Models as Clothes Hangers

models
OK. So. I really do get that haute couture is meant, on some level, to be viewed as pageantry, pure art, theater. HC clothes get worn by very few actual people, because very few actual people can afford them. Clothing designers are visual artists, clothing is simply the medium.

I try really, really hard to remember this when I hear the argument for extremely tall, extremely slim models as the ONLY choice for runway shows. When I hear the argument that these women are basically just walking clothes hangers, that their bodies shouldn’t interfere with how the clothing appears.

But I can’t. The more I hear that refrain, the angrier I become. And here’s why.

THEY ARE STILL CLOTHES even if they’re meant to be arty, sculptural, outlandish clothes. Clothes are meant to be worn on bodies, not look great on hangers. If they were just meant to look amazing on their own, they’d be fiber art. Clothing is meant to clothe. Period.

Put aside the fact that models are human beings too, and are often told to their faces that they aren’t thin enough to get work. Put aside the fact that designers and mags claim they’re creating an aspirational fantasy from these luxury goods, ignoring the fact that the women shown wearing these clothes become part of that fantasy. Put aside the fact that the entire industry has shirked social responsibility in favor of economy, claiming they must use fewer materials and standard tiny-person sizing to make a buck. PUT ALL OF THAT ASIDE, and you still have this:

Clothing is meant to be worn by humans. It is not art without humans. If you make it so that it really only looks amazing when no one is wearing it, why call it clothing? Why send it down the runway on a body when you could just hang it up on a wall and let people ogle it? Strides are being made when it comes to model diversity, but whenever this argument comes up I’m reminded that we’ve still got a long, long way to go …

Images courtesy style.com.

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  • Make Do Style

    Modelling on runways is a short career life span and mainly involves women from age 16 to 26 max with a few exceptions. They are usually 5' 10" and do have to keep their weight down to get work.

    The issue goes back to the cost of making garments, however sample sizes can get too small and whilst I think yep if you are going to model clothes it is a walking coat hanger role, some models are too skinny and some sample sizes are too restrictive for body shapes.

    If you contextualise is as a very short career and just a visual spectacle then it is less about images of femininity and size. It is a display of garments and merely a sales tool. The trouble is fashion shows are a bit like the theatre now, everyone goes and all shows are hot tickets.

    I subscribe to the looking at the cut of the cloth and the style. Not all clothes are for all women.

    I'm more concerned about the underwear images, that is where a variety of shapes and sizes are required, that is a direct sell to women whereas catwalks are sells to editors and buyers.

    Get underwear right and clothes look a lot better and less cheap manufactured ill fitting bras please!

  • veronicaa

    Just to be the devil's advocate
    SKINNY is NOT "beautiful" i have lost weight and i am not happy with my body, i miss my bigger bum and curves.
    clothes are only on models for DISPLAY. like you would see in a store. so for that reason they need to be thin with little shape and curves so that the garment may appear flat against their bodies and be displayed as if it would look on a clothing hangar.
    not that this is attractive or appealing, men do not like this and women get it wrong in their heads that this is beautiful!!!
    it is MODELING. not SEX APPEAL-ing.
    although high glamour photos may have sex appeal because of their use of style and elegence, flat chested women with no hips are not attractive.
    Xoxo Veronica
    fashi0npassi0n.blogspot.com

  • Charlie

    this is a great post! I´ve thought about that as well… Why call it clothing if it´s supposed to look great on a hanger only? o.O

  • Suniverse

    This argument makes me mental.

    I agree wholeheartedly that if you are making CLOTHING you need to make something wearable/viable as CLOTHING. For people.

    If you can't manage to create something that will look beautiful/arresting on someone who has, I don't know, breasts and hips and an ass and maybe even a pooch of a tummy, then you are NOT making clothing. You are doing something else.

    I understand artist. Fine. But, as an example, Frank Lloyd Wright did not create homes that could only be used by super slim people. He used his talent AND his medium to create something viable.

    Gah. Sorry I went on there, but this makes me crazy.

  • Deja Pseu

    Sal – love this! It's not just runway/high-end clothing either…look at the flap over the latest J.Crew catalog models! (I feel another post coming on…)

  • Vanessa

    I'm actually working on a post about the standards of skinniness as a way to both minimize women and make them more physically male and thus closer to a gender ideal. I think the first half of that is most important and the second just an interesting way of looking at it from a feminist perspective. You often hear that girl's with eating disorder claim they want to "disappear" or "take up less space," and I think this indicates something a lot more troubling than a health issue: girls are feeling, however subconsciously, that their place as women should be to take up as little space as possible, to be unobtrusive. I find it very sad, and I think the "clothing hangers" philosophy is just another way of justifying it.

  • La Historiadora de Moda

    Well, I have to say that if a garment looks like crap on anyone who isn't a size 0 it is still a garment because it can be worn by someone, right?

    Part of the reason that HC creates fantasy and illusion is because the vast majority cannot have it. They cannot afford the garment. They cannot look like the model no matter how many hours they log at the gym or how many years they spend on a diet. I think, and I'm by no means an expert, that this is part of why the industry will occasionally pay lip service to body diversity but that it will not become a priority across the board any time soon.

  • Sal

    veronicaa: I'm so sorry to hear that your weight loss has made you feel less confident, and less beautiful in your body. Amazing how we tend to think that skinnier will automatically equal happier …

    But I have to take issue with the assertion that models aren't beautiful. I never said that, and don't agree with it. Thin women can be beautiful, just as non-thin can. What one man or woman finds attractive, another may not. I don't think it makes sense to say that the model body type is never attractive or beautiful. It is. It's just not the ONLY kind of physical beauty, and doesn't represent the gamut of body types that exist in the world.

  • en

    I think you are spot on. The clothes hangers argument has a couple dozen holes in it, at least.

    Of course I don't *know* what the real motives are behind restricting runway models to women built like young boys. But it always comes off to me as hatred of women, of their variety and curves.

    If someday a designer decides to create clothes that flatter shorter and curvier women as well, I imagine it will shake up the fashion world. I'm kind of surprised it hasn't happened yet.

  • Lesa

    Even though I know everything you just said, these pictures make me feel HUGE. I know that is all in my mind.

    I swear off fashion mags, and then I break the promise to myself.

    It is frustrating.

  • Lesa

    Me again, wanted to also mention the message this sends to teenage girls who do not fit the image. My twins are by no means fat (size 8) but when they go to these cute little shops and see the skinny tops they will never be able to wear it is demoralizing for them. Not to mention, the same skinny models are used for teen mags like seventeen.

  • Sasha Westin

    Honestly, I have decided to ignore the models and focus on the clothes. Now, this is not terribly difficult to do when the models are paper thin, but it's a conscious shift I've made.

    Perhaps it's part Project Runway (all about the fashion), part ANTM (all about the insecure models) and part me (changing how I accept myself) that has helped me with this shift.

    Whatever the case, I want to see the colors, fabrics, fits and fashion. And then I can translate that to what will work for me or my clients.

    Maybe this means I'm avoiding the problem, I like to think it's me finding ways to "make it work."

  • EllenCas1974

    Somewhere, there has to be a designer who is aware enough and maybe could do a runway of just clothes hangers as a point. You know, use the same technology used at a dry cleaners to have the hangers go down the runway and back. They could even put heads on the hangers. That I would watch.

  • Anonymous

    For me the problem is that super skinny models are so often used in fashion magazines aimed at young women with spreads showing them in real situations – riding a bike, dancing, on a night out, walking on a beach, wrapped up in a cardigan in front of a bonfire. Surely the fashion industry can't argue that, when presented in this way, the clothes are being represented by a human clothes hanger. These are meant to show "us" as in women how great our lives would be if only we had that bag, that scarf and were that skinny in that bikini.

  • Linda

    I could not agree more. People who want to create abstract art should be abstract artists, not designers (or architects, chefs, hairdressers, etc.). In a rational world the entire POINT of haute couture would be that the clothes were crafted to fit and flatter one's own personal body (assuming one had a ton of money). Even a model tiny enough to fit inside one of these garments is not likely to be really flattered by it if she's supposed to essentially disappear in it. The purpose of clothing is to CLOTHE people, not negate them.

  • Kate

    Hear, hear! I agree wholeheartedly with this post. The models-as-hangers thing is just infuriating. If a designer wants to make fabric art that looks best on a hanger, then they should go for it! But just ACTUALLY DO THAT instead of expecting humans to approximate inanimate objects for the sake of their vision. I don't understand why there's this whole industry that claims to be about clothing but that is clearly so opposed to the idea of bodies wearing the product. Because, yes, the models here are real people and they have real bodies, but it sure seems like they're valued by this industry because their bodies come closest to giving the illusion of…not-body.

    (Hi Sal, I started reading your blog about a month ago, I love it!)

  • thesea

    Like you, I get that they are said to be "just clothes hangers", but this is not true. They are not just clothes hangers but human beings. You are right, it's clothing, period. But I think what they are playing into, the designers and their use of clothes hanger models, is a fantasy of life/clothing. They know the fantasy is appealing to many of us because it gives us hope we will be someone different when we wear the item. (And this is what makes us angry, this presumption of theirs that this is what we want, to be someone different than who we are!) This is where we have to be on watch and discern what is right for us, what fits our real life activities and our real life bodies. Otherwise we end up with a lot of crap in our closet that doesn't "suit us" or our lives.

    Wanting to be someone else is just trying to escape our lives. We need to want to be in our own lives, in clothes we love that makes us feel great about ourselves and comfortable and genuine. What we need is to constantly discover what's great about ourselves. We have to develope a keen critical and discerning eye, and we need to know ourselves. The fashion industry would have us run after them, but they should run after us, Sal! The only way they will do that is if we stop running after them.

  • ranksubjugation

    Sal, I get angry about this, too! If you want clothes hangers, put the clothes on actual clothes hangers! If you want people in the clothes, then use people who look like the women you're marketing to! I can't tell you how many times I write off an article of clothing because the model's body type is nothing like mine…

  • Kara

    My thoughts exactly! If you're claiming to be an artist who works in the medium of clothing for women, then your "art" should look its absolute best when "hanging" on a woman. (And the woman shouldn't have to be as slender as a cardboard cutout, either.) If it doesn't, then you have failed as a fashion "artist" and should just make things that are flat, like wall hangings.

  • Michael McGraw Photography

    Going with the idea that HC or runway clothes are art and theatre, then those viewing the runway shows (or seeing those pictures) should realize that they don't really have input in what they see.

    I think that the runway event is distinct from the clothes that are eventually made based on those shows.

    As a visual artist myself, no one gets to tell me how I display my art. People can give feedback or make suggestions AFTER I put something out there, but have no role in the actual creative process.

    I may display my photos in a 40×60 inch frame with museum glass, but I sell 11x14s and 16x20s to people who want the pictures in there homes.

    I think that because "people" are involved with the display of the fashion/art, issues get clouded, but if we accept that the clothing on runways is art, that unless we are the artists it is not our role to have input on the presentation.

    I agree with the statement that "clothing is meant to be worn by humans." So if the only clothes available for humans to buy are not in normal human size, this is were non-artist humans have a right to complain. Runway clothes are not made for average humans, they are made for size "0" models.

    -HM

  • futurelint

    Hmm, very interesting discussion going on here as always! This is one of those things that I think SHOULD have changed by now… it's like when the first black models were used… it was so revolutionary, but now is common. Whenever someone uses anyone who isn't just skin and bones, it's treated as so revolutionary but it just keeps going back to impossibly tall, thin, young girls.

  • Sal

    Michael McGraw Photography: Good points, HM, but all so theoretical. While visual arts such as painting, photography, and sculpture rely on the tastes and financial support of art aficionados, those types of art are not meant to be worn, or adorn, or interact with human bodies. A form of art that is contingent on bodies is more reliant on consumer input than a form of art that relies on the good taste and patronage of art lovers.

    HC has many elements of performance and theater, but it is also meant to influence consumer desire. And, therefore, has some responsibility to both accommodate and recognize its audience. At least, that's my opinion.

  • Anonymous

    First time poster, Sal, but I've been loving your blog for a while.

    I warn you, I'm going to go a bit Marxist here and ask about class. How much is the (fairly recent, historically) obsession with thinness about making difference visible? Lots of people have mentioned the fantasy of money and privilege and power performed on the runway, and I think thinness is part of that.

    Especially now that something like 3/4 of Americans are overweight. In Canada, we're not that far behind. Thinness seems like a way of demonstrating that you are not part of that 3/4, but something elite, desirable, put on a catwalk to be envied.

    It sort of makes sense. For a really long time women's bodies have been the place to demonstrate men's wealth, whether in elaborate clothes, or BMIs or expensive jewels. Thinness seems to be part of the same unpleasant impulse. It's just that now it's disseminated far more widely because we have the tech to do it.

    Anyway. Thanks for giving me a place to talk about something I am really really REALLY interested in.

    Becca

  • Sal

    Anonymous(2)/Becca: So glad you commented today, lady!

    And fascinating points. Especially in light of how excess weight and voluptuousness were once valued as expressions of wealth and privilege, or so I've read. (My, how times have changed …) Also since extreme thinness, depending on cultural context and geography, can be a sign of malnourishment and poverty.

    But here in the U.S. – and much of the Western world – I think you're onto something. Slenderness could be viewed as an expression of control, power, wealth, the luxury of prioritizing food and fitness. And entire industries exist to make sure that thin bodies remain enviable.

  • Charlotte

    As a girl who used to be extremely thin (I'm still not huge, but my metabolism switched to normal in my mid-20's), it angers me on yet another level: the message we're sending is not only to "normal" body types ("you're fat"), but also to thin girl ("your body is a thing, i.e. you're a thing, not a real woman; a desirable thing, but an object nonetheless"). These girls DO have a body — and it doesn't look anything at all like a coat hanger. It wants sex and food and massages and sweat etc. too! It's not a thing! Why are they being told to think of it as such?
    I also think that there are designers who use other body types — they just don't have the following to become haute couture. To me, HC is to "clothing art" what blockbusters are to the film industry: effective, highly calibrated, using a formula that works with very little interest in pushing for something more complex. The real artists, who are pushing the medium, probably do not have a lot of exposure, and probably would not appeal to as many people if they did.
    And I completely agree with the "Marxist" reading of "why" thin is appealing. The MOST predictive factors of weight are income and education levels. Being thin has become a trait of the successful, so it's been associated with all sort of moral values (self control, class, etc.)
    Hard to challenge for most, incl. yours truly at times!

  • Mardel

    I've been struggling with a post here, that always becomes too long and didactic. Anonymous put it much better. Yes, fat was once a sign of wealth as was very pale skin. Then women worked in factories so the rich had to be tanned to show that they didn't have to work. Now, in the west at least, fat is increasingly the norm, so the rich have to be very very thin. And the rich control the money and therefore the marketing. And yes status and power is about control, unfortunately far too often about control of women's bodies. Also unfortunately, there are always women who seem to be wiling to be controlled for the supposed status and wealth it confers on them as well.

    Celine markets to women who can afford their clothes. These women have a strong incentive to be very thin. If Celine changed their sizes and their models to appeal to the "average consumer" they would lose their market.

    Now how we can change all this is a much bigger issue, which involves more than just not buying a particular brand, or twelve brands.

  • Leah Felicity

    I think that the worst part is the objectification of not only the garment but of the wearer. They aren't people anymore; they're "walking clothes hangers." I'm not sure it matters to the designer that they're very hungry and make themselves stressed and other people starve themselves to try to attain that. I think it's a sign of UNcreativity that they feel the need to keep going back to this body type in order to display their work. If they were really good at what they did, they'd be able to display it on any surface available — even a person of a different size.

  • LPC

    Here's the framework I use to understand this, since I come from high tech. The runway is the lab. Almost nothing from the lab ever shows up to be bought. They create stuff in the lab in frictionless environments. Then the engineers make something real about of the lab constructs. Celine is a lab, J. Crew an engineer. Tall skinny models ARE clothes hangers. Frictionless.

  • Candice Virginia

    I once suggested in a critical theory course that designers string up a clothes line and pulley system for their runways. This would remove the social stigma attached to death-walking models. It would also allow couturiers to achieve the Clothes Hanger Look for less. Like Wal-Mart for high fashion. I was, of course, being facetious. But really, why not?

    ~Candice

  • Michael McGraw Photography

    Sally,
    By saying that fashion is not pure art, and that the goal is in part to influence the consumer, still does not give the consumer say in how the art is presented on runways.

    The rumway shows show the clothes in their idealized form, as decided by the designer.

    One may argue that the models are to thin (to show clothes in their best light). When discussing the accountability to the consumers, it does not make sense to direct the arguement to a venue which is not meant for the consumer–the runway. Argue when you don't see clothes in all sizes; this is the point of consumer transaction.

    The runway, and even magazines, are about art and free speech where the role of the consumer is to accept or not.

    -HM

  • Toby Wollin

    If they really wanted a 'walking clothes hanger', then they'd replace the cat walk with a track around a stage, with hatracks every so many feet. The outfits could be hanging off the coatracks on wire hangers. No lumps, no bumps and it moves. Oh, it doesn't show how the clothing moves on a human body? Oh, that requires a human being, not a 'walking clothes hanger' – the whole argument is specious. Even the skinniest models come with bumps(though theirs are usually caused by lack of any flesh covering their bones) – so it can't be that. The secret is the issue of when the models tend to lose their jobs – which is when, by hook or crook, their bodies start to mature and they no longer look like some sort of pre-pubescent boy. Ah – so it really isn't a walking clothes hanger that all of these designers want – it's a creature that looks like a feminized boy. I wonder why that is?

  • sara star

    You are truly amazing to apply your critical thinking to this! I just basically took it as stupid without thinking further on it.

    Just think how sexist that is to claim those women's bodies as objects. And not any objects, but such useless and unimportant objects as hangers?! (I mean I use hangers, but they really have only one prescribed use and a few hacks, its not even comparing a woman to a wondrous object like a computer or a car.)

    The statement should be called out for what it is. Sexist drivel and completely exposed. A few extra inches of fabric to cover a size 10-14 body would not be any trouble or much extra expense.

  • Erin

    I'm not sure what I think about this one. I think that both sides need to give and take a little.
    Runway is art, and it is a fantasy. We want to see something unreal and beautiful, and if the artist chooses to use someone thin, fine. BUT I think that it needs to be made sure that they are healthy. There's no sense in someone dying for something like art.
    On the retail side where people are actually buying these clothes the sizing needs to accomodate that. I've found that the sizing is unfair to smaller people as well as larger people.
    There are several stores, usually cheaper stores that I can actually afford as a college student, that don't make my size. Even the xxxsmall petite is too big, and most of the clothes are also too short for my 5'10" frame. This is also ridiculous.
    I think we should keep art as art on the runway and just make sure that its safe, and perhaps just focus on the retail sizing issues instead.

  • lisa

    Hmm you've raised some interesting points here, Sal. I've always thought of haute couture as art–not necessarily wearable for everyday, definitely not a part of my life except as something distant and beautiful and strange that I can admire. The flip side of the view you've presented here is that there is a small elite group of the super rich who buy couture and wear it and collect it. These clients prefer not to be photographed or in the limelight and to stay hidden. They probably don't have perfect rail-thin model bodies, and designers probably have to tweak and adjust their clothes to fit these clients. We just never see that side of it because the only vision of HC we're presented with is what's on the runway.

  • Audi

    I have no problem with runway models being tall and thin, and presenting haute couture as an extreme of fashion. The fact is that no one really wears the runway versions of those clothes anyway — they are are toned down for the ready-to-wear market, and that includes cutting them for different types of bodies. I'd also argue that fashion is not the only source of 'ideal' beauty — if I did nothing but watch music videos, I could easily convince myself that my column figure and small bust mean that I'm about as far from sexy as it's possible to be.

    Runway shows are supposed to be focused on the clothes rather than the body inside them; to me it's the same as showing art in the simplest frame possible, and letting the buyer frame it in their own unique and beautiful way later.

  • Linda

    HM,

    I guess my feeling is that the art of fashion inheres partly in the relationship between a piece of clothing and a person who is clothed. So it doesn't really make sense to me to say that the idealized form of the art must be shown on a person with as little body as possible, and everything else is a consumer issue. If someone wants to design clothing FOR a very thin person, fine. But that is a body type; it isn't a non-body. Saying "My ideal vision is for a very thin person to wear this garment" is a lot different from saying "My ideal vision is for this garment to somehow be able to walk down a runway with no one inside it, so I will try to approximate this ideal with as nearly nonexistent a person as I can find."

  • sara star

    HM:

    As an artist, if I was painting on canvases made by slave laborers, would my position as an artist be so sacred that my creative process was above contempt?

    I believe if the materials I was using to make my art were harmful to other people, the environment and culture it would be the human right of the viewers, community, and consumer to tell me to change my process to something just as good/perhaps better and not much more expensive.

    I would not truly be forced to follow the demands, but I should as an ethical concern. If legislation was entered to mandate the health of the society, I would be required to follow.

    Most paint makers no longer produce Lead White, for good reason, it killed babies.

    The hiring process for models kills young women. They die from anorexia, suicide and drug abuse. Similarly the women who look up to them are compelled to do similar.

    The standard in models from thin but still healthy has changed in only the last 15-20 years. The super models of my childhood where not dying to get work, worked into their 30's and transitioned into acting and television. Why because they were not coat hangers, they were women.

    There is a philosophy that art is the grand child of creation. In that what is made by "god" is nature and what is made by humans (who are of nature) is art. Women are not objects, they are not art supplies. They are creatures and if art is made to harm them, that is an issue that we have every right to get into and stop.

  • Pat

    I don't know…have you seen fashion designers' sketches? They are invariably very long and skinny. I think the designers are just picking models that are closest to their idealized version of how the clothes look in their mind's eyes.

  • Kelly

    I am so with you Sal.

  • Rebecca

    Seconding Make do Styles comment. I work in fashion and at our company a sample of a simple black cardigan can cost upwards of $5000 for a sample. The retail cost of the garment would be 300, but working in limited runs and experimenting with materials can be prohibitively expensive. A couture gown that has a 20,000 production cost at a size 2, will be proportionately more expensive if it's made 50% larger.

  • Nadine

    THANK YOU for your first comment, Sal! I was sitting here with my flat chest and tiny hips feeling pretty pissed off!

    I like Audi's comment. I remember reading somewhere that the 90s supermodels were replaced by less distinctive-looking models because the supers were so gorgeous they became a distraction from the clothes . . .

    Personally I get way more inspiration from my favourite style blogs than I do from runway images.

  • The Waves

    The model-as-clothing-hanger-argument is a peculiar one. Back in the day when I worked as a model, I was told that the essential thing about being a model was about being a clothing hanger (the term was used widely by all the agencies I worked with.) Being a hanger was all about "showing" the clothing, not "wearing" it for real. The way I understood it, it was about toning down my personality on the runway, and focusing more on selling the garment. At the time I found the distinction helpful, because I had so many insecurity issues going on. It was beneficial for me to see my body as a tool, and seeing it as such really helped me do my job. However, in hindsight I think I was lucky to be old enough to make the rule work for me, because I knew a lot of models who couldn't. A lot of girls would take wearing the clothes too personally, causing freak-out-moments if they couldn't fit into something. If I didn't, I'd always think that my "hanger" wasn't the right one; not that there was anything wrong with ME.

    Having said that I completely agree that the concept doesn't make any sense from the consumers' standpoint. Clothes are meant to be worn by people, it really is as simple as that. So why would someone choose to buy on the basis of someone "showing" a piece rather than "wearing" one? The distinction is lost on me, as soon as I step outside the framework of my personal experiences with the term.

  • Peter

    Obviously my perspective is a bit different as I didn't grow up expecting one day to look like one of those female clothes hanger runway models, or feel any pressure to do so.

    On the one hand it seems to me that women, in the developed world at least, have never had such a wide variety of differently-shaped role models: many powerful women in the public eye today are NOT especially thin, including some designers, like Donna Karan. But they're certainly still considered attractive. A certain talk-show host comes to mind…

    Still, it seems to me that NEVER has there been such a focus on models, modeling, fashion shows and the women who walk the runway (in my lifetime at least and I'm in my forties). This is probably due in part to the Internet, and increased media presence in many (most?) of our lives. You can easily be tuned into it 24/7.

    My sense is that most runway models happen to be young women who are tall and genetically prone to being skinny. They may diet to get even skinnier, but I don't think most of them are killing themselves.

    As parents, brothers, fathers, mothers etc., we all can teach young women to be comfortable in their bodies regardless of how much adipose tissue they may be carrying, provided they are healthy of course.

    Unfortunately, I think capitalism is largely to blame for the current situation. There's a demand for these types of models and if the public didn't "buy" it the market wouldn't wouldn't supply it, right?

    Models represent cultural ideals and those ideals are complex. The reasons men (and many women) like to look at, read about, marry, be seen, with young "attractive" (read, thin) women is as much about biology as anything else.

    Great post and interesting conversation, Sal!

  • mistie

    As always, thank you Sal for the thoughtful post! I love costuming for this very reason. You are dressing the body, the person, the human 🙂 The ART of fashion is so different than the art of dressing. They are not the same kind of art, and since each of us dress everyday, where do we turn? The magazines could care less if we look good in the garment as long as they get sales.

    Our society is propelled by the marketing of what a "right" look is. High fashion is high price tag = status symbol. Even if it looks like crap on your body type and is made of terrible material.

  • Rad_in_Broolyn

    Great post, Sal!
    I've been more in tuned to beautiful model like people here in NYC. I actually once sat next to an Eastern European teenaged, gangly, beautiful legathon one day in the subway. Being nosy, I looked at her print out, which had details for her modeling gig that day. She was so young, probably very far from home, scared and tired looking, and she looked like any runway model during fashion week. I was wearing something really colorful and fun on my way to a meeting to my job that values me for my brains and creativity. This was very enlightening to me. While she is judged for her looks alone, I feel free as someone valued for my mental contributions, with a good education, a (relatively) prestigious job, a steady income, and the wisdom that comes with (relatively) older age.
    Models are envy causing, but if you consider their social-political position, I don't envy this. Plus, they are kids. I hated being that age. It's a physical job, it's unglamorous, competitive, and lacks a steady paycheck.

  • Karenina

    Very interesting discussion, however it does cause me some personal discomfort. As a natural "skinny", I am somewhat offended by the language that people here are using to describe thinness and thin people. There are just as many negative stereotypes about "starving waifs" and "skinny rich bitches" floating around out there as there are ones about fat people.

    For me, fashion is art, period. A great deal of what designers show is never actually sold (especially HC) and therefore I think it needs to be seen viewed in a certain light (maybe we need to start having more fashion shows in art galleries alongside Jana Sterbak's "meat dress" to make that point clear). I am not personally bothered by thin models for several reasons;
    1) They're kind of like pro-ahtletes; a very specialized breed. For most of them, they just happen to have the right genetics for the job.
    2) The clothes, to my eye, do tend to look more appealing for the most part. When a designer is trying to showcase a concept, the last thing they want people paying attention to is the model's saddlebags and celulite. I suppose in this way, the clothes-hanger supporters have a good point…it's less about the body than it is about the clothes.
    3) The women (the models) look like me, and I can relate to them. I am naturally very thin, and do not have an eating disorder. Am I a freak? I think not. Skinny doesn't always equal sick. We need to break that association.
    4) The Marxist reading was dead-on. In this age, skinny is becoming increasingly rare, and hence it is elite. We all want what we can't have…fashion hinges on fantasy and desire. I won't try to argue if this is right or wrong…just that it is.
    5) In this age of over-eating and obesity, I don't think it hurts to keep a reasonably thin cultural "ideal". I'm not advocating that people starve themselves…but if a picture of Kate Moss in a bikini makes you jealous enough to hit that treadmill a few times a week…well, a few years from now, that could actually save you from a heart attack. Our society has all kinds of disordered eating…I think we need to be a bit more concerned with the rather large chunk of the population that is chronically overeating (which is just as disordered), and stop throwing accusations at thin people who may not even have an eating disorder.

    To those who say "skinny is not beautiful" I say "stick it"; whatever happened to the idea that ALL shapes can be beautiful? In this case, skinny just happens to be the best shape for the job (use your own square peg, round hole analogy).

  • RGuillory

    I think you're spot-on Sal. One of the things that I love about your blog is that it creates a space for fashion-forward women to exchange ideas apart from the politbureaus of the fashion world, all of whom seem to forget that: the art is utilitarian (clothes are meant to be worn!) and that models are human beings. It's borderline criminal the way women are treated and portrayed by the fashion industry. Thanks for your thoughtful commentary–as always. You're a breath of fresh air!

  • …love Maegan

    no ..I absolutely agree 100 percent. I think women who have curves are more interesting to look at …meaning they would actually take away from the clothes because on the runway, people would be eyeballing the women instead of the clothes. But really, you are right, if they are only meant to be clothes "hangers" why not send the clothes down the runway on one of those dry-cleaner racks? Seriously.

  • Stephanie L.

    Just two observations….well really one observation and one personal experience. Observation one: I found it fitting (sorry didn't mean for that pun to sneak in there) that the final retrospective for Valentino as profiled in "The Last Emperor" featured a vast cross section of his work displayed ON THE WALL. No hips or breasts or BREATH to disturb their artistry. Right….so, all those unnervingly thin models were unneccessary to begin with??

    Second, my personal experience: when my ten year old daughter was a baby, I naively signed her up for modeling. Our early experiences were fair, not terrible. However, as she progressed and more of the auditions became high profile retailers or companies, the pressure began mounting. I became increasingly uncomfortable with the treatment of the kids as well as the attitudes of some of the parents. The final straw happened at an audition for a commercial for a name brand baby company launching a new product. A small group of kids had been called back, and as they called a baby named Madison (an adorable, happy blond girl of about nine months)I clearly heard the remark "Wow, Madison sure hasn't missed any meals!" Fat talk…SMACK talk for God's sake. About a BABY. I still to this day don't know who precisely made that comment. I DO know, however, that I picked up my baby, left that audition and never looked back.

  • Tina Z

    Even though I am not tall or skinny, I tend to generally agree with Karenina about her point that models are akin to athletes who simply meet the physical requirement for the job. It's not like it's a secret that models are taller and skinner than most people, nor is it a secret that most cyclists are just as skinny (though not necessarily as tall). Many tall male athletes weigh much less than I do at 5'4" and often have much lower body fat percentages than models.

    But do I think the focus on skinny models has gotten out of hand and that design houses have way too much license to criticize models as a result? Absolutely. The power structure is clearly stacked against models, whereas it tends to favor athletes. And that's what sucks about the whole issue, models are vulnerable to the whims of the old guard who set guidelines regarding sample sizes and runway aesthetics. But I don't think the pendulum will ever swing the other way, even if more models fought back. It just might be a little bit better and I think that's all we can expect. I'd rather fight other fights.

  • Emily Kennedy

    Sal, I completely agree with you. Wearable art is still supposed to be wearable. You want to make women's clothing that's not about women's bodies? Frame it; don't stick it on women and send it down a runway.

  • glammmit

    Okay, I totaly agree with the point you're making here, but I just want to point out that you're misusing the term "haute couture"/conflating it with pret-a-porter. Haute couture is clothing hand-made to fit a single customer. You do not buy it off the rack at the designer's boutique. It is significantly more expensive than pret-a-porter (ready-to-wear), the stuff every designer sends down the runway, the outfits which (usually) appear in stores with the designer's tag on it. Pret-a-porter IS meant to be worn by the general (wealthy) populace–it is well made, and often somewhat conceptual/fantastical/artistic, but it is NOT supposed to be completely unwearable. If it was, the designer would have nothing to sell to stores and would make no money (unless they were part of an enormous house that gets most of their revenue from perfume, accessories, etc.). So having only the skinniest of models in pret-a-porter shows makes no sense, zero, absolutely none, because "real"-sized women will be buying it.
    Clothing deemed "haute couture" is custom-made for a private client. You CANNOT go into a retail store and purchase it off the rack. Clothing that gets to be deemed "haute couture" is strictly regulated by a body in Paris, and you can read about the specifications here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haute_couture. The designers who sells haute couture (for prices 2-10+ times as much as a pret-a-porter piece would cost, due to the labor-intensive hand-tailoring, extra details, extra-luxe fabrics that go into each garment, etc.) often have "Haute couture" runway shows 1-2 times a year, but these pieces are NOT meant to be worn by the average female and are often highly conceptual/artistically expressive. They are meant to inform the (in this day and age, very few number of) haute couture customers' choices for their next haute couture garment commissions, inspire the rest of the fashion world, build repute for the artistic sensibilities of the house's current designer, and/or simply be a medium the designer's fantasy fashion whims. Most design houses cannot afford these shows because they generate no revenue directly and the costs of fabric and hand-tailoring are too exorbitant to support. In these shows, it would make sense to use the itsy bitsy teeny weeny giraffe-like models, if that's what the designer finds most beautiful, and if he wants to put the attention solely on his "wearable art" (another commenter made the very good point that clothing only wearable on one body type is still clothing).

    So I hope this was clear. It seems a lot of people have confusion about the difference between the two, and it's no wonder, since haute couture is both esoteric and a dying practice in this age of short attention spans and every-other-second changes in what's considered fashionable by those who make such decisions!

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  • Lorraine

    I think models as clothes hangers is a reactionary term by regular and also overweight, and obese women – anybody who is not thin. Everybody the main reason models are tall and thin, is because clothing looks best on women who are tall and thin.
    It’s not about sample sizes, having to make different sizes for different sized women – the designers could easily make all their designs a size 6 or 8, and they would be the same size.
    And it’s not about wanting to save a few extra dollars on the little bit of material needed to make a dress in a size 2 as opposed to a size 6.
    It’s just about the clothes, looking the best they can, and that requires them being on women that are tall and thin.