The Ready-to-Wear Myth
I used to watch that TV show called “What Not to Wear”. Parts of me envied the women who got to be on that show. I thought it would be amazing to be given the $5,000, fashion guidance from Clinton Kelly and Stacy London, and go home with a fabulous new look (but without the public shaming in front of a nationwide audience part of the show). They always did these incredible makeovers and the guests ended up wowing themselves and their loved ones with their transformations. One thing that stood out for me was that women with some of the least “fashion-standard” bodies were magically always able to find perfectly fitting outfits. Well, it seemed magical to me, anyway! I marveled at how they did it.
I assumed they could find such great clothes because they were in New York City. “Surely in NYC they would have something for everyone”, I thought. It made me feel a *little* better because I could write off my fit challenges to a simple lack of access to the right stores. And then the internet made access easier. But that didn't solve the problem. In lots of ways it made the hunt more frustrating.
So how did they find such perfectly fitting clothes in a matter of days?
Everything on What Not to Wear was altered to fit. Everything.
Now let that sink in...
To refresh your memory about the show, contestants were nominated by a loved one who cared how they dressed. If selected, the women were publicly shamed about their clothing choices before being whisked to NYC for several days of clothes shopping, style coaching and tears, all fueled with a $5,000 debit card from the show. Many of the contestants had a bad body image. This led them to either reject fashion completely, or simply make unflattering fashion choices. The style makeovers taught them that they could be beautiful, no matter their size and shape. They didn’t have to live in sweatpants and t-shirts to hide themselves, or dress like a garish schoolgirl to get attention.
I did some sleuthing and it turns out, everything on the show was altered to fit after purchase. Everything. According to a few WNTW contestants on Reddit, the $5,000 debit card had to cover cost for the clothes AND the cost of alterations for each item they bought. It’s sad that the show never exposed that crucial part of finding clothes that would look great in the real world. This hidden detail was the key to the final result. It was also a huge "A-Ha" for me.
I’m not very tall, so I have grown used to the alterations conversation while shopping. It still didn't keep me from getting frustrated when I couldn't find the "Short" or Petite" version of things I loved.. But this new tidbit about WNTW suggested to me that most women should be taking alterations into account while they're clothes shopping.
Think about it. Our bodies don’t come in sizes that scale up and down in notches like the clothes sizes. If they did, we would all look like those Russian nesting dolls, with no other differences between us. We have infinite variations between our shapes and sizes.
But that’s not what we’re sold in the world of glossy magazines and online stores, They never mention alterations, do they?
It’s all about Expectations
Brands and retailers market to us and put the garments out to sell AS IF they’re finished and ready to wear. The industry itself even refers to the mass-produced garments we see in stores as “ready-to-wear” (Pret-a-Porter,“off-the-rack” in French) as distinct from custom-made or “bespoke” clothes. The Cambridge English Dictionary defines ready-to-wear as clothes that are produced in standard sizes and not made to fit a particular person. (Yeah, no kidding!)
With the exception of the in-store Nordstrom experience where seamstresses are available on-site, or maybe finding a trustworthy sales associate, the industry pretends that alterations aren’t part of the process of making the products they sell actually “work” for us. That’s left up to us. Once it’s on the rack, everyone from the designer to the retailer considers their job done. It's a fiction that leads to frustration.
If we don’t fit into their nesting doll sizing slots, we’re on our own. Unfortunately, they’ve created the expectation that once the clothes are available for purchase, they’re ready to be worn and loved. And when we try things on and they don't fit or will have to be significantly altered to fit us, it’s a recipe for disappointment.
Some Assembly Required – Batteries Sold Separately
If we follow the hidden WNTW model, we’re supposed to consider alterations on every item we try on. We’re supposed to understand that the default in ready-to-wear is that it’s not really ready.
Some assembly will be required to make it work for us. Here’s what we’re actually supposed to do to get clothes that fit:
1. Accept that the clothes aren’t always “ready”, regardless of whether we’re buying a wedding dress or a $14.99 fast fashion sundress. In the sundress case, the alterations might even cost more than the dress, so the dress had better be awesome.
2. Learn what alterations are the most common for our typical fit issues and get a rough idea of what they cost. For me, as a petite pear-shape, I deal with hemming of nearly everything and taking in the waist on pants and skirts. Hems usually run me about $12, but the waist alteration can vary more.
3. Find a tailor we can trust [no small feat! Ask your friends, and check out Yelp reviews]. This can be intimidating. I'll write something about this soon.
4. Buy the garment in the size that fits the largest part of our body so it can be taken in where it's too big, long, etc. Ignore the size/number - you're really only buying the right amount of fabric :-) .
5. Take it to a tailor for adjustment before we get the back into the house where it could get forgotten or postponed [this is a BIG challenge!] and customize (alter) the rest to fit.
6. Realize that WE ARE NOT ALONE. It’s hard for nearly everyone. We're not nesting dolls, remember?
If it's not Ready-to-Wear, shouldn't we call it “Semi-custom”?
I know what a drag all of this is. I've still got the ready-to-wear myth in my mind, and I’m guilty of letting the drudgery and added expense of alterations get the better of me, so like many women, I'll just pass on the purchase rather than deal with it (see, I even called it drudgery!).
But I wonder how it would feel if I started thinking about the clothes in the store as “Semi-Custom” instead of “Ready-to-Wear”? Semi-Custom implies that many items out there have the possibility of fitting, they just need to be customized. And most of us love to be able to customize things, right? Could a small shift in thinking like this take the drudgery down a bit? Doesn’t it give us, just a little bit of dignity back?
Instead of thinking,"Oh man, now I gotta go get this tailored", think, "I'm so totally gonna rock this once I customize it!". What do you say?
Remember, It’s not us, it’s the clothes!
Clarissa Cooper of Portland OR is the founder of WeFiTMe, an online community of like-bodied women helping each other find clothes that fit. Clarissa has over 30 years of experience in the women’s apparel industry as a CONSUMER, as well as a background in finance in the energy industry. This is Clarissa's first blog, but it’s not her first rodeo.
Our Shape Sisters went to the Curvy Chic Closet Fashion Show last weekend. It was wonderful to see some “ready-to-wear” :-) looks for women sizes 12+ getting the runway treatment! There was a fab DJ, a mix of pro and amateur models, the hair, makeup, a gaggle of photogs and everything! The designs were wearable and showcased distinctly non-muumuu / burlap sack options. There was even a new Oregon brand called Chic Rider Designs who showed super cool motorcycle-inspired looks. We finally saw some Universal Standard out of NY and beautiful Soma intimates (Below) bras, panties and loungewear.
Our next event:
WeFitMe is collaborating with a new Portland-based clothing brand called Afrikan Clothing Company to throw a Naked Lady Party, a.k.a clothing swap. On Sunday May 21, 2017 from 10a-12p. Bring the good quality clothes you no longer want to wear and swap them with your Shape Sisters for some great new-to-you looks.
More details coming soon! RSVP and join our IRL community HERE
CHECK THIS OUT
1. Amazon just patented a technology to make made-to-order, custom-fit clothing. With the fit and style issues we’ve seen in the wild, this one will be tough. Especially since “fit” isn’t just about measurements.
2. Amazon also just released THIS creepy add-on to the Amazon Echo that will take a photo of you and grade your fashion choices. Um, I don't think I'll be running out to purposely set up a camera hooked up to the internet where I get dressed....
3. Behold, the manure dress. Because it's both plentiful AND sustainable.