A trio of Scottish women referred to as a “fashion trio” (though I haven’t the faintest idea what that means) have proposed that fashion and design schools should, instead of teaching their students to make clothes at the lowest range of sizes, should use mannequins of size 16-18, which is the “size” of the average British woman.* (Thanks to Mrs. Bossa for sending it around!)
Having never gone to fashion school, I have no tangible idea of how sizing is taught: I don’t know if it’s standard to learn on a thin size and then learn how to grade up and down sizes from there, or whether a range of sizes are used throughout the curriculum, or whether different shapes are addressed explicitly (since not all women who ostensibly wear the same size are shaped the same way), and how any of these concerns are approached. If any of you can enlighten me about this, please do! I’m very curious how body diversity is approached in fashion school, even if only on the tall-and-very-slender end of the spectrum.
I think using a more average mannequin to help keep the actual customer (and not the “ideal” customer) as the focus of the garment is a great idea. Of course there are women who wear very thin sizes, but there’s many, many women who don’t, and adjusting the framework to shift the focus from a hyper-idealized imagined customer to someone more average and ordinary creates space for the students to have some really important conversations about bodies, identities, and body diversity. The western fashion industry as a whole has enormous blind spots when it comes to body diversity: the images it puts forth are overwhelmingly of women who are tall, very thin, white, and able-bodied. Models who don’t fit these criteria are often tokenized – like the one black model in an otherwise entirely white runway show. This isn’t right: the fashion industry should mirror the general population, and the general population is not overwhelmingly tall, very thin, white, and able-bodied. Pushing a single, idealized vision of beauty, to the exclusion or tokenisation of any other vision, is ultimately harmful to women’s self perception and the perception of women in society. One of the defences of this dominant image is that fashion is about aspiration and fantasy, but if you (as a person who wears clothes) can’t see yourself in the fantasy, or see yourself deliberately excluded from it, why would you buy into it? Why should you buy into it?
Ideally, I think fashion students should learn how to create garments on a wide range of mannequins, not just those in a narrow size band, or with a single set or proportions. I think that ideally, fashion designers should learn how to make clothes for thin women, fat women, tall women, petite women, large chested women, sway-backed women, short waisted women, broad shouldered women, etc etc. Learning on a narrow range of mannequins in a larger size is a big step in the right direction, but if the average size is just shifted, with a discussion about *why* the sizing is shifted and why the previous sizing models (use thin mannequins with a single set of proportions) are a very incomplete representation of the people who will wear the clothes designed on those mannequins, then some of the same biases will creep in again. Just shifting the mean size used doesn’t address the fact that lots of women don’t hew to that mean, and sizing cannot be boiled down to a single (arbitrary) number.
Furthermore, if that step isn’t accompanied by some discussions confronting our society’s fat bias, then I’m skeptical about how effective that step will be. I suspect moving to a larger mannequin size would prompt all sorts of handwringing about how making clothes to fit larger women will then encourage them to be obese, or using a larger mannequin means that it’s okay to be obese, or some other completely daft garbage. Using larger mannequins is a move to better reflect the population for whom the designers are learning to create clothing – it’s not a moral statement, but a practical shift. (It goes without saying, I hope, that the framing of fatness as something that is either morally right or wrong, as opposed to a range of the spectrum of human body shapes [which are neither right nor wrong, but simply *are*] is something that I disagree with wholeheartedly. Bodies are bodies are bodies, regardless of what shape and size they are, and the people whose bodies they are should be treated the same way regardless of what shape they happen to be. Body shape and size is NOT a moral issue.) If the anti-fat bias is not confronted and talked about honestly, it will remain as strong as ever, and possibly more strongly, since the mannequins in use every day would be there to remind the designers that not all women are rail thin. Not having that conversation would, I think, erase much (if not all) of the positive work that using larger mannequins would do.
Don’t get me wrong – I think regulating the size of the mannequins used in fashion school to be more representative of the average woman in the region is a great idea. I just hope that if it does come to pass, all the conversations that naturally come along with it are had in thoughtful, meaningful ways and not just brushed aside as a tiresome regulation that must be complied with. This is a great opportunity to make some effective change in the fashion industry, and I hope that the campaign is successful.
* Having never worn British-sized clothes, I’m not sure how that translates to North American sizing, and I put quotation marks around size because I don’t know a single woman who wears, without fail, a single size in any type of clothing in any brand.
Editor’s note: Welcome our new crossposting friends, the delightful and stylish Interrobangs. You can read this post in its original home here: “Normal” Sizes, Fashion School and the Disconnect Between Designers and the Clothes-Wearing Public.
9 replies on ““Normal” Sizes, Fashion School, and the Disconnect Between Designers and The Clothes-Wearing Public”
It makes sense to me to start learning design on one size of mannequin, whatever that size may be, so that students can focus on figuring out their design process, but if design school is a four year program I think it would be great if the last two years included learning different body shapes. It seems like a lot of designers/manufacturers don’t know how to size things up. They just make their clothes wider and longer to go up a size without taking into account that proportions change, so you end up with a garment that might sort of fit, but your boobs are all squashed and the arm holes pinch.
I think learning how to design for all body types would add a whole new dimension to the world of fashion. Different styles look good on different bodies, so why limit yourself to one profile that has been done a million times before?
I think that designing clothes on mannequins sized US 12-14 is taking it to an extreme; that average factors in older women who no longer wear capital-F Fashion; it would be catering to a consumer base that’s never going to be interested. I do think Fashion should cater to the mathematical average/mean of the younger demographic that is interested though.
As someone who is both young and wears on average a size 14 (cue the gasps!), this is hooey. There’s plenty of women my age who’re of comparable size to me (or larger!), and there’s plenty of older women who wear and enjoy capital F fashion. Also, I’d be willing to bet there’s lots of women (of all ages) who would like to enjoy (and consume) fashion, but find their options very limited or too expensive for their budget. I’m not just talking about heavier women here — petite women also often have a difficult time finding clothes that fit.
The point of shifting the mannequin size is not just to shift the mean of what’s being made, but to widen the distribution of what’s being made. They aren’t proposing that designers don’t make clothes for slender women, but that they make them for slender women and not so slender women too. Making clothes just for the mean, whatever the mean is, isn’t going to change any of fashion’s issues with exclusion and tokenism.
I absolutely agree with Millie here. As someone who wears a 16-18, the idea that anyone of a larger size, regardless of age, is automatically not interested in “F”ashion is ridiculous. If nothing else, the prominence of “advanced age” and “plus size” style blogs out there proves that point moot. The assumption that only the younger demographic is interested in fashion is a poor and unfounded one.
I’m not saying that larger women don’t enjoy fashion. I’m saying that the “average” size cited here includes ALL women. Like, our grandmas. It would be smarter for companies to do market research and determine the mean sizes of the people who’d like to shop in their stores. The issue isn’t whether larger women like fashion; it’s whether they’re the average of people who buy it or want to buy it in any given store. They’re just not.
Generally you -4 from UK sizing to get US sizing: so a UK 16-18 would be US 12-14: there is a bit of wiggle room in that though, as a UK 10-12 I’ve fit into US 4-9.
I did a summer dressmaking course, and they were insistent about the design drawings being deliberately unrealistic: very slim figures 7/8 heads high. The aim seemed to be to produce design drawings that looked beautiful, but they weren’t much help when it came to figuring out what actually might look good on your own body.
Yeah, trying to extrapolate how something will work on your body from an unrealistic picture is really difficult. I sew a fair bit, and I find it difficult to judge patterns with an illustrated cover rather than a photograph. Technical drawings help, but I’m not sure why deliberately unrealistic drawings are the standard.
Considering how complex the clothing manufacturing industry is, I doubt that designers alone can determine which sizes garments are made in. There is a lot of evidence that it is not true that ‘they don’t make enough clothing for larger women’ (FashionIncubator.com is a great read on this). The issue is that difference designers and companies produce for different demographics. Are the designers who go on to work for Lane Bryant learn originally on size 4 dummies? Maybe. But they figure out how to do it, because market forces are going to shut them down otherwise.
Right, but there’s the demographics issue in reverse. Much of the plus size clothes that are made are targeted to older women (ie, they’re often dowdy), and often aren’t appealing to younger women or older women who aren’t dowdy. I agree that in isolation the designers may not have much say in how much of what size gets produced for say the high street, but I think it’s a good start, and opens the space for conversations about body diversity. Also, it depends which designers we’re talking about: while this may not be effective for designers working for large high street stores or big brands (since they’re constrained by lots of other pressures in the industry), this may have a visible effect on smaller designers with a more mutable image and vision.