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The size of the problem with the problem of sizing: How clothing measurement systems have misrepresented women’s bodies, from the 1920s to today

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Clothing size works as an arbiter of the body ideal. The level of complexity required of clothing measurement systems centres on the problem that clothing must fit closely to the body, whereas manufactured products, like a chair, can be designed to suit a wide range of people, clothing has, by its very nature, less ability to be flexible. Clothing size systems should be developed after undertaking anthropometric surveys of the population and using statistical analysis to construct a set of reasonable standards. Here we argue that social factors in lifestyle, demographics and consumption have radically altered women’s body size and shape. Yet, systems in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom have measured only a tiny per cent of the female population that fall within a vanity-size shape, as reflected in the marketing of clothing by global brands and high fashion houses, resulting in the size zero debates. This review of the chequered history of women’s clothing size systems has resulted in the inconsistent sizing in the marketplace, as well as a structural unsuitability for the women’s bodies for whom the clothing was designed. Recently, the challenge to ad hoc or vanity-sizing systems appears in social media forums from women who pioneer as models wearing ‘plus sized’ or rather, ‘right sized’ fashionable garments. Social media offers a platform to represent larger women via online access, to purchase right sized fashion and to view themselves no longer as outliers, as this fresh perspective informs contemporary social images of the female body.
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Keywords: fashion; measurement standards; plus size; plus sized models; right size; size zero; women’s clothing sizes

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of New England

Publication date: June 1, 2018

More about this publication?
  • We all wear clothes. We are all therefore invested at some level in the production and consumption of clothing. This journal intends to embrace issues and themes that are both universal and personal, addressing [and dressing] us all. Increasingly, as we all become accomplished semioticians, clothing becomes the key signifier in determining social interaction and behaviour, and sartorial norms dictate socio-cultural appropriateness. Following the rise of fashion theory, on an everyday level, we all understand that our clothes 'say' something about us, about our times, nation, system of values. Yet clothing is not fashion; clothing is a term derivative from 'cloth', to cover the body, whereas fashion alludes to the glamorous, the ephemeral and the avant garde. We wear clothes, but imagine fashion-an unattainable ideal.
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