Home Celeb Watch Project Runway’s Tim Gunn Goes In: “Fashion Seems to End at Size 12”

Project Runway’s Tim Gunn Goes In: “Fashion Seems to End at Size 12”

by Erika Nicole Kendall

I’ve always loved him. In fact, there’s a point in my life where I literally had to repeat, “make it work. Just… make it work.” to myself in order to get through.

In fact, the first time I walked through Mood Fabrics, I had a total tourist moment and snapped photos, much to the annoyance of the store’s employees.

Whatever, though.

Fashion Plus Size

Here’s Parsons’ very own Tim Gunn, showing why I like him so much:

As the guiding mentor of “Project Runway,” Tim Gunn oversees the show’s many design challenges. The toughest of these challenges each season seem to be the ones where contestants must design for women with “normal” — rather than model-esque — bodies.

And the difficulty the “Project Runway” contestants always seem to have with this, says Gunn, points to a larger problem industry-wide. “When I’m working in the real world with real women and we’re shopping, we find that fashion seems to end when you get any larger than a size 12,” Gunn told The Huffington Post. “How ridiculous is that?”


“I’ve had my own moments in front of designers when I’ve actually said, ‘You know, there’s a market here for expanding your work, and here it is,'” Gunn told us. “And frankly, there are two markets: The women who are larger than the 12, and then there are women who are petite. And most designers that I talk to have absolutely no interest in addressing either of those populations, which I find repugnant.”

It’s a problem that extends far beyond the “Project Runway” workroom. As many have attested, the fashion industry generally assumes larger women have no interest in style or trends — as plus-size designer Kenyatta Jones put it, many companies operate using stereotypes, like “Fat people don’t need clothes, all they do is eat Twinkies.” The in-store offerings for plus-size women are limited, forcing women to turn online; and what is in stores is often wholly unstylish.

Gunn illustrated for us:

“Go to Lord & Taylor on Fifth Avenue, I think it’s the eighth floor, and it’s just a department called ‘Woman.’ It’s rather devastating. You’ve never seen such hideous clothes in your entire life. I mean, it’s simply appalling. Thank God there are no windows on that floor, because if I were a size 18, I’d throw myself right out the window [after seeing those clothes]. It’s insulting what these designers do to these women.”

The challenge, said the former Parsons professor, is not simply to make clothes bigger, but to rethink the entire design process. “It’s not a matter of sizing up or sizing down from a size six,” he said, “It’s a matter of re-conceiving things altogether. There are just some things that you can’t or shouldn’t do [design-wise].”

“There is what I like to refer to as the lying, deceptive show-game of vanity sizing. I’ll use as an example a size 8 dress form. When I was at Parsons, we had dress forms from the 1980s and the early 1990s, and when I was there, we bought new dress forms. The difference in the waist size of the 1981 size 8 dress form and the 2001 dress form was two inches — the 2001 being bigger. So what would have been a 12 in the 1980s is in fact an 8 today.”

This fluctuation not only confuses shoppers, but also increases the stigma against larger sizes. We’ve become less familiar and therefore less comfortable seeing larger sizes sitting on the shelves — sizes 12, 14, 16. Women don’t want to buy themselves clothing in these sizes, and thus designers are only less likely to design clothes whose tags bear those sizes. “I think we should just be honest about these sizes and not try to pretend they are something that they’re not,” Gunn argued.

A while back, I read an interesting article that talked about the “challenges” of making plus size clothing, where it basically said that, the larger the size gets, the less of a “standard” you’ll see in the body shape. Two size 8s are more likely to be built the same than two size 18s – different arm sizes, different thigh widths, different breast sizes, and while I understood… I still can’t help but think about the fact that I, in my current size, can’t actually fit certain clothes because my arms are too big or my shoulders are too broad or my thighs are too muscular and the fabric cut is unforgiving. I quit shopping for size and started looking for proper fit a long time ago. It makes me think of all of us who are blessed in the booty area who have to buy pants that are far too large because its unfathomable to designers that booties come in that size on that kind of a frame. At this point, screw vanity sizing. Can I get a variation on sizing? Dang.

But even still, that’s a privilege – if designers are “afraid” to even style for your size, you don’t have that option. It just feels like laziness on the part of the designer. Of course you can design for someone with no hips:

“I mean, there are so many models walking the runway who haven’t even gone through puberty, and this is not real world.” (Nowhere is this more apparent, said Gunn, than the phenomenon of Andrej Pejic, a male model who walks women’s runway shows. “The designers love him because he doesn’t have any hips,” Gunn lamented, “and women aren’t going to look like that.”)

Design for someone with more curves than a lil’ bit, though. Let me see you really work.

We talked about this before, too – he mentions the plus-size clothing being in the “Woman” section (and isn’t that a little weird?) – how certain sizes are always put up, away and out of sight. It’s just frustrating at this point.

What did you think in reading this?

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True August 27, 2013 - 2:32 PM

I was having this discussion with someone about how clothes fit and it is quite dismal. She is a size 8,9,10 depending upon what designer it is or the material used. I wear a size 18-20 and have the same issues she does. She made a comment that there’s just no way someone can “fit” into a runway size 8. I did remind her that most of the time the models on those runways are between 12-16 years old lol. They haven’t hit the puberty stage to even get a piece of hip going on.
I have walked through rows and rows of clothes only to wander out of the store because the clothes were depressing/ugly. If I do find a clothing store I like then the prices are astronomical. Just seems we can’t win for losing whether you’re a size 8 or 18.

SNH August 27, 2013 - 5:39 PM

I wonder about this “Nowhere is this more apparent, said Gunn, than the phenomenon of Andrej Pejic, a male model who walks women’s runway shows.”
Does this mean that Andrej is trans or does he identify as male?

Erika Nicole Kendall August 27, 2013 - 6:27 PM

I made the [perhaps erroneous] assumption that there are enough allies out there that would’ve corrected HuffPo had they gotten the pronouns incorrect, and 2) that Gunn wouldn’t have been complicit in making that kind of error.

However, the wiki page references the following “According to Vangardist Magazine, Pejić is currently “in a relationship with ADEEN designer Rembrandt Duran, who explicitly refers to Andrej as ‘she’.”” and makes reference to articles referring to Pejîc being androgynous, genderless AND trans*, so I’m not sure anymore. I just… I feel like another industry insider would know what pronouns Pejîc officially uses, so I trust that. Either way, his sex isn’t central to the discussion as much as the hip issue, so maybe I should crop that out.

Leen August 27, 2013 - 8:06 PM

This just coincides with what happened to Kenyatta on House of Curves. No one wants to sell high-end fashion for plus-size women either. They’re only comfortable selling less expensive ready to wear items (except LaneBryant – they’re proud of their clothes!!) It took me months to find a formal gown for a friends wedding – and my only options were online only purchases!! Most nerve racking process because you can’t try the clothes on in a store.

Leen August 27, 2013 - 8:08 PM

…forgot to mention at our Macy’s you have to take the escalator downstairs to the basement level – like that’s not depressing for a shopper!!

Kami August 28, 2013 - 9:17 AM

This just adds to body image issue and we dont like fat people. These designers promote shaming among the plus size which is most of America.
However the man being used as a model will cause more harm than good but the top designer are majority men. Maybe in the
future we will see more men dressed as females to promote clothi I personally think that fashion industry hates women. I remember watching a documentary and janice dickinson was saying we should teach women to hate themselves and criticize their imperfections. Now, I am starting to believe it.

Serenity August 28, 2013 - 11:58 AM

I agree with this article. This is precisely why I sew.

You go into a store that sells both misses and plus sized clothes, the plus sized clothes looks like I should be a gospel singer or a shlump in those clothes. I am NOT there for it.

Shay August 28, 2013 - 9:47 PM

I love this!!! I’m so happy that he’s speaking out about the fashion industry discrimination. I have to admit, though, upon reading the title I didn’t expect the article to read like that. I used to be a HUGE Project Runway fan, but I haven’t really watched the show in years. I expected Tim to be the voice of the fashion industry and try to shame us curvier women for being non-fashionable. I was prepared to be upset (because I totally disagree), but I’m glad I was wrong. I have some much more appreciation for him.

kelaine September 12, 2013 - 5:06 PM

My first thought was that while Mr. Andrej Pejic is really good at what he does (his pictures really are amazing), it’s kind of mortifying that he’s a preferred type for more than novelty reasons. That sounds awful but…if designers prefer to put female clothes on boys then they should just do that. But if they’re supposed to be designing for women then they should actually design for the female body. Boobs butts hips and all.

As for the rest of it I applaud Tim Gunn and am unsurprised by the attitudes. For the most part it’s just kind of expected that fat people shuffle out of the way and let the pretty people live the good life.

fanya October 10, 2013 - 12:32 PM

Get a good tailor.

gail October 10, 2013 - 1:19 PM

WOW! Tim Gunn, you have/had power and didn’t use it! First, at Liz Claibourne. Now at Project Runway. Please speak up at the real woman challenge. Most of that stuff is poorly designed, ill fitting stuff. How about an entire PR season of real women? Even Michael Kors for all his chatting on the PR stage never took his true ready to wear line plus size. The plus size line is just lesser quality stuff. Doesn’t sell plus size on his website! Everyone talks a good game and no one does anything. Saks and many Bloomingdales have placed all their plus sized stuff online. DOn’t even come to a store! Go to a store and then you find out the truth. Plus size clothes are just bad! The fabric, the fit, etc. The world wants you to pay for not being their “normal.” Plus fashion gods, more Marina RInaldi. Those are beautiful clothes and worth every penny!!!

Denise R. October 14, 2013 - 5:33 PM

Oh boy, do I agree with this article! I stopped shopping for size a while ago because I realized it was futile. How can I be 3 different sizes at 3 different stores, or even within the same store, but different clothes manufacturers? I got hip, I got wise. I know which retailers have clothes that fit me comfortably. And being petite (5′ 4″ & under) is an entire OTHER story. It does not mean I am a stick figure, it just means I’m little in stature. I am a woman, I have hips, breasts and a tummy! It’s time for these designers to make clothes for REAL people. Not starved size 0 models. :/

cptacek November 3, 2013 - 7:05 PM

Oh gosh. A few years ago, I got the slimmest I had been in years, and I was supposed to be in a wedding (not a bridesmaid). I had gotten down to a 18, and none of it was working. It was so horrible trotting from store to store trying to find one dress I could try on. I finally, in desperation, tried a16 in a stretch material, and I could fit in it! Not all the 16s, but some of them. At that point, shopping for that dress became a lot more fun.

I’ve since had a baby, am battling PCOS and allowed myself to grow much larger. I am now slimming down, though, and look forward to finding things in stores again.

I have found that I can find the best stuff at Goodwill. At least they have my size and a lot of people cast off perfectly good clothes before they are at the end of their life. Last time I was there I picked up 10 shirts where if I go to a mall, I am lucky to find 1 I really like.

LR November 3, 2013 - 7:58 PM

I saw an episode where the designers were challenged to create pieces for their superfans. A comment by Heidi Klum to a designer that stood out, was to the effect of, “she’s a larger woman, you need to use muted tones and not bright patterns.” That told me the rest of the fashion world doesn’t want to see us. First & last episode watched.

Karen November 4, 2013 - 12:59 AM

I always looked at it as an incentive, I guess. I wanted to git into cute things and was ecstatic when I could. And my other thought is, just because you can get it on does NOT mean it fits. A friend recently loaned me a really fab little dress, insisting it would fit me because it fit her and I wear a smaller size. I knew just by looking it wouldn’t, but tried anyway because she was delighted to offer it up. Yeah, I got it on alright, but it looked awful. She has a curvy figure perfect for a stretchy dress and I SO do not. So, yeah, as much as I loved it, I knew I couldn’t rock it. And yeah, I could have bought a bikini in my size when I was 200 lbs, but no way SHOULD I have (or did I).

Erika Nicole Kendall November 4, 2013 - 11:05 AM

“I always looked at it as an incentive”


“And yeah, I could have bought a bikini in my size when I was 200 lbs, but no way SHOULD I have (or did I).”

Double sigh.

Karen November 6, 2013 - 11:07 AM

I don’t understand why the sigh. Incentives DO help. At least, for me they do. I have an “incentive dress” in my closet right now. And whatever size(s) I was, I always believed in dressing for the body I had (not the one I wanted).

Erika Nicole Kendall November 6, 2013 - 9:41 PM

There’s a difference betw–

Never mind.

Karen November 4, 2013 - 1:01 AM

Oh, but why do they make do many big clothes out of polyester?! I was always sweaty enough when I was fat.

Rose January 23, 2014 - 10:29 AM

Thanks for this article. It shows a truth many women/girls are not aware of.
Being an American 12/14 (here in Germany, it’s 42/44, I guess) I know just too well of the problems with clothing. Everything trendy and hip and gorgeous is only available up to 8 or 10. And very tight. A 10 is more like a 6.
Shopping isn’t fun for me anymore. I hate it. Seeing something nice, taking the “right” size, trying it on and………it doesn’t fit! It’s exhausting and makes me angry and sad at the same time. Am a not allowed to wear whatever I want because I’m not thin? Have I to go to the Plus-Size section with mostly hideous things because I do not look like a super-model?
Perhaps this is a bit exaggerated, but it’s kind of a discrimination against certain groups of women who can’t (or don’t want) to look like the “ideals”.

Jessica June 19, 2014 - 1:01 PM

My primary major in college was Fashion Design. The dress forms used are about a size 6. While being in school and being exposed to the fashion world, larger sized clothing and models was never discussed. It was just something that we didn’t talk about. 99% of my classmates were not anywhere near the size 6 dress forms either. Its funny that I’ve made clothing that I could never fit into. Most schools in my area ONLY had size 6 dress forms. If I was even to attempt to make something for larger women or even obese women, it would be “really difficult” to do, for lack of better words. When a person is overweight or even obese, the body is different. The fat takes shape and the clothing has to work around that, and there are so many different figures when it comes to overweight or obese people. So yes, like Gunn said, it’s a matter of reconceiving things, in order to make the clothing look like clothing and not like a “bag” or a “moo moo”. I think a lot of designers are intimidated by this, its a lot of research and work but its worth it I think.

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