Shape Shifting: The Clothing Industry and What They Do to Us

A man and a woman go shopping.  Pick any store you could find in a mall.  They walk in, go their separate ways, look around for awhile and agree to meet back at the entrance.

As the guy:

I walk over to the shirts, the jeans, the shoes, all with sizes that are identical to every other store.  Number measurements in inches that I know to be mine, and though the cut may be different, I have a pretty good idea of what’s going to look good on me.  Ideally, I can remember my size waist, leg-length, and neck width in inch measurements (or I call my mom- what? I don’t do that).  This approach is what we’ve been told to know since we got our first fitting for whatever special occasion required a real suit for the first time (bar mitzvah).  Some guy with chalk poked and pinned me and told me what I should look for in clothes- and as traumatic an experience as that can be, it sets us up for shopping simply by matching numbers.

So I walk around and look at some shoes I can’t afford, a shirt I like but don’t need, and about twelve jackets that I wish I could wear everyday all the time because they make me look like a secret-agent-business-man-earthy-hipster-hippie-badass.  I don’t buy anything.  Walking through my entire section (disguised as half the store but it actually about 1/3 the items of the women’s section) takes about 20 minutes if I’m really looking.  So I head back to the entrance, and I wait… and wait… and wait.  Finally I start thinking “what could possibly be taking this long?”

As a woman:

Walking into a clothing store is a little bit like wonderland.  We have bright colors and shiny metal flowers and about a thousand varieties of the exact same color jeans- boot, mom, flare (I swear I’m not just naming things I saw in the opening sequence of that ’70s show).  We could spend 20 minutes just looking at one shelf, because the options are endless and mostly ambiguous.  We think we are a size 6, because that is what the majority of our closet is at the moment.  So we take 2 medium long skirts, 3 size 6 jeans, 2 medium and 2 large blouses and cart ourselves off to the dressing room where a trendy, smiley, make-up-ed woman is handing out numbers.  After ten minutes of waiting we finally get into the dimly lit bathroom stall that may or may not have a door (curtains do not count) and look into the fun house mirror and think, “is everyone seeing this many pores when they look at me?”

I take my clothes off and prepare to get into the first skirt, but instead I get distracted by how flat or fat my ass/chest/belly is that day and just stand there for a couple minutes looking at all the shit I think I should change.  Finally I put on the first skirt.  It fits but the pattern isn’t right, it’s too busy and it might call attention to that one barely-there blemish on my face because the flowers are the same color and actually about the same teeny tiny size (wait, do these flowers look like zits?  Are they supposed to look like that?  I’ll just grab another one).  I try to button up the blouse so I can see the whole affect but that fourth button on the bust is creating  the incredible hulk out of my chest so I try another, and another, and a size up.  The size up bags under my arms and the size down finally fits my waist but that bust is gonna bust so I surrender to the jeans.  The first pair doesn’t make it past my knees, the next, makes it allll the way up but won’t close around those hips, and though the high rise jeggings button up perfectly over my belly button, somehow they push everything else together into one horizontal pouch that makes me look I’ve grown a stomach separate and apart from my torso.

Having tried on everything, I think I’m going to crawl into bed for the rest of the day and trust that Netflix will distract me from my failed fashion endeavor.  Then I spot the dress that was left in the stall.  Size 6.  Meant to be.  I pull on the baby doll a-line and turn around.  I spin, I twirl (nobody puts baby in a corner damn it).  It’s perfect.  AAAAAnnndddd it’s $120 dollars more than I planned to spend.  So I leave to go meet the patient man than has been waiting for me for 47 minutes at the entrance of the store, empty handed.

This is not about gender.  This is about the subjectivity of fashion marketing and manipulation.  Brands define their market by creating clothing designed for their desired body type.  Don’t want to make clothes above a size 8? Cool, you can totally turn curves away from your cotton cuts and leave them to wonder why they aren’t shaped like an Olsen.  Welcome to Abercrombie where we make every shirt 2 inches too long and 2 inches too narrow for the average man’s height and width. We hope that only tall douchebags will shop here because everyone else will feel like they look terrible in our clothing (if they’re arrogant enough, it’s ok).

What seems to be obvious to me, but is somehow irrelevant to American fashion, is that clothing, like bodies, can be measured. *GASP* Try to hide your immediate shock and awe- anyone can have a measuring tape wrapped around them a couple times to solve the mysteries of the misshapen fashion world, but because brands get to pick their prey, we all get shafted when it comes to clothes.

For example, men’s clothing and those who like to wear it think that they have half the store to themselves, but the reality is that there are large sections of the same pieces in many different measurements, and not much variety.  Styles and shapes change from store to store, but most men’s jeans don’t come with a shapely description of where they’re gonna hug what.  Men get about a third of the variety of women, and the amount of exclusively in men’s stores is less than half of women’s clothing boutiques.  It’s unfair.  Want to know why all the guys in your high school looked the same?  Because your mall or town or shopping center had about  7 pairs of jeans for them to chose from.  Maybe guys would express themselves more if the way we marketed to them gave them that option.  American fashion seems to assume stereotypes of band t-shirts, generic prints, or button downs and everything in between is some variety of vintage looking fades, sweaters, and jackets.  I am not a huge Kanye West fan, but this dude wears skirts from fashion runways on stage.  He wore one on SNL- remember that?  Not that men should have to wear skirts, but seriously it’s been hundreds of years of laced shoes, long legged slacks, and button down shirts.  You think that that’s all every man wants to wear?  Maybe we should make variety a little more accessible and little less of a privilege, so at least there can be a choice involved in dressing to reflect oneself.  I think the box we’ve drawn for men’s fashion is too small for the variety of people who wear it, and that needs to change.

As for women’s clothing, the list of complaints is fairly simple: no measurements.  Do you know how different a size 6 is in Express as opposed to Forever 21?  You can’t get a sizing chart in the store unless you harass an employee long enough to pull it out of the back room desk drawer (seriously, I’ve watched it happen).  They give you the measurements of the items in inches.  IN INCHES. Why can’t I have the measurements in the damn store before I try it on?  Why isn’t it posted on the window before I walk in and feel terrible that my ass is too big for this specific version of cookie-cutter beauty?  Stores want everyone to think they can shop there- broader audience bigger profit right?  Let that girl sort through the racks for 30 minutes to find a t-shirt so she can stand in line with her friends and your indie covers of Christmas songs.  It is painful to look for a pair of jeans blind (and listen to those covers- seriously corporate, do you want people to leave faster?).  It’s like being Goldie Locks in the bears’ house except there are hundreds of bowls of porridge and all of them are way too hot or grossly cold and one in that hundred is just right, but by the time you get there your tongue is so burned you aren’t even hungry anymore, you just think your tongue is fat. #STAHP

In the EU, most women’s clothes are sold with waist sizes, like men’s clothing (most of the time).  It is actually harder to find a piece of clothing without a measurement than with one.  When I figured this out I was shocked and super pissed that American fashion can be so subjective and downright cruel.  Imagine trying on 3 pairs of jeans in a row and knowing that you will be fitting into all of them beforehand. That’s not a miracle, that’s measuring.  What a remarkably simple solution!  So why don’t we do it?

In America we actually have stores that sell completely different measurements with the same “size”.  In other words, women’s sizes are entirely subjective to whatever the company wants to say women should look like.  They decide how tall the women will be that they market to, how curvy, how busty.  It’s not the people who are having trouble fitting into that size six if the size six is actually two whole inches smaller than their favorite pair of jeans.  It doesn’t make anyone feel good, and for me, it discourages me from going to those stores, especially when the online clothing market is growing.

Let me be clear; it’s not you that needs to lose 10 pounds for a dress or pair of jeans because clothes are so much more flexible, adjustable, and expendable than bodies. Who is to say that your favorite brand has always had the same measurements?  Maybe that size 8 you have on is the size 6 of a year ago- there is no regulation of sizing, so maybe don’t get so hung up on the numbers.  Get your numbers and stop guessing.  It’s frustration that is entirely optional- so I’m opting out.

If you, like me, are looking to be the ultimate over-achiever in your shopping habits, I’m going to spare you some pain here.  Every store has a size guide on their website.  So before you go shopping, take out the tape measure and do some research, because it’s not about squeezing yourself into someone else’s idea of beauty, it’s about making yourself look and feel beautiful- ya gotta feel fly to be fly!  It is totally possible almost anywhere if you stop looking at the numbers and start going by the measurements.  Here are some links to stores’ sizing charts- just look at the inches!