This post was written by Lindy Shopper.
One of the things I notice when I talk about clothing with other people is that people are quick to point out their “faults” – and by “faults” I mean differences in their body that tend to not conform to the modern clothing standards we encounter when we go to the mall to buy clothing. If we are all different, then how is that being translated into “fault?”
I could turn this into a rant about the media, fashion designers, body perception, the modern standard for beauty, etc. but I’m not going to waste my breath. I’m one of those crazy people who doesn’t watch TV anymore and, as I have slowly withdrawn myself from the clutches of the mall (not entirely, but significantly) and increasingly embraced vintage and custom clothing, I am less and less bothered by all of my personal clothing fit “faults” because they don’t exist anymore in my mind. I have almost eliminated the problem (underwear, you’re next) and I have, at the same time, changed my perception of my own body and learned to spend my resources on clothing that fits and is flattering, rather than trying to “make do” with something off the rack.
I’d like to share some thoughts on this topic, which is how I came to an understanding with my body about how, where, and why we buy clothing that makes us feel the best about ourselves:
ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL
That clothing is, sometimes, labeled “one size fits all” is absurd – to think that we are all just clones of each other running around wearing all the same size everything is the product of people pandering to the masses, to the people they think will buy the clothing, which is to say not the “average” size, but rather their ideal of the average size. This bothers me particularly with hats, something that should be indisputably a certain circumference so that it stays on your head.
Even where there are sizes, with modern sizing, there are no standard sizes – this is why you may wear an 8 in one store’s pants and a 12 in another store. My husband has the same issue, even though men’s sizing is supposedly based on a man’s actual measurements.
Within whatever arbitrary sizing scheme some manufacturer has procured, there is just no way to take into account all the variances in body proportions within the human population. Think about all the ways that you can measure your body – the circumference of your bust, waist, hip, thigh, upper arm, wrist, neck, head, and ribcage; the length of your arm (depending on sleeve length, to elbow, bracelet, wrist), leg (inseam, outseam, from waist over your bum to the floor, waist in front to floor), and foot (length and width at several points); and my personal favorite, the measurement that runs from the center/front of your waist, down and between your legs, running to the center of your back at your waist. And there are more. We are all so subtly and not-so-subtly different that the only way to really find clothing that fits is to have it made for you.
Every visit to the mall to buy clothing is a crapshoot – nothing is made for anyone except the fit models the clothing companies use to make their clothing, so unless you are within that sizing range or are wearing a sack (which is what a lot of modern clothing has defaulted to – loose shapes and copious use of elastic only previously seen in the “senior” clothing sections of department stores) it may not work out or fit you in just the right way. This is not your fault, this is beyond your control, and has nothing to do with any part of you being wrong in any conceivable way.
I find that it’s easier, in some ways, to buy vintage clothing – there aren’t racks of different sizes, there’s one size. If the measurements don’t fall within a few inches of mine, then it wasn’t meant to be and I move on.
ONE SHAPE DOES NOT FIT ALL
In high school, I remember reading articles in Seventeen magazine about dressing for your body shape. To a certain extent it was helpful, but it tended to focus on one body feature (big or small bust, big or small hips, height, etc.) What if I have 3 of the body features and the recommendations contradict each other? Into the trash it went, and then I felt like poop about myself.
It took a lot of trial and error, but I have come to the conclusion that no shape should be ruled out; however, there are certain shapes that are more flattering to your particular shape and you must go find them, you can’t rely on a magazine to do this for you. Suggestions about where to begin are nice, but you have to try on the pieces and, even when it looks like it might be a good fit for your shape on the rack, those size ratios could be working against you – is the waist too big/small, but it fits everywhere else? Is the garment supposed to fit that way? Can you have it tailored? These are all questions I ask myself when trying on clothing. If it’s not right or it doesn’t look like it can be altered, back it goes.
One shape that tends to be my arch nemesis in modern clothing is the pencil skirt. I can fit into 1950’s pencil skirts all day, but I have yet to try on a modern pencil skirt that didn’t look like a wiggle skirt on me, seriously inhibiting movement, even when going up in size. It should look like a pencil on my body, not on the rack…but I digress.
SPANDEX IS NO SUBSTITUTE FOR TAILORING
With the advent of stretch fabrics, you think we’d be able to find super comfy, flattering, form-fitting clothing even easier. It can be an illusion, unless the cut of the garment is just right for your body or it’s tailored well (which is rare with stretch fabrics). This does not often occur for me because my measurements ratio rarely conforms with the garment, leaving at least one portion of the garment too…stretched. So I must buy the larger size and have it tailored, even though there is “stretch.” I think of the stretchiness as a consideration for movement, not for fit. Clothing manufacturers use stretch fabric as a crutch and consistently serve up poorly made, ill-fitting garments.
This is where modern clothing really does us a disservice, with its surged seams. Many older garments have more fabric on the inside of the seams, so if you just needed an extra 1/2 inch to make that pencil skirt fit, you could get that from the fabric on the inside of the seam. We must now adhere to the “buy it bigger and tailor it to be smaller” mantra (bridesmaid dresses, anyone?), which is generally fine, but sometimes we might gain a little weight in our late 20’s and a 1/2 inch would be the difference between keeping that dress and a tearful goodbye…
IT’S THEM. Cost cutting, down to the last 1/2 inch of seam.
TAILOR YOUR CLOTHING
Or have it made for you. Or make it yourself. Regardless, there are ways to make a garment fit your body and it involves a needle and thread. If you really love a particular garment, but it’s just not fitting you right…maybe you stand in front of the mirror in the dressing room and pinch it in the back to see how it should ideally fit. You can translate that pinch into a permanent fit adjustment by taking it to a tailor. If I know a dress has to be tailored to fit, I will factor that cost into my cost assessment of whether or not to purchase a garment.
I have revived sad garments from the closet, things that just never quite looked right, by bringing them to a tailor. The best part is that it’s usually a simple fix. Then you have clothing that fits you, flatters you, and you have worked within the confines of the fashion dictators who have decreed the standard sizing – you have defeated the sizing by making it your own!
I’m going to close with an observation I made during the numerous clothing swaps we’ve had amongst the female dancers in the Raleigh-Durham area. After the shopping bags have been dumped out all over the furniture and the floor and we all begin to dig in and try on clothing, I noticed several things:
1) We are all very different – height, weight, measurement ratios, body types, etc.
2) Some garments that came from someone you thought you’d never be able to share clothing with, for whatever reason, actually fit you well
3) Some garments fit everyone (but didn’t look great on everyone)
4) Some garments weren’t flattering on anyone
Noticing these things and talking about them was reassuring, that we had all come to blows with our clothing at some point, all had garments we loved that were just never quite right, and this was our chance to let go, have a glass of wine, and share in an experience of renewal through shedding our old clothing and adopting something new. At the end of the swap we’d all walk out with a least a few items of clothing and the feeling that we were empowered by the experience – I left with free clothing from my sisters-in-dance and a feeling that we were all different in good ways, ways that weren’t dictated by the shape of our clothing.