this morning at 8am i woke up to a text message:
“lauren, are you an American Apparel M?”
with my fuzzy brain, i was able to realise that my dear friend seb, in germany, was asking me what size clothing i wore, if i had bought it from American Apparel. I’ve not ever bought anything from American Apparel, so i don’t know. I know that i’m a size 10. Ish. Whether that’s a UK or US, I’ve no idea.
which later got me thinking about the standard unit of measurement in fashion. I’m currently measuring up and making patterns for spaces and, as such, very grateful for the invention of the inch (and then of the centimetre) as a standard unit of measurement, and the design of a tape measure.
I know, small things, amuse small minds.
I’m not exactly sure when these came to pass, but in a recent-ish conversation, ex-colleagues of mine and I were surmising that it was probably as the result of the textile trade. not the craft of making clothes, but the concept of trading, customising, selling and economy, using garments/cloth as the primary currency. Presumably, this required people on both sides of the trading table, to understand how long a piece of cloth was going to be. How do you measure that? Well, you have to devise a unit and a tool to measure with.
OK, so as the textile trade booms, , the concept of the prefabricated garment develops, to which you have to develop a sizing system. This seems to work well for a large amount of time. We still haven’t worked out exactly what the difference is between a UK 4 and a US 8, but then again, neither have the supermodels, or the haute couture designers, so it ain’t all bad.
but nowadays, clothes aren’t ‘from’ the UK or the US. In fact, they’re mostly made in china. designed elsewhere, but the industry sizing standard is not strict, rarely adhered to and a little, well, loose. it seems that countries, or whomever runs the fashion industry nowdays, don’t care so much. unlike other areas of industry where a unit, is a unit, is a unit. for instance, a megabyte of RAM is 1024KB worldwide. you don’t get a 1000KB in india, 958KB in italy on a good day and 1055KB in new zealand because they value a little extra room. this would undermine the concept of having a global standard. and well, big global brands like Dell and Apple couldn’t control their market if the unit was a little fuzzy. but no, not for the fashion industry..
[Enter globalisation. ]
what better way to ‘take over the world’ [insert doom and gloom organ dirge], than to create ones own unit of measurement. like American Apparel M (Medium) is now a standard unit of measurement. It doesn’t fit into UK, US, EU fashion standards but transcends (or ignores) it. Other ‘sizes’ I’ve heard of recently: the GAP 10, the H&M Small and the Converse 5. This supposes that one has worn clothes from all of the above brands. which of course we all have, right?. and belies a level of arrogance and or smarts that i can’t quite work out if i despise or admire.
what i find most scary about this whole messy sizing business is that if there is no level playing field within the fashion industry, why are we (mostly women) still playing against the numbers. despite years of feminist mutterings, there is still an aspiration to an 8, 12 or, even worse, small. when small becomes a unit of measurement that we pit ourselves against, things are going to get ugly. more dangerously for some than others.
and, to add to the sickness of us having to ‘measure up’ to an ever-shifting standard of measurement, is that there doesn’t seem to be the impetus to change that. we may boo and hiss at the big designer labels, looking for them to change their sizing, we may whinge at the mega street labels, bitching at how shit we feel that we’re wearing large, when we used to be a 10, but the reality is, that the unit of measurement comes from both sides of the trading table. which means that as consumers of cloth, there has to be the will to know exactly what we’re buying. and perhaps, sadly. we don’t really want that to change yet.