Model Christine Victoria at The Dwarf Fashion Show’s debut in New York City.
Blocks away from the opening of New York Fashion Week at Lincoln Center on Thursday, February 12 was a far more couture event, The Dwarf Fashion Show. Organizers of the show, fashion services provider Creative Business House (CBH), say the show is the first in the nation of its kind.
“There is so much discrimination in the fashion and the modeling industry,” says The Dwarf Fashion Show Owner Myriam Chalek. “[Fashion] is not about the person who is wearing the garment; it’s about the garment. If you’re able to walk the runway and showcase the outfit, then you should be a model.”
There are approximately 30,000 people living with dwarfism in the United States, according to the Little People of America, a nonprofit which advocates and raises awareness on behalf of people with dwarfism. While shows like Lifetime’s Little Women series and TLC’s Little People, Big World have made strides for increasing awareness surrounding dwarfs, the retail world is shy to embrace and outfit the thousands of dwarfs and people of small stature alike.
Chalek debuted the first Dwarf Fashion show in Paris last September, and is now opening up shows in New York City and London. She says she was inspired to start the show after witnessing a dwarf woman struggling to find appropriate clothes. She says the woman was in a children’s section and was getting very frustrated with not being able to find anything that pleased her.
“She found this sequin thing she really liked,” Chalek says, “but it had a cartoon on it. It was fitting her, it was fitting her body, but it wasn’t fitting her as an adult.”
Dwarfs and people of small stature have an especially difficult time finding appropriate clothes and shoes, and oftentimes are faced with the decision to either create outfits out of children’s clothing or to tailor drastically. For dwarfs, clothing alterations are a mandatory hassle and expense, notable for a population that struggles with limited opportunities in the working world, and are recognized (albeit controversially) under the Americans with Disabilities Act as disabled.
“The majority of people buy clothes off of the racks, which means that they have to be altered,” says Leah Smith, Director of Public Relations for the Little People of America. “So, let’s say the average pair of pants is $100, you easily spend another $100 to have them altered. So if you have $200 to buy pants, the average person could buy two pairs but we can only buy one.”
Smith says fashion for dwarfs is a new field, and that this kind of attention has never been seen before.
Wanda Murray of Brooklyn, New York, is a designer of dwarf clothing Garments of Integrity, and a little person herself. An avid follower of Little Women: LA and a spectator of The Dwarf Fashion Show in Paris, Murray says clothes, and particularly shoes, are extremely difficult to find for her stature.
She says one of her greatest struggles is “going in to a store and having to cut off half of the pants leg. You spend $60 for a pair of slacks and you’re cutting off half the fabric.”
The economic burden of having to tailor each piece of clothing is akin to adding up to 40 percent more to the cost of clothing, and perhaps more considering each piece and footwear. Shoes, as Murray notes, are even more difficult to find and more expensive to alter.
“Shoes are the hardest thing,” she says with a sigh. “You’re paying double the price for expensive shoes that are custom made smaller.”
But, she says that the options have been more plentiful in recent years, with kids’ shoes more closely mimicking adult shoes. “Before I had to order them online, and they were so expensive. So [today] I can save a few bucks.”
Sydney Pringle, owner of the Little Shoe Store on Clinton St. on the Lower East Side, recognized the need for small shoes after struggling to find shoes for herself as a size 4. Her styles were given a warm welcome by the models and interested parties alike at The Dwarf Fashion Show. After years of online sales and pop-up shops, Pringle opened the Little Shoe Store in 2012, carrying only a size five and below in women’s shoes. She sponsored the event, providing a slew of gorgeous pumps and booties—and certainly attracted the attention of the dwarf women.
“Most shoe stores start at a size 6, so I go up to a size 5,” Pringle says. “The average size now is a 7 ½ to 8, so there are just very few resources for anyone who wears under a size 5.” She says she is one of only a few other stores in the world which provide for such small feet.
“There are an estimated 7 million women in the U.S. who wear under a size 6. So it’s a pretty big number of women who don’t have a huge amount of resources,” she says. We at Glammonitor could not confirm the amount of women who wear under a size 6 shoe in the U.S.
Pringle says she hasn’t had a formal relationship with the dwarf population prior to the show, but did state that dwarfs have visited her storefront from all over the world.
Similarly to Pringle, Murray says she entered school to study fashion at the Fashion Institute of Technology in order to be able to cater better to little people, and people with specific needs for clothing.
“I wanted to be able to service people who were unrepresented in the fashion industry, in terms of being able to provide clothes that are proportionally fit,” she says. She says she wants so they can feel confident about themselves when they present themselves to the world.”
The issue of underrepresentation of minorities in the fashion and modeling industry is rife, and Chalek, the owner, also shares that understanding in regards to little people.
“When we do this [show],” she says, “maybe we will fulfill a need that show the world that little women do exist, and they have needs as well. When you’re a little person, your body proportions are different.”
Chalek says the reason behind The Dwarf Fashion Show is to expose to the world that dwarfs exist and that they too, have needs. In addition, she says she hopes to empower the women to be confident in their bodies.
The CBH states that it is “the only company that provides you with every services imaginable to be at the head of a successful fashion business,” and Chalek explains “we do business with people with different needs and we fulfill them.”