Imagine asking six women of completely different heights, weights, and body shapes to all wear the same piece of clothing. The idea seems completely ludicrous, mainly because it is silly to assume that the same thing would fit women of different sizing. Recently, BuzzFeed published an article that did just this. It shows six women of varying sizes (0-14) trying on five articles of clothing from Brandy Melville, one of the most prominent one-size brands in the U.S. The photos show the absurdity of having a single size and are comical because the clothing doesn’t fit any of these women properly. But the humorous aspect of the article completely disappears when you remember the wild success of this brand among teenagers and young adults.
Brandy Melville gained notoriety when it was first launched because of its unusual sizing approach: one size fits all. Brandy markets to young girls almost exclusively through Instagram, showing off their “LA girl, laid back chic” aesthetic. The brand has built a monopoly on this style, with their printed shorts and crop tops ubiquitous during rush season and on college and high school campuses across the country. A huge factor behind the demand for their clothing is the fact that it only comes in one size. Executives and sales people praise this innovation as “easing the shopping experience.” But the vast majority of the skirts available on the Brandy website list 12″ to 14″ as the waist measurement (capable of stretching to approximately 25″). Compare that to Urban Outfitters’ size chart, and you’ll see a garment that size labeled size 0. Brandy’s extremely popular James Tank, available in over 11 different colors and prints, is 19″ in length with an 11″ bust. These fabrics are thin with an impressive threshold for stretch, but even a 35″ bust, according to Victoria’s Secret, is only the bra-size equivalent of a 34A. These measurements are approximately those of a 5-foot-7 woman who weighs between 115 and 120 pounds. By comparison, the average 20-year-old female is 5-foot-4 and weighs 130 pounds.
The Body Mass Index (BMI) measures body fat based on height and weight. It sorts individuals into four categories: underweight (less than 18.5), normal weight (18.5–24.9), overweight (25–29.9) and obese (30 or greater). A woman with Brandy Melville measurements would have a BMI of around 18.
So not only is this brand telling young girls that it is only acceptable to be one size and shape, it also pressures them to conform to a size that is unhealthy for most people to maintain. Even more horrifyingly, this business model has been so successful that other large companies, such as American Eagle, are jumping on the one size fits all bandwagon in an attempt to reclaim market share lost to Brandy Melville.
The most interesting and horrifying facet of this trend is its complete lack of representation in men’s clothing. Trends in women’s clothing often have a counterpart movement in the realm of men’s fashion. There is nothing even close to one size fit all clothing in the men’s world. Men have ample sizing opportunities. Instead of arbitrary numbers that change from brand to brand, men’s clothes are sized using their measurements in inches. A quick search of the Brooks Brothers website shows that shirts can be sized to the quarter of the inch in sleeve length and collar circumference.
Why is it that limiting sizes is so profitable in women’s clothes when it is more profitable for men’s designers to offer an almost limitless array of choices? Unfortunately, most women actually believe that they should fit into what they see as an “ideal” size.
Women have faced the pressure of body ideals throughout history. These pressures have been so great that they forced women to go to extreme lengths in order to meet such standards. Imagine the corsets of Victorian England or Chinese foot binding. Each of these was a horrifying, painful contraption that females endured in order to appease society’s expectations. And why did women feel so strongly about following these rigid beauty routines in order to physically change their bodies? They did it in hopes of pleasing men. In most cases, men have been the ones that have set these beauty ideals.
The oppression of women has not only been social and political, it has also been physical through their clothing and bodies. Men have set the standards for women’s fashion—often uncomfortable and constricting. By setting these unrealistic standards, they not only oppressed women by reducing them to little more than a mannequin on which to hang the latest fashion, but they also made sure that women constantly felt inadequate. These feelings of inadequacies come from the fact that ideals are just that, an ideal. With the exception of a small subset, they are often impossible to achieve without extreme measures.
Brandy Melville has capitalized on this long history of women conforming to whatever ideal is set for them by men. They have created the new ideal, and they have done it in such a way that there is no room for deviating from the standard. If you deviate, the clothes will not fit. This actually increases the demand for their clothing because young girls adore adhering to a standard. More importantly, they love when other people realize that they are adhering to the standard. Wearing Brandy is a badge of honor for them, since the clothes come in only one size. It is an automatic indicator that the girls are, in fact, “ideal”.
Men have not had the constant media barrage and hundreds of years of precedent telling them that their shape and size is a measure of them as a person. Quite simply, men as a whole do not have the same low self-esteem that makes young girls buy into the idea of fitting into these clothes as a symbol of their beauty.
This is further emphasized by Brandy’s slogan, “One size fits most.” This shows an admission on the part of the company that they are aware that their clothing doesn’t fit everyone and that they don’t care. In fact, it makes the clothing even more desirable to teens because it creates an “us” and “them” dynamic that certain teens adore.
Brands such as American Eagle have justified their ventures into this trend as being more economical and time efficient. No longer do they need to spend time and money developing patterns for multiple sizes. These arguments fall flat. When did it become OK for a company to subject women to a impossible standard of beauty just because it is more time efficient? These weak justifications barely conceal the fact that brands are capitalizing more than ever from the systematic degradation of women and their self-confidence.