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How The World Of Red Carpet Fashion Is Beginning to Celebrate Plus Size Bodies

But is it doing enough?

Growing up in the 00s and 10s, it was clear to me that being a plus-sized woman was not something to celebrate. Between tagging along to weight loss groups with my mum and seeing the perfectly thin stars on the front of magazines, I internalised one important fact in my youth: being plus-sized is not acceptable and people who are at all above average in weight should concentrate on losing the pounds rather than learning to be comfortable in their own skin.

My view of the fashion world was skewed, like many others my age, by the classic film ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ (David Frankel, 2006) wherein Stanley Tucci’s character routinely comments on the size of Anne Hathaway’s character, and how she will struggle to fit into the sample sizes on offer at their magazine, given that she is a size 6, as opposed to the preferable size 4 that is available.

‘We live in a visual world, constantly consuming and internalising everything we see’

The average woman in the UK is a size 16, but spotting women on the red carpet who seem the same size or larger is a difficult task. We live in a visual world, constantly consuming and internalising what we see, and the red carpet is an excellent example of this – the high-end fashion exhibited there becomes the mainstream trend found in high street stores.

Red carpet fashion of even ten years ago hammered home the view that seemed to be everywhere – plus sized bodies should be hidden away. When dealing with red carpet fashion, most items are on loan from designers to the celebrities we see in their looks. However, they only make their clothes in sample sizes they think would be needed, most commonly US sizes 0, 2 and 4 (UK sizes 2, 4 and 6). Eerily mirroring the life lessons taught in The Devil Wears Prada – size 4 is the absolute maximum a woman should be!

Of course, making articles of clothing in larger sizes would be a bigger investment as it would require more fabric to make the garments, and despite there being an obvious market for these sizes, it’s often seen as a risk not worth taking by the designers.

‘The rules for dressing plus sized women were clear: cover up, cover up and cover up!’

This left stylists tasked with dressing celebrities soon to appear on the red carpet scrambling to find fashionable clothes to fit their clients – making for some interesting attempts at high-end looks (such as poor Melissa McCarthy in 2005 who’s mismatched runway look resembled that of a child trying on their mother’s oversized clothing).

The rules for dressing plus sized women in the 2000s and 2010s were clear – cover up, cover up and cover up! Long, frumpy dresses in dark colours were an absolute must, obscuring the shape of her body. Jackets, cardigans and shawls were an absolute staple to hide those “offending” arms.

Melissa McCarthy, once again the shining example of plus sized women in the ’00s exemplifies this rule perfectly with her ensemble on the 2005 red carpet at an event for Gilmore Girls wherein she was wearing a long, black dress and denim jacket – sticking to the unspoken rules of red carpet plus sized fashion to a tee.

Things began to change in the world of plus sized red carpet fashion when Project Runway Season 4 winner Siriano agreed to create a look for Leslie Jones, star of Ghostbusters (2006, Paul Feig) after she expressed her frustration on the difficulty she was having at finding a stylist for the premier of the film.

He created a beautiful, figure hugging red gown with a side split showing off her leg – which broke all the previous rules about what larger women could and couldn’t wear on the red carpet and succeeded in making Jones an icon.

This was groundbreaking, and gave hope to plus sized women everywhere – our bodies were finally being recognised and celebrated on the red carpet. Siriano later said that he sold masses of the same dress Jones wore on the red carpet, and catering to plus size women tripled his business model. ”The whole point of being a designer is making people feel good.”

Speaking in 2018 Siriano said that in his view “the whole point of being a designer is making people feel good”, which really comes through in his work such as the red gown Chrissy Metz wore to the 2020 Oscars, which, like Leslie Jones’ dress in 2016 turned heads in the fashion world.

The recent Grammys of 2020 truly exemplified the leaps and bounds plus sized red carpet fashion is making today, such as Lizzo wearing a beautiful white gown- showing how the world has moved on from hiding these beautiful women away in shapeless dark dresses and, in the case of Lizzo’s dress, literally allowing plus sized women to step into the light.

Attitudes are changing

The effect of celebrating plus sized women on the red carpet trickles down to every day people such as myself. Attitudes are changing, and while there’s still room for improvement, the fashion world is definitely beginning to accommodate for people of all sizes.


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