(Originally posted on The Judgment of Paris Forum, June 12, 2004, in response to a reader who discovered the phrase "plus-size chic" in a mainstream fashion magazine, to describe the emerging full-figure fashion industry.)
There is a lot to like about the term "plus-size chic."
Like phrases such as "plus-size model," or "plus-size beauty," it brings together two concepts--"plus size" and "chic"--which the mass media characterizes as mutually exclusive.
For decades, the fashion industry deceived people into believing that a woman could be "plus size" or "chic"--but not both. And the media propagated this notion by offering the public images of women who were chic, but not plus-size, or women who were plus-size, but not chic. Never both.
By refusing to allow the public to see women who are plus-size and chic, the media brainwashed several generations of North Americans into believing that such a combination wasn't even possible--whereas in truth, the two notions are a natural fit.
The size-celebration movement is still grappling with the legacy of this appallingly successful effort at aesthetic indoctrination. In Friday's issue of the Cincinatti Post, a typically backhanded story about the emergent plus-size fashion industry included the following comment:
The plus-size market has historically been underserved, as the industry has focused on customers that look or try to look like models, said Marsha Jong, an analyst with Sanders Morris Harris in Los Angeles.
The trouble with this statement is obvious. It suggests that women who "look or try to look like models" cannot be full-figured, and that women who are full-figured do not "look or try to look like models." Furthermore, it implies than in order to serve the plus-size market, the industry must do away with precisely those "chic" qualities that the notion of a "model" implies.
Only when concepts such as "plus-size chic," "plus-size model," and "plus-size beauty" enter mainstream awareness will we see the end of this artificial and oppressive either/or duality.
Once this happens, the industry will realize that in serving the plus-size market, it can still focus on customers who "try to look like models"--i.e., customers who seek the beauty, poise, and sense of style that the public associates with models--but who try to look like plus-size models, not like androgynous waifs.* * *
Here is a prime example of "plus-size chic"--a new pair of test images from Ford model Donna Simchowitz. We have never cared for this model's expressions, and would much rather see these styles on a fuller-figured girl. But a great test is a great test, and the styling here is truly extraordinary.
The images merge two concepts that we have discussed here before--"twenty-first century opulence," and the "new femininity"--by combining traditional elements with a degree of sensuality that is very contemporary.
The setting is particularly attractive. Note the intriguing wall hanging, which resembles the decor of a European castle. (The couch is rather too modern, but that is a minor quibble.)
If the current "Dangerous Liaisons" exhibit at the Met influences next year's fashions, we may be seeing more images such as this--which is very good news for plus-size models, whose beauty harmonizes with timeless settings and attire in a way that their underweight rivals can never match.
We are on the cusp of a new era in which "plus-size chic" will define the mainstream notion of "chic" in general--as it did throughout human history.