DYSFUNCTIONAL BODY IMAGE/
The cognitive side of Risa
To state the obvious, modern fashion does not adhere to honest measurements. The debate around fit and sizing is an extremely emotional one for many reasons. Contemporary designers have denied for far too long the detrimental impact that is caused when they disregard the production of adequate measurements to appeal to a larger variety of customers. Today more than ever there is a rise in a the amount of customers who are rejecting labels of any kinds from sexual orientation, gender and sizing. This is a cultural response to a lingering period of men and women (but mostly women) to be far too closely scrutinized for what they wear.
A Brief History on Sizing
Throughout human history wealth played a large and shaping role with many cultural phenomenons. Thus, it is not surprising that with sizing, it was only if women had wealth that they could have their clothes made, otherwise they would have made their own. However, in either situation, women were wearing clothes that were meant to fit their body shape and size perfectly. However, when the economics and overall wealth started to shift during the Great Depression no one could even afford food, so the textile industry was completely put on pause. All the while, industrial techniques were developing which immediately hindered the business of textile companies as factories and machines could mass produce for the first time and for cheaper than anything else. This innovation alongside with the rise of advertising and mail order catalogs after the second world war foreshadowed a huge consumer revolution. This revolution did not solely occur in the US, the whole world ceased to produce clothing which was 99% either tailored, custom or made artisanally.
In the early 1940s, Made to measure was out. Off the rack was in. And sizes arrived.
In the early 1940s, a new company called works projects administration commissioned a study whose goal was to study the female body with hopes the results would lead to the creation of a standard labeling system. They should have considered it more like an attempt, and a violation of privacy than a success. Until that study, sizes were solely based on individual bust measurements. There was a reason for this intimacy within sizing; when researchers (Ruth O’Brien and William Shelton) asked about 15,000 different women if they could take 59 distinct measurements everything from shoulder to width to thigh girth, the majority did not want to share their measurements and especially not to shopping clerks. From the beginning, women saw the invasiveness and danger of associating numbers to their bodies as well as the true nature behind the researcher’s motivest; monetary and exploitative. Before this phenomenon even exploded, it already showed signs of having harmful effects on psychological well being. Instead of acting upon this discovery, they circumscribed everything that prevented the business from flourishing so they decided to create an arbitrary metric like shoe size instead of “anthropometric measurements”.
Today, we hear as often “what’s your size” as “where are you from”. However, it is a much more emotionally loaded question, even though everyone participating in these conversations seem to always pretend it is the most volatile, insignificant question because if we dared to show any sign of honest vulnerability we would seem shallow. Even though we all know, we all think the same shallow thoughts and share the same shallow insecurities, if we let them be more than repressing them and insulting them then maybe we could finally take a step towards resolving this. This question has become impossible to answer recently. Is there truly a rise in vanity sizing (also called size inflation, it is the phenomenon of ready-to-wear clothing sizes gradually becoming bigger)? If we focus on the United States, a part of the population has grown physically larger and brands have responded to this by shifting their metrics in a way that will make the customers feel skinner; what used to be a women’s size 12 is now a 6. Nonetheless, a size 6 jean can have a waistband that varies up to 6 inches. Additionally, 67% of American women wear a size 14 or above, and most stores still don’t carry these numbers. Some have now dubbed this term or trend as “Insanity sizing,” not only are customers increasingly frustrated as it has been estimated that 40% of what they buy they return due to sizing issues. The online fashion industry has become a source of epic wastefulness and with a global market value of $759.5 billion in 2021, apparel, accessories, and footwear are the number one ecommerce sector in the world. Over the next five years, online fashion's 7.18% compounded annual growth rate will put the industry at +$1.0 trillion.
WHY ARE WE NOT SEEING MORE BRANDS EXPAND INTO PLUS SIZES EVEN THROUGH IT IS PROFITABLE?
Not only is this a mental health urgency, but it is also a huge economical opportunity
Plus-size clothing represents 10% of retail sales and for over 4 years (more or less) it has outpaced its straight-sized counterparts, with the Gen-Z generation driving the third of all sales
Extending sizes is a whole process of course. It requires incurring extra expenses such as hiring another fir model, creating more patterns and using more fabrics; but the luxury brands have this money.
Why is it that important for luxury brands to change their sizes? Because they’re the trendsetters of the industry, if they change everyone will follow their lead.
Old fashioned snobbery explains this « being overweight is not healthy, so it doesn’t matter how much of the population is fat; it’s not a healthy image to be putting out there » this is a quote that we are repeatedly seeing in all the articles regarding this issue.
It's time for plus-size inclusion to become a true movement at the luxury fashion level. If designers and brands could offer larger size ranges, bigger sample sizes could be made available for editorial shoots with plus-size models or celebrities and runways could become more representative; if retailers would stock those sizes, they'd be available for women attending the shows to borrow or buy. Most importantly, the joy of fashion would become available to a wider swath of women. Representation matters.