Clothes: Satan’s Playthings

On Tumblr, a website where I like to waste valuable time looking at pictures of mushrooms, Tom Hardy, kittens doing things, and maps of the world coloured in different ways to express various (unsourced) data sets, there are recurring text posts in circulation about how much most of the (female, and sometimes male) users of the site are disappointed in the fashion industry. Not merely at a political level (“why is it called nude when a narrow selection of white people are that colour when naked and human skin comes in a million other shades?” / “men can wear lingerie” / “stop encouraging eating disorders” and all the other old classics are available if you ever need to be reminded that capitalism has turned the business of “clothing our bodies” into an ugly mirror for all the worst parts of society’s racism, gender policing, and body fascism), but at the simple and practical level of just buying clothes from any retailler.

Although the eagle-eyed will note that large, weirdly-shaped, sewing-machine-owning yours truly tends to make a lot of her own clothes, I still have to buy a certain amount of them, for a number of reasons, like “it’s still cheaper to buy t-shirts than make them” (unless you’re buying them from PAOM or Bolongaro Trevor) and “sewing denim is fucking impossible”. Aside from that I do also like looking through clothing shops either online (where I don’t have to listen to store music or smell other people’s inability to use functional deodorant or deal with their lack of understanding of the concept of personal space) or in person (where I can find out what the fabric feels like, what the hang of the clothing is like on someone who isn’t a model, and whether or not the pockets in the picture are real pockets), and gleaning if nothing else some ideas to work from.

(On an associated note, the best place to get ideas from so far has been “a selection of historical fashions tumblrs” and other blogs: fashionsfromhistory, omgthatdress, chiffonandribbons, fringefashion, inmirrors, medievalvisions (not just fashion), and notordinaryfashion; a trawl through Etsy chasing whichever era I’m into at the moment as a search term can occasionally be rewarding, although a lot of people on there don’t seem to have grasped that “Renaissance” and “Victorian” are about four hundred years apart from each other, and also “Byzantine” is a form of chain-making and therefore not so easy to search for art under).

In the spirit of conformity, then, here are some problems I have with most readily-available clothing for women-type people, and my suggested solutions.

Pockets

This is an angry, frequently-shouted complaint in all conversations about women’s clothing.

I like bags, don’t get me wrong, and I have them now in every necessary size: one tiny one from Doc Martens, one tiny one from a box of rejected packaging in a camera shop on the Strand, one medium-sized one from an army surplus shop which has been cooed over by everyone from dentists at the Eastman Hospital to scruffy skatepunk campaigners at Save South Bank, and one largeish solid former 1970s camera bag from a stall in the weird windowless basement of antiquities off Brick Lane which has been the toast of hipsters everywhere I’ve taken it. Love a good bag, me. Especially if it’s a satchel or a camera bag, apparently. I’ve even got a motorbike courier’s document bag of standard Czech army issue, because why not?

But I don’t want to be forced to carry one at all times, and I like having somewhere to put my hands, and my Oyster card and keys are a bit too important to be entrusted in a discrete item that I can put down and leave somewhere or have snatched from me. And most human ladies agree: bags should be voluntary, not mandatory, and while “Bra pouches” are ingenious for, say, clubbing or festivals, there’s nothing especially dignified about fishing around in your sweaty underwear to pay for a bottle of water at the shops.

Men’s clothing always has pockets. Men’s jogging bottoms: pockets. Even the ball-swaddling Lycra has pockets. Shorts have pockets. There are t-shirts with pockets. Pockets on formal wear. Pocketed button-downs. Pockets on their jackets. My friend Doug bought a hat with a fucking pocket in it.

Not only do we not get pockets on most women’s clothing, we get fake pockets. We get a pocket flap with no pocket behind it. We get teased with the prospect of somewhere to stash an iPod and then no goddamn sheath. FAKE POCKETS. “Pocket details”. What kind of sick fuck came up with that idea? “You can have the concept of a pocket. You can have the look of a pocket, so that people will assume you have a pocket and refuse to hold something for you. But you can’t have an actual pocket. Muahaha.”

The most common explanation for this has been “it damages the silhouette.”

At this point I would like to grab the designers of high-street fashions by the lapels and say: you will find space for a pocket in your precious silhouette. I know it’s possible, you lying fucks. I make clothes. You can put massive pockets into a flared dress without doing a fucking thing to the silhouette. You can hide pockets in folds and in drapes and in the lining of hoodie sleeves. I’ve seen clothes blatantly designed for selling drugs and they have so many ingenious hidden pockets that I wanted to cry with envy.

My solution is: everywhere you originally put a fake pocket, put a real pocket. Everywhere you would put a pocket if you were making the same item for men, put a pocket on the item for women. And a proper pocket, not those pathetic little shallow hip things you put on women’s jeans which routinely disgorge lip balm every time I sit down.

Colours

Every season high street fashion lobs a different set of palettes under the bus and demands that we focus on a specific single collection of colours, with no alternative if you happen to suit a different family to those on offer. Sure as night follows day, you will be allowed jewel tones and nothing else all winter, and fuck you if you’re a warm colours person.

For a while there the colour I like best, which followers of this blog will be familiar with (spoilers: it’s khaki) was in vogue. Shops overflowed with Army Green. Now it has all vanished under a sea of fucking coral pink, light grey, navy blue, black, and neon colours, all of which reliably make me look like a corpse. My only option is maroon-burgundy, and there’s only so much of that I can take.

Of course this limitation of colours is even worse if you’re a plus-sized person (or as I prefer to call myself: fat). Your options are black, the same shade of purple as a Cadbury’s chocolate bar, white maybe, and sometimes the same shade of brown as a Cadbury’s chocolate bar. Never mind if you’re of swelling stature and have the enviable luck to have skin dark enough to look good in lemon yellow; fuck you if you naturally rock a deep rich red; shit off if you’re looking to swathe your immense boobs in baby blue or rose pink. Fat women can wear black and be invisible or else.

Even shops were “basics in a range of colours” is a selling point (the notoriously awful American Apparel who are the only people who make thigh socks that will fit my waist-sized thighs, Primark, etc) manage “a range of colours in one tone“, and most of the time that one tone is “cold colours”.

My suggested solution is that for each style you decide to sell, sell it in a range of tones. Maybe one colour from each tone, which will increase your variety and constitute selling it one other colour. Maybe more. It costs nothing more and means you don’t have a load of stock mouldering on the shelves in places where people are more cold-toned or warm-toned than the current fashion allows for. Also people like me will stop bitching about your shop on the internet, and everyone wins.

Sizing

I’m not going to touch on the “why do you make clothes in sizes for people who are non-existently tiny but then stop at size 16 or 18 or whatever while all the newspapers wank on about an obesity crisis do you not understand that fat people also need to wear clothes” because it is a particular hobby of mine to wax boring on this topic and I think everyone’s tired of it.

What I actually mean is that “size 16 or 18 or whatever”, or “EU50” or “US 12” or whatever. Not only does sizing language vary between countries, causing endless confusion when buying overseas and necessitating a list of sizes on every clothing label, but it varies between stores, and as a friend discovered while trying to buy cheap jeans in Peacocks, it even varies within one store. What earthly point is there in knowing you take a size 12 from one shop when you have no idea if you take a size 12 from another section of the same shop, let alone any other shop?

Lord only knows how many online purchases get sent back because “18” doesn’t mean the same thing to ASOS as it does to H&M, and all the sizing charts are carefully hidden away in pop-ups or weird links which close the page you were looking at, because no one should have to look at them.

Suggested solution here has probably been suggested several times before. Do away with sizing summaries. Instead of listing on a garment all fifty different equivalent sizes it is worldwide, list the key measurements in inches and centimetres, like so:

Dress
Chest: 34 inch/86 cm
Waist: 30 inch/76 cm
Hip: 36 inch/91.5 cm

Shirt
Collar: 13 inch/33 cm
Chest: 34 inch/86 cm
Waist: 30 inch/76 cm

Trousers
Waist: 30 inch/76 cm
Hip: 36 inch/91.5 cm
Inner leg: 28 inch/71 cm

The other great advantage like this is the sizing is consistent across the sexes, as well as the stores, the styles, and the continents. Everyone can buy with confidence, everyone knows what will fit and what won’t, and sales of tape measures will go through the roof (why not sell tape measures by the till? Online? Why not have an in-store measurement service for customers who aren’t sure?).

Sizing: shop layout.

While we’re on sizing: please stop displaying all your clothes by style only. If you’re going to do that, at least have section dividers on the rail. I’m so sick of having to rifle through tightly-packed clothes in a busy shop to find out if you do this particular style in my size (and you always put larger sizes towards the back, just to make life even more difficult), checking every single clothing tag – if I can find it – because you don’t pay your shop floor staff enough for them to care whether they’ve put the discarded top back on the hanger with the right number on it (Primark).

Instead, why not divide the shop up into size sections? If you’re going to insist on sticking to the “UK16, US20, EU95” system of sizing, at least have a “rail 16” where all the damn clothes are a size 16 and we can just look for the style we want, confident in the knowledge that it will be in the ballpark of fitting us.

Fabric quality

This is another of the bugbears of a broad church of Tumblr users, Facebook friends, and anyone you talk about clothes with at all, ever.

Why are women’s high street clothes made of such shitty fabric.

It’s the same as the pocket problem. Men’s clothing in the same price range, from the same shops, is made with thicker, stronger, more durable, often more pleasant-to-wear fabric. Men’s clothing doesn’t come free from its lining after one evening of wearing it to the cinema; men’s clothing doesn’t have a texture like sad tissue paper; men’s clothing is rarely the approximate thickness of an atom and yet somehow designed to cause copious sweating.

No one’s come up with an explanation for this bullshit at all. No “oh colours are expensive”, “people can’t use tape measures”, “that would take up too much space”, “pockets ruin the silhouette”, nothing. Even in Primark, home of the terminally cheap and frequently disintegrating clothing, there is a marked difference in quality between mens- and womenswear.

The only explanation I can offer is that they assume that our clothing needs are so rigidly segregated that no woman will ever pop into the men’s section in search of a jumper, because it’s for men omg and thus we’ll never find out that we’re being forced into crappier, colder, less comfortable clothes for no good reason. And that, as a strategy, is about on the level with a toddler putting their head inside a pillowcase and believing that they’re invisible.

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9 thoughts on “Clothes: Satan’s Playthings

  1. The pocket thing! I hate it! I don’t actually care about my silhouette! I care about where I can put my wallet! And I don’t want to be walking around with a bag every single day in every single place I go, no matter what. Don’t taunt me with the illusion of a pocket, just give me a useful little thing I can stick my keys in.

    1. I just feel that if we can make hoodies like the one I used to own, with the hidden zip and pocket in the lining of both SLEEVES, we can bloody well put pockets in skirts the same way we do in the hips of trousers. It would take, at maximum, an extra ten minutes and a quarter of a metre of fabric. There is NO NEED for excising the humble pocket.

  2. Clothes sizes can vary even within one range, last year I tried on two skirts from the same range in a department store, both fitted me perfectly, but one was a ten and one a fourteen. Sizes drive me potty when I shop, it doesn’t help that I’m more broad shouldered than most men, so there have been times when I’ve been wearing a size ten skirt but I’ve never been able to get into less than a sixteen top. Dresses do not fit me. I pine over pretty summer frocks but I’ve given up trying them on because I look ridiculous.

    I make most of my own these days, but it largely because I hate all man made fibres, and as you say the fabric for women’s clothes is terrible. Even if you can find a nice simple white cotton blouse that fits over your boobs it will probably be so transparent the butcher would give you a substantial discount ( a butcher in ripon was once very friendly and gave me half price fillet steak- I didn’t realise my blouse had come completely undone until ten minutes later. Still, half price fillet steak…)

    1. Oh the lack of tailoring for boobs as well, that is a whole other rage-making issue – a friend found a place that does larger sizes with a separate “big, bigger, biggest” boob range but that’s like saying “a friend found hen’s teeth”.

      (half-price steak though!)

    1. I am 100% certain you could run a profitable business just off the idea of “dresses and skirts with fucking pockets”.

  3. it damages the silhouette and costs a lot when multiplied to millions.
    Sizings you actually need shoulder measurements as well. We seem to have size 12 shoulders grafted on to 16/18 figures. Apparently some stores use shoulder measurements on the hangars (eg size 12) with size 14 busts and waists but none mfr up to 38dd busts. That is how some plumpish figures (obviously not size 12) can fit into size 12 clothes.

    1. I agree on the shoulder thing, but I don’t see anyone claiming that putting pockets into men’s clothing is an unavoidable expense. If they can do it for men’s clothing and keep that affordable, they can do it for women’s clothing. And pretty much anyone I’ve spoken to would rather have a slightly less figure-hugging pair of jeans or whatever than fake pockets.

      1. How often do you look at the material the pocket is made of, and would you want the typical male pocket material in a pretty top? ~Jeans I agree, latex stuff – difficult to get right but they could make the effort, or patch them on.

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