For decades, the red carpet has been a lonely place for the plus-sized celebrity. Save for the occasional awards show appearance by Oprah Winfrey or Delta Burke, full-figured ladies were nowhere to be seen, and neither was the plus size red carpet fashion we’ve come to expect. But today more curvy celebs are making waves in Hollywood than ever before. So as we approach the year’s biggest red carpet event, the Oscars, have we made any progress in curvy couture fit for the red carpet?
Plus Size Red Carpet Fashion
Let’s consider a list of celebrities: An Oscar winner. An Emmy winner. A network TV star. A cable TV star. A VMA host. A Cover Girl. A Glee cult icon. A Grammy winner. With red carpet season in full swing, it goes without saying that designers must be clamoring to outfit anyone lucky enough to make this list or to hold one of these coveted titles, right?
Wrong. Now let’s add some names to those accolades: Octavia Spencer. Mo’nique. Melissa McCarthy. Gabourey Sidibe. Rebel Wilson. Queen Latifah. Amber Riley. Adele. These women share more than staggering talent and a list of awards. They also share the infamously un-Hollywood label of “plus size”. Other than the design partnership between Spencer and Tadashi Shoji during the 2012 awards season for her performance in The Help, and Adele’s intermittent wearing of Valentino or Burberry, major red carpet designers haven’t exactly raced to dress this new crop of curvy celebs. But why?
Imagine a deep magenta Dior gown with architectural waist and clever neckline on Queen Latifah. Or a long-sleeve belted Elie Saab on McCarthy. Why not a printed Carolina Herrera with sweeping gathers and flattering drapes for Sidibe? Isn’t that what Couture really means?
One infamous example has become the poster child for the politics and he-said, she-said of plus size red carpet fashion. When Melissa McCarthy was nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Bridesmaids, she publicly stated that she couldn’t find a designer willing to make a gown for her. Former Project Runway designer Christian Siriano reportedly had discussed a partnership with her, but placed the lack of a resulting gown squarely with McCarthy herself, citing her as “quite difficult to work with.” ¹ Celebrity spats aside, when was the last time an Oscar nominee had only one designer offering a gown (and a newcomer reality star designer at that)?
It’s pretty obvious that with the number of high-profile plus size celebrities on the rise, the range of plus size red carpet fashion options must grow. But what’s also clear is that this lack of choice has created its own sort of red carpet step and repeat. Plus size celebs settle for a less-than-dreamy red carpet gown only to be ridiculed by haters and tabloids for their look the next day.
Take McCarthy’s example again: she winds up without a major brand collaboration on carpet and lands herself on E!’s Fashion Police “Worst Dressed List” for the 2012 Oscars look off carpet. Or Sidibe who responded to criticism of her 2014 Golden Globes red carpet look in epic style via Twitter: “To people making mean comments about my GG pics, I mos def cried about it on that private jet on my way to my dream job last night.” ² In reference to songstress Adele, Karl Largerfeld famously said: “She is a little too fat, but she has a beautiful face and a divine voice.” In response Adele stated, “I’ve never wanted to look like models on the cover of magazines….I represent the majority of women and I’m very proud of that.” ³
To their credit, all these plus size celebrities handle these circumstances with dignity and humor, but should graciousness be a part of the job description just because their talents come in a curvy package? These women want options. They want glamour. They want – nay earned – the true red carpet experience. And, along with the 65%+ of American women watching the red carpet at home they are willing to pay for it.
So as more and more plus size celebrities make their way onto the red carpet, we call for more and more designers to embrace the opportunity to showcase their own couture talents by designing custom plus size red carpet looks. Imagine a deep magenta Dior gown with architectural waist and clever neckline on Queen Latifah. Or a long-sleeve belted Elie Saab on McCarthy. Why not a printed Carolina Herrera with sweeping gathers and flattering drapes for Sidibe? Even if these designers never create a plus size ready-to-wear line, isn’t this what couture is all about? Creating a one-of-a-kind piece for a one-of-a-kind influencer who can either afford it or will attract the millions of eyeballs necessary to validate the freebie?
As much as the business case for plus size red carpet fashion would seem to be there, Melissa McCarthy, for one, isn’t leaving anything to chance. Drawing on her own experience as a design student at the Fashion Institute of Technology, McCarthy will debut her own fashion line in Fall 2015. While the name of the collection is yet unknown, McCarthy has shared that her line will focus first on sportswear and later incorporate careerwear, accessories, and beauty items. And judging by McCarthy’s most recent red carpet appearances, her line is sure to be a hit. She sported one of her own designs to the 2015 People’s Choice Awards – a custom black suit featuring leather piping in the jacket and fitted pants.
The result? McCarthy found herself on several “Best Dressed” lists. Take that E!
Sources / Photo Credits:
Melissa McCarthy: DFree / Shutterstock.com, Gabourey Sidibe: Helga Esteb / Shutterstock.com, Terry Straehley / Shutterstock.com, Octavia Spencer: Jaguar PS / Shutterstock.com, 1 http://www.usmagazine.com/celebrity-news/news/melissa-mccarthy-goofs-off-with-husband-ben-falcone-in-redbook-201446, 2 http://www.cnn.com/2014/01/14/showbiz/tv/gabourey-sidibe-golden-globes-comeback/, 3 http://www.theguardian.com/fashion/fashion-blog/2012/feb/08/karl-lagerfeld-adele