The first ever London Queer Fashion Show took place on September the 20th in Hackney. It may have passed you by as unfortunately it did not gather much mainstream media attention.
Certainly overdue and most welcome this event wanted to give visibility to diversity within the community and as the website says "showcase the greatest new talent, the people who know that gender exists beyond the binary, that clothing does not exist in male and female forms."
The London Queer Fashion Show has the power to unite people from all sorts of different backgrounds. From people of colour to various gender identities - anyone who's anyone was meant to attend.
At GFW we were thrilled when we were asked to model our clothes for the show - but at the last minute the organisers decided against showcasing our models on the catwalk. We were invited to exhibit at the show but turned down the offer as myself and my team started to ask ourselves some very important questions.
Did the show cancel on us because we weren’t ‘high fashion’ enough? But isn’t queer fashion meant to be the cornerstone of celebrating diversity in size and style - from high fashion to high street style?
I also don’t mean just the style of clothes, I mean the diversity of body shape. We use a wide spectrum of body types from the naturally very slim to the larger-built ‘plus-size’ individuals.
What is plus size, anyway? And why is it so important for the fashion industry to make more of an effort to accurately represent the various body types in the world?
I also had a chance to catch up with model Rae Lavender and asked if the London Queer Fashion Show was a real representation of the diversity of people's sizes this year. Rae explained, “I think it was a representation of what non-queer people think queer people are like. It was incredibly flamboyant and dramatic and over the top. And even at normal fashion weeks, it’s just not what people wear, let alone the queer community.
“They had larger models but they were either very slim or large - there was no in-between, there wasn’t any representation for other models.”
'Plus size' in the fashion industry is a UK can be anything from a size 10 to 14.
Size 16 is the “national average” (I use this term loosely, as it doesn't make sense to me).
It's not just the London Queer Fashion Show that had a distinct lack of your ‘average’ size 16s - people protested about the lack of plus sizes at London Fashion Week last year too.
Also, it’s so important to point out that I'm not shaming models under a size 10 - after all, people come in all shapes and sizes. What I'm referring to is the gross misrepresentation of sizing.
Rae said, “It goes right down to childhood and look at magazines and see the pictures and think that’s what they should look like. It can make a huge impression. They think “If I want to be successful and create waves then they’re going to try and look like the images they see in magazines and on TV” And that can be so dangerous. Some people are not meant to look like a slimmer model on TV.”
Eleven years ago, Rae was scouted on a street in London and started modeling for some big-names. It didn’t turn out as expected though...
“Impressionable me thought “I’m gonna be famous.” The whole thing was horrible. I don’t really wanna name the companies but I did a shoot for a pretty big clothing brand but because I was so young and impressionable, I’d do anything anyone asked me to. I’d wear mini skirts and think “This is my way forward.”
“They would say “You’re too fat, your jaws too wide, your legs are horrible.! Luckily I have quite thick skin, but you know, if it was anyone else...say a sensitive young person then this is how models, especially young women get eating disorders and all sorts.”
One of the most recent studies shows that 20% of women in the UK are a size 18 and above. But, according to some very interesting findings from The Fashion Spot last year, only 1.4% of women over a size 12 were featured in fashion campaigns in the UK.
That's a significant 18.6% gap - so I can safely say the fashion industry has still got a long way to go with regards to representing a cross-section of society today.
So, why is this such a big issue?
Rae told me, “It’s not about having non-skinny models, it’s about having variety. Some people are naturally built to be thinner, but the realistic proportion of people who are naturally slimmer is a lot smaller than the proportion of slimmer models we see in the media and at fashion shows.”
There’s also the issue of pigeon-holing people into sizes without considering body shape. Some people may be a natural size 8 with big hips, some may be a size 18 with a larger chest, some a size 20 with narrower hips and a bigger tummy - the body types of women are nearly endless.
Rae added, “I hate the national average dress size - it doesn’t consider different body types. I believe there’s a healthy body type for each particular person and it’s a size they should feel comfortable at. And even if people say size 18 and 20 is unhealthy, sometimes people feel comfortable in that body. And that is what is most important!”
But what about men? They are as much included in LGBTQI+ fashion media as much as others.
SizeUK revealed the average British male waist size to be 37 inches - yet trousers from both Primark and Topman only go up to a size 40 inches (at the last check).
Even plus size US model Jermain Hollman has a 36 inch waist - and that's still considered way above the average waist size for non plus size male models.
Could it be possible that the retailers themselves have fallen victim to sizing misrepresentation? It seems they really do think there just aren't many people over a certain size because the media and advertising portrays it this way. Or perhaps retailers are indulging in a bit of vanity sizing where a pair of trousers may state they're a 40 inch whereas, whereas in reality they're a 44 inch waist, see our blog about this.
Editor of Men's Health, Toby Wiseman, spoke to The Guardian about why size diversity is not discussed as much as women's. He said, "Men can be fat or thin, toned or not, but bums tend to be bums, our hips are fairly homogenous, and we don't have the vast variety in breast shape or size to contend with."
This, of course, brings me back to the London Queer Fashion Show.
Why is it so important to show plus size models at an LGBTQI+ fashion event?
I have a theory. Many of the designers modeling their collections at the event say the reason behind their inspirations was that people with curvier bodies wouldn't have to customise men's clothing anymore. They could actually wear clothes that fit and also stayed true to their own preferred style.
Now, when I think back to the time I used to customise men's clothes for myself I realise I did it because I have curves and I'm not classed as a size 6 androgynous model
Many female customers, and certainly gender fluid and male customers, have told me the reason why they love GFW Clothing is because the clothes fit their curves while remaining gender fluid.
Why would a queer fashion event celebrate only slimmer androgynous fashion models and not those of us size 16 and over?
Jack Goode, one of the designers showcasing their outfits at the London Queer Fashion Show, revealed some beautifully artistic creations on the catwalk. Although the outfits wouldn’t look out of place on a night out, there was definitely a distinct lack of size diversity. The Ingrid Kraftchenko collection was also an ode to high fashion and slimmer models.
This is all well and good - after all, high fashion can be a wonderful way to express ourselves.
But the reality is, the LGBTQI+ community simply want a choice. Would it have harmed The London Queer Fashion Show to mix high fashion queer designers with smaller, independent clothing labels offering a more ‘everyday’ kind of look?
Also, the LGBTQI+ community has such a mix of body types and shapes, it would be incredible to celebrate this at The London Queer Fashion - especially seeing as model and social activist Munroe Bergdorf gave a rousing call for more brands to create genuine, empowering advertising campaigns for people of colour and the queer community.
Rae added, “The point of queer is it doesn’t necessarily have to be a woman dressing like a man. The key thing is for a woman to be able to dress just exactly how she wants to, regardless of body type. That’s why I want to break through that and be like “Fuck you, I don’t want to dress how you tell me to. I want to see real people in fashion shows - LGBTQI+ or otherwise.”