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The Evolution of the Plus Size Fashion Industry

Now more than ever, bodies of all shapes and sizes are accepted, celebrated, and loved. Of course, there is still much work to be done in terms of body acceptance in the fashion industry. But plus size styles are becoming more diverse, offering on-trend styles and fierce looks no matter what a person’s body type might be. 

Fortunately, the fashion industry and society as a whole have come a long way when it comes to body positivity and honoring the many different aspects of ourselves that make us uniquely beautiful. However, it hasn’t always been that way. For as far back as the US fashion industry has existed, it has often placed unrealistic standards of what the ideal concept of “beauty” should be. This issue was (and still is) specifically focused on women. 

Traditionally, thin or “skinny” bodies have been the desired “goal” of fashion moguls everywhere, but now the storyline is shifting. Plus size women and men are taking back the fashion industry for themselves, which is making it a more inclusive, welcoming space for people of all backgrounds. 

So, how exactly has the plus size fashion industry evolved over the years? Let’s dive into it! 

Before the Late 1800s to the Early 1900s

There were times in the past when a curvy body type was the most desired of body types. Just like with most things, the generalized ideals of something tend to fluctuate throughout history. Considering the fact that many people made their own clothes at home up until the late 19th century, there was less of a collective “ideal” body type. Rather, everyone made clothes to fit their bodies, creating a more widely accepting society of all bodies. There were no large clothing corporations that confined everyone to be defined as a specific number (2,4,10, etc) or size (small, medium, large, etc). 

However, during the industrial revolution, mass manufacturing took the lead in many industries, fashion included. This initiated a mass shift in the perspectives of society and what the ideal body is. In fact, the term “plus size” was first introduced by Lane Bryant in the 1920s, according to Fashionisers. However, the term was not widely adopted until the mid-20th century. This is when the fashion industry concluded to create specific size dimensions for clothing. 

Over time, women who were above an average size became labeled with descriptions such as full-figured, curvy, and of course, plus size. Many terms associated with larger sizes were often that of a negative connotation, which formed a stigma and judgment against those who fit into the plus size category. Today, we know that the term plus size should be considered a positive one, as the fashion industry evolves and begins to celebrate bodies of all kinds. 

The Late 1900s to the Early 2000s

When people think of classic ‘80s and ‘90s fashion, extremely thin and lanky models often come to mind. By the late 20th century, “skinny” became considered chic and high-fashion. This created a dangerous, exclusive narrative across the industry. Women everywhere were being diminished and encouraged to change their bodies. Diet fads, tight and skin-baring clothing, and impressionable messaging were spread across magazines, storefronts, and advertisements everywhere. “Skinny” was what the fashion world wanted everyone to be. 

It wasn’t until the early 2000s that plus size models and curvy bodies, in general, stepped into the spotlight. The fashion industry finally started to understand that people of all shapes and sizes deserve to wear clothes that make them feel confident and beautiful in their own skin. Plus size models began appearing more on runways, in movies, in magazines, and beyond. Then, came the rise of social media, which again shifted the narrative of the fashion industry. 

The Plus Size Fashion Industry Today

try is embracing the plus size image, and diversity in general, like we have not seen in nearly 200 years. Yes, social media can often have a negative effect on body image and put unrealistic pressures on women – with photoshopping images becoming much too common among young people and influencers. However, it has also created a platform for people of all backgrounds to celebrate their identities and spread positivity. 

In recent years, the body positivity and body acceptance movements have taken the fashion industry by storm, creating a more inclusive space for everyone to embrace their own personal style with confidence. With the need and desire for more inclusion in the fashion world on the rise, we should continue to see more and more bodies, ethnicities, abilities, and sexualities celebrated across the media, advertisements, films, magazines, and the fashion industry as a whole. 


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