to some key targeted clothing companies. It could be great publicity for you and also possibly help to change the world just a little bit.

  23. Mar

    I agree with your argument emotionally, Sal, but I am not sure I follow it intellectually. Out of what obligation are you (we) demanding that fashion industry or certain clothing brands change their sizing for example? Some sort of social obligation? I am having hard time believing that if a company really would be making more money by expanding their sizing, they would. Just the fact that there in principle would be moneyed plus-size people out there doesn’t mean it would necessarily bring in profit for the company. And when you say in the letter that although the industry is claiming to promote positive body image, it’s in fact just trying to sell stuff, I am not following that either – what on earth else would the fashion industry then be trying to do if not sell stuff?? It’s not a social or charitable organization, but a business making money, utilizing every trick in the book to get it out of our pockets. And your argument that we as customers would buy if the industry did all these nice things, we’d love to buy, otherwise we don’t really want to – this makes no sense to me either. I mean, you buy regardless, Sal. So do I. Everyone on this forum I am guessing or at least majority will regardless, finances permitting. So again, I am just not following what is the actual rational argument here. If you want to appeal to companies based on social obligation to diversity, that’s one thing. But this “we will not buy otherwise” makes no sense from a fashion blogger constantly showcasing new pieces.
    And I agree with a previous commenter that I am not sure we really want to see “jiggly”, “frizzy-haired” (if by frizzy hair you mean the unruly mop I as a Caucasian woman am constantly sporting since I an inept at hair styling), etc models on runway or glossy magazines (I am not talking about retail catalogues). Maybe I misunderstood your argument. Racially and age-wise diverse, yes. Plus-size, yes. The image you chose for the letter is too, like someone already pointed out, of someone with skin, hair, and body-tone traditionally viewed as beautiful and very pleasing to the eye (and she is really not too far into the plus-size land). If we are all so “everybody is beautiful”, why are we collectively then still concerned with elongating legs? Defining waste? Enhancing the appearance of our skin and definition of our features with makeup?
    This probably can all come across critical, but I am just trying to think this topic through for myself. Like I said, I wholeheartedly agree with you emotionally, but I am not sure it all makes sense to me rationally.

    • Sal

      Interesting points, Mar. Just want to point out, though, that I never menaced anyone with “we will not buy otherwise.” I understand my position.

      And part of what may have been misconstrued is that many segments of the potential buying population are omitted from ads and from actual available merchandise, and would be more able and willing to buy if they were represented. I’m not necessarily talking about myself, as my own fit issues are minimal.

      It’s interesting to me that you would potentially be comfortable seeing jiggly, frizzy-haired women in catalogs, but not in magazines or on the runway. Why the difference?

      • pope suburban

        I can actually see having different models for different clothes. As I understand it, high fashion and runway wear is more of an art project than something anyone will ever put on and wear to do something. In which case, fine, let the designer pick the canvas (although I wouldn’t weep if the artist picked a canvas that wasn’t a woman picked for her resemblance to an actual coat hanger; art can be diverse). For everyday clothes, though, I kind of want to know how they will fit me and how they will look on me. Or my friend, cousin, or mom, if I’m buying gifts. There, I need more than one body and I need an idea if someone can integrate it into an everyday look. I look at clothing-store clothes as a whole different animal than runway fashion, which I consider to be performance art. One’s useful like pens and keyboards are useful (and can be pleasing and well-designed like those things), and the other is a visual and conceptual feast that we can look upon for inspiration and the sheer joy of beauty and design.

        • Sal

          True, runway shows are supposed to be “high art,” to some extent, especially haute couture. But the RTW items are meant for human consumption and are still designed for and shown on a single body type. But the fact is that the fashion industry relies on marketing itself as a fantasy, and when that fantasy includes being tall and thin, it affects the self-esteem of girls and women.

          Also I’ve never seen the point of designing clothing that doesn’t actually work on humans. The “model as clothes hanger” argument is bizarre to me. It’s clothing. It should be wearable, by its very nature.

          • pope suburban

            I think I am using an entirely different definition of “ready to wear.” I don’t think of anything that appears on a runway as “ready to wear.” This is partly because I don’t know much about the higher end of fashion, and partly because if I can’t see myself (or an average person) being able to roll into a store and pick it up to take home, it doesn’t make my “ready to wear” cut. It’s a money issue, in other words, that separates my wardrobe from art projects or concept designs.

            Hand in hand with that, when I see pictures from runway shows, I have to admit I don’t ever feel any need to look like the models. They have big crazy hairdos, their makeup is out of this world, and it just doesn’t seem like clothing to me. It’s more like watching a show; I am not personally convinced that a lot of it *is* designed to be worn– at least, not outside of a red-carpet event, and even then, it’s debatable.

            So, given that I break clothes down into “things to wear” and “avant-garde performance piece,” I don’t have any personal issue with weird runway shows. I recognize that this is born of not knowing a lot about haute couture and being better at compartmentalizing than many. I would absolutely love more body types. When I, a small-average lady who fits most anything from any store, cannot tell how something will look on me because the models are all the same, there is a problem. I am pretty “plain vanilla” when it comes to my measurements and if I have frequent trouble with models, then damn. So I would absolutely love to see more variety in models because hello, people would sometimes like to see how a garment might fit them personally (a minor pet peeve of mine, since I love online shops but I can never tell how the clothes will fit).

    • Tara

      I agree 100% with everything you stated, Mar. Well thought-out and well-stated.

  24. Mar

    Thank you for the response! About the last point: when I browse catalogues, I am interested in picturing myself in the clothes, as I am a potential buyer. Seeing a 20-something size 0 modeling a dress tells me very little about how this style will work on me, and I can’t really relate to it. In the opposite end of the spectrum, on runway, I don’t see the models as someone I identify with or try to identify with, but just vehicles to display the creative work. I don’t almost even want to be bothered about their uniqueness in sizes and ages, and I always thought that the point of the runway models is to be “invisible” in a sense, not distract from the effect the designer is going for, and let the fashion speak for itself. (I clearly am not an expert on runway shows) I am talking about really high-end designer runways though as that’s the only kinds that I have heard about/seen pictures from.

    And for the first point you raise – if there really is a segment of the population that would be willing to buy that is excluded given the actual available merchandise, why do you then think the market forces are not conspiring to fill that need? I think capitalism is helpless to address social issues and has many other failings (in my opinion), but I sort of assumed any profitable market will be filled with sellers in this country. If the market forces for some reason are not filling this real profitable demand, I am not understanding why.
    And I also find it hard to believe that given what enormous amount of resources goes into market and advertizing research and to what detail that aspect of human psychology is studied, a size 14 model wouldn’t be used to sell stuff if it really then sold better. This I think is to really underestimate the marketing and advertizing industry. I think many of us (well, me for example) aspire to be many things we are not (like thinner and/or younger), and I wonder if the image of thin young models (“Maybe I will look as slender and chic and youthful as the model in that dress!”) is purposefully chosen because it sells more to majority of the population than other “diverse” images – not because it reflects the majority of the population better. And while I said above that I would like to see “diverse” models in retail catalogues, I really can’t be sure – in a blind study where the same types of clothes were displayed by “diverse” models in one store and by our current typical models in the other store, I am not really convinced the diverse catalogue would sell more. I might still unconsciously gravitate towards the other images. (I would be stunned if this study or a similar one hasn’t been conducted to inform advertizing) I mean, isn’t this what most of fashion industry is about – selling images appealing to our unconscious desires and aspirations? How many of us buy the next cardigan because we really-really can’t live without a cardigan to keep us warm, and how many because the nymph-like size 0 young creature in say Anthropologie catalogue seemed oh so ethereal and mayyyyyybe we would be a bit like that if we had the same cardigan?

    • Sal

      Just responded to the idea of fashion as art above, here’s my reply:

      True, runway shows are supposed to be “high art,” to some extent, especially haute couture. But the RTW items are meant for human consumption and are still designed for and shown on a single body type. But the fact is that the fashion industry relies on marketing itself as a fantasy, and when that fantasy includes being tall and thin, it affects the self-esteem of girls and women.

      Also I’ve never seen the point of designing clothing that doesn’t actually work on humans. The “model as clothes hanger” argument is bizarre to me. It’s clothing. It should be wearable, by its very nature.

      I get that market forces seem to drive business decisions, and it DOES seem logical that if creating clothing in more sizes and marketing to a larger segment of the population would be profitable, business would already be doing it. And I’ve stated in this post that I realize the expense and hassle of doing so would be tremendous. But I also believe that even mass-market clothing sellers find “specialty” sizes distasteful to some extent. Many sell them, but only online, which – intentionally or not – makes those customers feel excluded and sub-par. I agree that economic forces trump social obligations in a capitalist system. Them’s the breaks. But what’s infuriating to me is that so many companies hear the clamor, take minimal action to serve the excluded, and then begin to applaud themselves as diverse and accommodating. What they’re doing saves face, it doesn’t actually have much impact. At least, that’s my view.

      I’ve read about many studies that conclude thinner women sell more clothes. And I suppose the hundreds upon hundreds of women who tell me they feel awful when they open a catalog and see women who look nothing at all like themselves could be mistaken. Or lying. But those catalogs perpetuate the myth that there is one right way to be beautiful, and it is tall, thin, and young. And, generally speaking, white. Again, I see the logistical nightmare inherent in demanding diversity from the market but considering how it affects the collective body image, I feel compelled to demand it anyway.

      These companies are definitely out to make a buck, and consumer self-esteem isn’t their top priority. But I DO think that if they boosted consumer self-esteem, they’d get more business. No one has ever tried it, as far as I know, and I have to believe that anyone who did would be rewarded with brand loyalty, good press, repeat customers, and a wider consumer base.

      I really appreciate you taking the time to hash all this out, and it’s been fascinating to read your thoughts, Mar. You bring up many good points, and I realize that I probably seem unreasonably idealistic here. But that’s the thing about an open letter: It’s not a vehicle for much except opinion. If I had concrete, workable solutions to these problems, I’d be doing my best to sell them to Gap corporate. 😉

      • Maj

        I actually don’t think that, by boosting consumer’s self esteem, they would make more money.
        Concumerism (and especially women-oriented consumerism, whether clothes, food, beauty products or baby stuff) feeds on the consumer’s feeling of inadequacy.
        My guess is that an insecure woman buy more, and can be more easily manipulated by marketing just by playing on these insecurities.

      • Mar

        Thank you for the very thoughtful and kind reply.
        You say: “But those catalogs perpetuate the myth that there is one right way to be beautiful, and it is tall, thin, and young. And, generally speaking, white. Again, I see the logistical nightmare inherent in demanding diversity from the market but considering how it affects the collective body image, I feel compelled to demand it anyway.”
        Totally agreed. I think this for me personally is the most compelling argument that I somehow missed in the letter. I think just like you said, the industry uses the tall/thin/young/white beauty nonsense that we appear to buy into in this country at this time to sell stuff, but at the same time solidifies it as THE beauty standard. So the industry is just using something that already permeates the culture, but also doing its share keeping it alive. I don’t know where and how to best attack the problem, but I applaud and support you in all your efforts to do so.

    • Rita@Goldivas

      Mar, you are overestimating the use of logic, and the efficiency of the free market. You think that business is rational. But that’s just not always the case. Marketers have their biases, and it affects their research design and interpretation.

      • Tabithia

        I have to agree here with Rita, I have a feeling that you can’t see it because you don’t/have never lived in this population. I was plus-sized, and when I was plus-sized there were even less options for fashionable clothing than there is now and that was just when I was in high school. I was willing to look good, willing to buy these products, but I couldn’t. In fact A LOT of people I know are willing and just can’t. Instead, I had to walk around looking like I didn’t really give a damn about my appearance. My jeans rarely fit, I had to wear t-shirts most of the time and when I could find a dress it was because I was having to shop in the same areas of department stores that women 3 times my age that looked like they had given up were shopping.

        A lot of that is because I couldn’t afford to order things offline and then send them back when the majority of them didn’t fit! And I shouldn’t have had to. You’re using logic in one way that then negates logic in other areas. “If it’s a profitable market then it would be fulfilled.” That then leaves you to have to go with the statement “All plus-sized women are okay with having very limited choices and the ones that aren’t are such a tiny minority it won’t make a difference.” I promise you there’s a lot of plus-sized fashionistas out there.

      • Victoria

        Exactly, studies have shown that people will prioritize their prejudices over making money. Most of the time unconsciously. Cultural expectations and taboos are hugely powerful and many of them are much more powerful than the drive to make more money. Innovation in and of itself is alway a hard sell even when it doesn’t go against prejudice let alone when it does. Corporation culture is incredibly conservative (i.e. sticks to what it knows).

        • sarasuperid

          Its so true, time and time again, I have seen that the only section of the fashion industry that is growing and seeing better profits is the plus sized section. Size 14 is the average size for an american woman, and that is just on the bottom end of plus sized. I can tell you when I find places that carry my size (14 Long/Tall) in stock, I am buying. Mainly because it is so rare to find something that fits that I take when the taking is good. When I do not find my size anywhere, I am buying men’s clothing and altering it.

  25. LinB

    Long ago gave up looking for clothing in retail that would fit and/or be attractive on me. I now prefer to do my shopping in a fabric store. I can make whatever I want to wear, in my size, in my preferred fabrics, and address the “oddities” of my figure (boo, industry standards that make us feel inferior if our bodies do not conform to their numbers). As for the models used in advertising: I, too, like to look at pretty people. I also like to look at people who are “average” looking. And even “ugly” people are interesting to see. What is most interesting is to see each person dressed in shapes and colors and patterns that best flatter that person — it’s too hard for most of us to imagine how styles worn by runway models will translate to our particular bodies.

  26. Ravina

    I see your point, Sally, and it is a good one. I wish for more diversity in the fashion industry as well. At the same time, as fashion bloggers, we HAVE that diversity. When I want to see how a certain style or piece of clothing looks on a real person, I Google it and am often directed to blogs like yours. I have gathered so much inspiration and information on fit and style from fashion bloggers around the world that I rarely read style magazines anymore. To me, it’s not about the way the industry is selling the garments but about how real people are actually wearing them. Do I wish models in print ads, on tv and on the runway were more diverse and representative of the entire spectrum of women? Absolutely. Yet I take comfort in the fact that we create our own print ads, right here on the internet, and we are all so different and unique. Maybe someday the fashion industry will sit up and take notice.

  27. Amy B

    This is wonderful. I wish fashion magazines in particular would listen. I just can’t look at painfully emaciated teenagers any longer, and it doesn’t help me for ideas of what I would like to wear. Thank you for articulating so clearly and evenly what I’ve been thinking for a long time.