The Fit (by HMK)
What: Gloriously poofy, silky blue-and-white Limited skirt, with the most wondrous, deep pockets you can possibly imagine
There are many things which, as a fashion historian, I ought to know, but which, notably, I do not. And many of these things swirl around questions of fit. What was a size 14 in 1944, as opposed to 2014? How was dress sizing different in 1924 than it was in 1914? My students ask such questions all the time—and they are good questions, and they are right to ask them. It’s just that I don’t really have any good answers to give them. Sizing is both a shifting thing, and a shifty thing. It varies dramatically by decade, and by brand, and by region, and, seemingly, by whim. It is decidedly tricky to know what a size 14 MEANS, whether we are talking about fifty years ago, or twenty-five years ago, or now.
Perhaps it doesn’t really MEAN anything.
Like a politician blessed with a golden tongue and an entire absence of conscience, sizing in clothing promises us many things which it cannot possibly deliver. It promises us order. It promises us consistency. It promises us that we can rely on it. Wherever we roam, if we know that we are a large, we can go into any store in any nation and buy a large garment with a peaceful mind and a trusting spirit.
Or can we? Like most women, I know better than to trust the easy lies which size tags tell me. I know that I need to trust myself and my own judgment much more than I do their blithe sorting of garments into a discrete number of arbitrary piles.
This skirt professed to be in “my size” (whatever that might happen to mean.) I suspected that it was not, but, seduced by its pattern and its silkiness and its vast pockets, I tried it on anyway.
And she did not fit me, was decidedly off-kilter on me, and I loved her fiercely, nonetheless.
What, after all, does it mean for a skirt (or for a person or a place or a job) to be a “good fit” for us? It seems like it should be obvious. Just read the tags, pay attention to the data, read all the fine print, and you’ll be able to sort out the good from the bad before the cloth of a garment so much as hits your skin—before you’ve put one arm through one sleeve, or slipped one foot into one shoe.
But—no. Numbers and words alone will not do. A skirt can insist till it is blue in the face that it is a large instead of a medium, a petite instead of a tall, and you can still try it on and find out that it is not your home. It affirms that it is, and it is labeled as though it is, and it seems like it is—but it’s not, and all of our frustrated rechecking of the offending, inaccurate tag can’t make it so.
But can we rely on our consistently fickle eyes any more than we can on these willfully inconsistent labels? I am not sure that we can. My eyes, for example, told me that this skirt would not fit me. And it does not. It settles about four inches south of where it is supposed to. Its waistband slings lower, its hemline dips longer, its pockets settle around my legs rather than around my hips. And my eyes told me, before my hands even found the (lying) tag that this would be so—told me that this skirt would not fit me in the way that it was supposed to.
But how is anything “supposed” to be, really?
I put on this skirt and I loved its strangeness and its softness and the dizzying swirl of its pattern. I loved that it made me feel light and grounded at the same time. So what if it slid where it should have stuck and swelled where it should have been flat and was loose where it should have been tight and tight where it should have been loose? In the end, none of that seemed to matter.
Because we fit.