What is ‘fit-washing’ and how does it impact inclusivity in fashion?

WORDS BY Jess Formosa

“The brands falsely claiming to be for ‘all bodies’ or for the ‘real’ women, need to reflect on what inclusivity actually means.”

Greenwashing’ has been a fashion buzzword for the last couple of years. It’s when a company or brand makes all kinds of claims about how environmentally conscious they are, but in reality, they’re twisting the truth.

Unfortunately, greenwashing has become commonplace in the fashion industry. Much like greenwashing, many brands are claiming to be inclusive and saying they strive to provide size options for all bodies, but in fact, most are falling short in a major way. I like to call this ‘fit-washing’.  

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There have been notable strides forward in terms of representation and inclusivity in fashion over the past few years, and while any progress can be seen as good progress, with every step forward there’s a brand waiting in the wings wanting to capitalise on the latest buzzword.

Inclusivity in fashion shouldn’t be a marketing tactic, but sadly it is. To all the brands marketing to ‘every body’ but failing to actually make good on this claim, it’s time to reassess your choice of words. 

The ‘fit-washed’ event

Let’s say all the different types of inclusive brands hold an event. You attend this event and you’re scoping out who to purchase from. You have money in the bank to spend and you nervously look at all the labels’ stalls, trying to decide where you can find clothes that will actually fit your body. All four of the brands at the event will say they can cater to your size, but it’s clear not all are being honest. 

Brand number one: The real deal when it comes to inclusiveness 

This brand is inclusive, approachable and genuinely for everyone. These types of brands know what’s up and are the way forward for fashion, generally catering to sizes six to 22 plus and sometimes even offering custom designs. 

Brand number two: You can shop with us, but only if you are a size 12 or larger

This brand is passionate about creating great clothes for curvy bodies, and many women can purchase from them. These are the plus-size brands that were tired of seeing larger bodies excluded so they created a space for bigger bodies to shop. They don’t claim the ‘inclusive’ title, just ‘plus-size’, and that is totally okay. That’s their market and they’re honest about it. 

Brand number three: We say we cater to everybody, but in reality will only work for a size 16 at most

This brand is very popular and is always up-to-date with the latest trends. It carries sizes six to 16 and has very little diversity represented and there is a small, limited group of people that can purchase from it.  

The average Australian woman is a size 14 to 16, so carrying a size 16 – a size that caters to ‘most’ women – is not a feat or a bragging right. You’re doing the absolute bare minimum. If your line only goes up to a size 16, you don’t have the right to talk about inclusivity in terms of sizing. I’m seeing many brands jumping on this train. They watch American labels doing well on the curvy, plus-size market and they want a slice of the pie.

They claim everyone can purchase from them but in reality, anyone size 18 and over won’t be able to find styles that fit them. These brands even have the audacity to offer ‘oversized’ items to larger bodies. Thanks but no thanks; our size doesn’t mean we’re not stylish. We want clothes that fit our bodies and we don’t want to hide under oversized garments made to fit smaller sizes. We want what they’re having, in our size. 

Brand number four: We’ve got your size, but not in-store 

Brand number four believes in inclusivity, but very quietly. These are the brands that have all sizes available, but only a size six to 16 in-store. They sell the rest exclusively online or only offer plus sizes in some styles. Imagine being at a shopping centre, hearing about a brand’s new launch and making a beeline towards the store only to be told by the salesperson, “Oh sorry, we only stock those sizes online”.

Or perhaps, “We have two of those items in your size, but the rest of the plus-size range is exclusively online”. I mean, really? You want to make your line ‘inclusive’ but you’re essentially telling me to get out of your store and that my wallet is only welcome online. It’s degrading, demoralising and a slap in the face to shoppers with bigger bodies to pick and choose what sizes you believe are worthy of being in your store.

You’ve been fit-washed

If you’ve come across the above examples before, you’ve been fit-washed. Unfortunately, much of the industry is fit-washing. A lot of brands are riding the coattails of the recent rise in popularity and representation of plus-size models and clothing, but don’t actually cater to the plus-size market in a genuine way. What’s worse is that they insist on being dishonest about it.

As a plus-sized woman, I know most brands don’t cater to me and I’ve learned to be okay with that. However, the brands falsely claiming to be for ‘all bodies’ or for the ‘real’ women, need to reflect on what inclusivity actually means. They are talking the talk but aren’t walking the walk. While it’s fair to say inclusivity has come a long way in Australia, we definitely still have a long way to go.

My go-tos

If you’re after true representation and inclusivity, I recommend checking out the Mys Tyler website and app for body-relevant fashion inspiration from size-diverse content creators. Personally, I shop at Golden the Label for dreamy linen, Grump for dopamine dressing, Kholo for dresses, and for ethical fashion I opt for Maggie Marilyn and Made590.

When looking for workwear I go to Sük Workwear and I get customised clothing from Citizen Wolf. And to any fit-washing brands and retailers out there, if you’re reading this, it’s time to do better.

You can learn more about Mys Tyler here.

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