I’m not your average fashion person. I’m somewhere between 6-foot-3 and 6-foot-4, but I weigh about 220 lbs. I’m not skinny, but it isn’t an issue for me anymore. I used to be one of those people who cared a lot about my weight, because I used to check in at almost 300 pounds and was mocked mercilessly, but I’ve come to learn that as long as I’m healthy, it doesn’t matter if I have a gut. If I feel good about myself, I don’t care if someone doesn’t find me attractive. What I do care about is the prevailing attitude toward “plus-size,” which, in Toronto, sucks. The next time I hear or see someone laughing at a plus-size model on a Toronto runway, I’m going to get up and walk that person out of the room. If you can’t behave, you’re going home.
I brought my friend Chris Barless to Fashion Week, and the Allistyle show was his first runway ever. Barless was excited, and yet, not one person outside of me and the Globe’s Tiyana Grulovic was excited for him. “You brought him to this as his first fashion show?” was the general consensus from people we spoke to. Yes, this. And why not this? No, the clothes weren’t couture, but the show was special. It was a platform for plus-size fashion in Canada, and it was an outlet for the designer Pam Shainhouse. Shainhouse started the company in 2006 because her daughter Alli was suffering from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma that made her weight fluctuate. Alli has since passed away, and her legacy lives on at Toronto Fashion Week. Except, for some of the front row at this packed show, it was a joke. One gentleman spent the entire show laughing and hiding his face from the photo pit with his line sheet, while others exchanged barbs privately and cackled audibly. Even four different people were overheard talking about how poorly the women walked because they were bigger women on high heels. Jesus.
Are we so unwilling to accept plus-size fashion shows because it is a reminder of who we could become? And if we do gain weight, like Alli did, does that make us bad people? Is it not better to have people like Pam Shainhouse attempting to make nice clothing for women who don’t fit the average mall or boutique sizes? Shainhouse and these models are people we should be encouraging. Encouraging an industry that supports bigger sizes isn’t encouraging people to become morbidly obese. This isn’t a slippery slope.
Allistyle’s saving grace, besides its beautiful models, was having Dr. Ben Barry as a guest. Of the front row fixtures, none was more enthusiastic than Barry, who has pioneered the “real model” movement in Canada, advocating for diversity in fashion. He sat dancing along with the runway soundtrack, giving a “you go girl” look of approval as each new model joined the runway. It was where I looked when I was tired at scowling at the gentleman hiding his face.
It brought to mind this idea of “decorum” at runway shows: feet crossed or flat, sunglasses on or off (off, definitely off), head left-to-right-to-left, cell phone up-and down. Why is this so militantly followed at all other shows, but when a woman who is a size 12 is sent down the runway, all bets are off? Genuine moments like Barry’s are welcome, but for the kids of fashion week? Stay home. You’re not welcome anymore.
Kevin Naulls is a Toronto-based writer and former editor of The Goods and The Hype at Torontolife.com. Follow him on Twitter @kevinjn.