Sally from Already Pretty recently wrote a post about tall and thin runway models, pointing out that clothes are for all humans, and therefore the runway models for couture shows should be more representative of our different body types. She makes some great points and the post is a great read.

“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”.

Sally goes on to ask whether the it is reasonable to justify the runway archetype based on an argument that they are walking clothes hangers. This got me thinking and I’d like to offer a perspective.

In my fashion buying days I attended many, many fashion shows, fashion shoots and worked backstage at fashion shows dressing the models themselves. There are a couple of reasons why I think the tall, slim model works wonderfully in a runway show (Sally touches on the first one).

  1. Slim models are uniform models. There is no doubt that as we get more meaty, our body shape differences get more pronounced. This is great from the point of view of being representative, but a lot more difficult to manage in the context of a fashion show. Slim models are definitely more uniform. Garments can be switched from one model to another relatively easily. The uniformity also ensures that the audience’s attention is drawn to the garments and not the models themselves.
  2. Tall models have presence. Height is extremely important in a theatrical runway show. Taller models elevate the drama. That’s why these poor models wear close to six inch heels on top of being almost 6 feet tall. Shorter women would be swallowed up on the runway. Even if all the models were uniformly shorter, the impact to people in the front row would simply be less. The relative scale matters.

I can accept these as good reasons. It is just more practical. The same way it is more practical for pilots to have 20/20 vision, basketball players to be tall, and rocket scientists to be good at mathematics.

A third reason is the social norm. There is an expectation that models will be tall and slim. It is part of a larger social issue, making it hard for individual fashion houses to challenge the norm. As a group, we, society, expect to see our fashion on people that look like models. If it becomes important enough to a large enough group of people to see designs on people like themselves, then the fashion houses might need to sacrifice practicality and show their designs on a representative set of body types.

Finally, it is worth thinking about who those big runway shows are selling to. It isn’t us, the general public. It is the buyers from big chains, the fashion editors of major publications and celebrities. So the houses will be focused on what they want to see, not what we want to see.

So the shows are anything but representative, showcasing extreme looks on extreme body types for drama and practicality, but all is not lost. Immediately after the show the focus turns to real body types. The clothes that we see in retail stores are not made to fit these runway models. The fit models that fashion buyers, manufacturers and quality control departments use to finalize clothing production are mainstream in body type because retailers want you to purchase their clothes and be happy with their fits.

All of this helps me to understand why the models are tall and slim at the big shows, but Sally’s right — they are not representative of the general public.

I recently saw The Last Emperor, an interesting documentary on Valentino. There is a scene where he is designing a dress, and even at this early stage he has a fit model as he experiments with some ideas. As you might have guessed, this fit model looks like a typical runway model, very tall and very slim. He is clearly conceiving his design for this body type. Perhaps this is the bigger problem. Not so much that the designs are showed on these extreme body types, but that they are conceived for them.

What would fashion be like if the very first thought that a designer had was with your body in mind?