Vogue magazine in a 2019 article stated that “The 2010s were a watershed moment for diversity in fashion”. The article boldly argues that all elements of the industry have opened its doors in the past decade to minorities with no segment of the business left untouched. Although the article references Balmain’s and Louis Vuitton’s appointment of Oliver Rousting and Virgil Abloh as valid examples of ways that the industry has recently welcomed people of colour to take center stage, it’s suggestion that the industry should be praised for its efforts to diversify is wrong.
Yes, the Black Lives Matter movement has prompted many within fashion to take the necessary first step towards changing the industry for the better: acknowledging that non-white people have not been given the same opportunities as white people have to make a name for themselves in the ruthless industry. This includes Anna Wintour, the editor-in-chief of US Vogue who has recently publicly apologised for not providing more of a space for “black editors, writers, photographers, designers and other creators”.
However, this long over-due acknowledgement is not enough.
Understandably, the world is uniting in anger against the industry’s complacent attitude towards welcoming full representation of non-white people so far. Most people, including myself, read Wintour’s attempted apology and could not help but think that it’s a little too late. Maybe the only reason why apologies and acknowledgements are being made now is because there is literally no excuse for fashion’s leaders to plead ignorance. Consumers are starting to pay attention to what businesses they choose to buy their clothes from based on their stance on and contribution towards the diversification of the industry.
It is no secret that the industry does not represent individuals of all sizes. Yes, occasionally a big-name magazine will choose a plus size model to be on the cover for a month and will call it the “body confidence” issue. Have a look at Ashley Graham’s cover of Vogue, for example. This doesn’t change the fact that the industry is sizest. And it is a reflection of the sizest society we live in. Most designers make clothes that will only fit a small percentage of the population. Where does that leave women who are size 14 plus? They are left to feel humiliated and unworthy of wearing stylish clothes. Some brands think that it is enough to put plus-size collections online, however, this leaves women over size 14 to feel isolated as they miss out on fun shopping trips to stores that make them feel unwelcome.
Also, a lot of the time the fashion houses that do make plus size collections make them baggy and shapeless with ugly prints and cuts. The complete opposite of sexy. Plus size women deserve to be able to wear the exact same clothes that are offered to size 6-14 women. All women deserve to feel attractive and confident in what they wear. The industry has a long way to go to make women of all sizes feel included and represented.
And lets not forget how ageist the industry is as well… Older women’s only option for clothes is ‘frumpy’ and boring garments. When was the last time you saw an older woman on the cover of Vogue or walking the catwalk? It is silly that brands do not provide more options for middle-aged plus women considering how men and women over 55 years old contributed over 1/3 of the total spent on fashion in the UK last year (£12.2 bn out of £34.6 bn) according to Drapers. Even brands, who once were known for catering for the 40 plus age group such as M&S and John Lewis, have now switched their designs to cater more so for younger customers. The only possible explanation for this is that these brands prefer seeing younger people in their clothes. Is it too much to ask for all age groups to be offered stylist and well-fitting outfits to choose from?
As Tim Gunn stated, “Simply making a nod toward inclusiveness is not enough.” The industry has a responsibility to educate itself. The brands and companies that only diversify the public scene but do not make an active effort to also diversify those who work behind the scenes are becoming more and more obvious. We want to support brands that are willing to be fully inclusive of all races, sizes and ages.