It’s such a logical idea to encourage a woman to buy clothes by displaying them on someone who actually looks like her, but as we know in the fashion industry this is as foreign a concept as actually using a woman of color for a magazine cover as though somehow white women couldn’t possibly be the only ones interested in high fashion.

As it turns out, the case for using “real women” to sell clothes to consumers isn’t just backed by popular opinion or a sentiment of wanting to see someone like yourself in an ad campaign, research shows that shoppers are more likely to buy clothing when they see it on someone who actually resembles them—be that in body shape, skin color, or age.

Modeling agency founder and academic Ben Barry recently tested this novel “real woman” idea using eight ads for the same Diane Von Furstenberg dress. The ads were identical in concept and art direction, but featured models of different ages, body size, and race. Barry randomly selected two of the ads, showed them to women, and simply asked which ad made them want to buy the dress, and here’s what he found:

  • When the model shown was the woman’s size, their intent to buy increased 200%. In the subgroup of respondents over size 6, that intent increased 300%.

  • Black women were 1.5 times more likely to purchase a product advertised by a black model.

  • Women increased their purchase intentions by more 175% when they saw models who reflected their age.

When you look at these results from 2,500 women across the U.S. and Canada, you’d think the fashion industry would be having an aha moment, but instead we’ll likely be left with what we’ve always been given–special features. Plus-size issues, age issues, black issues—all those special editions we get excited over at the time but don’t really want because we’d prefer to just be incorporated as part of the norm. Responses from the women surveyed expressed that same feeling, while also pointing out that we no longer want to be sold fashion based on our insecurities, which is the tried ad true approach that currently stands.

If we were talking about cellulite or wrinkle cream, okay, show me how to get rid of it. But trying to push a dress with a woman 20 years younger and 20 pounds lighter than the average American doesn’t get retailers far. You can’t step back in time, although some women like to with the way they dress, and by the time you’d lose the 20 pounds to fit in the dress you want it would be out of season. So again we have to keep asking why is it designers are more inclined to sell fantasies than fashionable clothes consumers can and will actually buy?

Maybe they’re the ones with the hangups about age and size and skin color and they refuse to see, not the direction America is going in, but where we already are. In these thrifty times, I’d think clothing designers, retailers, and advertisers would be willing to give anything a try to get more sales, but all they keep doing is tweaking the fantasy rather than selling us the reality that we can still look good at 50, with 50 more pounds on our bodies than we need, and with a skin tone that isn’t always highly regarded in society. I’d think the backlash alone every time they refuse to recognize the full spectrum of women would be enough to spark a change in approach, but perhaps designers are content with dwindling profit margins. Those narrowly defined beauty boats may be floating now but eventually they will sink as consumers begin to step up more and more and demand proper representation for their retail dollars.

Why do you think designers won’t cater to consumers with the type of models they use?

  • http://www.andreasamuelsmakeup.com Andrea C. Samuels

    The key word in “designers’ is ‘Design”, modeling is all about the design and the construction of the garment, it is usually not about the model. Designers want you to look at the clothing and not get distracted by the curves on the model. A curvy model will change the pattern, fit, and look of what the designer wants it to look like, so, they tend to choose models shaped like sticks so they literally look like a hanger modeling the garments. There are some designers that WANT the curves of the model to be the main feature on the garments, so they create designs catered to that body type. There are a LOT of different designers that cater to different clientele, so it depends on what type of designer you are referring to.

    • Jane

      This is absolutely true, and I get that for runway and couture, but I don’t get it for commercial modeling. If I’m going to go on Lane Bryant’s website and buy a dress, I don’t want to know what it’s going to look like on a size 12, I want to know what it’s going to look like on a woman with a similar size and body build to my own.

    • Delcia

      you hit the nail on the head. Using these super small models is really just a continued tradition. Prior to the use of mannequins in retail merchandising, clothing was sold based solely on its hanger appeal. If a designer wanted to sell their garments, they had to show buyers how much hanger appeal their garments had, so models needed to mimick walking hangers. Its pretty needless today, but my experience is that many designers continue the tradition, simply because they never knew why they were doing it to begin with.

  • alisha

    Where can I find that animal print dress at? That is hawt!!!

  • September’s Muse

    I was always told that the designers wanted you to pay more attention to the garment then the model as far as the runway was concerned. As far as commercial goes such as magazines…it would be nice to see how a replica of MY booty in and outfit. I need to know how much the bottom will rise.

  • el

    b/c they think they should showcase the dress on a model the customers WOULD LIKE to look like?…I dunno…it never really made sense to me

  • Bronze

    I buy into the fantasy designers are selling. I don’t view myself as average so why would I want to buy a garment modeled on an average looking person. Beauty is exciting. Average looking folks to not excite me. And I am not alone.

    • Jane

      Weren’t you just on that article about the woman with the butt implants talking about how you don’t understand why people torture themselves to be beautiful?

    • Bronze

      Yes. . I buy into the beatuy designers in fashion ads and magazines create. Models like Iman, Naomi and Evangelista, Joane and Alec Wek. Those images stimulate me and inspire me. To my knowledge…..those women are not torturing themselves to be beautiful…they just are. The lady injecting her but with stupid stuff….well….she is following a very stupid and dangerous trend created by stupid ignorant rappers who for the most part hate black women. So the ideal she was trying to attain is completely opposite of what I’m attracted to.

  • omfg

    i don’t want to look at overweight women. imo, they are not attractive. i too want to see beauty. if they want to sell to lane bryant or a plus size consumer, then sure use those women. but i’m size four and prefer to see smaller women.

    also, what exactly does “intent” to buy mean anyway?

    • saddown

      You need to have a seat. For you to declare that overweight women are not attractive is incredibly offensive. Just because you’re a size 4 doesn’t mean you’re perfect honey. You could be a size four and 4 feet tall. In that case, YOU would be overweight too.

      And the author is not advocating that designers JUST use overweight models for straight sized clothes. They’re advocating that if a piece comes in a particular size, that models in that size be shown. C’mon folks…

  • http://www.dailyvenusdiva.com Stephanie Penn

    I believe the leopard print dress is sold out but here is the link to the designer: http://qristylfrazierdesigns.com/

  • Perspective

    Oh that’s easy.

    If this is about race:

    Because regardless of if they represent you or not, you still go out and buy their cloths.

    If this is about weight:

    Being big has never been appealing and look good assumes that you are the average weight.

  • tameeka m

    I agree with the real model for clothing. Simply because it would help the consumer truly envision themselves in the outfit.

    As a tall busty woman, with wonderful hips and thighs. I just can’t relate to fashion spreads with rail thin chicks modeling the clothes. I tend to be more likely to purchase a designer piece, if I see it on a celebrity/or model with some curves. (I.e. salma hayek, Kim kardashian, thicker version of Tyra banks, serena Williams)

  • http://chicsavant.com Candice W

    Chick’s hair on the left is BANGIN’! *scrolls back up to actually read the article*

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