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Fashion Week's Latest Trend? Plus-Size Models

French fashion designer Jean-Paul Gaultier takes the catwalk with plus-size model Crystal Renn at the end of the presentation of his spring/summer 2006 collection.
Remy de la Mauviniere
French fashion designer Jean-Paul Gaultier takes the catwalk with plus-size model Crystal Renn at the end of the presentation of his spring/summer 2006 collection.

The semiannual New York Fashion Week now under way gives us a glimpse of what will be stylish during the next season.

And along with the event comes the en vogue discussion of the models' sizes.

Women who are a size zero — and double zero — are still a common sight on the runway. But some fashion spreads of late have prominently featured plus-size models.

"One of the things that's happened is that as the general population has gotten bigger and bigger, the models were getting smaller and smaller and smaller," Robin Givhan, fashion editor for The Washington Post, tells NPR's Renee Montagne.


So, Givhan said, the fashion industry itself started looking into the issue. At a recent Council of Fashion Designers of America meeting, panelists discussed the sample size — the size that designers create for a runway show.

The sample size is so tiny that only extraordinarily thin women can fit in it. And when magazines have to photograph those clothes four or five months before they hit stores, the only way to photograph them is to use the samples. As a result, the models have to be thin enough to fit.

"Editors constantly say, 'Oh yeah, I would definitely use a larger model, except they don't fit the clothes that we're shooting,' " Givhan said

Is It Really 'Plus Size'?

One criticism of plus-size models: They're about a size 12. While that isn't tiny, it's smaller than the average American size, which is a size 14.

"There is a real disconnect between what the fashion industry considers to be a plus-size model and what the average person considers to be plus size," Givhan said, adding that a woman going into a department store won't be sized out of the most fashionable clothes until she reaches size 16.

Body Image

But in a recent column, Givhan wondered when we would "know what an acceptable-size model is supposed to look like ... when does plus size, in a profoundly overweight population, become just as distressingly unhealthy an image as emaciation?"

On one end, the fashion industry is showing us these very thin 14- and 15-year-old girls and portraying them as women, Givhan said. On the other hand, there's the unhealthy nature of obesity and the politically correct aspect of saying, "You should be happy with who you are," she said.

"What we have to figure out is: How do we celebrate good health without stigmatizing people who are on either end of the spectrum and are still trying to work their way towards middle ground, which is good health?" Givhan said.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.