Scrolling through the conceptual and experimental creations of fashion design graduates, it becomes clear that fashion isn’t so much about dressing the body, as it is about dressing the RIGHT body; that of the young, able-bodied, slim, white woman. While fashion can no longer deny the marketing appeal of diversity and imagery portrays increasingly varied body types, efforts of inclusivity rarely penetrate the actual design studios, leaving most wearers with clothes that are ill-fitting (or simply non-existent in the case of luxury fashion brands).
Why is it so difficult to design clothes that fit different body types? And how can we change our education to adapt to those needs?
The human body comes in as many varieties as there are human body havers, so finding a system that caters to everyone has always been a Sisyphean task.
It is important to understand that most of our ideals around bodies, garments, and sizes find their origin in the industrialisation of our industry. Up until the end of the 19th Century, clothes were made to fit the individual. Only when technology allowed for mass garment production and the standard size was introduced, did we start thinking about a “standard body”, explains Dr. Peters, Assistant Professor of Fashion Studies at Columbia College Chicago and specialist on the politics of plus-size fashion. “While fashion trends (especially silhouettes) have always been determined by prevailing beauty ideals, it wouldn’t be until the advent of standardized sizing in the last third of the 19th century that beauty ideals would so concretely come to be linked with body size.”
We began to think of bodies as something that needed to fit the clothes, rather than the other way around.
The human body comes in as many varieties as there are human body havers, so finding a system that caters to everyone has always been a Sisyphean task. To make matters worse, our current system is based on ideals rather than real, human bodies. “It took a 36” bust as the base measurement and ‘proportionate’ hip and waist measurements were derived from there,” says Dr. Peters. “These corresponding measurements were based less on real, fleshy bodies than on prevailing notions of the ideal female form, the roots of which can be traced back to classical ideas about beauty and symmetry. All other sizes were graded up and down from this base measurement.”
As a result, we began to think of bodies as something that needed to fit the clothes, rather than the other way around. In other words, some dude in 1791 invented the sewing machine and now you feel shame whenever you can’t close the zipper of a new pair of jeans in the changing room.
“Different bodies need to be present at the start of the design process to make a real difference, not only as an afterthought in the grading phase.” – Sinead O’Dwyer
This concept of a standard body permeates into every aspect of the fashion creation process, not just the casting. “I think women and female-identifying bodies have been shoved into various boxes for a long time and we’re coming to a place where we’re creating space for people to just be how they are without always having to change,” Sinead O’Dwyer recently told us. The London-based designer started researching the female body at the Royal College of Art where she graduated in 2018. “Different bodies need to be present at the start of the design process to make a real difference, not only as an afterthought in the grading phase.”