Sunday, 18 February 2018

5 reasons why fast fashion (probably) won't fit you

How many times have you picked up a garment from a high-street shop (which wasn’t super stretchy) that fitted you perfectly? It’s a great feeling when it does, but most of the time that’s not what happens. We’re left contorting ourselves in the changing room mirror trying to find the garment’s best angle, wondering what we can wear it with to hide the bit we don’t like or planning to cinch it in with a statement belt. 

It’s not surprising that high street clothes aren’t a perfect fit, when patterns are initially developed for a fit model (who probably has a very different body shape to the majority of people), and then graded up and down to (imperfectly) fit a range of sizes. Our dissatisfaction with these imperfect clothes increases our rate of consumption as we discard all those outfits that never really worked in a fruitless search for that elusive perfect fit. 

Understanding why our clothes might not be ideally suited to our bodies is an important step towards having a more positive self image, and reducing our consumption of clothing that makes us feel unhappy. Here are five things I’ve come to understand about the fashion industry that have helped me change my habits.

There is no standard sizing:
For gender neutral garments like jeans, there are more straightforward sizing options to give shoppers a fighting chance of finding something that fits. Measurements for the waist and inside leg length, as well as a description of the expected fit (skinny, tapered leg etc) help to narrow down your options (although I’d argue that a hip measurement would be helpful too). For women’s clothing sizes - size 10, 12, 14 etc- there are no standard measurements, brands can decide for themselves what measurements they want to allocate to each size. This might be determined by a profile of their average customer, their age and lifestyle, with the concept of “vanity sizing” - giving a garment with larger measurements a smaller-sounding size to encourage customers to buy it - complicating matters further. 

Big brands are likely to use different fit models for different ranges, and send patterns and samples to different factories, increasing the likelihood of discrepancy in sizing. When I was checking labels to find out what my clothes were made from, and where they were made, for my Wardrobe Diary, I noticed that I had clothes in a range of sizes from certain brands, even though my body shape hasn’t noticeably changed for years. Of course, clothing is designed with a specific fit in mind, and there is nothing to stop customers buying a larger size for a looser fit, but it can add to a sense of confusion about sizing, especially if the clothes aren’t shown on a model to give an idea of the intended proportions. 

All bodies are unique:
This excellent interactive size chart, What Size Am I? is a real eye-opener if you always feel disappointed that high street clothes don’t fit quite right. Enter your bust, waist and hip measurements, and you can see how your body shape corresponds to the measurements used by different high street brands for each of their sizes. 

Of course, the body is three-dimensional, so even if your measurement corresponds to the measurement given by a brand on their sizing chart, that doesn’t necessarily guarantee a good fit. If your proportions are different to those of the fit model, that can cause fit issues. My 35 inch bust measurement could easily apply to someone with a larger rib cage and smaller breasts. It could encompassa range of bra sizes from an A to an E cup, which can make a huge difference to the fit of clothes.

When standard size patterns are “graded” (converted into a range of different sizes by increasing or decreasing the proportions of the original pattern, usually designed for a size 12), this is usually done in uniform increments, which is not the way the human body develops! Anyone with a longer or shorter than average torso, a fuller bust or wider hips, can find their body shape at odds with conventional sizing. 

Clothes are designed to optimise manufacturing efficiency, not fit:
If you study a beautifully proportioned 1950s suit, a chic 1940s tea dress or a drapey 1930s gown, you’ll see that the construction of these garments is pretty complicated. Intricately shaped pattern pieces, carefully positioned darts and hidden padding or boning all contribute to a perfect fit. These features correspond to a unique body shape, and garments with many different pattern pieces and lots of detailing are time-consuming, and therefore expensive, to make. Simple, boxy shapes that need minimal machining make a more efficient use of fabric, and a loose-fitting garment is less likely to be rejected in a fitting room if it isn’t an exact fit.

People in the public eye get a helping hand:
Whether we’re looking at a celebrity at a red carpet event or the host of a TV show, if they are looking flawlessly dressed it’s probably because they have had behind-the-scenes help from more than just a stylist. As well as having clothing selected for them to ensure that they look perfect, whatever the occasion, anyone with a role in front of the camera is probably having their outfits altered by skilled seamstresses like my friend and former colleague  who runs Grace Lane Studio. Brands want their clothes to be seen in the best light for any sort of advertising campaign, and altering the garment itself is less noticeable in a world which is becoming ever more savvy to airbrushing or digital manipulation. 

It was never intended to.
From the simple shape of a 1960s A-Line mini dress to the snug embrace of a body-con “bandage” dress, the styles that have transferred most efficiently from high fashion to fast fashion rely on a cut that skims over the exact shape of the body, or a fabric that stretches and moulds to the body. Our most comfortable mass-produced purchases are probably either loose or stretchy (or both) because it’s impossible for fast fashion to perfectly fit every one of its millions of customers.

I’m not suggesting that we should all ditch factory-made clothing entirely and only wear couture or clothes we’ve made ourselves; factories have the advantages of economies of scale, bringing prices down to an affordable level, and specialist hardware, software and expertise that have been used to create clothing we’d struggle to duplicate at home. We do need to remember, though, that we can’t expect perfection from fast fashion, and it would be great to start normalising altering clothes to get the exact fit or style we want.

I’m going to put some tips and ideas up on the blog in the near future, so keep checking back, but if you know you’re unlikely to do the alterations yourself it’s worth doing some quick calculations to see how paying for alterations could actually save you money when you’re shopping on the high street. If you buy a pair of trousers for £30, but only wear them three times because you’re unhappy with the fit, they have cost you £10 per wear. If you spend an extra £30 on getting them professionally altered to fit perfectly, and you wear them thirty times (the ethical fashion community’s baseline for a garment to be worth buying), they have only cost you £2 per wear! Saving money in the long run and saving the planet seems like a win-win to me.

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