In one of the shopping centres I frequent there was, until recently, a shop that specialised in providing office and evening wear to the larger sizes of women. The shop was equipped with appropriately-sized store dummies and came complete with a sturdy young proprietress who could easily fill the clothes she sold.
Along the arcade to each side were other women's clothing businesses. One had previously been a lingerie store which had lissome torso dummies in its windows which would have been passable facsimiles of the bodies of girls in their early teens. Around these were stretched the typical pieces of scanty fabric that dominate the selections of modern female underwear. It flourished in this incarnation for several years then was transformed into a general clothing store, under new management, but with the same scrawny type of window-mannequins. Walking past, along the winding arcade, I'm confronted directly by its window display and when I see the dimensions of the blouses, skirts, dresses, etc. that are offered, I wonder what regiments of twelve and thirteen-year-old girls are swarming in there to buy the stuff and keep them in business. Maybe they just put the most svelte stuff in the windows and the racks are covertly holding the larger sizes. I won't conduct field research to find out!
Another store along the arcade two doors from what I took to thinking of (I regret to admit) as "The Fat Girls' Shop" was also a conventional type; slender dummies standing in the windows with permanently-fitted pink page-boy wigs, showing off a regularly-changing array of the usual gear for the emaciated. Elsewhere in the centre there's a less overtly "thinist" place that caters for more mature women, but the dummies standing sentry in the windows are relentlessly lithe.
A couple of weeks ago the fat girl shop closed. I couldn't figure it at first. I walk along the streets of this city seeing plenty of potential customers. Let's be clear, it's not really "fat" in most cases; there are many women who just have robust skeletons. You can tell from the size of their heads that they couldn't trim down beyond a certain point that would still make the stuff in those window displays unwearable. So why does a shop touting "plus sizes" pass away? Well, the owner may have found greener pastures, but I suspect she just couldn't cop enough revenue to keep going.
Now, Kingsize Menswear is a brand that has no trouble making a mint. Although it caters to the naturally broad and tall (and broad and short) it's also been covering the fat "guts" of Australian men since 1972 and goes stronger every year. The only thing I can see is that "fatness" is such a taboo in female culture that, apart from covert purchase through the Internet or mail-order catalogues, women just won't be associated with such a place. As in, won't be caught dead calling themselves a name by walking through the door.
There was another thing that I felt uneasy about: the clothing itself was striking what I thought was an "off" note. It was enlarged to fit the bodies of the big girls, but it was the same fabric, embroidery and so on, that characterised the clothes for the skinnies. I'd walk past the big dummy at the door when it was wearing a translucent evening gown or a torsolette and it just didn't look right. A frilly G-string stretched across a metre-wide derriere ain't the same as when it's on a pert, narrow one. I think that's really where the problem is: that stuff isn't attractive or sexy wear for women. It's purpose-made to emphasise the form of a very narrow part of the spectrum of women. Making it in a large size doesn't make it any more natural. The answer to the question,"How can flattering, impressive clothing be made for larger women?" is not to be found in making larger sizes of the same gear made for the smaller ones. The real challenge for designers is to wipe the preconceptions away and begin with fabrics, designs and colours that will make a natural compliment to the woman they're meant to fit, not a misguided distortion of someone else's style. Then nobody will need to fret over walking through the door of a "plus size" shop.