Will we ever fit in?
How "vanity sizing" screwed us all.
The clothes we wear are a reflection of who we are. It is a fundamental component of what we choose to say about ourselves. Whether you classify yourself as a fashion-forward and designer-driven fashionista or a carefree bum one notch away from rocking socks and sandals, you’re emitting an assortment of statements. And whatever statement you choose to portray, one thing is certain amongst us all - we all struggle with the task of dressing ourselves.
In large part, these struggles exist because clothes simply do not fit us. And they don't fit us because they're designed with a ludicrious expectation of how bodies ought to be, not how they actually are. We've all faced the frustration of clothes not conforming to our bodies - perhaps the top line drops too low or maybe the sleeves are just too tight. We're a size X in this brand but a size Y in that brand and sometimes, we're a size Z in both.
For an industry as colossal as it is, the global fashion economy still can’t figure it out. But, what if instead, clothes were made to fit our bodies?
Historically, that was the practice. There was no “size 6” or “size medium” and answering to “what’s your size?” was never as convoluted as it is today. Sizes didn’t exist in the byone days of "slow fashion" and materialism wasn't the raving phenomenon it is today. In the days where quality trumped quantity, consumerism was considered a privileged luxury and clothes were made to measure. If women were wealthy, they had their clothes made. If they were poor, they made their own clothes. And the confounding result, the clothes enhanced the body in a flawless fashion. When clothes are created to fit the body, somehow you don’t face the problem of not looking good. That’s because there’s a world of choices for you - if you want to show off your arms or emphasize your bust, the ability to highlight your body’s greatest features invokes a level of confidence no label could fathom to obtain.
Fit is not the same as size and somehow, we’ve coined these words synonymous, constantly thinking that size X should somehow fit body Y. It’s our thinking that’s been the cause of quixotic sizing system. Since we were young, women were taught that our bodies have to conform to the clothes and if we can’t find something to fit, it’s our fault our bodies weren’t made correctly. As a result, we've been encouraged to change our bodies.
But maybe, changing our bodies isn’t the efficient, nor ethical approach. Perhaps, we need to change the clothes instead.
The rise of “vanity sizing” has left us in a world of complete confusion. As Americans got larger, seeing their true size on a label wasn’t appealing anymore. It was as if labeling ourselves as some numerical value had any direct representation in who we are. Clothing brands, noticing the psychological effects of body image on consumers, began shifting their metrics towards a system that made shoppers feel skinnier than they actually were. The shift has languished so far that a size 12 in 1958 is now a size 6. Having capitalized on consumers’ vainness, designers were forced to create new labels to balance an unbalanced spectrum.
Who’s to blame?
Pointing the fingers to the source of a problem is never the best approach in finding a solution but sometimes you have to ask the question to source the root. Studies have shown that shoppers prefer purchasing clothing with a lower label size and for obvious reasons - it boosts confidence and makes us feel better about ourselves in an already heavily image-focused society. As the average weight of the American woman rose from 140 lb in 1960 to 168.5lb in 2014, designers responded by tweaking their metrics to feed our psychological vain.
But in the process of doing so, each designer decided how far and to what extent the adjustment is applied, often competing with other brands to “outsize” the other. The insanity behind it has even made clothing brands confusing from itself. Within one brand, and more often than not, with the same product, two of the same sizes renders a completely different fit.
In 1958, the National Institute of Standards and Technology created a system that would set for a government-backed, research-based universal sizing. The basis of this standard labeling was derived off of 59 distinct measurements of 15,000 women - all of whom most definitely did not represent the average American woman. A few decades later, the system was ditched. The same reason it didn’t work then is the exact same reason it won’t work today: there is no “standard” US body type. Look around you, we’re all different shapes and sizes. That’s why, historically, clothes were made to measure to fit the body. Now, the body has to fit the clothes.
So whether it’s the consumer's psychological state, the rapacious fashion industry, or the inefficiencies of the government that’s given rise to this $62.4 billion fit problem isn’t so much the issue at hand.
The issue is lack of awareness.
The awareness and understanding that no sizing system will work. Ever. The sheer fact that sizing is inconsistent within one brand, let alone across all brands, is indicative of it’s myopia. Being in the business of solving this “fit problem”, I’ve spoken to what feels like a myriad number of clothing brands and fashion designers. When asked how they determine their sizing structure, their answer is everything short of coherent. Using a system “of...well...a mixture of things” in their words, I can’t help but sit in a disconcerted dismay.
As a result of such an inaccurate system, consumers are subjected to extreme frustration on top of a compelled deflation of their confidence. This “insanity sizing” has rendered it a challenge for shoppers everywhere. Taking the difficulties of online shopping aside for a moment, this “fit” conundrum we all can’t seem to navigate through is very real in the physical world. There have been many articles and social media posts highlighting the arbitrary sizing of the fashion industry. It’s a bold statement to say that everybody has or has had some form of body-image or self-image issues, but I’m a pretty bold person so I’ll say it:
“We all care about how we’re perceived”.
I know there are many that would confidently say they feel comfortable in their skin and embrace their body. Which, although admirable at best, is a complete lie forever at odds. I guarantee you, it was only through psychological breakthroughs that brought such individuals to a self awareness of inclusion. I also, can confidently say, it repulsively creeps back. It’s human nature. We live in a society where we “judge” or make assumptions within 7 seconds of interaction. It’s not necessarily bad, we’re just visual people.
But even with a morally sound view of body-image, clothing brands infused a belief system lacking the reality that Americans are larger than they actually think. Considering the “plus-size” apparel market hit $20.4 billion in 2016, an increase in previous years (source: NPD Group), clothing brands are not only dismissing a massive market potential, they’re excluding the majority of the people that make up the consumer industry. The majority of American women are “plus-size” or “curvy”, wearing a size 14 or above.
How is it, that an industry that has generated massive amounts of profit, is completely naive at some of it’s core incompetencies (alert market disruptors). Not only is it a form of discrimination to exclude such a vast majority of American women, it’s a testament to such an inefficient system.
Now try shopping online.
Forget about it. If finding clothes that fit your body is a challenge in the physical world, it’s an unattainable feat in the digital world. And until our society can shift its cultural values, we’ll continue to live deceptively in vain. And until we refuse to accept the norm, the fashion industry will continue to outlast its victory in this twisted reality of labeling.
We communicate a lot through what we wear. It's time we communicate the need to ditch this BS system.
The dreamer behind the vision, the voice behind the cause, the misfit behind the mission.
Also posted on Medium