Plus-Size Women Not Fitting Into The Fashion Industry's Model, Says Tim Gunn NPR's Kelly McEvers talks with Tim Gunn, a fixture in the fashion world, about his article in The Washington Post in which he blasted the industry for ignoring plus-size women.
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Tim Gunn: The Fashion Industry Is Not Making It Work For Plus-Size Women

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Tim Gunn: The Fashion Industry Is Not Making It Work For Plus-Size Women

Tim Gunn: The Fashion Industry Is Not Making It Work For Plus-Size Women

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Tim Gunn says the fashion industry is not making it work for plus-sized women. In The Washington Post, he calls it a disgrace. Gunn of course is a fixture in the fashion world, a longtime design educator and the Emmy-winning co-host of the show "Project Runway."

His piece in The Post calls on designers to get over their disdain, lack of imagination or even cowardice and make clothes for women above a size 12. Tim Gunn is with us from our bureau in New York. Thanks for being here.

TIM GUNN: Kelly, I'm honored to be with you. Thanks so much for wanting to talk.

MCEVERS: So the piece was published just as New York Fashion Week was getting underway. That ends tomorrow. And you wrote that you were not expecting to see the majority of American women get attention on the runways in New York. Were you right?

GUNN: Oh, absolutely right. I didn't even have to see the shows to know that I would be correct. There were some plus-size models on the runway, and I'm happy to say that Christian Siriano led that cause. And what I loved about his show was that he fully integrated the models who were larger than a size 12 with all the little double- and triple-zeroes. And it was all seamless.

MCEVERS: You cited a lot of figures in your argument that designers aren't paying enough attention to plus sizes - a Washington State University study that shows that the average American woman now wears between a size 16 and 18...

GUNN: Yes.

MCEVERS: ...And that plus-size women are spending more on clothes than what you describe as straight-size women. Is this more an argument that the market needs to correct itself, or is this more of just a populist call for fashion for everyone?

GUNN: Well, the market does need to correct itself. And I blame certainly the fashion design industry. I blame the retail industry.

When I was at Liz Claiborne, I was in a position to be face-to-face with major retailers. And I would ask the question about this, to which I would be told, well, she doesn't spend that much. And I said, have you been in your own department for these women? The clothes are hideous. If I were she, I wouldn't shop either. Also, how do you find the departments? It's usually stuck behind pots and pans.

It's just so marginalized. It's insulting, and it needs to change. I mean, there are 100 million women in this country who are larger than a size 12. If I were a retailer, gee, I would certainly like to help corner that market.

MCEVERS: Yeah. What have you heard from designers and other people in the industry since you published this piece?

GUNN: Well, I'll tell you. It has been very polarizing. There have been people who have rallied around this cause and said, yes, we need to do more. And then there have been other people who have basically said, how dare you point a finger at this industry, and how dare you try to strip away all this glitz and glamour that we represent, to which I said, you mean glitz and glamour can only go with size double-zero eating-disorder person? Is that what you're saying - because as far as I'm concerned, glitz and glamour knows no boundaries.

GUNN: You yourself have gotten pushback for writing about clothes that can help us look, quote, "taller and slimmer." What do you say to people who are offended by that?

GUNN: I mean I'm more of an advocate for having us look long and lean than I am an advocate for having us look short and squat because we simply look better. But my point is, if you are short and squat, you can look long and lean.

MCEVERS: You are also no fan of cropped pants.


MCEVERS: I know a lot of women who looked down at their bare ankles when they read that one. If cropped pants are a no-no, why is everyone wearing them?

GUNN: Well, I have a theory about the cropped pant, and it's the following.

MCEVERS: Do tell.

GUNN: Women are very busy, and with a cropped pant, you only have to worry about one measurement - the waist. You don't have to worry about how long is it. You don't have to ask yourself, what shoe will I wear with this because it doesn't really matter. But it cuts your leg off at the widest part of the calf, and it's not flattering.

MCEVERS: OK, so given what is out there right now aside from just brands, when women who are shopping for size 16, size 20, what's your advice? I mean what besides cropped pants should women not buy?

GUNN: Well, I would say that women should stay away from items that are one piece, meaning a dress or a jumpsuit. You can buy separates and have it still look like one piece. There's so much easier to fit.

Colors are important, and jewel tones tend to be more flattering on most people than pastels, which are washed out and tend to make us look washed out. Prints are wonderful, but they can be dicey. I'm an advocate for a medium-sized print. Nothing too small - it looks infantile. Nothing too big, and we all end up looking like a couch.

MCEVERS: (Laughter).

GUNN: The rules are very similar whether you're a size two or you're a size 22, and silhouette, proportion and fit are critical. And also, on the topic of fit, our clothes need to skim us. They shouldn't hug us like a wetsuit, and they shouldn't cascade away from us like a giant moo-moo.

MCEVERS: Unless you of course want to be wearing a moo-moo for any...

GUNN: Well, that's true. There are occasions when it's very appropriate or if that's your style. I don't believe in making anyone into my dress-up doll. And any make-betters that I do are truly a collaboration. I pummel people with questions, ask them, what do you do? With whom do you interact? How do you want to present yourself to the world? And then let's do it the best that we possibly can.

MCEVERS: That is Tim Gunn, ALL THINGS CONSIDERED'S new fashion correspondent.


GUNN: Kelly, I will take that mantle in a second.

MCEVERS: Thank you so much for being here today.

GUNN: Thank you.

MCEVERS: Tim Gunn's piece in The Washington Post is called "Designers Refuse To Make Clothes To Fit American Women. It's A Disgrace."

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