Finding a Custom Fit :: Why We Have it All Wrong When it Comes to Shopping
Once in a while my husband and I like to pretend that we are far wealthier than we actually are (which, given our actual financial status, isn’t particularly difficult). We’ll walk into a store where we can afford, oh, maybe the tissue paper with which they delicately wrap up your purchase (can they wrap tissue paper in the tissue paper? hmmm…), and we’ll walk around like we own the place.
Such was the situation on our recent trip to Austin, a city with so much charm it’s bursting at its organically threaded seams. Somehow, however, we ended up in a major menswear retailer (I know, I know! What about all those locally owned vintage shops? We spent the majority of our time in those, I promise.)
My husband is what I consider the perfect blend of artistic and practical. A graphic designer-turned-corporate marketing professional, he has a deep appreciation for creative expression while being very grounded in financial reality. Except when it comes to suits. His recent fascination with suits could rival the worst Tori Birch shoe fetish. The ironic thing is that he could wear sweatpants to work if he wanted. But, trust me, he never would.
The combination of all of this was what found us trapped in the menswear store with a pile of blazers piling up next to us as the salesperson pulled, clipped, and analyzed. He pulled jacket after jacket off of various mannequins as my eyes searched desperately for that cozy chair usually reserved for bored men holding all the shopping bags.
As Mr. Beret (what I named the salesperson who seemed to think that his headwear gave him an edge in the credibility game… or something) exhausted his collection of available jackets in everything from plaid to herringbone to Texas orange (no, really), he determined that we were simply not going to find one off the rack to fit my husband.
The solution, of course, was to go the custom route. He would simply have to have a jacket made that would fit my husband’s, apparently, broad shoulders and small waist. As Mr. Beret explained, he just isn’t proportional. Nothing will fit, he cautioned us.
He went on to explain, “Look, people have all different body types.” Oh really, sir? Little did he know who he was talking to here!
“What we’re trying to do here is to take an entire range of human bodies with all of their various shapes and sizes and fit a piece of cloth over it. How could ever expect it to fit everyone? Usually, stuff off the rack fits about 25 to 30 percent of our customers. That’s not many.”
Can I tell you how refreshing this was to hear? I mean, obviously this is true, and at some level all of us are very aware of this fact. But, as simple of a concept as this is, our understanding of this somehow flies right under and out of the dressing room door when we’re standing in front of a full-length mirror.
Suddenly, it’s our arms that are too long for the jacket, or our feet that are too wide for the shoe, or our hips that are too narrow for the dress. Our boobs are too small, we’re too short, and our shoulders are too broad. There are hundreds of things that we can realize quickly are not right with our bodies when faced with finding the “perfect fit.”
But what if the perfect fit is a total illusion? [Because, honestly, it is.]
What if the problem lies not within our physical selves? What if doesn’t even lie within the clothing manufacturers’ vanity sizing? What if, instead, it lies within the simple truth that putting a piece of cloth (however well-constructed) over a range of human bodies and have it “fit” even a significant number of them is an impossibility?
I stated to think about this and began to research the evolution of ready-made clothes (we had a while to wait at the airport, you see…). I learned that before the American Civil War, it was a rarity to buy your clothes at a retailer. [And, interestingly, women’s apparel shifted to being mass produced long after men’s.] Most of our clothing was created by a tailor or family member who would fit it perfectly to our proportions.
Can you imagine? Everything fitting to your body, instead of feeling like your body should suddenly fit the clothes. What a concept!
Obviously there are reasons (some very good ones like the fact that even the buttons I sew on don’t last) that make ready-made clothes a viable option. But we simply cannot expect that our bodies could, or (more importantly) should, work perfectly with everything we grab off the rack.
We have to find clothes that make our bodies feel good. They need to fit to our unique curves, bumps, lengths, widths, and body anomalies. And, more importantly, they to fit to our own personalities. If it means investing in a few custom pieces (or learning to sew), I’m all for it. And I’m quite sure Mr. Beret would agree.