When a man goes shopping for clothes, his options are often courteously accompanied with measurements accurate down to the inch. With this in mind, it’s not hard to see why it often appears to women that these brands are failing them; no matter the item, its size will be determined by an obsolete number with little or no reference to actual measurements.
What is perhaps most telling of the underlying issue with womenswear is that the size guides stores provide often offer different measurements for the same size, varying from shop to shop. This affects not only whether an item will fit a woman but also how it will fit her too. Women’s clothes sizing is based off of a universal but non-standardised model, so the frustration that it causes is understandable.
To gain more of an understanding of other women’s experiences with this issue, I decided to ask female university students about their encounters with clothes shopping. I was inundated with responses criticising everything from inconsistent sizing to downright ignorance of women’s body shape by high street fashion brands.
These women had mostly come to the conclusion that fashion brands simply didn’t want to know – and, bearing in mind that these young women are often the prime audience of high street fashion brands, this does not bode well.
This issue has even recently been highlighted by comedienne Amy Schumer, who passionately expressed her disapproval at being included in a list of women labelled as ‘plus-size’, arguing that “we don’t need these labels”, especially when they are being applied to women such as Amy who are no larger than the average woman.
Given that a recent ground-breaking study determined that the average American woman is a US size twenty – a UK size 16 – and the average UK woman is believed to be around the same, perhaps women of this size should be the models fashion brands design their clothing around.
However, perhaps we cannot blame the brands for every time a woman has had to leave a shop empty-handed. More often than not, high street brands especially are under pressure from all sides to produce clothing which adheres as closely as possible to the ‘average’ body shape, in order to sell the highest possible volume. At the same time, the brands are being pressured by high-end fashion houses to replicate designs created to complement the bodies of slim catwalk models whose tiny frames simply do not reflect the average woman’s figure, pushing high street brands into a tight corner.
So perhaps we should instead look to the high-end designers – those who are responsible for determining trends and leading the way for high street fashion – to recognise the importance of including styles for women of all shapes and sizes. Just such designers are finally coming into the limelight, perhaps most prominently Christian Siriano.
Having created pieces for the likes of Ghost Busters actress Leslie Jones and Michelle Obama, and having been commended by the New York Times for ‘catering to women regardless of age or size’, Siriano fully embraces women of all shapes and sizes.
When asked why, Siriano merely replies “I grew up with a mom who is a size 16, and a sister who is a size 0, so I never thought that wasn’t normal – I just assumed you had to dress everybody”, an undeniable logic which is having a huge impact on the fashion world.
Following in these footsteps, high street brands are already starting to market to a wider clientele; Levi’s had their Curve ID campaign while a lot of major high street brands now have their own tall, petite and plus-size lines specifically designed to cater to those who have trouble shopping for clothes.
The pressure is on for designers; they have finally been confronted with the fact that their thin models simply do not represent the women who are buying their clothes, and it seems they might finally be seeing the light.
Image: Daian Gan