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By 1916 over 13 million women or 12.7% of the total U.S. population was considered overweight or stout. In the 1920s, the term stout. indicated an (often matronly appearance) with generous bust, back and hip curves that did not fit with fashion s demands of the ideal stylish figure. Research related to ready-to-wear fashions for plus sized women in the 20th century is almost non-existent. The purpose of this study was to explore available ready-to-wear fashions for the plus sized woman during the years 1920-1929. To explore this topic, a historical method approach was utilized using primary sources that included The New York Times, Vogue, and Good Housekeeping. The results of this study identified prescriptive and proscriptive advice regarding appropriate clothing styles and merchandising trends marketed to plus sized women.
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Research Journal
Clothing and Textiles
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DOI: 10.1177/0887302X13503184
2013 31: 259 originally published online 30 August 2013Clothing and Textiles Research Journal
Carmen N. Keist and Sara B. Marcketti 1929''The New Costumes of Odd Sizes'': Plus-Sized Women's Fashions, 1920
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‘The New Costumes of Odd
Sizes’’: Plus-Sized Women’s
Fashions, 1920–1929
Carmen N. Keist
and Sara B. Marcketti
By 1916 over 13 million women or 12.7% of the total U.S. population was considered overweight or
‘stout.’’ In the 1920s, the term ‘‘stout.’’ indicated an (often matronly appearance) with generous bust,
back and hip curves that did not fit with fashion s demands of the ideal stylish figure. Research related
to ready-to-wear fashions for plus sized women in the 20th century is almost non-existent. The
purpose of this study was to explore available ready-to-wear fashions for the plus sized woman
during the years 1920-1929. To explore this topic, a historical method approach was utilized using
primary sources that included The New York Times, Vogue, and Good Housekeeping. The results of this
study identified prescriptive and proscriptive advice regarding appropriate clothing styles and
merchandising trends marketed to plus sized women.
size, historic clothing, apparel industry, women, retail, obesity
Thinness has not always been the ‘‘ideal’’ feminine figure type. At various points in American and
European history, thinness was discouraged. Excess weight was considered a sign of health and
prosperity (Seid, 1989). During the Progressive Era in the United States (1890–1920), negative con-
ceptions of weight gain, obesity, and concern with weight loss began in earnest (Schwartz, 1986).
Although women were encouraged to ‘‘avoid the sweets’’ that would contribute to excess weight,
the percentage of plus-sized women grew from the late 19th to early 20th century (‘‘Down with
avoirdupois!,’’ 1913). By 1916, over 13 million women, or 12.7%of the total U.S. population, were
considered overweight (Segrave, 2008). Today, approximately 34%of the U.S. population is con-
sidered overweight, and it is projected that nearly 87%of the population will be in this category by
2030 (Park, 2013). Understanding the historic backdrop of attitudes concerning the full-figured
woman may provide insights for today. By the 1910s, the U.S. ready-to-wear industry was well
enough established to offer women nearly all types of apparel (Farrell-Beck & Parsons, 2007).
Focusing on the 1920s presents an opportunity to increase understanding of the ways by which
Western Illinois University, Macomb, IL, USA
Iowa State University, Ames, IA, USA
Corresponding Author:
Carmen N. Keist, Western Illinois University, Knoblauch Hall 140, 1 University Circle, Macomb, IL 61455, USA.
Clothing and Textiles
Research Journal
31(4) 259-274
ªThe Author(s) 2013
Reprints and permission:
DOI: 10.1177/0887302X13503184
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early manufacturers and retailers created, marketed, and sold products to an identifiable target mar-
ket. In this case, the consumer was one who did not necessarily represent a fashionable ideal. In the
21st century, this consumer group becomes even more predominate. Thus, the purpose of this
research was to explore the design and merchandising of ready-to-wear clothing for and fashion
advice to the plus-sized woman consumer during the 1920s.
Questions that guided the research included: (1) What ready-to-wear fashions were available to plus-
sized women during the 1920s? (2) What advice, both prescriptive and proscriptive, was available to
plus-sized women in the 1920s? (3) How did businesses support or reject the plus-sized female cus-
tomer? To address these questions, every issue of Vogue and Good Housekeeping from 1920 to 1929
was searched. An electronic database search of the New York Times from 1910 to 1930 was con-
ducted using terms including, but not limited to, stout, plus-sized, and overweight. Good Housekeep-
ing and Vogue provided styling advice for both the middle- (Good Housekeeping) and upper-class
Anglo-Saxon woman (Vogue). The New York Times provided news of manufacturers and retailers,
as well as popular opinions regarding the plus sized. Additional primary materials from 1900 to 1929
included nutrition books, weight loss pamphlets, and fashion design instructions. A systematic
search of Cornell’s Home Economics Archive: Research, Tradition, and History database; JSTOR;
and America: History and Life database yielded additional sources.
A historical method approach in which themes were extracted from compiled and organized data
was utilized (Fitzpatrick, 2007). Common themes that emerged from the study included prescriptive
and proscriptive advice regarding what the plus-sized woman should and should not wear; the appa-
rel industry’s attempts to create properly fitting clothing for the larger woman; and merchandising
efforts by retailers.
Slenderness as the Ideal
With the rise of mass media in the latter half of the 19th century, beauty and fashion standards
became more uniform in Europe and America. In the 1880s, a full-figured woman was highly sought
after, but by 1890 the Gibson Girl contributed to the voluptuous woman becoming unfashionable.
The new ideal woman’s figure included a full bosom, a nipped-in waist, and slender legs. Roundness
was discouraged (Gordon, 1987).
By the early 1900s, a newly emerging modern America focused on control over the body with
visible reminders of slenderness seen in photographs and motion pictures (Latham, 2000). Movie
stars maintained slim, lean bodies. In the 1920s, illustrations of John Held, Jr., featured flappers with
elongated limbs and skimpy dresses, images that both reflected and cemented the ideal body type for
women (Fangman, Paff Ogle, Bickle, & Rouner, 2004). Reviewing 1920s fashion periodicals, past
researchers have concluded that editors and advertisers constructed thinness as a key component of
the coveted or idealized female gender role, making a slender body more desirable than a heavy one
(Silverstein, Perdue, Peterson, & Kelly, 1986; Vertinsky, 2008; Vester, 2010).
By the 20th century, women increasingly attended high school and college. An emphasis on physical
education influenced the ideal for a more slender aesthetic. Physical education courses became a part of
U.S. curriculum in the 1890s. The emphasis on calisthenics promoted a slender and healthful silhouette,
and fat bodies were viewed as ‘‘somehow disgraceful’’ (Vertinsky, 2008, p. 454). Colleges and univer-
sities initially advocated for these courses to counteract the ‘‘damaging side-effects of brain work on
women,’’ but they were later considered important to strengthening women’s physical bodies (Vester,
2010). The craze and acceptance of bicycle riding for women at the turn of the century also promoted a
healthfullook (Gray & Peteu, 2005). By the 1890s, mentalacuity and thinnesswere related, and the over-
weight were often considered ignorant and lazy (Cunningham, 1990; Vertinsky, 2008).
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During World War I, people made sacrifices for the good of the country and were urged by the U.S.
government to conserve food resources. Larger sized Americans were seen as unpatriotic and deviant.
The United States experienced shortages of molasses, margarine, and skim milk and participated in
days without meat, pork, or wheat. Plus-sized women were seen as hoarding food that could otherwise
go to the war effort. Dr. Lulu Peters, author of the dieting book, Diet and Health with Key to the Cal-
ories (1918, p. 78), declared, ‘‘tell loudly and frequently to all your friends that you realize that it is
unpatriotic to be fat while many thousands are starving, that you are going to reduce to normal, and will
be there in the allotted time.’’ Peters stated the monetary and energy savings from uneaten food could
support the Red Cross and the purchasing of Liberty Bonds for the War effort.
By the 1920s, obesity was ‘‘not only undesirable from the standpoint of appearance and comfort’’
but also because of health concerns (Pattee, 1920, p. 432). It was understood that obesity could lead to
high blood pressure, a lower resistance to infections, an increased risk of diabetes, and a higher mor-
tality rate than for the slender or average sized. Individuals’ concerns about weighing themselves to
achieve a healthy weight increased the popularity of the bathroom scale (patented in 1916 and adver-
tised in magazines by 1918). The scale ‘‘heralded an era in which weight was quantified into pounds of
flesh, and a new concern emerged—the fight against fat’’ (Czerniawski, 2007, p. 273).
According to the New York Times and Vogue, a woman became stout due to lack of exercise, lazi-
ness, manner of eating, or the way that she dressed because ‘‘any restriction in dress which affects
the circulation may produce flesh’ (‘‘Women cut weight,’’ 1915, p. 6). Other possible reasons men-
tioned for stoutness included the introduction of cars, higher standards of living, less household
drudgery, and less worry. At that time, these factors all implied middle- to upper-class women
(‘‘Cater by method,’’ 1918; ‘‘Stout women can now be,’’ 1917).
Though not the first diet book written, Diet and Health (1918) by Peters was the first diet book to
appear on the Publishers Weekly Best Sellers list, and it stayed there for 5 years in a row from 1922 to
1926. By 1923, 200,000 copies were sold, and by 1924 it had ‘‘outsold every other nonfiction title’
(Hackett & Burke, 1977, p. 98). According to Peters (1918, p. 11), the rule to finding your ideal weight
was to ‘‘multiply number of inches over 5 feet in height by 5.5; add 110.’’ For today’s standards, the
Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention reports healthfulness in terms of the body mass
index (BMI; ‘‘Centers for Disease,’’ 2011). BMI is calculated using a person’s weight (in pounds)
divided by their height (in inches) squared multiplied by 703. People with a BMI below 18.5 are con-
sidered underweight; a BMI of 18.5–24.9 is considered normal; 25.0–29.9 is overweight; and 30.0 and
higher is obese. Peters’ calculations for appropriate weight in 1918 would be in the normal or healthy
range. Equating her recommendations to the CDC’s guidelines, a woman of 5’1’’ should weigh 116.5
lbs. (22 BMI); 5’2’ 121 lbs. (22.1); 5’3’’ 126.5 lbs. (22.4); 5’4’’ 132 lbs. (22.7); 5’5’’ 137.5 lbs. (22.9);
5’6’’ 143 lbs. (23.1); 5’7’’ 148.5 lbs. (23.3); 5’8’’ 154 lbs. (23.4); and 5’9’’ 159.5 lbs. (23.6).
Peters (1918) advocated several strategies to monitor weight. These included fasting by eating a
diet comprised solely of baked potatoes and skim milk once a week, counting calories, and weighing
weekly. Peters also advised women to form their own overweight groups, suggesting the name,
‘Watch Your Weight—Anti-Kaiser Class.’’ Other publications of the period with weight control
guidance included Food and Life: Eat Right and Be Normal (Hook Drug Company,1917), The
Science of Eating (Christian, 1919), How Phyllis Grew Thin (ca. 1920s), and a series of weight loss
booklets published by the Corrective Eating Society in 1919. Practical Dietetics (Hook Drug
Company,1927) advised individuals not to starve but to decrease the amount of food ingested and
increase activity for ‘‘producing results’’ (Pattee, 1920, p. 433).
Providing Ready-to-Wear for Plus-Sized Women
In the 1920s, the term stout frequently indicated a matronly appearance with generous bust, back, and
hip curves that did not fit with the fashionable figure. Albert Malsin, husband of Lane Bryant’s founder
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Lena Bryant, characterized a woman as stout if her body was proportioned with larger hips, waist, or
bust (Mahoney, 1950). Generally, women 10–15%above the ‘‘average’ weight were considered over-
weight (Czerniawski, 2007; Segrave, 2008; ‘‘Stout women can now be,’’ 1917). In 1924, the New York
Times stated that stout sizes included those with a 38.5’’ to 52.5’’ bust (‘‘Providing dresses,’’ 1924).
Some designers, manufacturers, and businesses thought the plus-sized woman was more trouble
than she was worth. She was referred to as the afflicted, a problem, and the cause of ‘‘manufacturing
difficulties’’ (‘‘A chance,’’ 1922, p. 27). Plus-sized women in the 1920s were called a variety of
names by the popular and fashion press, including large figured, full figured, well developed, the
Juno figure, fleshy woman, inclined to rounding curves, stately figure, mature/matronly figure,
heavy, extra size, generous proportions, unfortunate proportions, portly person, not-so-slender, big
woman, chubby figure, woman of dignity, and stout. Ready-to-wear garments for plus-sized women
were often considered an afterthought and were presented after the start of the season following the
presentation of the ‘‘regular’’ size garments (‘‘Attire,’’ 1926).
Product Development
Specialization and choice were limited in the 1910s; the growing number of plus-sized clothing
manufacturers in the early 1920s showed recognition of the plus-sized women’s demographic
(Gould, 1911, p. 126; ‘‘Increase,’’ 1923; ‘‘Specialized blouses,’’ 1920). Vogue acknowledged that
stout women could and should be as stylish and fashionable as more slender women, stating: ‘‘Yet
surely the makers of the mode do not expect all women whose waist-lines measure more than 34
inches to retire to one of those communities where the genial garment known as the Mother Hubbard
is the last word in dress’’ (‘‘Smart aids,’’ 1921, p. 115). Despite this encouragement, there remained
antagonism against the ‘‘too-fat’’ women who were ‘‘sadly neglected’’ by designers, department
stores, and the media (‘‘Variety,’’ 1926, p. 39).
Some American manufacturers hired specialty designers to study the plus-sized woman’s form.
These designers found that creating clothing for plus-sized women was no different than designing
for average-sized women in that the overweight wanted stylish garments that fit their figure and per-
sonality. They wanted garments that were designed for their body type in youthful lines that pro-
moted slenderness (Figure 1). They did not want to purchase garments designed for the average
woman in larger sizes (‘‘Increase,’’ 1923; ‘‘Youthful fashions adapted,’’ 1921). These afterthought
garments would neither fit properly nor flatter the figure. Further, plus-sized women expected the
styles to be in the fashionable mode and available in department stores at the same time as the small-
and average-sized garments (‘‘Attire for stout women,’’ 1926; ‘‘The new costumes,’’ 1929).
By 1929, manufacturers introduced plus-sized clothing in half sizes to address women with
uncommon proportions (‘‘The new costumes,’’ 1929). Half sizes, similar to petite-sizing today,
reduced the need for excessive alterations and fit plus-sized women 5 ft 5 in. and shorter. Half-
sized garments typically included shorter waistlines, narrower shoulders, shorter skirts, fuller hips,
and fuller sleeves through the upper arm. Half-sized garments were ‘‘generally young styles and
close in fashion and styling to regular misses size dresses’’ (Mahoney, 1950, p. 22).
Retail Merchandising
The New York Times predicted in 1917 that ‘‘in a very short time all of the larger department stores
will have departments designed solely for catering to the needs of the stout woman’’ (‘‘Stout women
can now be stylish,’’ 1917, p. 72). The need for separate departments and unique boutiques sprung
from the discouragement that many plus-sized women encountered when shopping in stores for
average-sized women. Some plus-sized women felt humiliated that stores did not carry clothing
in their size and that they detected an ‘‘air of superiority’’ from slim salesgirls who stated, ‘‘We
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Figure 1. Advertisement for Lane Bryant Company demonstrating the stout ‘‘can look slender.’’ ‘‘Stout
women, you can look slender,’’ Good Housekeeping, September 1921, p. 109.
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haven’t your size’’ (‘‘Cater by method,’’ 1918, p. 28). Plus-sized women often relied on tailors,
dressmakers, or their own skills for clothing creation. While garments custom made by tailors and
dressmakers were still considered superior, homemade clothing was often difficult to construct (Cra-
nor, 1920; Parsons, 2002).
Plus-sized women’s clothing retailers seemed to hold conflicting views about their customers.
Some retailers viewed the plus-sized customer as difficult due to sensitivity about their size, whereas
others found them to be easily pleased and appreciative of the efforts to fulfill their needs. The New
York Times urged retailers to acknowledge plus-sized women as important, paying customers
(‘‘Catering trade,’’ 1922; ‘‘Increase,’’ 1923). By making the plus-sized woman feel significant, retai-
lers would generate more revenue, customer loyalty, and word-of-mouth promotion. One retailer
stated that if a plus-sized woman could not solve her ‘‘particular problem’’ in one store, she would
remain faithful to stores that were able to fulfill her needs. Retailers tried to increase sales of plus-
sized women’s clothing by training sales people to be courteous and sensitive to the plus-sized
woman’s needs (‘‘Providing dresses,’’ 1924).
Specialty Stores and Specialized Departments for Plus-Sized Women
In the 1920s, plus-sized women could purchase ready-to-wear clothing from a variety of specialty
retailers. Numerous shops advertised in Good Housekeeping, Vogue, and Harper’s Bazaar including
Lane Bryant, R and Z Stout Waists, Graceline Dresses, F.F. Models, Super Customade, La Mere
Frocks, Blackshire, Queen Make Everyday Dresses, and Charles E. May Company, Inc. Many of
these retailers stressed that their garments were scientifically designed to improve the look of the
plus-sized woman and to make her appear more slender, yet still in the vein of popular styles and
silhouettes (Figure 2).
Lane Bryant sold a wide variety of women’s products from undergarments to outerwear for plus-
sized women. Women with a 39.5 in. to 56 in. bust could purchase coats, suits, skirts, dresses, waists,
corsets, negligees, and underwear in styles that were specially proportioned and designed for larger
women (‘‘Advance fall fashions,’’ 1920). Lane Bryant stressed through advertisements that their
specialty clothing would make the plus-sized women appear slender, smaller (‘‘Lane Bryant spe-
cially designed clothes,’’ 1920), ‘‘express individuality’’ (‘‘New autumn apparel,’’ 1920, p. 123),
and ‘‘make stoutness becoming’’ (‘‘Make stoutness becoming,’’ 1920, p. 148).
Other retailers modified popular lines to the stout physique. These modifications included the use
of ‘‘slenderizing effects’’ (‘‘Blouses specially designed,’’ 1920, p. 133), ‘‘correct lines to solve the
problem of the plus-sized woman’s bodies’’ (‘‘The stout styles,’’ 1920, p. 126), and elastic waist-
bands to fit a fuller figure’s proportions (‘‘Distinct types,’’ 1920, p. 33). Retailers such as Dolly Gray
advertised dresses for the ‘‘perfect figure,’’ and semi-made dresses ‘‘for the stout, the short, and the
hard-to-fit’’ (‘‘Dolly Gray,’’ 1927, p. 233). The semi-made dresses came complete with all of
the ‘‘difficult sewing done’’ including box pleats, collars, and trimming. All that the purchaser of
the semi-made dress needed to do was complete the seams to assure a perfect fit.
Within the fashion press, businesses and plus-sized women gradually acknowledged that there
should be different departments for plus-sized women’s clothing in department stores. Department
stores that advertised plus-sized women’s fashions included Gimbel Brothers, The Rosenbaum Co.,
Mandel Brothers, R. H. Macy & Co., Barmon Brothers Company, Inc., and Platt Bros. To satisfy the
needs of the plus-sized woman, manufacturers and retailers needed to sell appealing garments that
were specially designed and properly proportioned by people who studied the stout woman’s ‘‘cloth-
ing problems’’ (‘‘Increase,’’ 1923). Special departments also could provide salespeople trained to
meet the plus-sized woman’s needs. According to Benson (1981), a plus-sized salesperson would
be more empathetic toward plus-sized customers.
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Figure 2. Advertisement for Graceline Dresses, titled, ‘‘The stout styles with the slim lines.’Vogue, March 1,
1920, 18.
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Department stores regularly advertised goods made for the slender woman alongside offerings for
the plus-sized woman. R. H. Macy & Co. advertised a slender silhouette ‘‘tuxedo’’ sweater in green,
gray, blue, buff, white, and black for average-sized women (sizes 36–46). A similarly designed
sweater for the plus-sized woman (sizes 48–52) was offered only in black, navy, and buff, and for
US$1 more (‘‘Sweaters diverse,’’ 1923). Companies frequently advertised that the plus sized could
‘share the fit, form and fashion of slender women’’ (‘‘The larger woman’s problem,’’ 1926, p. 210),
yet this would cost additional money for the extra fabric and design ingenuity (‘‘A style secret,’
1926). It is not clear if the extra charge was created by the manufacturer or the retailer. In one New
York Times article, an unnamed manufacturer of plus-sized garments advised retailers to reasonably
price plus-sized women’s garments for ‘‘too often the case has been that the stout woman has been
penalized in price for her size’’ and is ‘‘entitled to see a variety of garments at a range well within her
pocketbook’’ (‘‘Catering trade,’’ 1922, p. 28).
In the mid-1920s, it was reported in the New York Times that department stores sold a better selec-
tion of plus-sized clothing than earlier in the decade and that buyers spent more time considering this
target market. Department store buyers noticed the popularity and success of specialty shops like
Lane Bryant and may have observed that plus-sized women were not a novelty (‘‘Increase,’
1923). The New York Times (1924) stated that the ‘‘trade developed an appreciation of how much
attention must be paid to the needs of the stout woman, who is still very much in evidence despite
the general tendency toward slimness of figure which is the desire of femininity in general at the
present time’’ (‘‘Providing Dresses,’’ p. 42).
Prescriptive and Proscriptive Dress Advice for Plus-Sized Women
Garment Styling
The ideal silhouette of the 1920s was tubular, flat, and ‘‘boyish’’ as opposed to the womanly silhouette
of the 1910s. Skirts remained ankle length at first, but by 1927, they were at their highest for the decade
and showing the knee (Richards, 1983). Women usually wore one-piece, looser-fitting, sleeveless, or
long-sleeved dresses. Silhouettes changed from a barrel shape in 1919 to an oblong shape in the early
1920s; in the late 1920s, silhouettes were wedge shaped with narrow hemlines (Tortora & Eubank,
2010). Throughout the 1920s, dress silhouettes included a lower, horizontal waist hip line created
through manipulation of fabric in pleats, tucks, smocking, and belts or sashes (Richards, 1983).
Within the pages of Vogue and Good Housekeeping, women were urged to fit the mold of fashion
even when their bodies did not oblige (Bakst, 1923; Latham, 2000). Editorials and advertisements
proclaimed that excess flesh destroyed the slender silhouette (‘‘Simplicity,’’ 1923; ‘‘The waistline,’’
1925). Design manipulation camouflaged and minimized the plus-sized woman’s body, which was
seen as a ‘‘weak point’’ (‘‘A guide to chic,’’ 1924).
Vogue stated that plus-sized women ‘‘cannot gown themselves in the same styles as their excep-
tionally slender friends’’ (‘‘The importance of the line,’’ 1920). Appropriate styles were modified
from styles worn by the average-sized woman and adapted with concealing and flattering lines. It
was important that plus-sized women purchase gowns specially designed for them and not purchase
‘regular’’ gowns in larger sizes. The ‘‘regular’’ sized garments in larger sizes did not have the ‘‘sty-
lish stout effects’’ because they were not properly cut and proportioned for the plus-sized woman’s
body type (‘‘Providing dresses,’’ 1924, p. 42).
In order to dress correctly, plus-sized women were often encouraged to ignore highly fashionable
clothing and to dress plainly and inconspicuously. Vogue stated, ‘‘Often the apparent plumpness of a
woman is, in reality, the result of unwise selection of frocks’’ (‘‘The importance of the line,’’ 1920, p.
48). Plus-sized women were advised not to call attention to themselves by overdressing, trying too
hard to follow popular fashions (unless properly modified), or wearing the fads of the season and
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other ‘‘wild frocks’’ (‘‘The no-longer-slim bride,’’ 1922, p. 60). Vogue instructed them to ‘‘shun all
wayward, trampish, boyish outfits as souls shun the devil’’ and they were told that ‘‘only by extreme
repression can they fit themselves decently into modern garments’’ (‘‘Figures that do,’’ 1923, p. 63).
Plus-sized women were urged to dress for their figure in styles that were age- and figure-
appropriate. Tight, long skirts were to be avoided because these would give a ‘sausage-like effect’’
(‘‘A guide to chic,’’ 1924, p. 102). Incorrect waistlines and skirt lengths were said to shorten and
widen the already stout figure. The plus-sized woman was told to avoid the higher hemlines that
were decidedly in fashion. A Good Housekeeping author warned, ‘‘Do not think of putting your
skirts fourteen inches off the floor’’ (Koues, 1926, p. 102).
Much of the advice provided to women in Vogue and Good Housekeeping stressed hiding the fig-
ure through fabric additions and optical illusions. Extra fabric included pleats, flares, draperies,
‘floating’’ panels, sashes, apron backs with bows, and the use of jabots. Even the House of Worth
added long, floating panels with bias edges designed for larger sized women. Although extra fabric
additions were recommended, embroidery and other embellishments were to be avoided, as this
would give an overdressed appearance and contradict the term stylish stout (‘‘Fitting the flat back,’
1923, p. 128).
Design details such as diagonal lines and diagonal trimmings provided visual illusions to slender-
ize the stout form. Flared skirts were often worn in longer lengths as they would provide height and
supposed slenderness to the wearer. Sleeves were finished with extra fabric and decorations such as
fluting, rows of buttons, and wide and unusually shaped cuffs. These treatments added attractiveness
to the wrist and directed attention away from other areas of the body (Figure 3). To facilitate easier
movement, sleeves were to be joined discreetly at the shoulder with a yoke treatment rather than set-
in. During the second half of the 1920s, popular silhouettes were more fitted, but plus-sized women’s
apparel continued to feature exaggerated or swathed hips and fullness placed low on the garments
(Koues, 1926).
If extra fabric panels and design details did not do enough to ‘‘hide’’ figure defects, Good House-
keeping advised women to literally veil the portion of the silhouette that appeared too curvy (‘‘Brims
are uneven,’’ 1928; ‘‘Large women’s dresses,’’ 1925; ‘‘The deceptively simple,’’ 1928). Vogue
advised women with large hips to hide this ‘‘flaw’’ with long side panels of fabric; these panels
would ‘‘[break] the circumference line’’ (‘‘Smart modes for older women,’’ 1922). Wraps, deep cape
collars, and three-quarter coats were also considered flattering to a ‘‘somewhat heavy figure’’ (J. R.
K., 1922, p. 86). Capes came with caveats, however. If a plus-sized woman was also tall, she was
advised to wear garments with a cape effect that started beneath the shoulder blades rather than
at the top of the shoulders. This decorative treatment visually broke the ‘‘bulging’’ effects of the hips
(M. H., 1923, p. 43).
Advice was offered for all kinds of attire, including sportswear (‘‘More sports apparel,’’ 1927).
Women with ‘‘massive chests, thick haunches, and stout legs or those with bottle-necks, hunched
shoulders, and spindle shanks’’ did not want to dress for ‘‘hiking’’ in untidy half-open blouses, too
tight short breeches, and ungainly sweaters tied around their waists for this would be ‘‘considered
evidence of madness’’ (‘‘Figures that do,’’ 1923, p. 63). Vogue informed plus-sized women to wear
pullover sweaters and unbuttoned cardigans worn loose.
Articles recommended colors and fabrics that would accentuate a plus-sized woman’s best fea-
tures and hide her defects. Dull sheen fabrics such as crepe romain, crepe de chine, serge, twills, and
voile were favored fabrics. Other popular fabrics included georgette, tricotine or tricolette, and jer-
seys; these easily draped along the curves of the plus-sized woman without clinging and were said to
be forgiving. Larger women were advised to avoid large patterned prints such as plaid, bold, and
bright colors, and ‘‘noisy’’ fabrics such as satin and taffeta that would draw attention to unsightly
curves (‘‘Fitting the flat back,’’ 1923; ‘‘For the stouter woman,’’ 1920; ‘‘Printed silks,’’ 1925; ‘‘The
afternoon town frock,’’ 1928).
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According to the New York Times, plus-sized women’s clothing was designed and made in ‘‘sure
and safe way[s] to be smart’’ in dark and concealing colors such as black, browns, and dark blues
(‘‘Dark colors,’’ 1922, p. 20). Navy blue and purple were noted as popular colors for plus-sized
women as they were ‘‘especially suited to garments for them’’ (‘‘Large women’s dresses,’’ 1925,
p. 34). Black concealed undesirable features and monochromatic black ensembles provided incon-
spicuous outfits that blended waistlines and silhouettes (‘‘All black, all navy,’’ 1922). Plus-sized
women occasionally used lighter shades of gray and blue with touches of reds, purples, greens, and
beiges. Bright colors such as orange that would draw attention to the plus-sized figure were to be
Figure 3. Example of the use of extra fabric to conceal the plus-sized figure. ‘‘Grace and dignity for the mature
woman are in the lines of these gowns,’’ Good Housekeeping, March 1923, 57.
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avoided (‘‘Dark colors,’’ 1922; ‘‘Dress fashionably,’’ 1923; ‘‘Smart frocks,’’ 1923; ‘‘The correct use
of line,’’ 1920; ‘‘These new fall clothes,’’ 1926).
Accessories and Hair Styling
Besides garment styling, plus-sized women were given advice on accessories and hairstyles. The New
York Times urged hats for plus-sized women with correct lines and proper colors (‘‘Stylish stout hats
now,’’ 1920). It was deemed ‘‘ridiculous’’ for a plus-sized woman to wear tiny hats incongruous with
the size of her body. Flattering hat styles were said to be those with moderate-sized brims, those with
slightly drooping brims, and those with large, soft crowns (‘‘Bright colors,’’ 1927; ‘‘For the woman
with grown daughters,’’ 1923; ‘‘Stylish stout hats now,’’ 1920). Vogue advised plus-sized women
to avoid the popular ‘‘bob’’ hairstyle because long hair concealed thick necks. If all else failed,scarves
were ‘‘kind’’ for hiding unsightly double chins (‘‘Odds against chic,’’ 1924, p. 73). Shoes for the plus
sized were to be plain with buckles and without the fashionable straps recommended for the slim.
Monochromatic stockings and shoes would help make the ankles and feet appear thinner.
To achieve the smooth look of the 1920s, corsets were routinely recommended by companies and
fashion editorials for the plus sized (Farrell-Beck & Gau, 2002). Styles were largely influenced
by the demands dictated by the silhouette popular at the time. Although slender women largely
stopped wearing the corset in the 1920s, plus-sized women were advised to never abandon the cor-
set. Vogue stated, ‘‘Only the perfect skeleton can permit itself entire freedom from the ghost of the
corset’’ (‘‘Figures that do,’’ 1923, p.63). Corsets were designed to meet the requirements of the sim-
ple, straight, fashionable silhouettes by providing a smooth, unbroken line in the front and back of
the garment. Back-laced corsets worn with silk-covered elastic brassieres were thought to best
reduce and mold the full figure without sacrificing youth or comfort (Gardner, 1924; ‘‘Mainstays,’
1924; ‘‘Odds against chic,’’ 1924; ‘‘Simplicity of line,’’ 1924; ‘‘Youthful fashions,’’ 1921).
Corseting the plus-sized body was viewed as difficult around the hips, bust, and diaphragm. In
order to account for these problems, cross-boning cinched in the ‘‘over-developed diaphragm while
a confining brassiere was made for an ample bust’’ (Gardner, 1924, p. 61). Vogue stated that ‘‘flesh is
plastic and can be moulded to look its best with very little guidance’’ (‘‘A guide to chic,’’ 1924, p.
86). Plus-sized women were advised to wear their corsets at all times for ‘‘training one’s figure is
much like training children’s manners—it cannot be done for guest days only, but it must become
a habit’’ (Gardner, 1924, p. 60). Women appeared smaller and more slender when wearing a properly
fitting corset. In 1927, plus-sized women comprised the majority of the demand for corsets (‘‘Chan-
ged ways,’’ 1927). At this time, corset makers, or corsetieres, tried to make supportive corsets with-
out added bulkiness. The purpose was to achieve the straight silhouette in fashion (‘‘The corset
makes the figure,’’ 1927).
Corset companies in the 1920s created figure-type classifications for corsets that ‘‘bolstered their
claims to scientific validation of their products, and to the need for professional fitters’’ (Fields,
1999, p. 372). Corsetieres realized that plus-sized women’s body proportions were more varied than
average-sized women and that the stout needed support in different ways. Even if a woman was of
the same size as a friend, her proportions could still be very different. Many corset companies
offered corsets tailored to specific figure types and ‘‘problems’’ including tall heavy, short heavy,
large above waist, and large below waist (Figure 4). If the hips (or other body parts) were ‘‘too
large’’ for the figure, which was seen as an ‘‘obvious defect,’’ there were special girdles that counter-
acted the problem (‘‘A guide to chic,’’ 1924, p. 86). Saleswomen commonly attended company-
based corset schools to learn the methods and characteristics of the corsets they would be selling.
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Plus-sized women often stated feeling at ease when the corset fitter themselves was larger (‘‘A guide
to chic,’’ 1924; Fields, 1999; ‘‘Simplicity of line,’’ 1924). This concept was on par with sentiments
expressed toward plus-sized women clothing saleswomen.
The New York Times described specific adaptations of undergarments for the plus-sized or
‘chubby figure’’ to give extra strength to the garment and smooth the figure. Modifications included
the following: (a) elastic shoulder straps to add resiliency, (b) extra bands of knit fabric in the girdle
to hold the diaphragm in place and to confine the hips, (c) step-ins (or combination camisole with
panty) with fan-shaped reinforcements made of boning, and (d) knitted elastic inserts to give dur-
ability and ‘‘complete its confining qualities’’ (‘‘Corset designs,’’ 1926, p. 139).
By the 1920s, plus-sized women were able to purchase ready-to-wear clothing in both department
and specialty stores. While still viewed as problematic customers by some manufacturers, designers,
Figure 4. Corset advertisers targeted the stout woman specifically as seen in this ‘‘H. & W.’’ corset adver-
tisement marketed specially for the ‘‘medium stout figure.’’ ‘‘The H & W Company,’’ Vogue, March 15, 1924, 171.
270 Clothing and Textiles Research Journal 31(4)
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and retailers, businesses slowly realized the potential purchasing power of the plus-sized woman.
Many businesses created garments especially designed for her by introducing plus sizes and half
sizes. The success of specialty stores, particularly Lane Bryant, confirmed the profit potential of the
plus-sized target market.
Styling advice for the plus-sized woman was included in nearly every issue of Vogue and Good
Housekeeping in the 1920s. While some of the advice emphasized the ways in which the plus-sized
woman could accentuate her best features, most of the advice focused on hiding and camouflaging
perceived ‘‘defects’’ related to size. Some advice was even contradictory, such as the use of decora-
tion to hide the figure but avoidance of trims that brought too much attention. Conflicting sugges-
tions on appropriate styles could have reflected the ambiguity of the industry.
In 2012, the plus-sized apparel industry was valued at US$7.5 billion (Binns, 2013). Evidence of
1920s manufacturing, designing, and selling strategies can be found today in marketing references to
slenderizing the female form, separate departments and stores for the plus sized, and training for sales
staff (Lane Bryant, 2013). Unfortunately, some of the problems experienced by the plus sized remain
as well. Women during the 1920s complained of designs simply ‘‘sized up’’ rather than carefully
designed to the larger female form. According to the NDP group, a market research company, in
2012, 62%of plus-sized women reported a difficult time finding styles that they wanted (Binns, 2013).
By the 1920s, the slender body as the ideal body was fully realized and that trend endures today.
Fashion periodicals and retail offerings continue to promote slenderness, although the average
woman today is a size 14 (Gruys, 2012). Although there were 6,019 plus-sized apparel stores oper-
ating in the United States in 2012, it seems ambivalence remains toward the plus-sized woman, as
some designers and manufacturers do not manufacture clothing above a size 12 (Binkley, 2013;
Binns, 2013; ‘‘Variety,’’ 1926, p. 39).
The results of this study demonstrate the conflict between the cultural ideal of thinness and busi-
nesses’ need to develop and sell products to the plus-sized customer. While some businesses have
been and are today empathetic to the plus-sized customer’s needs, designers and merchandisers must
continue to listen to this important target market. We explored plus-sized women’s fashions pre-
sented by ready-to-wear manufacturers and retailers through advertisements and advice published
in Vogue,Good Housekeeping, and the New York Times; future researchers could investigate advice
offered to plus-sized home sewers to explore similarities and possible differences in perceptions of
target consumers. We did not research plus-sized merchandise that might have been offered through
the widely distributed catalogs of Sears and Roebuck, as well as Montgomery Ward, which would
have provided a more rural and lower economic class perspective to this topic. Additionally, patent
records could reveal attempts to invent solutions for the perceived problems of developing clothing
for plus-sized women. These additional sources would provide a deeper and broader understanding
of this target market.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publi-
cation of this article.
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
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Author Biographies
Carmen N. Keist, PhD, is an assistant professor in the Department of Dietetics, Fashion Merchandising, and
Hospitality at Western Illinois University. Her research interests include 20th-century dress history specifically
exploring plus-sized women’s ready-to-wear fashions.
Sara B. Marcketti, PhD, is an associate professor in the Apparel, Merchandising, and Design Program and
Associate Director of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) at the Center for Excellence in Learning
and Teaching, Iowa State University. Her research interests include 20th century dress history and SoTL.
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... Businesses and manufacturers would miss out on increased profit by ignoring these women. By the mid-1910s, 12.7% of the total U.S. population was overweight; by the 1970s, over 30% of women had a body mass index over 30; and today, over 60% of women are considered overweight or obese (Cutler, Glaeser, & Shapiro, 2003;Keist & Marcketti, 2013;National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, 2018). This group has often faced personal and societal discrimination, as well as being marginalized by researchers who continue to focus on the slim ideal. ...
... When searching for the term "stout woman," 1891 was the first and 1956 the last appearance of this phrase in the patents available through Google Patents at the time of data collection. The term "stout" was the most commonly used phrase for plus-sized women during this period, and it was the only term used for systematic searching, allowing for consistency in the data collection process (Keist & Marcketti, 2013). Terms for women larger than "average" or "slender" styles are numerous, and there is no common term during any decade. ...
... Already by the first part of the 20th century and into later decades, women strived for a slender silhouette in order to be fashionable. Companies such as Lane Bryant and others advertised the slenderizing effects of their garments and urged their customers to appear slender (Keist & Marcketti, 2013). Corsets aided the appearance of slimness and were viewed as a must for the stout. ...
Women’s support garments including corsets and brassieres have been intimately tied to health and a woman’s outward appearance. Manufacturers strongly urged stout women to wear corsets well into the 1930s when many women had already discontinued their use. Stout women often had different requirements in regard to comfort and fit for their clothing and support garments. Stout women were an important consumer group in the first half of the century (1891–1956), though little research has been conducted. The purpose of this study was to better understand, through patent research, the ways in which inventors sought to solve clothing ills for the stout woman. To explore this topic, a content analysis approach was utilized using patents found through Google Patents. Patents for stout women focused on supporting and improving the body through corsets, brassieres, menstrual products, support devices, and combinations of corset and brassieres.
... Runway industry preference for an aesthetic ideal for female models that includes a pre-adolescent body shape (a breast-less, hips-less body that can fit into small garment sizes) can be traced as far back as the 1920s, when designers began commonly hiring boyish, straight-body, flat-chested female figures for garment promotion (Keist & Marcketti, 2013). Scholars examining bodies of varying sizes (e.g., plus-size) in the context of 1920s advertising have further confirmed that advertisers have intentionally sanctioned certain body types over others, thus giving prescriptive advice for those who did not have flat and tubular body types (Keist & Marcketti, 2013). ...
... Runway industry preference for an aesthetic ideal for female models that includes a pre-adolescent body shape (a breast-less, hips-less body that can fit into small garment sizes) can be traced as far back as the 1920s, when designers began commonly hiring boyish, straight-body, flat-chested female figures for garment promotion (Keist & Marcketti, 2013). Scholars examining bodies of varying sizes (e.g., plus-size) in the context of 1920s advertising have further confirmed that advertisers have intentionally sanctioned certain body types over others, thus giving prescriptive advice for those who did not have flat and tubular body types (Keist & Marcketti, 2013). Not surprisingly, ever since the 1920s, adult women in Western societies have increasingly resorted to dieting to get back their pre-adolescent body shape (Silverstein et al., 1986). ...
Full-text available
Runway models play a central role in creating and promoting cultural beauty and body ideals. However, little is known about body measurements (BMs) and anthropometric health parameters among this modeling population. The main purpose of this quantitative study is to describe BMs and anthropometric health parameters to understand the severity of thinness among models. Secondary industry-reported data were analyzed to quantify female and male models' BMs and to assess anthropometric health parameters over seven consecutive fashion-week seasons. Low and decreasing BMs and body mass index values, over these years, provide alarming evidence that extreme thinness seriously affects models' lives and general health. Considering the reach of fashion images and their detrimental effects on consumers, as well as the commonality of eating disorders among professional models, this study implores scholars in the field of clothing and textiles to consider feasible and compelling scholarly initiatives and cross-disciplinary collaborations to uncover problem solutions
... Discussions of separate departments in department stores for stoutwear peppered New York Times in the late 1910s and throughout the 1920s. Stout women wanted these separate departments as they would provide a level of anonymity by not having to search throughout all women's apparel looking for their size and to have salespeople trained in their unique needs (Keist and Marcketti 2013). ...
... By shopping at these stout women's specialty stores, it provided stout women with confidence with their clothing choices to be fashionable and in an environment where the shopgirls would understand their struggles with their body shape and troubles with dressing 'appropriately'. They would no longer need to be embarrassed in department stores that did not focus on stout sizes (Keist and Marcketti 2013). ...
Karl Lagerfeld, head designer and creative director of Chanel, made headlines in 2013 when he made comments against fat women on the French television show Le Grand 8 by saying ʼno one wants to see curvy women on the runway’. Excluding plus-size women from high fashion has occurred since the infancy of stoutwear manufacturing (an earlier term used for plus-size) near the start of the twentieth century. It is important to note that stoutwear manufacturers created ready-towear designs for middle-class women, but designers did not make or promote highfashion designs in vast quantities for upper-class women. Stout society women and couture clients were certainly consuming high fashion, but high-fashion advertising, commentary and editorials were not inclusive of stout women. In fact, many high-fashion designers stressed the importance and need to be slender. This article uses primary sources from Vogue, Women’s Wear Daily, Good Housekeeping and Harper’s Bazaar to analyse the commentary during the introduction and emergence of women’s ready-to-wear and the exclusion of high fashion for stout women by designers.
... In addition, plus-size women often lack similar access to fashionable clothing in comparison to average-sized women (Peters 2014). Plus-size women's ready-to-wear garments have historically been viewed by designers and manufacturers as problematic and the cause of manufacturing difficulties (Keist and Marcketti 2013). Plus-size women report difficulty finding well-fitting and fashionable clothing; in addition, many retailers have moved their plus-size selections online (Otieno et al. 2005). ...
In 2015, Lane Bryant, one of the first plus-size retailers, launched #PlusIsEqual, a social-marketing campaign to promote equality for fat bodies. Before this campaign, the intersections of social causes and marketing were largely absent from the fashion media landscape. The purpose of this study was to analyse the reaction to Lane Bryant's campaign by following and analysing the Twitter hashtag and campaign website for six months. Notions of the fat body as beautiful were met mostly with positive reactions, which highlights how users who engaged with the campaign, who themselves may have been overweight or plus-size individuals, could experience positive outcomes related to viewing such models and ideas in future-related campaigns.
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This article explores the curious intersections of stoutwear design, Gestalt Psychology, and architectural discourse in early twentieth-century American fashion media. In doing so, it focuses principally on trade media, style guides and advertisements that grappled with the perceived flaws of the stout woman’s physique and how sophisticated design principles, if properly handled, could create the appearance of bodily slenderness. By moving beyond the biological determinism of contemporary obesity discourse, this article argues that ideas about stoutness and, more specifically, what constituted a stout body, were produced through attempts to contain, control, and correct the fat, female body in fashion design discourse. By further embedding this research within a broader consideration of the relationship between bodies, dress, architecture, and modernist design thinking, this article argues that the mediums and discourses of fashion can open up pathways for thinking about the body itself as “designed.”
Although a mainstay of popular fashion discourse, the notion of “figure flattery” is an enduringly neglected concept in the fashion literature. In seeking to partially fill this gap, this article engages in a close examination of the slenderizing design discourses of the “stoutwear” industry—the historical precursor to today’s “plus-size” fashions—in order to flesh out a working theory of figure flattery. Drawing upon a close reading of extant advertisements and design commentary published in the popular fashion press and industry trade journals dating to between the years 1915 and 1930, or the peak of stoutwear production, this article aims to show how stoutwear was not merely made to fit the stout body, but to also help the wearer to fit in, socially and aesthetically. Through this analysis, this article situates fashion as a productive site in which fashions for the stout woman were not only created, but in which the stout body was itself constructed. © 2019
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to provide a guideline in the methodology of measuring the head toward the establishment of ready-to-wear (RTW) hijab sizing for Malaysian market. Design/methodology/approach This paper discusses the methodology for measuring facial dimensions in order to create facial anthropometric database for Malaysian women age between 18 and 30 years old. Findings Variety of RTW hijab measurement with non-standardized sizing system together with the support of respondent’s response from online survey due to their experience when wearing RTW hijab. Originality/value This paper fulfill the need in standardized sizing system either in RTW hijab or head sizing system in Malaysia.
Between 1986 and 1988, American Vogue ran a series of advertorials entitled “Fashion Plus.” Documenting the mid-1980s explosion of designer-led plus-size fashion, the series offers a rare glimpse into an overlooked moment in the history of large-size dress; however, it also stands as a singular foray into plus-size fashion for Vogue—a periodical that marginalizes representations of non-normative bodies. While its mere inclusion within the pages of Vogue is historically significant, this article will shift its focus by examining the crucial role pose played in the advertorial’s postmodern “refashioning” of the fat female body. While interrogating the concept of fashioning as a process that occurs at the intersection of text, image, body and garment, this article also considers how an embodied vernacular of fashion posing transformed the fat female body, making it “fit” for the pages of Vogue. Indeed, by striking identifiably “modelesque” poses, the models of “Fashion Plus” upset deeply entrenched norms of imaging the fat female body, while widening Vogue’s notoriously narrow definition of beauty. Framing the plus-size body as a product of postmodern notions of identity construction, this article also reflects upon the relationship between dress, discourse and the fleshy body in the construction of identity.
New definitions of American femininity were formed in the pivotal 1920s, an era that vastly expanded the "market" for sexually explicit displays by women. Angela J. Latham shows how quarrels over and censorship of women's performance -- particularly in the arenas of fashion and theater -- uniquely reveal the cultural idiosyncracies of the period and provide valuable clues to the developing iconicity of the female body in its more recent historical phases. Through disguise, display, or judicious appropriation of both, performance became a crucial means by which women contested, affirmed, mitigated, and revolutionized norms of female self-presentation and self-stylization. Fashion was a hotly contested arena of bodily display. Latham surveys 1920s fashion trends and explores popular fashion rhetoric. Resistance to social mandates regarding women's fashion was nowhere more pronounced than in the matter of "bathing costumes." Latham critiques locally situated contests over swimwear, including those surrounding the first Miss America Pageant, and suggests how such performances sanctioned otherwise unacceptable self-presentations by women. Looking at American theater, Latham summarizes major arguments about censorship and the ideological assumptions embedded within them. Although sexually provocative displays by women were often the focus of censorship efforts, "leg shows," including revues like the Zeigfeld Follies, were in their heyday. Latham situates the popularity of such performances that featured women's bodies within the larger context of censorship in the American theater at this time.
In order to gauge the emerging needs for the plus-size footwear market, this study tested the following four hypotheses: 1) as BMI increases, foot morphology changes; 2) increased BMI influences consumers' footwear selection criteria; 3) increased BMI negatively affects consumers' footwear fit; and 4) increased BMI negatively affects consumers' satisfaction with the current footwear market. One hundred and twenty-one female college students were recruited from a large 4-year U.S. university, and only Caucasian data (n=99) were used for statistical analysis. Prior to 3D scanning, a short questionnaire was administered to assess the participants' footwear selection criteria and satisfaction with the current footwear offerings, as well as demographic information. Anthropometry of the participants' feet was measured, using a 3D foot scanner (INFOOT® by I-ware). Results showed that BMI positively affected the increase of anthropometric measurements; as BMI increased, the participants indicated significantly higher scores on shoe length and insole cushion and a lower score on fashion trendiness in the perceived importance of footwear selection criteria; they tended to wear improperly fitting shoes to accommodate wider and thicker feet; and they were significantly less satisfied with the current market than those with a lower BMI. Strong relationships in all four hypotheses were evident, and findings of this study urged the footwear manufacturing industry to recognize the unfulfilled niche market for the growing population of plus-size consumers.
Drawing on participant observation at a women's plus-size clothing store, “Real Style,” this article draws on the unique experiences of plus-sized women in their roles as workers, managers, and customers, to examine how mainstream beauty standards, body-accepting branding, and customers' diverse feeling rules shape service interactions. Despite branding that promoted prideful appreciation for “Real” bodies, the influence of these body-accepting discourses was constrained by women's internalization of mainstream fat stigma, resulting in an environment characterized by deep ambivalence toward larger body size. This ambivalence allowed hierarchies between women to be reified, rather than dissolved; although plus-sized employees and customers expressed gratitude to have Real Style as a “safe space” to work and shop, workers experienced gender segregation of jobs, and thinner employees were privileged with special tasks. Further, managers and white (but not black or Latina) customers used body-disparaging “fat talk” to elicit workers' emotional labor while confronting thinner workers for defying aesthetic expectations. This research offers a more nuanced understanding of the ties between aesthetic labor and emotional labor, while highlighting some of the factors that prevent stigmatized groups from successfully reclaiming status within consumer contexts.
Of all forms of personal services supplied to business enterprise, that of sales workers has perhaps defied the application of “standard” management practices more than any other. Professor Benson shows that this generalization is especially applicable to female department store sales personnel, who were necessarily recruited chiefly from “lower” social classes whose members lacked education and refinement. Thus, regimentation and rote training seemed appropriate. On the other hand, selling style goods to sophisticated female customers involved elements not of a trade but an art, and an attitude of deference, which was not a common trait among working-class girls. Department store managers, almost exclusively male, failed to solve this paradox and, as Professor Benson relates, failed also to deal with the invisible solidarity of female sales persons.
The transformation from custom to factory-produced clothing occurred in uneven stages. To acquire clothing, women balanced budget constraints against sewing ability, available time, and fashion issues. They were also usually actively involved in at least some aspect of their own clothing production and often devised complex arrangements to clothe themselves. In this paper, I focus on women’s decision-making in a period of rapidly changing styles, changing markets, and new employment patterns. Analysis of family budget studies, women’s magazines and advice literature, and early home economics studies revealed that although income was important, lifestyle, sewing ability, and a desire to be up-to-date with the latest styles figured prominently. Rapid style changes and increased availability of ready-made clothing changed the standards by which all clothing was judged. Home sewn products, difficult to fit and time-consuming to make, lost prestige when compared to the style and finish of ready-made. Changes permanently altered women’s roles as both producers and consumers of clothing.