April 2, 2012 -- It could be the great weight divide. While supermodels in glossy magazines seem to be getting skinnier, "real" American women have gotten plumper and more curvy, which has launched a new and booming market for plus-size fashion.
In what many fashionistas called a bold move, Vogue featured the voluptuous singer Adele, showing her size-16 body, on the cover of its March issue. The cover's release came on the heels of legendary Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld's comments about Adele's weight. In February, Lagerfeld said the singer was "a little too fat" in an issue of Paris's free newspaper, Metro, for which he was guest editor.
The 23-year-old Adele shot back, telling People magazine that she is "very proud" to "represent the majority of women."
The average American woman is 5-foot-4, weighs 164 pounds and wears a size 14 to 16. Some buxom female celebrities, including Queen Latifiah and "Bridesmaids" star Melissa McCarthy, thumbed their noses at the uber-slim supermodel standard and launched their own plus-size clothing lines.
And retailers are starting to pay attention.
A new chain of stores called "Fashion to Figure" has opened. It's like the H&M or Forever 21 of plus-size fashion. It provides stylish and glamorous clothes for women sizes 12 to 26 at reasonable prices -- with dresses typically running $28 to $36. Its message: enough with the size 2.
CEO and founder Michael Kaplan was studying for his Harvard MBA when he said he noticed that the latest trend of so-called "fast fashion," when an expensive runway look is re-created cheaply, was bypassing the plus size market.
Kaplan's business is a family affair. His brother Nick toiled in retail for 20 years and his little sister Palley trained at Nordstorm. Not to mention that the Kaplans' great-grandmother was Lane Bryant, of the plus-size clothing empire that now includes nearly 850 stores and over $1 billion in annual revenue.
Almost 6 feet tall and nearly 200 pounds, Anna Kleinsorge is a plus-size model. She argues that having sexy clothing options doesn't enable someone to be obese -- quite the opposite.
"If I'm wearing sweat pants or a paper bag every day, I would grow to fill that paper bag -- whereas when I have something that looks awesome on me and makes me feel good, I'm out, I'm doing stuff, I'm with my friends and experiencing life," she said.
While some critics might say that the expanding plus-size fashion market is celebrating being overweight, Kaplan said they advocate people being healthy, but his company's mission is about offering a better life for those who are plus-size.
"We're not in the business of labeling people," Kaplan said. "We are trying to make people feel confident. Everybody needs great fashion. It's a mind set. And we're there for you, you know, no matter what size you are."