The Lament of the Plus-Size Corporate Woman – Why Can’t I Find a Suit That Fits?


Have you ever wondered why you can’t figure out what size you wear? This is certainly a very hot topic of conversation (and consternation!) with my daily clients and on my fashion and wardrobe blog.

Sadly, the answer is actually fairly simple…it’s because there is little or no size standardization in the clothing industry. That problem is compounded by the fact that as clothes are sized up into plus sizes, construction issues become more complex because the fit becomes more complex. As a garment is sized up, each and every figure issue or anomaly becomes exponentially more challenging to the construction of a garment. When the fit of one aspect of a garment is changed, it effects all aspects of the garment. The larger the change, the greater the effect.

So as designers and manufacturers are faced with a less-than-healthy economy, how can they cut costs?

Cutting out the intensive labor required to adjust the fit and construction of tailored clothing as it is sized up is one very simple answer to the problem. That’s one of the reasons there has been a trend to shift away from tailored clothing to a more deconstructed look. Yes, the deconstructed look is more contemporary and fashion-forward, that’s partly because it has been deliberately marketed that way. So, in theory, everybody wins.

But not everyone can or wants to wear a contemporary, deconstructed look even if it is designed as suiting. So what do they do? There aren’t even that many manufacturers making good quality tailored suiting for women in larger sizes these days. For that reason, the first challenge is to find a good suit. The next is to have it tailored properly, which could potentially double the cost of the suit. Of course, one can have suits custom-made, which is certainly a good investment for the woman who needs them and can afford it.

The real question is, however, couldn’t there be a more effective way of creating clothing to begin with, of establishing a standardized method of sizing that really works? The answer just might be, “yes.”

Christina Wallace, founder of Quincy Apparel, a new line of women’s office wear, has come up with what may very well be the key to a better fit and a more accurate method for sizing women’s clothes. Rather than using traditional sizing, Christina designs and manufactures clothing based on bra size and height. According to her, this is the key to correct fit. Check out the recent article about her in Bloomberg Business Week: The Perfect Fit.

Even though this new company only offers clothing up to a size 16, 40″ bust, size D cup, it is a start. Given the many comments posted in response to the article from women loudly proclaiming the reality that the majority of the population is over a size 14 and many of that number have cup measurements larger than a D, I’d say that it is very possible that Christina will need to consider increasing her size range.

Now, don’t misunderstand, I’m all for fashion-forward deconstructed clothing. It’s a great look. I’m a big fan of non-traditional dressing. However, there are many women who need and want to dress in a more tailored style…and they should be able to do that. Unfortunately, as I already mentioned, the larger you are the more complicated the tailoring becomes and therefore structured, tailored, off-the-rack clothing in plus-sizes has become more and more difficult to find as clothing manufacturers face the realities of a difficult economy. Not only that, but those of us who are older as well as larger are very likely to have become fed up with anything that is not comfortable. So deconstructed fashion offers more comfort and freedom than a typically ill-fitting tailored suit and from the heavy-duty foundation garments we must wear to look good in it. While tailored, structured clothing offers a sharp, sophisticated look, it often requires that we sacrifice comfort. For that reason alone many of us have been happy to give up sharply tailored clothes and embrace the deconstructed look.

Unfortunately, not everyone has the luxury to go that route. What about those women who are thriving in traditional jobs in corporate America? Certainly if you’re a high-powered plus-size attorney living in Manhattan, I seriously doubt that you’re going to be giving up dressing in power suits anytime soon. And if you’re a size 20 and the head of Finance at a large firm in Beverly Hills, are you going to show up in some kind of funky deconstructed suit with a jacket that has an asymmetrical collar and hemline and patch pockets on the hem of the pants? Probably not. Deconstruction just doesn’t cut it in some business environments.

So clearly, there is a challenge.

The million-dollar question is: if it were possible to get tailored clothing that actually fit well, would highly structured, well-tailored clothes be truly comfortable to wear and would we want them? Is it possible for a 55-year-old women who’s a size 22 to dress in a beautifully tailored suit and be comfortable? Could that kind of clothing really fit so well that it would make you look AND feel good?

I hope Christina Wallace and Quincy Apparel takes that challenge and helps us all discover that the answer might just be “yes.” I know I, and many of my clients, would be delighted if it were.

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