on sample sizes, fat and bias

by marjorieingall on November 3, 2010

I’m pretty much done pitching Hungry, and I’m pretty much done talking about plus-size models as emblematic of anything except the modeling business. That said, I thought one commenter on this piece about Crystal and Paulina Porizkova at the Glamour Women of the Year conference at the 92nd Street Y offered a tidbit I hadn’t heard before. The commenter, who goes by the moniker Bias_Cut, is clearly a dressmaker or tailor to wealthy women. She points out that the old canard about sample sizes being made teeny to save money may not be true.

First, it takes VERY little additional fabric to cut a size 14 compared to a size 8. In fact, if you’re working with patterns, it may actually be more cost effective to cut a larger size since there is less loss.

Second, and more importantly, most designers cut smaller samples because it is easier to get the proportions correct. If you put a design on a literal close-hanger (14 year old girls with the body of young boys), you can get away with almost anything. If you are designing for a body with breasts and hips, you can’t just stick an enormous architectural bow on the front or have streamers of fabric billowing from every direction.

Cutting smaller samples and sizes for the runway has MUCH more to do with the limitations of the designer than economics.

Her point about there being less fabric loss when you cut larger, as opposed to smaller, samples makes sense. I also think it bears repeating that samples are smaller than they were 25 years ago, even as humans have gotten larger. I don’t think you can demonize any one player in the clusterfuck that is the fashion industry. But I will remind you that British Vogue’s editor, Alexandra Shulman, sent a letter last year to many of the major designers (Dolce & Gabbana,¬†Galliano, Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen, Donatella Versace, Burberry, Balenciaga, Valentino, Lanvin) asking for larger samples. She’s also called out Prada, Dior and Chanel for making samples too small to allow her to use an American size 8 model — that would be Crystal’s size — in the magazine.

Tiny samples do not always lead to tiny clothes; Chanel, given its base clientele, would be stupid not to make its iconic jackets in size 10+, and believe me, Karl does. Fashion is a business. But a) some designers do not want the business of women over size 10, because they feel it will hurt their brand image and b) even some designers who design bigger make a conscious choice to keep their samples tiny. (As a bonus for your snarky pleasure:¬†here is a bitterly funny first-person piece by a size 16 British writer — she’d be size 14 American — about trying to buy a designer frock.)

Words I would never put in Crystal’s mouth: Anna Sui and Kate Mulleavy of Rodarte, COME ON. YES, YOU ESPECIALLY. Be a sister. Sell clothes in a size you yourself could actually buy.

But again I remind you that all the talk about fashion has very little to do with educating people about weight and health. I point people Linda Bacon, Ph.D.’sHealth At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight to do that. I love clothes, but fashion is a red herring.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: