OPINION: The 'oversized' trend, and the lie we're told about plus-size clothes.

On the front cover of Harper's Bazaar US, Emily Ratajkowski wears a head-to-toe denim outfit, her supermodel body swamped in chambray and her baggy jeans puddling on the floor.

The cover image, meticulously chosen to represent what's "now" in fashion, signals the new look of the season: oversized clothing is trending. 

Hipster pants designed to hang off the frame; gigantic boxy blazers teamed with chunky flat shoes - all these items are coming to a shopping centre near you. Maybe you're already wearing them.

And yet, at those same shopping centres, the majority of women's clothing stores only stock up to a size 16. Many even stop at a 12.

It begs the question: If it's easy enough to make an oversized garment in-line with the season's trends, why do so many brands only cater to a "straight" size range?

Listen: On this episode of our fashion podcast, What Are You Wearing?, we discuss Australian retail's big problem with sizing. Post continues below.

We're told, historically, that for fashion designers it's an issue of... fabric. To make a larger size requires more of it, therefore it's the consumer that should absorb the cost. 

It's something that body positive influencer and activist Lacey-Jade Christie finds increasingly frustrating.

"Brands and the fashion industry at large are always telling plus-size fashion consumers that it's incredibly hard to manufacture clothes in our sizes, yet a size 14 person can now buy a jacket that is three sizes too big for them because it's 'in fashion'. It doesn't make sense," she said.


And for those who do fall within an average size range, the old "extra fabric" excuse is still being bandied about to customers to justify inflated costs.

Mamamia spoke to Georgina, who shared her experience of ordering a dress for a special occasion from a small Australian clothing label online. 

"I went to grab it in my size - I’m between a 14 and 16, and then realised that they are charging an additional $50 for the dress to purchase in this size," she shared.

"I checked the size guidelines, and the measurements were an additional 4cm, [which] I would have to pay $50 extra for. I messaged [the brand on Instagram] to ask them about it, hopeful for a positive outcome, but was met with an excuse: they had done market research and felt it matched the market value."

'Plus-size clothing tax' is sadly nothing new - many boutique labels that cater to the demographic sit in the 'investment' category with higher prices, making accessible retailers like Kmart, Target and Best & Less some of the only affordable options.

But as a 14-16, Georgina is the size of the average Australian woman. So why the extra charge?

Especially when brands seem perfectly capable of making oversized garments - with all the fabric, and none of the fabric tax.

"I think this trend shows that designers and brands can make larger clothing options if they want to, they simply don’t want fat bodies in their clothes," says Mamamia's Head of Entertainment, Laura Brodnik.


Brodnik recently wrote an article for Mamamia, titled 'An honest letter to all the Australian retailers who don't want me to wear their clothes.'

The piece went viral, connecting with the many women who feel alienated from fashion because of the lack of inclusivity and choice.

"Making your exact clothes in bigger sizes and stocking them in stores is not an unexpected plot twist when it comes to making money from size expansion lines," Brodnik argues.

"As much as plus-size people want more clothing options, it's hard to buy clothes from a company that feels ashamed of selling them to you. Or fails to let you know they even exist," she adds.

Fashion influencer Katie Parrott is known for her shopping videos on Instagram, where she shares her latest finds and gives an honest verdict on plus-size labels. She says there's a huge disparity between the demand from her community for fashionable, quality clothes and what's actually available.


"As a size 24, my frustration continues to be that very few brands are willing to make clothing up to my size, and even fewer are stocking that size in stores," she told Mamamia.

"I feel like a second-class citizen knowing that if I walk into a local shopping centre I will be lucky to find a single shop that sells my size. It’s demoralising."

Because ultimately, not stocking inclusive sizing is a choice - it's choosing to discriminate. And for many designers, that attitude is reinforced from the start with what Christie discovered comes down to a systemic lack of education.

"A lot of designers don't know how to make clothes for plus-size bodies. I recently found out that [many] design schools don't teach design students how to construct garments for plus-size people... the lack of knowledge leads to fat people being excluded from the narrative." 

And unless designers are better educated in making clothes for all body types, and retailers choose to make a broader range of sizes available, the stigma will only perpetuate.


Christie says some labels are paying attention, with varying levels of success. 

"Brands need to recognise that a plus-size roll out needs to be a little different from a straight-size roll out, and that starts with two things: engaging with the community, and stocking your plus-size range in-store," she says.

"Things are getting better slowly but surely, but definitely not quickly enough... I have seen an increase in size inclusive small businesses which is so great, but the price points can be quite inaccessible for a lot of people... This is why a lot of people turn to fast fashion and online brands like ASOS and Boohoo."


One positive out of the oversized fashion movement? By default, it could offer clothing more people can wear.

As Brodnik points out, the almost comically oversized outfit Em Rata is wearing on Harper's Bazaar might be "directional" ("Fashion likes the aesthetic of a thin body looking swamped by oversized clothes... not the idea that the clothes would simply be made for a bigger body"), but she suggests the trend could also make some brands more inclusive - "simply because the clothes will become more accessible and fit comfortably onto more body types."

So far, this has been Parrott's experience - and for now, she's leaning into it while she waits for the industry to catch up.

"The oversized trend means I can actually shop in places that would never normally fit me. Personally, I love it, because I refuse to let other people tell me how my body should be perceived. So I say drown me in fabric!"

Tamara Holland is Mamamia's Head of Lifestyle and co-host of the fashion podcast, What Are You Wearing?. For more from Tamara, you can follow her on Instagram.

Feature image: Emily Ratajkowski on the cover of the Harper's Bazaar October issue, photographed by Amy Troost; Getty Images.

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