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Measure 4 measure: de-grading ‘Vanity sizing’ via materiality.

'When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.'

Goodhart’s Law

‘Vanity Sizing’ cannot materially be enforced. Commonly perceived as a producer’s intentional distortion of a garments’ measurement relative to the size marketed, this denotes an unsuspecting consumer subjected to an economic objective to increase sales. As a women’s-wear designer with ten years experience I wish to highlight how the unintentional consequences of the materiality of manufacturing and measurement dilute this supposed force. In exploring how a lack of standardization, synchronicity and fixity pervades, this consumer held perception is eroded, whilst uncovering potential room for consumer agency.

‘Vanity sizing’ denotes four assumptions, a universal ideal as to what appeals to our vanity, global standardization of size numbers, accuracy of methods of production, and finally fixity in the measurement attached to a size number. Is the number 8 universally deemed more attractive than the number 14? The U.K.’s Top Shop are cited as having shrunk their measurements relative to the size marketed, to make their youthful consumers feel more adult. These diverse interpretations of ‘vanity’ echo the myriad of global numerical size representations experienced within the same shopping district. Global brands maintain use of their country of origin’s sizing system, with The Gap commencing with a U.S. size 0, which would equate a French 32, a Japanese 7, which in turn a U.K. brand would represent with the number 6. Contemporary consumers are assumed to passively locate themselves within plural size charts, reducing themselves to an industry dictated ‘number’.

Measure 4 measure: de-grading ‘Vanity sizing’ via materiality.

The industrial revolution saw the genesis of size categories with increased governmental demand for mass-produced military uniforms to consequently be ordered into sizes for the militarized mass of soldiers. The unintentional aspect of production aids the consumer not to be reduced to a number, as a military unit to be contained by numerical categories, as this is dependent upon fixity in the materiality of method and measurement.

German philosopher Martin Heidegger warned that as humans, we have been seduced by our trust in measurement, adopting it as a utensil not only to measure objects relative to objects, but also relative and between ourselves.

Clothing companies choose for themselves, a live fitting model to represent, arbitrarily, what a size 10 is for their consumer demographic. Multiplied by the number of producers globally, the plurality of outcome as to what constitutes a size 10 robs a size number of fixity and value. Variability is compounded by diverse methods of producing a base pattern block, from which to grade all the required sizes for production. Computer Aided Design (CAD), may ensure standardization of sizes within the company, but others maintain use of traditional cardboard pattern blocks, their material manifestation vulnerable to fraying and decay, their measurements altering over time. The chalk used to outline the pattern onto fabric also becomes blunted, the line progressively widening, compounding the distortion in outcome.

The fixity of numbers as representative of measurement and size is unstable. Consumers are not pinned to a number; flexibility endows consumers with a degree of mobility between numbers or ‘sizes’. If Karl Marx’s assertion in Capital that the power of production lies in co-ordination, then the perceived intentions of producers has been de-graded. Consumers can play numerical categories, exerting their own ‘productive power’, actively constructing their own ideal. Consumers can, to a degree, re-appropriate a number within the size structure, stretching the various ‘ideals’ enveloping these categories within an industrial frame. Yet a size 10 can only be stretched so far, so our ‘ideal’ size becomes gently contained, the contours delineating size categories are softened.

Measure 4 measure: de-grading ‘Vanity sizing’ via materiality.

The elasticity of value and values attached to a number is compounded by the soft nature of the materials themselves. Their differing degrees of elasticity and drape will have an individual response to cut and assembly.

Credence of material instability is furthered by the science of measurement itself. Historically, nature has been the resource for measurement e.g. the human body as a tool to measure a Roman fathom, equating 12 ‘feet’ in length. Contemporary inconsistencies of nature, it’s softness and mobility is exemplified by a recent measuring of the one Kilogram standard for mass, which due to air bubbles having escaped from the kilo of hard platinum had lost weight. The natural world is not static, and is consistent only in it’s inconsistencies.

The softened warp and weft of international size charts act as safety net of numbers, consumer’s can bounce off their ideals and values, negating the supposed intentional force of producers.

In view of this instability, I too must not fix my views as current development for a ‘virtual tape measure’ could dissolve size numbers, demoting the value of this paper to only a ‘measure 4 measure’.

Josephine Diane Gruner Sundt

Trained as a Women’s – Wear Designer at Central Saint Martins, each of Josephine’s projects and ‘collections’ has explored motion. Motion not only on behalf of the wearer, but also in the physical materiality of the garment itself, resulting in both being a product and producer of culture. Consequently her graduate ‘Maypole Collection’ explored these themes, collaborating dancers from the Royal Ballet Company to fuse movement of the body and apparel. This exploration was awarded the L’Oreal Total Look Award, with her next collection also garnering the Lancôme Modern Femininity Award.

Having worked as a designer in London for Tristan Webber, Roland Mouret and in Paris for Claude Montana, Josephine has continued to further scrutinize clothing via the prism of movement, materiality and culture. The physical manifestation of her work is enhanced by collaboration with artists, dancers and choreographers; this is further complimented with her academic pursuit of a Masters in Visual and Material Culture at UCL.

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