Tag Archives: sizing

Heightism and the Sartorial Rise of Short Men

13 Feb

Tonight is the night to change things for the better for short men who want to dress well in properly-fitted clothes.  I am delighted to sit on a panel this evening to discuss height inclusion in menswear at Ryerson University’s Fashion Department. I will share the stage with industry experts who will discuss the practical possibilities of outfitting short men in well-fit wardrobes, and the new market that height inclusion sizing will serve.

But first a little theory and a little history.

Any time there is an “ism”, there is conflict. “Ism”s are based on the idea that one group or idea is superior to another group or idea. “Ism”s in action move people into opposing camps that are at odds: men/women = sexism, white/non-white = racism, and tall/short = heightism.

These “isms” only exist in the minds of the group that decided to divide the world up in the first place – i.e. the ruling class. With the means to spread messages and influence the masses, their biased’ “ism”s are imposed upon and absorbed by the public, and eventually, we’ve got a cultural division and a learned prejudice that can deeply affect society.

Cultural Belittling

Early in the 19th century, the tension between England and France exploded into war. King George III led British forces against Napoleon, leader of the French Empire and its allies. Those wars have left a lasting impression on Europe and western society, but in ways that we may not expect; it is my belief that this conflict introduced a concept the world hadn’t seen before: heightism.

Napoleon was 5’6 – average height for European men at the time.  Across the English Channel, the ruler of England was an unusually tall man. Seizing upon this difference, George III played out his contempt for France and its leader through satirical political cartoons published in British papers that spread the idea of conflict of stature: these images portray tall, red-coated George peering through a spy-glass at pint-sized Napoleon who he holds in his hand. George says to Napoleon, “I cannot but conclude you be one of the most pernicious, little odious reptiles that nature every suffered to crawl upon the surface of the Earth”.

This visual metaphor was English propaganda, and the ridicule of Napoleon as a smaller and weaker leader created the height (i.e. power) conflict which suggests that taller men are somehow superior to short men. This baseless concept left a lasting impression on the collective consciousness of English culture and all it touched – the British Commonwealth, including Canada.

Psychology

 Heightism, like any other “ism” that pits one group of people against another, can cause us to distrust and feel hostility towards the group the ruling class deems “less than” – in this case, short men.

Interestingly, psychological heightism seems to only apply to men. Though women of varying heights will have their own set of physical issues to deal with, we don’t live under height discrimination like men do.

However, women’s perceptions have been influenced by heightism – some women won’t date short men. Why? I don’t think it’s because short men aren’t attractive (they are!), but it could be that learned cultural bias that makes us see short men as inferior to tall men.  For example, this Business Insider article explains a lot about the perks and privileges of being a tall man, and cites Malcolm Gladwell who notes that tall men have more opportunities in life, and gives the example  that the majority of Fortune 500 CEOs are “taller than the average man”.

I’ve worked with and surveyed men under 5’8, and many of them tell me that they can feel overlooked and disrespected by society because they are short. Shorter men may feel discrimination at the office, in romance, and – in their closets.

I’m a men’s image consultant that works with men of all sizes, and I am petite, so I feel the pain of ill-fitting clothes. Average small, medium, large, XL sizing just doesn’t work for us – we are not average.

Short men, like petite women, need their own sizing system.

Height Inclusion and Specialty Sizing

Women have traditionally spent much more money than men on clothing, but men have become more style-conscious in recent years – they want to look good and take pride in their appearance and this means better grooming and better clothing.

But when we don’t fit average size, it’s always best to have clothes made for us – this is where made-to-measure or bespoke clothing for the gents comes in handy, but it isn’t an option for everyone due to cost. More affordable clothing is mass-produced and uses clothing patterns designed to fit the “average” measurements for practical reasons. In recent years however, consumers – specifically female consumers – demanded affordable specialty sizing – i.e. women’s petite or plus-sized clothing – and the clothing industry delivered.

Men have not had this luxury. “Average”-sized garments are cut to fit the tallest “average” wearer, so this leaves the shorter people sloshing around in too-long shirts, pants, coats, jackets, etc. For men who may not think to take his clothes in for tailoring, he ends up wearing sloppy, ill-fit clothes that will do nothing but diminish his stature, his attractiveness, and his confidence.

But with an industry buzz about a new sizing system for short men, this clothing revolution would be a game-changer for men 5’8 and under. Let’s hope tonight’s panel makes the case for height inclusion in menswear. Maybe then we can leave the political motives of a dead king in the past.

 

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Sh*t fit

21 Jul

While waiting for a client in Club Monaco last month, I wandered into the women’s clothing section to kill some time. There was a cute little suit jacket on the rack that, upon further inspection, I deemed too large for me.

“Manity sizing” strokes a fella’s ego by “decreasing” his pant size by name only, which may in fact increase the risk of health problems.

I looked at the tag for the size.

0. Zero. Size Zero.

Were it 1960, I would be considered a size 14, but at Club Monaco in 2011, I would fit a negative size – a minus 1 or minus 2.

A minus size, a minus size; a size of no sum or consequence. How can I be a negative size?

This terrifies me in a way because  I see a negative size as a non-size and as a human, I feel erased; fitting a negative clothing size makes me feel like a non-person. What is this new sizing system and what else are they messing with?

This is a post to explain why your clothes don’t fit you.

Erratic sizing

To keep things efficient, manufacturers use “average” sizes of a cross-section of people to create patterns for different sizes (small, medium, large, etc.), classified by their height and weight. The measurements (neck measurement for men, chest, waist, hip measurement for women, etc.) are added together and divided by the number of people measured, giving “average” measurements.

But there are lots of interpretations of average and so few of us are actually average-sized, that this is just one of the factors working against us when we walk into a clothing store:

  • There is no industry standard for sizing – I have size extra small, small, medium, and an extra-large piece from Chinatown in my closet but my measurements remain static, unchanged;
  • Every designer cuts a little or a lot larger or smaller than the next designer, so each line will fit differently (e.g. Tiger of Sweden is a trim cut but Mark’s Work Warehouse has offerings for more robust fellows);
  • Some but not all manufacturers buy into “vanity sizes”, whereby a piece of clothing that may truly fit you is called something smaller (you could have an actual 34″ waist measurement but you might wear a 32″ or 33″ vanity-sized pant);
  • Each style of garment is going to fit differently on each body – e.g. the rise of the pant will give a larger waist size because it sits at a wider point on the hips.

This causes a great deal of confusion for people who have to wade through an ocean of arbitrary sizing that may or may not hold their own weight. Pun intended.

In the age of political correctness where we’re more sensitive to other’s feelings, business owners and manufacturers have to keep in mind that a compliment in the form of a “smaller (vanity) size” can be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Vanity

I’ve been told by women that wearing a “smaller” size makes them feel better about themselves. I understand what it’s like to be heavy and not feel one’s best (I was pushing 150 lbs at age 22 – about 30 lbs more than I weigh now), so I can see why a size 8 would feel better than a size 12.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the vanity sizing practice began in women’s clothing, but it has seeped into menswear, adopting the name “manity sizing”. This rather dishonest sizing system has become totally out of hand, so I looked at some online research to figure out what this silly sizing system is all about. This is what I found:

“Vanity sizing is the practice of using smaller numbered sizes on bigger clothing patterns… to make customers feel better about themselves and become more inclined to buy,” says one blogger who runs a PR and marketing company.  Her opinion has a ring of supply and demand to it.

“It is important for manufacturers to have an idea of what sells because retail sales still have not fully recovered since the recession hit in 2008.”

However, on vanitysizing.com, this suggestion is (rather cuttingly) downplayed. The author of the article has an economics background and suggests that sizing is based on demographics.

“If you sell to lower-income people, your average size is going to be larger than the average size sold to rich people. Boutiques sell pricier clothes that are sized on average, smaller than product in mass merchant stores.”

A very good Esquire style blog describes the confusion with the vanity sizing for men. First, the writer calling the practice

From the Esquire style blog – vanity sizing for men’s pants.

“flattery”, but as we know, flattery can only take you so far. He says he’s got a Russell Crowe build and though he’s enjoyed his manity-sized pants, he’s still perturbed.

“This isn’t the subjective business of mediums, larges and extra-larges — nor is it the murky business of women’s sizes, what with its black-hole size zero. This is science, damnit. Numbers!”

But the numbers don’t add up and because sizing is basically a free-for-all without a standard measurement guide. The illustration below from Esquire shows to what extent we’re being lied to – to the tune of up to 5″.

Erratic sizes

The waist is the most misunderstood part of a man’s body, I think. When I’m taking my client’s measurements, I explain the waist measurement concept/confusion.

I tell them that if I were a doctor and we were doing an annual physical, I would measure his waist just above his hipbone/through the navel. Most people don’t wear their trousers that high anymore (men did in the 40s) and that means that the point at which his waistband sits is not necessarily where we’ve taken the measurement of the waist – different styles of pants with different rise lengths (the distance from the crotch to the top of the waist) will give different waist measurements at different points on the torso.

An article from The Telegraph reports findings of a study they conducted on men’s waist sizes and found that “[o]verall, 28 out of 50 garments checked were found to be larger than on the label.”

“Shoppers quite reasonably expect 32 inches to mean just that,” said Richard Cope, chief trend analyst at Mintel, a London-based market research company. “They are becoming increasingly frustrated to discover their sizes vary from fashion brand to fashion brand and from item to item.”

Confused yet? You should be.

Health problems

If clothing manufacturers began vanity sizing to make larger people feel better about themselves as some people maintain, that’s one thing, but I’m seeing this sizing practice as a dangerous denial and health threat.

Vanity sizing is delusional, offering solace in a lie and erasing any guilt from consuming another baker’s dozen, putting people at greater risk of the health problems associated with obesity.  As the Esquire blog asks, “why should pants make us feel better about badness at health?”

Obesity is an enormous social and economic problem. Pun intended. Men with larger waists face different and more serious health problems than slim guys – a Stats Can study identified type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, osteoarthritis, some cancers, and gallbladder disease associated with obesity, as well as “psychological problems, functional limitations and disabilities.”

Have a look at these astounding rates from Statistics Canada‘s study of adult obesity in Canada:

In 2004, nearly one-quarter (23.1%) of adult Canadians, 5.5 million people aged 18 or older, were obese. An additional 36.1% (8.6 million) were overweight.

The 2004 obesity figure was up substantially from 1978/79, when Canada’s obesity rate had been 13.8%.

As body mass index (BMI) increases, so does an individual’s likelihood of reporting high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease. (Check your own BMI here.)

Canada’s adult obesity rate is significantly lower than that in the United States: 23.1 % compared with 29.7%. The percentage of Canadians who are overweight or obese has risen dramatically in recent years, mirroring a worldwide phenomenon.

I have to wonder if vanity/ manity/ insanity sizing is really making things better by way of our self-esteem, or if it's plunging us deeper into clothing chaos and confusion and denial about our bodies. To my mind, this sizing practice is a psychological experiment that may give extra space for denial; the man with the 41" waist who's wearing a 36" pant from Old Navy may feel a little dietary freedom because he thinks he's got room n0w: Hey, I can fit into a size 36 for the time being, so I've got room for another coupla Krispy Creme KFC Double Downs - bring it on! 

Like a temporary sugar rush before the crash, I think that as a society, we're just asking for trouble lying to people about their sizes. Sometimes I ignore sizes altogether and rely on a tape measure where the numbers are hard and they don't tell me any fibs. The point is to be comfortable in clothing that fits us, regardless of what size the marketing department gives.