Fit for all: Fashion industry urged to think big with inclusive sizing

When it comes to sizes in traditionally feminine fashion, there are big changes coming; but for many people with larger bodies, those changes aren't coming fast enough.

Advocates say there’s more involved in larger sizes than just adding material

Unbelts founder Claire Theaker-Brown demonstrates the stretch in the company's size-inclusive belts. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC News)

Big changes are coming to sizes in traditionally feminine fashion.

But for many people with larger bodies, those changes aren't coming fast enough.

The Edmonton founder of Unbelts is a fashion-industry trailblazer who set out to make comfortable clothing for people of all body types with the company's stretchy, size-inclusive belts. 

"[I wanted] to make a belt that would fit. Not just fit, but fit comfortably and feel good for every single person in my family," said Unbelts founder Claire Theaker-Brown. 

"And so that meant that I needed to make sure that it covered a fairly wide size range."

Sizing in fashion is changing, but not fast enough for some

1 year ago
Duration 3:17
Mid-sized fashion is having a moment on TikTok right now, with creators calling for more representation of all body types. But as reporter Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi found out, size is a lot more complicated than that.

Brands like Adidas and Old Navy have started offering larger, more inclusive sizes. But Theaker-Brown said it can be difficult to adapt pieces while staying true to the original design.

Unbelts, for example, didn't just add more material.

A belt designed for a larger waist just didn't work for smaller people, Theaker-Brown said. So the company created two different sizes of their belts, which fit waist sizes ranging from 20 to 60 inches.

"You cannot make a one-size-fits-and-works-well-for-all solution," she said. 

"It doesn't exist."

Sizing it up

There's a stigma around catering to larger body sizes, according to Anne Bissonnette, a dress historian and associate professor in the University of Alberta's human ecology department. 

Bissonnette, whose research includes studies of how clothes and the body interact, says many manufacturers still base their measurements on a sample size from the late 1930s.

"When I was in fashion school … we were told how to size garments starting from a size 8 and then add a specific measurement that was equal every time you change sizes," she said.

U of A dress historian Anne Bissonnette said many in the industry design clothes based on an outdated sample size. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC News)

However, bodies change as a person gains or loses weight, meaning clothes may fit or hang differently on different body types, Bissonnette added.

Bodies have also changed over the past eight decades. "We're heavier than they were in the 1940s," she said. "We exercise more. Our posture is different."

Better research, including 3D body scans, can show manufacturers how to construct better-fitting garments — but that advice isn't always followed, Bissonnette said.

One possible reason? "We have no idea how many people of what size are actually out there."

Are brands expanding enough?

Stephanie Jonsson, who runs the plus-size fashion blog Hourglass Darling, is part of an Edmonton community of people who call themselves fat.

As a size 3X, she said fashion labels and retailers are not doing enough to make their clothes available to people with bodies larger than hers.

Stephanie Jonsson, who runs the plus-size fashion blog Hourglass Darling, said the fashion industry still excludes many in larger bodies. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC News)

Even at some plus-size stores, Jonsson has had to order her size online because the store didn't keep the larger sizes in stock.

"What we really want to see is brick-and-mortar stores that serve the fat community that have us in their stores. And when I say us, I mean those larger fats," she said, referring to people with larger bodies than hers.

Kristin Rodier, a philosophy professor at Athabasca University, identifies as fat. Some of her research looks at what it's like living in a larger body.

She said it's hard for people her size or larger to find basic items, such as snow pants.

"When there's eight months of winter, it's really difficult to not have access to something like that," Rodier said. 

"If I don't have access to that, there are things that I concretely can't really participate in. And that's a form of social exclusion."

She wants designers to get input from larger people when creating clothing for them. 

"When a clothing store only goes up to a size 3X, they're basically saying anyone who's bigger than anything above a 3X is really not part of our market," Rodier explained.

"[They're saying] that these types of fashions are only for certain types of bodies."

At Unbelts, Theaker-Brown agrees with Rodier. She found out what customers wanted and used their ideas in her designs for larger people.

"The way it starts is by listening to customers, and listening to the people who aren't your customers yet because they can't be," she said.

"[Size inclusion] is not a niche, this is reality. These are real people with real bodies and they want to buy from you if you will meet them where they're at."