Body types in fashion are the subjects of some of the most popular controversies in the field. While most of the attention is invariably directed at the "skinny model debate," the other side of the coin also arouses argument. Just as skinny models' natural physiques are debated against their diets and habits, plus-sized models are scrutinized as possible dangerous proponents of a gluttonous and slothful lifestyle, and alternatively championed as underdogs in a superficially obsessed society who are nonetheless healthy and as deserving of the empowering forces of tailoring as the next person.
We're a long way off from hearing the last of it in either case; both extremes are exalted and derided to an unreasonable extent. In the meantime, the fact remains that regardless of the hows and whys, there is a diverse population of bodies in our culture that need to be clothed, and for a woman on the upper end of that scale, the options become decidedly narrow.
Kenneth Doswell is the owner of Betty Jean Couture, a local made-to-measure operation for women of all sizes, but which specializes in the range of 14W-3X. The road to that end was somewhat circuitous: As a kid, Doswell and his brother helped out their father, who owned a cleaning service whose clients in Pasadena, CA, were mainly women's clothing stores. This early exposure planted the seed for Doswell, along with his brother and father, to launch into the apparel business. After relocating to Portland from Los Angeles, where they had concentrated on the wholesale market, they shifted their focus to the local market and made-to-measure clients.
Doswell describes the typical Betty Jean client as 35 years old or more, at an average size of 16. She can choose from off-the-rack clothing (average price point $65), or custom work (Doswell quotes $295-300 for a jacket and pants). She can also come to them with nothing more than an idea, and Doswell and his team will work with her, taking into consideration not only her preferences but also her lifestyle, to create something suitable and unique.
When asked why his company chooses to focus on plus sizes, Doswell says, "I believe fashion will experience a renaissance, where it better reflects women of all sizes and races. Nothing speaks louder than a size-18 woman on the catwalk dressed in a bright orange silk chiffon evening gown as the crowd goes wild." (Betty Jean launches their new urban and spring lines Sat May 24, 5:30 pm, 3537 NE Williams, call 284-6711 for reservations, $10)