At the time of writing, the only skirt I own is one I bought as a 5″2 14-year old from the now defunct tweenage heaven, internacionale. Having grown a fair amount taller since then, that skirt was no longer an option of clothing which was workable outside. So, I felt it was time to find a new one! I looked past my (many) bookmarked shops in an effort to broaden my shopping horizons, and eventually I found a skirt I very much liked the look of. It was a houndstooth number in a shop that I’d coincidentally forgotten was one size only. I soon found out that it wasn’t actually my height which was the problem – rather, my waist wasn’t going to be fitting in any of their clothing anytime soon.
I won’t lie, that skirt was worth a quick email over to customer services. It was exactly what I’d been looking for, and I’d heard that the fabric for clothes on sites like this could be pretty stretchy. In the same way, for example, that those one-size socks somehow fit about 5 different sizes. Of course I wasn’t expecting quite that level of flexibility, and I didn’t really know what to expect from the email back. What I did get was someone letting me know that the waist size was in fact two inches smaller than it had been originally advertised on the website, making it “a little snug” (in their words) for my measurement (which was already too big in the original sizing!).
I know this all sounds very first-world-problem-y – which “that skirt I really liked won’t fit me” is – but my concern is not about the PC way I’ve been told that that particular size of clothing was far from wearable on me. It’s how shops like this find it so easy to manipulate the young women their sales are aimed at. Fortunately I’m past the point of caring what male CEOs think would be the right body shape for me, but that’s after living through all of my teenage years being fully aware of it. I was also unaware that any attempt to get that body shape would have been seriously detrimental to my developing physical and mental well being.
I find it difficult to believe that for those same CEOs, the one size system was always solely about removing the hassle from producing their products. Giving your brand a semblance of exclusivity in this way is also a marketing strategy, which in many cases works well; those limited edition ‘British classics’ Müller corners in 2012 no doubt boosted sales as well as remaining in my mind as some of the best yoghurts I’ve ever had… that’s the sort of thing which stays with me. Unfortunately it seems like “one size only” has proved to be effective in a similar way. Whether it’s about simplification or improving brand identity, though, there are some things it changes – like how a young woman looks at herself.
Those of us in our teenage years, especially earlier on, can fall into this trap of not feeling good enough because we’ve been labelled by a label as unworthy. Not simply lacking the funds, which is a whole other issue, but lacking the ability to fit in, literally and metaphorically. Feeling excluded is something many are subjected to in their own social lives, let alone in their retail habits. The fact that the product research team of one of these companies is made up solely of teenage girls is promising – it’s giving young women the opportunity to break into an industry they’re interested in from a young age. But it’s not just about the creation of the clothes. It’s about those girls of a perfectly healthy BMI in the changing rooms, who end up buying something just to try to fit in but secretly feel worse about themselves for not fitting into the more tailored clothing. Commercialising the insecurities of these girls is sleazy in the truest sense of the word.
The clothing they do sell, size or not, isn’t at all bad looking. Yet they make those attempting to fit into it feel bad about themselves when of course, all girls of all sizes are good enough. There’s nothing wrong with those who can fit in it, or can’t fit in it. So why do companies feel obliged to make us feel there’s some distinction between the two?