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.