Diversity: The New Fashion Trend
In many minds, the fashion industry is regarded as the pinnacle of acceptable beauty. It constructs an image of perfection and says “This. This is what you should be.” But what if you aren’t? What if you search this parade of primed and polished porcelain dolls playing dress up and see nothing that represents you? Nothing that even comes close.
Here is where the ugly side of fashion is seen.
There are countless studies linking the fashion industry to body-image negativity and depression, often triggering serious disorders – particularly in young girls. When popular media only allows a niche minority of body types to be “beautiful”, the majority of society becomes excluded. With such power over public perception, comes the responsibility to weave _more diversity into their design.
The call for diversity in the fashion industry is rising and with it, some progression is finally showcased. Models that don’t fit the typical image of past magazine covers are joining ranks on the catwalk and proving that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes.
Stacy Paris was the first double amputee model to walk a catwalk in Europe. She was forced to amputate both her legs after battling with necrotising fasciitis (a deadly flesh-eating bug) and osteomyelitis (a bone-eating bug). Paris was inspired to go into modelling to fill a noticeable gap in the diversity of models. She said: “I just hadn’t seen anyone doing anything I was interested in whilst having limbs missing and with all the stares and comments I got from just walking down the street with prosthetics, I figured I may as well make a thing of it and really show them off!”
Since starting, Paris has modelled all around, been interviewed on the BBC and even been approached by Ralph Lauren to give a talk on inclusion in his New York office. Despite these brilliant opportunities Paris has forged in her career, the business is not without its challenges. She added: “There are still people who see my legs and don’t want me working with them because it’s too different and they don’t see it as attractive or they think that it’s not what people want to see.”
Some designers still regard models as walking clothes hangers and believe that they shouldn’t represent the wider public. However, despite this popular opinion within the fashion world, many of the public wish to see a change.
Claire Hutchinson, a 22-year-old student from the University of Glasgow, said: “It is irresponsible of the modelling industry to use models that are often a UK10 for plus size campaigns. The average size in the UK is around a UK14. By using slimmer than average women for a ‘plus size’ campaign, the industry is warping public perceptions of body image.”
Models of Diversity is a campaign group that work to promote such inclusive change. Working as a non-profit group, Models of Diversity urge the fashion industry to recognise beauty in all races, abilities, shapes and ages. They regularly campaign their cause at fashion shows, hold workshops and platform diverse talent in the industry on their website.
Representation is not simply about showing diversity in models, however, it’s also about designing accessible and fashionable clothes for all body types.
‘The call for diversity in the fashion industry is rising and with it, some progression is finally showcased. Models that don’t fit the typical image of past magazine covers are joining ranks on the catwalk and proving that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes.’
Paris explains that there are issues with disabilities and fashion that many wouldn’t consider. The model said: “[they often don’t consider] how things look sitting down for people in wheelchairs, getting trousers over prosthetic feet, clothes riding up on prosthetics, and fastenings for people who have less motor control in their hands”.
Some companies, however, are already making the first steps towards more inclusive fashion, as Paris explained.
“There’s a company in Moscow that I walked for called Bezgraniz Couture who specialise in inclusive fashion that solve all these issues. As well as this, Tommy Hilfiger designs clothes for children with disabilities and many lines, such as ASOS, Missguided and Boohoo, have expanded their range to include better clothes for taller, larger, and petite bodies.
To accelerate this growth and spread of inclusive fashion, Paris says it’s about “putting pressure on the advertisers, designers and agencies to include disabled models because until they listen and give it a chance, rather than making it a one off, it’s not going to change.” Paris also thinks there needs to be a change of perception of disabled people in the wider media “we aren’t a different species, but we can sometimes be treated as if we are”.
Platforming more diversity behind the camera may also aid in designing a better perception on magazine covers. Paris praises photographer, Damian McGillicuddy, explaining that he “is also an amputee and the photos we did together shows his understanding of modelling with a disability because the results were just amazing.”
With more fashion lines planning inclusive photo campaigns, shows and clothes lines, diversity is finally getting its fair share of the spotlight. Although, inclusion is still minimal and often regarded as a token demonstration.
Madeleine Dunne, a student at Glasgow Caledonian University, is sceptical of fashion lines motives. She critiques the supposed inclusion efforts, describing how fashion lines that include diversity are met with praise and attention in the media, meaning “it’s an easy way to get new buyers with little effort”.
However, regardless of likely ulterior motives, the ends justify the means. Allowing diverse body types to be recognised in fashion can help hugely with body-confidence and expanding available clothes ranges with more choice for various shapes and sizes is practical and, frankly, an obvious addition that’s long overdue.
It’s fashionable in this day and age to be inclusive, so the fashion industry should keep up with this trend.