I recently read a Huffington Post article (Target's sizing of Girl's Clothing) about the degrading and frighteningly odd way that Target is sizing their young girls’ clothing. It reminded me of the strange nuances that can be found throughout the clothing industry. How do I know? At 15 years of age, I became a fashion insider.
My first job ever was as an alterations seamstress at Dorothy’s Silver Needle. My mother was the inventory manager at the formal wear shop that connected to Dorothy’s alteration shop. In typical coming-of-age fashion, upon turning 15 I wanted to start looking for a job. I did not want a job that required me to ask, “Do you want fries with that?” So my wonderful mother suggested, “Dorothy is swamped this time of year. You know how to sew. Maybe she could teach you some things and eventually pay you.”
I put on my best “church” dress. Walked into Dorothy’s adorable shop, and announced my interest in apprenticing toward future employment. She looked at me. Smiled, and without hesitation said, “It’s Wedding, Debutant, and Prom Season. Sit down. What can you do?”
I wish I had kept a journal during those years. It could have easily become a dissertation on how women’s clothing reinforces psychological and cultural patriarchal norms, especially in Southern society. So I thought I would share all of my tailoring “secrets” with all of you.
First, like a bad breakup, your frustration with the size on the tag is NOT about you. The problem IS them. Especially in formal wear, you should just resolve yourself to trying on sizes, 2 sizes more than you normally wear. I cannot tell you how many times brides and prom-goers broke down crying because they are “normally a size 8” but had to order a size 12. A decade ago when my brother got married, I was in a competitive power-lifter and had 12% body-fat. I am 5’9” and normally wore a size 10. My bridesmaid’s dress was a 16.
Here’s another secret. Men’s clothes are MADE TO BE ALTERED! I remember complaining to a fellow seamstress about how hard it was to work with dress seams that were typically ½ inch. Men’s suits, pants, etc. typically come with 1 ¼ inch seams. This means if you gain a little weight, you can just have your piece let out. If a woman gains some weight, there is little-to-no seam for adjustment. So a woman has to spend more money on an entirely new piece, instead of a few dollars for alterations.
That has much bigger implications than one might think. As a woman who has gained a few “newly-wed pounds”, I have to take the time out of my schedule and psych myself up enough to go shopping and spend hard-earned money on a bigger size. Which is exactly what I had to do this past weekend.
So the straw that broke this blogger’s back was a little Saturday bra shopping. I went to my favorite store for said items, the Hanes Store at the Gaffney outlets. After trying on 5 different types of white bras with the same size on the label, I settled on one that I love. I bought 3 of the same style, but it made me wonder why bras with the exact same size could have such a range of fit. So I decided to dig through the sizing on hanes.com.
Let’s say I wear a 34B. 34 is the size of the band/circumference, and B is cup size (the girth of the “girls”). A normal human being would think that the “34” represents the circumference of your torso in inches. Wrong. The ACTUAL size of my Hanes’ bra is: the actual size of my torso in inches PLUS 5. You read that right. See for yourself, HANES BRA SIZING. And if you get an odd number, don’t forget to round up!
In a society that shoves body image down our throats as the acme of personal female worth, we are supposed to ADD 5 INCHES to our actual torso size while staring sadly at our fluorescent lighted reflection in the dressing room mirror.
Men’s clothing is sized in inches. Direct. Honest. No-nonsense inches. Why is it SO hard to have that kind of honesty in women’s clothing? If you think I am over-dramatizing this issue, try a little experiment. Walk up to the next woman you see and ask her what size clothing she wears. Call me if you need ice for your black eye.
One last confession. I am what you would call an “apple” body-type. I gain weight in my stomach instead of my hips and thighs. I recently found the most comfortable and flattering pair of pants… in the maternity section. I got sick of my muffin top and realized it was completely unnecessary. I don’t have a muffin top when I am naked. It is a clothing manufacturer’s way of telling me that I am somehow bad because my skinny legs should be paired with a smaller stomach. For some reason, that is only acceptable if I am growing another human inside me. (Which I am NOT, Mom!)
So in closing, I leave you with a fun challenge from a former fashion-insider. Do something nice for yourself. Save a few extra bucks and go have a suit tailored just for you. Most big department stores like Belk’s have in-house tailors in the men’s department. Most men’s suits do not have darts, the added seam that contours your boobs, so you may have to call around to find a tailor good enough to do that.
Start demanding quality clothing that fits you! Stop thinking that you need to change in order to be worthy! It is called a “Power Suit” for a reason.