As an Australian model living in New York City, I had the pleasure of attending New York Fashion Week this year. I saw collections from talented designers and stunning clothes both on and off the runway. It was busy running from venue to venue, but the shows, presentations and after parties were so much fun that it was worth the chaos. Many Fashion Week opportunities came through just days (or even hours) before the events, so I had to do some last-minute shopping.
Unfortunately, last minute shopping for high-fashion pieces as a woman who wears a larger size was tricky, if not impossible. When I was shopping for Fashion Week events, I called four department stores and was disappointed to come home with basically nothing. Then I turned to the stores and boutiques in my neighborhood to find out that a) they don’t carry my size or b) they do carry it, but already sold out of the item. I managed to come home with a new pair of shoes and a few pieces from my local boutiques, including a belt and blazer. I finished off my looks with clothes I ordered off the Internet, crossing my fingers and hoping the pieces fit. I made it work, of course, between pieces I already owned and new pieces here and there, but it wasn’t easy.
On the runway and in campaigns and editorials, you are starting to see more diverse models – models of size, models of color, models of different abilities – and that’s really exciting. But that diversity is still not reflected on actual clothing racks, especially in designer stores. We have a long way to go before the changes making their way into the fashion industry’s conscious result in men and women of all sizes having the same access to clothes that fit.
Yes, this is an exciting time for the fashion industry, and I’ve witnessed first hand the changes that are already starting to take place. When I was a kid, I had to shop in the ladies’ section because the kids’ clothing was too small. Now there are clothes made for bigger kids. As a teenager, I was bullied because I was taller and bigger than my peers, but overcoming the bullies made me a stronger woman. When I was discovered at a fashion event in Australia, I didn’t really think modeling was possible at my size. It wasn’t until I landed in New York that I was really accepted for my size and could be comfortable knowing that when I showed up for a job, I would fit into the clothes they had.
I love fashion, and I’m constantly shopping for a new look. On a free afternoon, I’m walking along Fifth Avenue, browsing a boutique or department store, shopping online or reaching out to friends on Instagram to ask, ‘where did you get that?’ It’s frustrating that, when I go shopping with my friends, all I can purchase is a hat or handbag. Even when shopping online, there are fewer options for larger sizes, and once they sell out, that’s it. It’s crazy to think that in a country where the average woman is a size 14, there is so little size 14 clothing actually out there.
Shopping isn’t as fun when you have to go to a ‘special’ store or order off the Internet to get your clothes. It becomes a chore – just ask some of my friends who are athletes. Try finding a business suit as a rugby player. You’re not going to find it on the racks at the department store or a designer boutique.
As for my personal style, it’s something that you might not expect to see on a woman with curves. One night, I will wear a tight dress showing off every inch of my body and the next night, I’ll be draped in fabric. I love layering. I love wearing low-cut garments. Really, I love anything that pushes the boundaries.
While there are a handful of beautiful brands catering to women of all sizes, many designers that do style for larger women sell oversized, shapeless or boxy pieces. That creates a significant disconnect between how we want to dress and what’s actually available. We want to show off our bodies with clothes that highlight everything, including our curves.
Overall, I’d say there has been a huge change on the runway and in campaigns with more diverse models. That’s a great thing, but it’s not enough. Seeing a woman of size on the cover of a magazine shouldn’t be newsworthy, it should just be like ‘oh, there’s a model on the cover.’ And being able to buy clothing of any size in a boutique or department store shouldn’t be a struggle. It should just be ‘hello miss, what size can I get you?’ We are on our way there and getting closer every day, but we just aren’t there yet.
There is a great deal of potential in this still largely untapped market and new designers entering the industry have a real opportunity to embrace this potential in their collections. If the designers I love created pieces in my size, I would be happy to pay a more expensive price tag. The next New York Fashion Week is only a few months away, and I’m already thinking about my outfits. But in case I need to shop last minute, I hope by then I’ll have a bit more luck.
All photos courtesy of Georgina Burke taken by Heather Hazzan and Nic Padron.