When Caitlin Mociun, cult-hit fashion designer, left the world of dress forms and measuring tape to focus on an accessories line, she said something that made me pause: “I never really liked doing my clothing line, and when I switched to jewelry it was such a different response. It seemed to make people feel good about themselves as opposed to clothing, which often makes people feel bad.”
And it’s true, isn’t it? How many times have we set out to find the perfect outfit for an interview or wedding or social event – only to be met by poorly-lit dressing rooms and three-way mirrors of doom? We squeeze and tug and pull, attempting to morph our body into a fictional casing that was never intended for us.
Does a butterfly curse its cocoon for not properly accenting its thighs? Do snails label their shells, secretly hoping they’ll grow to fill out a 32C? And do carnations shrink their bloom to appear slimmer – more desirable – than their garden counterparts?
I asked Jacqueline, a fashion historian, why clothing takes such a toll on our body image. Why our skin is expected to fit perfectly into standard sizes and shapes and limitations. And her response was eye-opening:
“Historically, women did not expect clothing from a rack to fit them perfectly,” she writes, noting that the majority of clothing was taken directly to tailors for a custom fit. “As our society moves more and more toward convenience and emphasizes fast fashion, we’ve eliminated the expectation that our clothing would be altered at the tailors. After all, that’s time consuming and expensive. Instead, we want clothing faster and faster for cheaper and cheaper. The result is that our clothing is expected to fit straight off the rack, but rarely does.”
And the byproduct? We take our body to the tailors instead. We diet and cleanse and juice and fast, choosing to consume fashion over nutrition and style over substance. And suddenly, the clothes do begin to fit “straight off the rack”. But there will always be a smaller size to wrap ourselves in. There will always be a rack to conquer.
Perhaps the key is in the reminder that clothing is meant to fit us, not the other way around. It is meant to protect us from our elements – to romp and play or disguise and reveal. To blend in and stand out, to ebb and flow. Because much like the person beneath the garment, there is no universal standard. We are different beings in different skin, where desire fits most and one size fits none.
p.s. Redefining beauty.