Modern Fashion and the Modern Woman: A Rivalry

The clothing industry can often make women feel insecure about their bodies, placing clothes on size 8 mannequins, using sample sizes in photographs, and simply enlarging the design for plus size ranges. This article explores how designers are creating clothing with a 'sample size' body in mind; a body that doesn't exist. 'An alternative would be to design specifically for the curvier body, taking different sizing into consideration. 

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and may be triggering to some people. 

There are three certainties in this world: life, death, and the fact that you will feel horrible about your body the next time you go try on clothes in the average high street shop.

My first reaction, like many women’s, when I try on something that doesn’t fit my body well is “Well, if I were skinnier this would look good on me.” What we all too frequently forget is that our bodies were not designed to look good in clothes. Clothes are supposed to be designed to look good on our bodies.

Unfortunately, however, it seems as though, despite the fact that most women don’t have the same bodies as supermodels, most modern fashion is designed with a supermodel body in mind. I’m not just talking about sizing--though the lack of plus sized options at many stores is truly appalling-- I’m talking about the designs themselves. A large portion of everyday modern fashion aimed at young women is designed to flatter very thin bodies, with no regard for the ways in which the design changes when worn by curvier bodies.

Now, there are some women who have embraced their bodies fully and know that they look like a goddess in anything and everything. These women don’t care about what’s flattering or what conforms to traditional ideas of how bodies or clothes “should” look—they know their body is perfect no matter what they put on it. While I applaud them, and desire to reach that level of happiness with my body, I think that the reality is that most women, when shopping for clothes, have not reached that level of body confidence. Most of us are looking for clothes that flatter our bodies and conform to traditional ideas of how bodies and clothes should look. 

Most women’s clothing stores do not cater to the average woman who wants to buy a pair of jeans that don’t make her feel inadequate. Almost every woman’s clothing store sells clothes that are designed, whether intentionally or not, to make any woman who isn’t very thin to feel bad about her body.

Some examples:


Look at this velvet mini-dress;  it looks pretty good on the model, kind of quirky and nineties. However, look how tight it is—it conforms so closely to the lines of her body that you can see the fabric ruching where it’s stretched too tightly over her hips. If you look closely, you can even see where the velvet pulls over the curve of her lower stomach. It’s even more obvious if you watch the catwalk. 

This is what the dress looks like from the side. You can see the curve of the model’s stomach even considering how thin she is—any stomach fat is glaringly obvious in this dress. Now, should women feel ashamed or ugly for having stomach fat? NO. Do most women, realistically, feel embarrassed by their stomach fat? Yes. Wearing this dress would most likely make the majority of women feel fat. Not because they are, but because the dress highlights their insecurities.

Another example: a fairly average green jumper.

It looks kind of cozy, and I like the colour. However, the look they’re going for is clearly “drapes the female form strategically so the jumper looks baggy but still highlights the lines of the figure”. The drape of the jumper draws in tightly around the waist and the stomach, meaning that on anyone except someone with the same body type as the model, it will likely look baggy and lumpy in the “wrong” places as it bunches around curves instead of draping loosely like it does on the model.

Sometimes I look at clothes I’m interested in buying worn on plus sized models. Not because I’m plus sized, but because as a curvier girl plus sized bodies more closely resemble the lines of my own body, so it gives me a better idea of how the clothes look on bodies that aren’t long and straight. Absurdly though, plus sized clothing is often still clothing designed for thin people just in larger sizes.

Take this tube top from one companies plus sized line:

The top has absolutely no structure, which is one of the major necessary components of clothing that flatters curvier bodies. There’s nothing to draw the eye to the waist, which makes the torso look blob-ish instead of hourglass-like. There’s no support in the chest, a problem as curvier women usually have larger chests, and it’s practically impossible to wear a bra that is not incredibly visible in a top without sleeves. The top even pulls so unflatteringly over the model’s stomach that you can see the outline of her bellybutton. Women who feel uncomfortable with the thickness of their arms or their lack of visible collarbone will most likely feel horrible in this top.

Similarly, look at these trousers, which might fall straight on a thin person, but pull awkwardly tightly at the inner thighs while remaining strangely baggy at the top on a curvier woman. 

The fact of the matter is that most clothes, regardless of size, are designed for a specific type of body—a tall, thin one. Even clothing lines that specifically cater to plus size (and therefore generally curvier) women still use the same designs that were made to look good on thin women.

Now, to be clear, I don’t think anyone should feel ashamed of any of the rolls or bunches or layers of fat on their body. I also don’t think anyone should feel pressured to try to hide or minimize chunkier parts of their body. There’s nothing wrong with having curves or fat and no one should act like anyone’s body is something to keep hidden or be ashamed of. No one’s body is “wrong” for a specific type of clothing, and women shouldn’t feel like they can’t wear something just because it wasn’t designed with their body type in mind.

That being said, most women still have parts of their body that they’re insecure about and want to minimize, generally places where fat gathers, like thighs, stomachs, and upper arms. Increasingly however, mainstream fashion tends to highlight these areas of the body in ways that are only flattering on supermodels. There’s nothing wrong with designing clothes that look good on thin women—it’s only a problem when those are the only mainstream clothing options.

So the next time you’re in a shop trying on clothes and an item doesn’t look good on your body, remind yourself that your body is not the problem. The problem is that most clothing was not designed to look good on the average woman.