Contrary to the belief of the fashion industry, the average American woman is not 5’11” with measurements that befit starving children. However, the mannequins used to display the clothes they are attempting to sell still have those proportions. I look up at them every day, styled so carefully and tastefully, extra-small shorts trying to grasp their plastic waists tight enough.
Then, I look down at myself. I’m 5 feet tall, with a soft stomach, huge hips, and thick thighs. I look at the customers around me. They look like me: some a little bigger, some a little thinner. They’re all looking up at the mannequins as well, probably wondering the same thing I’m wondering:
How the hell would that fit me?
I’m surrounded by mannequins all day because I work at Trend in Nordstrom (formerly known as the junior department, BP). We recently received a shipment of Brandy Melville, making us 1 of 20 Nordstrom stores to carry the Italian clothing line. Brandy Melville features predominately basic apparel, utilizing neutral colors and soft, light material. The demographic ranges from preteens to young adults, and for a very specific reason: it’s one size fits most.
Brandy isn’t a perfect company. As a feminist, I resent them for lumping every body type into one very loose-fitting and slightly overpriced piece of cloth that really only looks good on a specific body type. As a stylist and a retail worker, I love them for putting out very basic items that can be easily accessorized and worn in several different ways. And they’re soft. I can’t tell you how important stylish comfortable clothing is during an 8-hour shift.
But everything looks tiny laid out on our display tables; the same goes for almost every brand and article in the entire department. The only reference point customers have are the thin, white, plastic Amazonian women with no faces that loom over them. They also have the outfits displayed on our fitting room doors, which give them cute ideas but still no clue as to how those clothes would fit on an actual proportional human being.
We organized a “Brandy Candy” event for our shoppers on our first weekend with the new shipment, and it was a rule that everyone in our department had to wear the brand. My manager rushed over to me as soon as I walked in and lead me to a fitting room, where an outfit had already been selected for me: A striped blue cropped t-shirt. An oversized gray sweater. The smallest pair of gray shorts I had ever seen in my life.
I pulled them on delicately, bracing my ears for the inevitable rip of the fabric as I yanked the acid-washed booty shorts over my thighs. But they fit perfectly. I felt good.
Intrigued, I bought a few more Brandy pieces to wear on my shifts. They all fit. It was astonishing. Those clothes, once so small on tiny black plastic hangers and nightmare-mannequins, hugged my body perfectly and flattered my frame just the way I wanted (with a little tweaking; I am a wanna-be stylist after all).
I sold 10 of those sweaters that day, and 3 of the skirt I wore as well. Midway through my shift, I bought a necklace and proceeded to sell 2 of them before my day ended. It was glaringly obvious that the women and girls shopping at the store were more likely to buy clothes if they saw them worn by people with different body types, which makes me wonder: why do retailers only choose one body type to advertise them?
Customers tell me it’s comforting to hear whether or not something fits us right, seeing as we all have different body types (and no one is as tall as Slenderman). I can’t understand why we still display clothes on such unrealistically stick-thin models, as a majority of our population’s body types are no where near that.
So the best I can do is buy clothes and model them myself, to let other people know that you can be average-sized and look fabulous. It’s expensive, definitely, but it’s an expense I’ll gladly shoulder to help other women and girls feel good about their bodies.
Ali Wire is a 20-year-old college student, photographer, poet, aspiring personal stylist, radical feminist, pretentious music critic, coffee enthusiast, and certainly not a very good cook.