Kirstie Clements: The continuing, demoralising search for a beautiful dress that fits

The average Australian woman is a size 14-16, so why is it so hard to find a designer dress that fits?

The average Australian woman is a size 14-16, so why is it so hard to find a designer dress that fits? Photo: Getty

In my column a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned I was helping a friend look for a spectacular dress to wear to an upcoming fancy wedding in Melbourne.

It has become quite the saga and it is very telling. This is part two of the story.

My friend is tall, over 182cm in bare feet, glamourous, in her mid-sixties, and curvy. An Australian size 16.

But that is not a normal size when you are shopping for high-end designer clothes, my friends.


Australian women should not have to crunch the numbers to figure out if they can afford a flattering dress. Photo: Andrew Gn

She was searching, naturally enough, for styles, that would flatter her figure, not cling or expose too much flesh, so by attrition (too low, too short, sleeveless, belted) we ended up in the caftan area, which wasn’t our first choice.

We then lucked upon a pretty floral silk wrap dress, with frothy sleeves and hem which we thought would be flattering and quite youthful. She ordered a size 16, thinking that would absolutely fit, even be a bit big, so she could tie it loosely, sort of casually elegant.

When it arrived, it wouldn’t even close at the front. She called the designer’s head office in London to ask if there were other styles or sizes available. She said the young woman who answered the phone was lovely, but completely dumbfounded.

“She’d couldn’t even comprehend someone having my waist size,” my friend said drily.

In an open letter this week, Australian designer Leina Broughton addressed the dreaded, ongoing size issue. (Leina is one half of fashion label Leina & Fleur.)

Melbourne Fashion Week might be breaking the mould with the unique location of its catwalk events, but the size offering is disappointing,” her letter read.

“Running through the list of brands being represented, there is one thing missing in the luxury clothing category – almost anything which would fit an average-size Australian woman. Of the 70 odd labels listed, only 21 offer over a size 14 and just 8 cater to a size 16.

“One company even has a separate section for size 18 to 22, not to be included with their core offering. I can only hope they don’t make segregation in store.”


Hallelujah! A fantastic frock at last! Photo: Getty

In her letter, Broughton notes that a survey of more than 3000 Australian women has found 66 per cent wear size 14-24 and that the average Australian woman is a size 14-16.

“It shows how tone deaf they are to what standard sizing is. Does this mean that luxury for a woman over size 14 may only include accessories?”

My friend and I were in the midst of this very dilemma. She has the money to spend. Last time she looked she wasn’t a wildebeest. She just wants a beautiful dress that fits.

We continued scouring the size-zero internet until she found a truly gorgeous dress by Paris-based designer Andrew Gn. He is a superb craftsman: the dress was in a black and gold chinoiserie silk print, with a high collar, bell sleeves edged in feathers, and topaz encrusted. It was a work of art. It was certainly not cheap.

We lay down on the floor and did the sums and decided if she wore it to every black-tie event for the next 15 years, she could have it.

It really shouldn’t be this hard.

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