Warning, much ranting ahead…

This is a rant that has been a long time in coming.

In ready to wear clothing I usually wear an 18 or 20 for both tops and bottoms.  Of course, the big sewing pattern companies are still using size charts from several decades ago, and just about everyone has to go to a larger size in sewing patterns (if you’re curious about just how much you have to size up, take a look at this chart I made up using size charts from Butterick/McCall/Vogue (the same company) and from a number of popular Ready to Wear brands). Most of the time, for tops and dresses from the big pattern companies, I take a size 20, do a Full Bust adjustment, narrow the shoulders, and add a little to the waist and hips.

This week, I started on the first pair of pants since I returned to sewing two years ago. I knew I would likely be looking at multiple fittings – the ladies at Pattern Review have prepared me well – but somehow I didn’t expect things to be as difficult as they have been.  I began with the pattern of choice (a Burda misses pants pattern), measured it, and graded it up a size, since it topped out at size 20, and added a little more on the seams for good measure (so the pattern was close to a size 24 when all was said and done). Since I was using Pants for Real People as a guide for fitting, I attempted to do a tissue fitting (it’s a mistake trying that with tapered pants, by the way…I tried a couple of times and all I succeeded in doing was ripping the pattern in numerous places). Based on some advice from others at Pattern Review, I found out there was a Burda plus size pattern in a very similar style to the misses’ pattern. So, thinking that it might be more relevant to my body type, I ran out and bought it. Well, believe it or not, Burda is actually sized a little smaller than BMV (yes, I’ll be adding THAT to the chart). I will be between a 24 and 26 in the pants pattern, with additional alterations for hip and crotch areas.

So…I’m just making an educated guess here, but I don’t think the big pattern companies really do anything differently for drafting to a curvier, plus size body. It’s like they take the size 8, B-cup body and just make it larger.

Of course, the big pattern companies shortchange us plus size ladies in many ways. New Look patterns usually top out at 18 or 20 (about a 14 or 16 in Ready to Wear). Vogue typically goes to a 22, but the only patterns they have that go larger are “Today’s Fit.”  Very few patterns in any of the big brands go beyond a size 26 (often a 20 or 22 in Ready to Wear).

1231418_022_11320593_150_1And it’s more than just sizing, it’s style. There have been a lot of style gains made for plus size ladies in Ready to Wear, especially in online catalogs (plus size sections in department stores are still pretty bad, for the most part). Sites like Modcloth cater to all different sizes of women, and often do pictorial spreads celebrating all our body types. Other brands like Eloquii have created very attractive plus size designs. Even Lane Bryant, once the home of much unattractive plus size clothing, has gotten in the groove.

It’s not only the designs, there’s a new attitude that many of these sites are showing to market to plus size women.

Their plus size woman isn’t afraid to wear body conscious knits, crop tops, or bright colors. Even when she wears clothing with more ease, the styles have flair, and aren’t clunky. These models look like they know that size and attractiveness are not mutually exclusive.

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On the other hand, we have the big pattern companies, who have given us these releases in recent months…

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Now, to be fair, they’ve also given us these…

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Typically, though, their idea of what a plus size woman wants is to be covered up in very loose-fitting garments. She doesn’t appear confident, or sexy, she wants to hide her body.

In all fairness, Simplicity and Burda (envelope) patterns do a little better (Burda magazine plus size  patterns have taken a step backward recently).  But plus sizes are still treated as an afterthought by all the major pattern brands, even though almost 3/4 of American women are a RTW size 12 or larger.

You know what? I didn’t liberate myself from the polyester hellhole that is most Plus Size sections of department stores…for this!

I’m really not a negative person, so here are some ideas on how the big pattern companies can turn this challenge into an opportunity.

  1. Create a realistic plus size body type for drafting and size accordingly. While doing so, make sure that you are including sizes that go further into the plus size spectrum. Really, we’re talking three companies here – McCall, Simplicity, and Burda. Can’t you collaborate on something like this for the good of the entire industry?
  2. Draft to a C cup all sizes over size 12 (and draft plus sizes to a D cup). Currently patterns are drafted to a B cup. This should be a no-brainer. My daughters, in their mid twenties, wear sizes 4 to 6 in RTW; they both are C cups.
  3. Recognize that if almost 75% of American women are a size 12 or larger, those 75% are at the upper end of your misses sizes, and into your plus size range. Stop treating us like we’re the oddballs…we’re the typical.
  4. Obviously, you need a new approach to your designs for plus sizes. Yes, you do need to design for mature women, but Hot Patterns and StyleArc do, and offer extended plus sizes, and their patterns have style and savy. And you are, for the most part, ignoring plus size women under 40 (with the exception of a few styles available from Simplicity, Burda and McCall).
  5. Along with a new approach to the designs themselves, you need to rethink your approach to the styling of those designs. Start using more fabrics with a softer hand that actually drape. Stop with the constipated looking model poses.

You do these things, and you can keep and even grow your market share among plus size women. On the other hand, you can continue to approach us as an afterthought and an unwanted stepchild to the fashion world. Well, guess what, we have alternatives these days in a number of independent pattern designers, and they understand what we want a whole lot better than you apparently do!