Fashion Still Has A Size Issue, As This Stylist’s Instagram Post Proves

We salute Francesca Burns for calling out fashion's sample size problem.

Instagram / @franburns

by Laura Antonia Jordan |
Updated on

Fashion has had to do a lot of soul-searching this year. The Covid-19 pandemic and global Black Lives Matter protests have forced to industry to squarely confront some of its most troubling, outdated and ingrained attitudes and ways of working. In 2020, everything from diversity and representation to the catwalk-show format and sheer amount of clothes being produced has been up for discussion and debate. Finally, however, change for the better seems to be happening, giving us at least one reason to be optimistic in 2020.

But while the industry is undoubtedly trying to move forward, there are some areas where change still feels painfully slow. Take the issue of sizing and body inclusivity; sure there has been progress, but calls for fashion to modernise still remain regretfully relevant today.

Calling out fashion's enduring body image problem is the super-stylist Francesca Burns, a former Vogue fashion editor whose client list includes Gucci, Kenzo and Sportmax. This weekend, she made a passionate plea on Instagram for the industry to look again at sample sizes. Picturing a ‘size 8 at the most’ model with a pair of sample-sized Celine trousers pulled on that were too small to fit, Fran posed the question: ‘can we make our sample sizes bigger please?’ (Celine is by no means the only brand guilty of making tiny samples; 'It happens all the time', Burns said in a follow-up video posted today).

‘I never want anyone on my set to be made to feel “less than”,’ wrote Burns in the caption. ‘More often than not I am working with young women who - in spite of being exceptionally beautiful - are living breathing feeling human beings who should never be made to feel like they are “too big” for the clothes’.

The caption continued: ‘I had several looks from this collection and none of them fit her. She was not the exception - you are. This is so unacceptable - it is fundamentally wrong to suggest that this is the norm. It isn’t. We have a responsibility in this industry to celebrate and to empower and to make people feel great - why else would we want to go out and spend our hard earned cash on these things?! Because we want to feel GOOD! We also have a responsibility for those in our care on set and to make sure beauty standards are not limited to a size that is completely unrealistic for the majority - nobody should look at fashion imagery and feel bad about themselves and nobody should participate in making fashion imagery and feel bad. Putting this girl into these trousers made me feel like a twisted creep and my beautiful model feel like she wasn’t good enough so thank you for that’.

Francesca Burns
Francesca Burns ©Getty

The post promptly went viral – gaining over 117,000 likes at the time of writing – with industry peers chiming in to cheer on Burns and her pertinent message. Karen Elson reposted the image and joined the debate, commenting: ‘It is no secret within fashion that body dysmorphia and eating disorders are rife and in fact normalized in our industry. Many in fashion fetishize an adolescent body type’. She acknowledged that nobody working in fashion would be surprised by the post, adding ‘as always with fashion we are slow to change unless the hand is forced. Brand diversity isn’t having one beautiful curve model in a runway show and 30 other size 0 models, it’s respecting that we all come in different sizes and represent the swath of body diversity across the board’. It’s important to note that this argument is not about shaming anyone who is naturally slim, but rather about broadening fashion’s very narrow definition of beauty. If the samples only fit models who are smaller than a size eight, then you will only see models who are smaller than a size eight.

Perhaps you’re wondering why you should care, or indeed whether there’s any point in caring – haven’t we been talking about this for years? Well, yes. But the climate feels different now. It’s refreshing to see industry-insiders vociferously calling this issue out from within. There is an appetite for change now that, at this current moment of upheaval and turbulence, is translating into meaningful action. We are hungry for meaningful diversity, not tokenistic optics – whether that comes via Aurora James’s 15 Percent Pledge (asking retailers to commit 15% of their selling-space to Black-owned businesses), cutting down the amount of collections a brand produces a year, or making more inclusive sample sizes. In 2020, we want less talk, more action.

The flimsy argument against producing bigger samples, or broadening a collection’s size offering, normally revolves around it being too tricky and costly to do. But in a year where we’ve learnt that our worlds can be flipped upside down and we can change, adapt and survive - both on a personal and global level - that doesn’t seem like much of a barrier. If you want to change, you can. ‘We are very fortunate to work in an industry filled with incredible talent and creativity we are primed to be a catalyst for change and empowerment,' says Burns on Instagram today. 'We can make it happen - we just have to keep pushing forward'.

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