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Thursday, May 11, 2006

Less than zero

By Bridgette Raes

If the possibility of having a magical power like flying seems more likely than cramming your thighs into a pair of pants in a size zero, you will be thrilled to hear that Banana Republic recently introduced a new size - the double zero - which is one size smaller than the already unattainable size zero. While the number sounds ridiculous, it doesn’t surprise me. As we are getting bigger as a nation, so are the physical sizes of our clothing.

Knowing of a woman’s psychological dependency on size numbers, in recent years the fashion industry introduced something called Glamour or Vanity Sizing, which means sizing up each clothing size one entire size. while keeping the size label the same. This means that, for many companies, what was once their size eight is now their size six. Because of this, the introduction of the double zero was bound to happen.

Glamour sizing is a funny thing; while we know we are being blatantly lied to, we accept the number on the tag for the lie that it is. We don’t want to know the truth. But what is the truth exactly? With no established standardization of sizes in the fashion industry, the number on the clothing is an arbitrary one that is actually more psychological than it is truthful.

Studies show that a woman feels better about herself when she wears a smaller size. I admit that I certainly feel better about myself when I can fit into what is considered a size four by today’s standards. even though I know darn well that this number means absolutely nothing. Right now I am the same weight that I was in high school. At this weight, back when I was a teenager, I wore a size eight. The only way that I can maintain my high school weight but wear a much smaller size is if there has been some size-tampering going on by the fashion industry over the years.

If you are reading this article aghast because you are feeling discouraged by the fact that your body isn’t as small as you thought it was, let’s back this conversation up a bit and try to find a new and more empowered way of looking at sizing and dressing our bodies.

How clothing is fit and sized

As I mentioned, there is no true standardization of sizing in the fashion industry. What is a size eight to one designer or clothing manufacturer is not necessarily a size eight to another. With no standardization of sizing, each and every designer has license to create their interpretation of each size. And it isn’t just the size number itself that affects how clothing will fit you; it is what the designer is basing their original fit on that plays an equally important role.

Here is a little inside information on how designers go about fitting and sizing their clothing: every designer uses what is called a “fit model” that is an actual model that designers use to create their standard of fit. The type of model they use is based on the type of clothing they are designing, their typical customer, and the fit they are trying to achieve. Generally speaking, more contemporary companies (or companies who are targeting a younger customer) usually use a thinner and leaner fit model for their standard, and companies who are targeting an older or more classic customer usually choose a fit model with a rounder, curvier figure. There are also plus-sized fit models, petite fit models and junior sized fit models in the industry. The fit model that a designer chooses sets the sample size standard for the fit of the company’s products. A sample size usually is a size eight. All fit models fit for several companies and spend most of their working days going from company to company fitting garments for different designers. However, even though these fit models lend their bodies to establish a fit for several companies, this does not necessarily mean that the fit will be the same at the various companies for whom she works. I clearly remember working with a fit model whom we used as our sample size ten who was also working for another company where they used her as a sample size eight.

But the inconsistency doesn’t stop there. When a fit model works with a designer she regularly comes in for fittings with the design staff. Designers try the sample sized prototype garments on the model and make alterations to achieve a better fit, based on their fit model’s body. Once the fit of that particular sample sized prototype is established and approved by the design staff, that prototype garment goes into production, where a patternmaker takes the approved prototype pattern and grades it. Grading of a pattern means adding or decreasing inches to specific parts of the sample sized pattern to size up or size down, creating a size run of varying dimensions. These measurements are called grade rules. Established grade rules vary from company to company. For example, one company may grade the sample size’s waist up 1 ½” to make a size eight a size ten, and another company may only grade their waist up 1 ¼” to go from a size eight to a size ten. With no standardization within the industry, each designer or manufacturer is free to decide how a production pattern gets graded and what their specific grade rules are.

So why isn’t there a rule that every designer and manufacturer should use the same grade rules? Wouldn’t that solve the problem? Not necessarily. While it is required that a fit model have a very balanced and proportioned body shape, the shape of each fit model varies from person to person. In the end, finding clothing that will fit you is dependent on how close your body is to the shape of the fit model that the designer or manufacturer uses to fit their garments. This is the reason why, no matter how large or small your body, if your body shape does not closely resemble the body shape of the fit model used, the clothing may not fit you properly.

Additionally, designers usually only see garments cut in their sample size. Once a garment is graded into larger and smaller sizes it has moved on to the production phase and it is pretty much out of the designer’s hands. In most cases a designer will never see what their garment looks like in a size that is larger or smaller than the original sample size.

All of this underscored just how the size number on the label really is arbitrary.

We are just a mixed bag of body components

The truth is that each woman’s body is merely a mixed bag of body components; some that they may like, and others that they would trade in a heartbeat. What is more important than focusing purely on the size number that you wear is breaking down your body, part by part, and learning how to dress these body specifics. This is much more important than the actual size you wear. Let me give you an example of what I mean. Both my friend Anna and I wear the same exact size number; however, Anna and I are built completely differently. Anna has broad shoulders, a smaller chest, a slight waist and a flatter butt. I on the other hand have very narrow shoulders, a full chest, a very defined waist and a much larger butt and thigh area. We wear the same size number but with different body specifics, our clothing choices are usually different and when we do choose the same clothing it looks completely different on each of us. The size number on the label plays a much less important role than how the clothing actually fits our bodies specifically.

The first thing I hear many women exclaim when they can’t get into their desired size is that they need to lose weight. While weight loss may be something that could be of benefit, it is not necessarily the magic-bullet fashion solution that many women assume it will be, case in point my friend Anna and I. The truth is that for most women, a body issue that a woman struggles with will always be her issue no matter what her size. Weight loss does not mean that the body issue will go away. Again, let me use myself as an example. Last year I lost a considerable amount of weight and went from wearing a size ten to a size four. While I definitely felt as though I had more clothing options in a smaller size, many of the body issues I struggled with at a size ten were still with me at my new size four body. I have realized and accepted that my thighs, no matter what size I wear, will always be an area where I collect weight, and that many of the other body components I possess will never really change. My body has pretty much remained proportionately the same; at a size four the issues are merely smaller, not gone. Since these body points will probably always be with me, I have decided to focus more attention on dressing these issues properly and seeking out the stores which cater more to the way my body is built. I avoid the stores or labels that cut narrower in the hip area, because I know that their size four pants aren’t going to be cut properly for the shape of my hips. And here is more proof that body shape has more to do with size - I have a client who is a size twenty-two and a client who is a size six; the size label in these clients’ clothing may be vastly different. but their body issues are quite similar. Both of these clients have a larger thigh area, a proportionately smaller waist and a larger chest. Because these two clients of very different clothing sizes share the same body issues the approach I use when dressing their bodies is actually quite similar, regardless of their size. Instead of feeling depressed by the thought that the body issues you struggle with at one size may never go away with weight loss, it is my hope that instead you find clothing that is the right for your body regardless of the size you wear. Don’t shame your body or think that you have to find some crash diet with the assumption that once you shed the weight your body will fit into the clothes. Instead, assume that the fit of the clothing at a particular store just isn’t right for your body. Always try to remember that it isn’t your body that is bad for the clothing, but instead it is the clothing that is bad for your body.

It’s all psychological

I can write forever about how much size really doesn’t matter, but let’s face it, for many women it does matter, even if it is purely psychological. We have a true love-hate relationship to the idea of glamour sizing. We know darn well that we are being lied to, but deep down inside we don’t care, we want the lies. We want to say that we wear a smaller size. Let’s face it; finding out that you can wear a smaller size can be a better mood lifter than Prozac, even if the size number isn’t based in any form of reality. The truth is that yes, the size on the label may not be based in any form of reality, but the psychological feelings associated with each size number certainly are just that— very real. And until this changes and the feelings we associate with each size number shift to something more positive. and until commercials and the media stop making us feel as though our value as a person is dependent on the size number we wear then glamour sizing, it seems, is the only solution.

(c) 2005 Bridgette Raes Style Group

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