Just two weeks after the typically stick-thin models walk the runway for New York Fashion Week, San Francisco hosted a different kind of fashion show, with models of varying size and gender identification. The clothing modeled included San Francisco retailer ModCloth, as well as Saint Harridan, based in Oakland. The audience consisted of a broad variety of women – young and edgy, silver-haired and successful.
The show took place at the Impact Hub San Francisco, as a part of the annual Embody Awards, presented by About-Face. About-Face is a nonprofit organization working in Bay area schools to improve the self-esteem of young girls’ by combating the unrealistic, often unhealthy images of beauty presented by society. The theme for this year’s celebration, “Transforming Fashion”, created an opportunity to honor four groundbreaking Bay Area designers creating body positive clothing. "We want girls and women to be free, and we want them to think for themselves and to dress as themselves, not someone else," About-Face Executive Director Jennifer Berger said.
Following Mattel’s launch of Barbies with different body types and skin tones, and plus-sized model Ashley Graham appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated, this show is another testament to the changing media portrayal of women. The Bay Area is a hub for body positive activism, which is attributed to the creative and educated population, ethnic diversity, large LGBT community and acceptance of alternative lifestyles.
“My customers want to feel comfortable in their own skin,” Taylor Jay, one of the honored designers, said. She runs a boutique in Oakland’s Dimond district, creating flowing dresses, tops, and pantsuits for women wearing sizes 0 to 2x. Susan Gregg Koger, co-founder and creative director for ModCloth, believes that style bloggers and social media activists have helped change what it means to be attractive. ModCloth , featuring clothing from size extra small to 4x, is well known for using nonprofessional models and never retouching photographs.
Mary Going, owner of Saint Harridan, was inspired due to her own challenging experience. When she went shopping for a suit to wear at her wedding to partner Martha Rynberg, she was faced with poor customer service and ill-fitting clothing. She had her suit custom-made, and the confidence she felt inspired her to bring clothing to other lesbians and transgender men that would engender the same feeling.
Thuy Nguyen, the fourth designer honored, creates similarly edgy clothes. Her well-tailored men’s items are infused with feminine elements, a homage to her father – who was a sharp dresser – and her mother, who designed traditional ao dai Vietnamese dresses. Though she works out of her apartment, a side project of hers is helping parents get affordable prom suits for their gender-fluid parents.
This fashion show demonstrates the brilliant strides being made to redefine beauty, encouraging young girls to believe in themselves regardless of race, sexual orientation, or body size.