Photo: Paige Sovic
I'm so here for this new age of television that streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video are ushering in. I love getting to watch television that tells original stories of people that traditional media would shy away from and deem, "too unconventional." I love that the Netflix version of Queer Eye features an openly gay Muslim man as the fashion expert (which is also the first time an openly gay Muslim man has appeared on western television, ever) and that he's infiltrating the closets of straight, white men in middle America.
While Queer Eye feels like woke television programming, Tan France's fashion advice feels stale and old-fashioned. He adheres so strongly to the fashion rules that so many of us are trying to unlearn, like that "problem areas" are to be covered up or hidden. I firmly believe that the first and only rule of fashion is that there are no rules. Want to wear an outfit that makes you look thinner? That's your prerogative. Want to wear an outfit that makes you feel like a space alien? More power to you. Want to wear an outfit that makes you look totally professional? Go get 'em, tiger. Gone are the days where glossy, overly-photoshopped fashion magazines make up the rules about the standard of beauty and how to adhere to it, we're now in the age of lo-fi social media images of innovative streetwear that questions everything we were taught.
But Tan's tip to avoid horizontal stripes because they make you look wider and shorter struck me as outdated and odd. I can guarantee that every single person watching this reality show of high fashion designers pitted against each other has heard the "avoid horizontal stripes," rule many times before. Tan then instructed the audience to opt for vertical stripes, because they make you look taller and leaner. Because of course, if you look taller and leaner then you look better. And if you look shorter and wider? You look worse. Everyone knows that wider is another word for fatter which is worse than thinner, and that taller is obviously better than shorter. This kind of messaging just reinforces the fact that fat is bad, that short is bad, and that the only good bodies are tall and thin ones. It taught no one in the audience anything that their mother hadn't already taught them, but it simply said to me, "fashion is still behind the times," and "what is this, the 90s?!" and even lead me to question if high fashion sees body-positivity as a threat to its very existence.
But then came the really exciting challenge! The designers had to design a lingerie look for their models. With a twist! The womenswear model would be a plus-size model! Hurray! When I heard Tan France announce they would use an extended size model, I perked up in my cozy bed and quickly put my phone away. Did they say they're gonna use a curvy model? For the underwear challenge?! Excited to see curves and cellulite on the runway, I was ready to praise the show for getting it right and forgive Tan for the silly little stripe story. We're finally in the age of fashion where our designer reality competition shows are instilling the importance of designing for plus-sizes! We're finally ready to send a plus-size model down the runway on TV in her underwear and call it couture!
I noticed from the very beginning that all of the dress forms are by Alvanon, a company known for their dress forms and attention to fit. I recognized the brand because of their presence at 2019's theCURVYcon, firmly taking a stance against the sizing discrepancy in plus sizes and actively trying to supply young budding designers with the proper dress forms to create garments for the plus-size body. I was excited that not only were the designers happy about the challenge to fit their garments on a plus-size model, unlike the first time designers on Project Runway received a similar challenge and greeted it with groans of disdain, but that they even had the proper tools to do so!
The lingerie was so gorgeous, so unexpected, and so beautiful. Watching it come together on these dress forms had me excited. The womenswear looks were all significantly more interesting than the menswear, and I was ready to see it on the models.
Then they sent the models down the runway and with each pair that walked I became more and more disappointed. The plus-size girl might have been wearing a really elaborate and interesting bodysuit, but she was also hidden under a boring, flowy, floor-length, black robe. Every. Single. Time. I didn't get to see the rolls and cellulite that I was excited to see. I didn't get to see bodies that looked like my own, because all I could see were black cloaks that hid the majority of their bodies. Meanwhile, the men were all shirtless. No robe, no cloak, nothing to hide.
"I didn't get to see the bodies that looked like my own, because all I could see were black cloaks that hid the majority of their bodies."
"That's okay," I told myself. "I'm sure the judges will call them out for hiding the models' bodies instead of celebrating them, and these robes are so clearly a lazy afterthought."
But that was just wishful thinking. Instead, upon inspecting their outfits the judges would gently move the robe out of the way to have a closer look at the garments underneath without a word. One of the designing duos opted for a bra and panty set instead of a bodysuit, allowing the plus-size model's midriff to show, which I was grateful for because otherwise the plus-size tummies were tucked away. But Tan was most critical of that look, because he didn't like the way the designer purposefully removed the underwire from the bra for a more relaxed and modern look. Tan said that the model completely lost her shape because of this choice and that a fuller busted model needs underwire to keep the shape otherwise the breasts will appear saggy.
At this moment I sunk back under my covers and let all of the hope I once held dissipate. Not only did I actually think this bralette was a really cool style that plus girls like me would be clamoring for, but I was disappointed in Tan. I wanted to stand up for the designer who wanted a more casual bralette that allowed the model's natural shape to be celebrated. Frankly it didn't even look that comfortable or relaxed, it's haute couture after all, and it even reminded me of a style I saw a thin actress rock on the red carpet of the Oscars just a few days prior.
Here's what I can tell you Tan thinks about my body: he does not like my natural breasts' shape (even though my boobs are pretty great as they are), he does not want me to ever wear a bold horizontal stripe (lol guilty), and I should make sure to wear "flattering" colors and silhouettes that make me look taller and thinner (sorry but black is boring and I love sneakers). I'm a stylish fashion girl who lived in NYC for the better part of the last decade, alongside the thinnest fashionistas. I don't need an expert to edit my wardrobe, but I bet Tan wouldn't approve of me just due to my size.
I don't mean to pit one openly gay fashion design competition reality show host against another, but Tim Gunn would never say what Tan France says. Tan France is always telling me that the French tuck will hide my problem areas. Tim Gunn is a fierce advocate for plus-size fashion, shaming contestants who have complained about having to design for a plus-size woman and vocalizing the massive problem in the industry.
I know Tan is younger and therefore cooler, but don't let that sway you. He's not at all body-positive or woke, he's just another member of the tired, elitist, old-school fashion club. But I'm holding out hope that he can change and learn, just like the men he makes over.