If you’re a woman, we know you’ve pulled an item of clothing off a retail rack or shelf, gone to the dressing room only to do a double take on the size tag when it’s way too small or way bigger than you expected.
It’s not just you; it’s actually sales, marketing, and an aesthetic conspiracy, possibly started centuries ago by artists and sculptors trying to pour the human body into an impossible concept of perfect proportion.
In reality, standardization in sizing is a relatively new concept when taking in the entire breadth and scope of civilization. Necessity is the Mother of Invention and during the Civil War, mass production of uniforms was a necessity. Fighting was not a moment for a fashion statement though. Measurements were taken and recorded in an attempt to come up with a general definition for standardized production. This was based on chest, weight, and height measurements, and a perpetuated assumption about ideal proportions. But frequently, the person gathering sizing from each recruit was in a rush to perform their primary function, getting men out to fight.
The second mass collection of measurements taken with the specific intention of garment creation was during World War I. Over 100,000 men were measured in an attempt to create sizing guidelines. However, here again, height, weight, and chest measurements were the primary denominators. It was still assumed that sizing would be in proportion to these numbers. The same concept was applied to women’s sizing utterly ignoring the fact that a bust size, while certainly influenced by weight, could also be swayed by genetics. The waist and tush likewise are greatly influenced by hereditary factors.
Ready-made clothing wasn’t even a viable option until the 1930’s. Before the invention of the power sewing machine, creating one item of clothing by hand was a very expensive and time consuming task. Of course precise measurements for the consumer were taken since it was a custom piece.
Ready-made clothing items gained popularity as the urban class grew and textile production technology developed. However, the fit from ready-made clothing, particularly for women remained inadequate. Mail order catalogs were frequently the source of purchase, and the cost for returns drove the price up for manufacturers. Coming up with a solution for sizing was important for the entire industry.
The Department of Agriculture spearheaded a study in 1937 to develop standard sizing but failed to take into account that since most of the respondents were paid for their participation, a bias was introduced into the statistics. The women who were looking for a little extra money were primarily poor women and thus, possibly undernourished. Furthermore, only white respondents were included, skewing true standard sizes for all women. The problem plagued clothing manufacturers and consumers alike for decades to come.
As American women’s sizes began to fluctuate, marketers learned to take advantage of a new concept called vanity marketing. It’s more flattering to the ego to purchase a size 8 in brand A’s line than a truer size 12 in brand B’s line. But it certainly can be argued that since the original sizing standards were based upon the sizing of destitute white women, the whole scheme was flawed from the beginning.
In response, brands for specific body types began to develop. Lane Bryant was one of the first manufacturers of clothing to target a specific body type, generally referred to as plus-size or more modernly, curvy. Ethnicity now plays a role a too with the emergence of Latina targeted brands and marketing. Most recently Macy’s recruited the Mexican Songstress, Thalia for their largest private brand launch to date. Likewise Kohl’s has partnered with Daisy Fuentes and Jennifer Lopez to target one of the fastest growing segments of society.
Clothing lines and brands certainly do target specific types of people not just specific body types or ethnicities. Age, socioeconomic status, and of course gender are targets. Therefore, if you’re a 45 year woman shopping in a store that primarily caters to 21 year old and younger women, your typical size 8 might be labeled as a size 12 or perhaps you might even be shamed out of the store because they simply don’t carry “your size” of clothing. It’s a marketing ploy, not a direct insult to you. The brand is simply sizing to their defined demographic. They’ve built there entire business around this one segment.
It’s also incredibly important to understand what a junior label means. Even though you may be a slim adult woman, juniors sizing is meant for a younger body, that means it’s going to be smaller in the bust and hips, and the bust line will be higher.
The important thing to remember is that size is just a number. When reviewing what size you are in a particular brand of clothing, it’s important to look at the dimensions. That means shoulder, bust, and waist, not the arbitrary number or designation it’s labeled with. If it fits well and feels great, size shouldn’t matter.
As the N.S.A. Surveillance Bill controversy comes to a boil in the Senate we take a lighter look at reasons why the government may object to t-shirts as a mode of communication. Here’s our top 7 picks.
1. Reliving Old Embarrassments
Nixon Resigns via Pip R. Lagenta, Creative Commons License
Nobody likes to admit our once Commander-in-chief was involved in trying to buy-off burglars, stop the F.B.I. from investigating, bullying staff members and being an all around public embarrassment but it happened, it was true and we've got the vintage t-shirt photos to prove it.
2. Mobilization of the Once Disenfranchised
Vote Y'all via Natalie Maynor, Creative Commons License
Historically and even not so historically women have struggled to be on equal footing with male voters. To embolden women to cast their votes definitely upsets the status quo that would rather this t-shirt state, "Keep it in the kitchen, ya'll."
3. Dissolution of Traditional Values
American Gothic Revised via Tony Alter Creative Commons License
If you have the artistic talent, it's easy to customize an iconic image like this and turn the original message on it's head. But such as this is in a free country.
4. The Celebration of Historical Patriots
Davy Crockett Quote via Wikithreads, Creative Commons License
Once a celebrated patriot, today Davy Crockett would be labeled as a bleeding heart liberal or a political malcontent. He stood against supporting institutions that primarily provided benefits to the wealthy, voted against the Indian Removal Act and ultimately headed a revolution in Texas for independence from Mexican Government.
Please Don't Eat Me via rusvaplauke, Creative Commons License
The government hates the promotion of vegetarianism because meat, especially the beef industry accounts for 21% of all agricultural enterprises. While the beef industry has been stable, government meddling in traditional farming has resulted in an almost inextricably complicated spaghetti of subsidization (primarily of rich farmers and landowners) and import and trade values. To fire up the "breadbasket" would force the government to solve a decades old problem within its system.
6. Contempt for Public Office
Domo For President via Mike Mozart, Creative Commons License
Political scandal has plagued our nation for many decades. With the development of 24-hour news programs breeding rabidly hungry investigative journalists, there's nary a stone left unturned. Our politicians and government provide plenty of fodder. Just look at this last year with the "missing" IRS emails, Bridgegate, and the VA Crisis. it's no wonder why many Americans are flippant with their "political" t-shirts.
7. Rejection of Conspicuous Consumption
Live with Less via Regan Walsh, Creative Commons License
Consuming goods and energy is what keeps our economy going and the top 1% of the elite firmly cemented in their lofty positions. The growing ideology put forth by world visionaries such as Gandhi, Desmond Tutu and Noam Chomsky threaten to upset this balance.
Perhaps you've heard about the really offensive t-shirt that made its ways to the boys’ apparel section in a popular department store in the Philippines. The offensive message was “It’s not rape, it’s a snuggle with a struggle.” The t-shirt probably would have gone unnoticed had it not been for shopper Karen Kunawicz post on her Facebook account which went viral and put a spotlight on SM Department Store. After the post had been shared across social media approximately 4,000 times, the store finally took notice and made the following statement:
However, one must wonder if Kunawicz simply turned away in disgust and continued shopping, would the t-shirts still be on sale condoning an indifferent attitude towards a violent act.
Urban Outfitters did not handle their blunder nearly as well. Earlier this year, they released a “Vintage Kent State Sweatshirt.” The big problem was that it had “distress” and “fade” marks that clearly resembled blood. Anyone that’s not been under a rock for the last 50 years would recall that in 1970, Kent State was the scene of a horrific Vietnam era war protest incident that resulted in the deaths of four students and left nine others wounded one suffering permanent paralysis. Urban Outfitters lamely stated that no offense or reminiscing of the Kent State Massacre was intended but the red spattering and holes were simply part of an effect and were deeply saddened that anyone perceived it any other way. Really?
Another department store debacle was brought to us by Zara’s, a Spanish department store that produced a children’s shirt that strongly resembled the uniforms Jewish prisoners were forced to wear during imprisonment by the Nazi’s. The shirt features black and white stripes and a YELLOW, six pointed star. Sure it says, “Sheriff” but it doesn't take a genius to realize what else the design might look like. Hey Zara’s, we don’t recall a sheriff’s uniform ever involving black and white stripes either. Next time, try this instead:
DC Comics also received a very public and negative response to the two new t-shirts that can easily be construed as anti-feminist. One features a cartoon rendering of Superman kissing a swooning Super Woman with the slogan, “Score, Superman does it again.” The second t-shirt is much simpler but relegates women back to the kitchen stating “Training to be Batman’s Wife.” While some may feel these have a negative impact on building equality between the sexes, they are hardly the caliber of some other examples. What’s your take on some of these examples?