it is not you; it is the clothes

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this post is very different from my usual sort of thing, but it needs to be said.  my gentlemen readers, I ask you to read this as well.  i guarantee it matters to a woman in your life. 

An open letter to clothing designers, manufacturers, and retailers who want to make more money in the American market:

I love new clothes!  I relish creative and well-made fashions.   I appreciate the time, energy, and inspiration that are required in order to take a design from the drawing board to the runway, and finally to the store rack.  If I find a brand that I love, I will be one of your most vocal advertisers.  I am perfectly happy to spend lots of hard-earned cash on clothing that is well-made and flattering.  

Ah, there’s the rub, as Hamlet would say.  Finding such clothing is extremely difficult.  Unnecessarily so.  Apparently most of you designers and retailers don’t want my money.

 For whom, exactly, are you designing your clothing?  Don’t answer that, we all know– models.  I will not deny that these women look fantastic in your clothing.  They are beautiful.  However, they also average about 5′ 10” and 115 pounds [http://www.newmodels.com/height.html].  This approximate 3% of the female population looks fabulous in just about anything. 

Look at the models on Project Runway and tell me for whom these designers are being trained to accept as their customers.

Look at the models on Project Runway and tell me whom these designers are being trained to accept as their customers.

Now, let’s talk about your brand’s making actual profit from the other 97% of  us, hmm.  Every woman deserves to feel beautiful and sexy!   If you can make us feel that way, we will buy your clothing.

We are not going to discuss highly-imaginary doctor’s office charts.  We are not going to talk about “healthy weight” or “ideal body type.”  Let’s talk actual facts here.  According to the CDC in 2002, the average height of the American woman is 5′ 4” and her average weight is 164.3 pounds.  [http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/ad/ad347.pdf]    At this height and weight, her average clothing size is a 14. 

A FOURTEEN!  Go into any department store, and look for a 14.  I’ll tell you where it will be.  In the “Women’s” department, often patronizingly called “Plus-sized.”  In fact, in the fashion industry, a woman who is a size 14 is considered on the upper-edge of a “Plus-sized” model.  Can any of you tell me why she is “plus-sized” when she represents NORMALITY, not a drastic deviation from the norm?

This is plus-sized?  I dont think so.  She is normal-sized.

This is "plus-sized"? I don't think so. She is normal-sized.

We curvy, voluptuous women are the vast majority of the buying public.  Why are we being ignored?  Why are we shunted to the tiny “women’s” section of department stores, where all tops are square-shaped and nearly everything comes with an over-sized, shoulder-padded blazer?  Let’s not even discuss what those elastic-waisted, embroidered pants look like!  Good gad! 

Fashion tends to pay a whole lot of lip service to self-esteem:  Wear our clothes and feel wonderful about yourself.  Well, what sort of message are you sending to 97% of the young women out there who don’t fit into the fashion model mold?

I’m going to put myself out there for all of my sisters.  I’m a professional, college-educated woman.  I’m five feet, two and a half-inches in height.  I don’t know my weight, because I don’t own a scale.  I am a size 18/20.  I have an in-seam of 28 and half inches.  I spent the majority of my teenage years feeling ashamed of my body and hating clothes.  I was made to feel like a fat cow whenever I went into a store, and they only carried up to a 12.   Yes, that’s right.  They did not even carry the average size of the American woman!  Most high-end retailers, in fact, seem to think a size 10 is shockingly huge.

Then, I discovered Lane Bryant.  I could go into their store and everything on the rack came in my size.  I was not a freak of nature.  In fact, I was smack in the middle of their size ranges.  I was normal.  The fact that this discovery was a stunning revelation is a damning indictment of what fashion retailers have done to our society.  I didn’t read fashion magazines or compare myself to models.  I just wanted to buy clothes that fit me, and I couldn’t.  Nowadays, young ladies have a few more choices out there than I did in the early 90’s; Torrid, Avenue, and Fashion Bug all carry trendy clothing in sizes up to 28 or so.

As for the rest of you– get with the program!  I am difficult to fit, yes.  However, I am not lazy, ugly, boring, poor, or stupid.  I am not any of those things that fashion designers seem to assume I am because I do not measure a size 4.  Is my money not as good as other people’s?  When I go into your stores, I do not want to be told, “Oh, we don’t carry your size.”   Excuse me, but why the hell not?! 

I now have a mantra that I use whenever I try on clothing: “It’s not me.  It’s the clothes.” 

Designers, retailers, manufacturers, now is the perfect time for you to embrace the entire American-woman market.  We are in a recession, after all, and your business depends on profit.  Right? 

So, here is a list of the top 5 things you can do to attract more women to your brand and increase your sales:

1. Stop vanity sizing!  Don’t worry about hurting our feelings.  Take our bust, waist, hip, and in-seam measurements.  Then fit the clothes to our bodies.  Understand that there are many beautiful variations on the female form.  Create fashion lines that flatter differently-shaped women and market them as such.  We will flock to your stores.

2. Carry your most fashion-forward designs in ALL of the size ranges.  Pressure your designers to create run-way fabulous looks for a variety of body types. 

3.  Carry all clothing designed for women in one section of your store.  Do not push sizes over 12 to the back corner.  Instruct your sales staff to give equal attention to every woman who enters your store.  We all have money to spend, or we wouldn’t be there.

4. I would like to make this perfectly clear:  There is NO correlation between the width of a woman’s waist and the length of her legs.  Nor do wide-waisted women necessarily need or want wide-legged trousers.  Offer free (or very inexpensive) tailoring on all women’s clothing.  If I spend $60 dollars on a pair of pants or a skirt, I should be able to have it hemmed for free, just like a man’s suit. 

5. Put women in your advertisements and on your runways that represent the entire size range of American women– from a 0 to a 28+.   Then, follow through on this effort with your store displays and dummies.

Put all 5 of these things in place, and then give it some time.  We are used to being ignored.  Your patience will be rewarded a thousand-fold.  

fashion folks-- Dove gets it.  Why dont you?

fashion folks-- Dove gets it. Why don't you?

If you want to know more about how the fashion industry has deliberately ignored curvy women, please read Emili Vesilind’s excellent article from the Los Angeles Times: Fashion’s Invisible Woman.

Ladies, please feel free to link to this post or to pass it on.   If you do, please let me know.  My darling sisters– you are perfect.  It’s not the thin girls vs. the fat girls.  We are all in this together.  You are not the problem.  It has never been you.  It is the clothes.

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4 responses »

  1. Courtesy of my Google Quote of the Day,

    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and it may be necessary from time to time to give a stupid or misinformed beholder a black eye.
    – Miss Piggy

    • Yet another reason to love Miss Piggy! She was once on a Martha Christmas Special. Martha was demonstrating icing cookies & then putting exactly 3 little sprinkles on them. Miss Piggy remarked, “Well, that’s obsessive.”

      • I remember that Martha special, and Miss Piggy’s remark is as funny now as it was then.

        I also recall another Martha special where she and Julia Child were making Christmas tree shaped sweet cakes out of golf-ball sized dough, piling them up into an ever-narrowing cone. Julia was really up in years at that point, and her personality continued to show through. While Martha’s cake tree was perfectly shaped, Julia’s tilted like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I recall Julia making a remark similar to Miss Piggy’s when Martha pointed out the lack of symetry in Julia’s tree. Go Julia!

        Your MOM

      • Thanks for reading my blog, Mom!
        I think Julia & Miss Piggy would have made a great team. 🙂

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