Thursday, March 27, 2008

Clothing Fit: A Rant

Every time the topic of clothing comes up in the fatosphere, there is a response that's beginning (IMO) to fall into a pattern:

1. No one can find affordable clothes that fit short people
2. No one can find affordable clothes that fit short fat people
3. No one can find affordable clothes that fit tall people
4. No one can find affordable clothes that fit tall fat people
5. No one can find affordable clothes that fit long-waisted people
6. No one can find affordable clothes that fit short-waisted people
7. No one can find affordable clothes that fit pear-shaped people
8. No one can find affordable clothes that fit apple-shaped people
9. No one can find affordable clothes that fit women with large breasts
10. No one can find affordable clothes that fit women with small breasts

In every case, there's a rant about the designer's assumptions (i.e. that all designers assume fat women are amazons/large-breasted/short legged/big-thighed/small-thighed/etc.

Basically, I'm starting to think that affordable clothing is made to fit mannequins. 5'6" mannequins with socially acceptable proportions. In other words, the reason why it's cheap is because it's mass produced for a median range of height/weight/proportion. If you're outside of that height/weight/proportion, you'll have trouble finding stuff that fits unless you're handy with a needle. It isn't a conspiracy against short/tall/apple/pear/long-legged/small breasted people; anyone outside that median, in any direction, is going to have trouble finding stuff that fits.

Personally? I'm 6'2". I can tell you that affordable clothes are NOT made for "Amazons" (a term I personally hate. Just because I'm tall doesn't mean I want to chop off a breast and go frothing-at-the-mouth into war). Skirts designed for ankle-length hit me at a very unflattering mid-calf. Skirts designed to hit at the knee are, on me, inappropriate for the office. I have a long torso (making the hunt for tunic-length shirts my raison d'etre in shopping). I have a high waist and large belly that turns any empire-waisted top into a "8th month maternity" look (this season's dresses are a nightmare). I have a smaller butt and thighs that means any jeans that fit at the waist will be baggy everywhere else, and solid Viking-peasantry calves that mean I have to look for boot cut or flare jeans (which works, since I'm a hippie at heart). My longer arms mean that there is no such thing as long-sleeve shirts or jackets; they all hit behind the wrist, and so get shortened to 3/4 sleeves so that it at least looks deliberate.

I'm also definitely not rich. My definition of affordable clothing is no single piece over $20, and hunt the clearance racks for those great "under $10" finds. Given that, and that I do have reasonably good taste, I have two options; make with the needle and look for the stuff that's on clearance because of fixable issues (i.e. that awful neon shirt is a good cut and can be dyed darker; that fringe can be removed; that collar can be altered; that skirt can be sized down).

Yeah, that's work. But I'm not a clothes-hound and don't buy "trendy" stuff that won't be viable in a few years. I could probably afford (a piece at a time) to build a really kickass wardrobe from Igigi or something, but beyond the fact that empire waists are popular at the moment (grit teeth and wait it out) I have much better things to spend $100 on than a piece of clothing. I could landscape my front yard or finish my attic or tile my kitchen and bathroom for what they charge for a dress. For two outfits I could buy a close-contact saddle or a nice sheepskin saddle pad. That kickass wardrobe would buy me floor-to-ceiling bookcases for my increasingly enormous epidemic collection of books.

The point? Don't assume that anyone (taller, shorter, thinner, fatter, etc.) has an easier time finding clothing to fit their own style. I have one friend who's a size 10 with perfect classical proportions that looks really good in a lot of cuts and styles that I'd love to wear. Despite that, I still see her get frustrated over clothes outside her size range, or designed for women without hips, or that end up too baggy in the bustline. Everyone has trouble finding clothes that fit and look good on them, because everyone looks good in something different. Don't expect every brand to cater to you; the Old Navy stuff that you complain is cut too long is a blessing for those of us that need it and can't find it anywhere else. The Lane Bryant dress shirts that are way too short on me would look really sharp on a woman with a shorter waist. Until I can afford a private tailor, I'll have to learn to compromise.

And learn to not grit my teeth when someone complains how the "amazons" have it so easy in the fashion world.

I really do hate that term. Why not Valkyries? I'm Irish, not Brazilian. Or Leprechauns? ("and was that not the biggest joke of the Irish, for the leprechauns in their day were the tallest of the mound folk" -American Gods)


Anonymous said...

Great post! I find that so many people breathe a sigh of relief when they find out that people who have a body type totally unlike their own also have trouble finding clothes. I know when I'm in that fitting room and every pair of pants is too long or I can't find a cute shirt with sleeves that cover my upper arms, it can be hard to shut out that hissing voice in my head that tells me my body is unacceptable.

I'm planning on clothes shopping sometime soon...perhaps I will print this out and keep it in my purse to remind me!

The Rotund said...

Clothes, of any size, are made to fit a fit model. Fit models have very, very specific measurements.

So, yeah, off-the-rack clothes really AREN'T designed to fit just anyone. They are designed to fit WELL ENOUGH.

Millie said...

Great post! I used to get so annoyed all the time, imagining that mine was the only body in the world that didn't fit into clothing, and it's only just recently I've realised that it's not. I have a friend who's a model, and she has just as much trouble finding clothes at size really small as I do at size 16/18. Another of my friends, who is sort of in the middle size-wise, but a little on the short and a lot on the curvy side, complained about the pants in Korea all being the right length for her, but none of them fitting her butt because the clothing designers assumed she should have none.

Joy said...

TR is totally right.
I've been working as a fit model for almost 2 years now and the variation in fat bodies is something I talk about with designers constantly. I'm not sure what the answer is...
Basically, if you're not 5'8" and 48-41-51, things probably aren't going to fit perfectly.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this very timely post. I just went through the realization that a new season is approaching and I do not fit the beautiful clothes I bought for myself last spring/summer. I bought them thinking that surely they'll fit next year, i don't diet anymore and feel pretty stable weight-wise. Well, apparently I'm not. I find it hard to fit my shape, and hate spending hours online looking at plus clothing donned by non-plus models, or plus-sized models without the shape problems I have. It helps some to be reminded that most women face similar fit problems, and that clothes are really only designed to fit well enough. I still don't know what to do about accepting that my weight is not stable with the lifestyle I have right now. I certainly don't intend to go back to trying to lose weight, but my brain seems only able to think of that right now.

TanteTerri said...

You could opt for the word my friend K (who is also 6'+ and weighs in the 500+ range) uses - "Giantess". I way like that image more than amazon.

Tante Terri

B-17 said...

Heh, I know this pretty well-- I'm a size 14/16 with a 34H rack, and can't buy anything in stores (I fall into the crack between straight and plus sizes, so nobody carries anything that fits me), but my boyfriend wears 29x36 jeans. Yes. 29" waist, 36" inseam. Whenever I complain, he says, quite reasonably, that he doesn't want to hear it. They don't carry his size in the mall either.

Karen said...

Mass produced is, as you say, going for "good enough for the masses." If you're still buying clothes, it is obviously "good enough" for you to buy, so far as manufacturers are concerned. Sewing isn't really a skill that takes all that much to learn, so long as you're going for simple lines and straight seams. Honestly, I've never seen anyone anywhere who found they could walk into a store an have things that fitted just right without picking through.

Anonymous said...

Everyone has this problem.. I dont as much anymore, but I used to have no hips or waist...pants would just fall off me when i tried them on! It was terrible...
Though different styles are flattering on different figures... perhaps thats what they are trying.. but often they neglect some figures then.

Anonymous said...

I find it so difficult to be plus size and tall. I feel like everywhere I look that has pants in the size I need only caters to women who need a 30 to 32 inch inseam. Places that have pants at the length I need - 35 inch inseam at least - only go up to a size 18. I am at least two sizes over that. I feel stuck with -cheap fabric and teenage style OR lane bryant, where all the fat women uniforms come from. I hear what you are saying - that everyone has a hard time finding clothes for their bodies. And I agree. But there is a special kind of frustration that every time I look for tall clothes - nope, they aren't for me because I am fat. And when I look for fat clothes, nope, they aren;t for me because I am too damn tall. It feels really ostracizing. Which I know is true and accurate to my place on the height and weight bell curve. I am a size freak and I just wish that I had enough money to afford to have my clothes made for me. But I don't. So for me, it isn't about finding a flattering fit. It's about finding something that fits AT ALL. Period, somewhere in a ballpark.