“Don’t eat too much!”
By Kate McClafferty
I stood there in silence, hoping I made the cut. The designer went around the room and measured all of her female employees’ ribcages. She was trying to prove a point – that my ribcage was too small, and it was ruining her summer line!
I wanted to laugh, but the fear that my ribcage was too small kept me quiet. Alas, I was informed that it was smaller than most, but not by much. I felt hopelessly aware of my miniscule ribs. One more flaw to add to the list.
Don’t even get me started on what it’s like to be a Fit Model during the holidays. Just before Thanksgiving, I landed a well-known T-shirt account. My first fitting was coming to an end, and I was saying my good-byes to all the designers in the room. I’d see them again the following week when I returned from my Thanksgiving Holiday.
“Don’t eat too much!” the Head Designer said with a smile.
I thought she was joking, so I laughed it off. When no one else joined in, I got the message. I had to say it took the fun right out of the turkey! I had to face the cruel truth. My body was no longer mine to stuff on the holiday. The world of T-shirts was depending on me to pass on the pumpkin pie!
Up until six years ago, I couldn’t tell you how much I weighed unless I had just visited the doctor. My measurements? I had no idea.
Today, I can tell you my arm-length, shoulder-width, leg-length and even the circumference of my neck. I fell into a business where I was defined by my size and measurements. For a girl, who liked pasta more than anything in the world, I was a little scared.
The truth is, there are great parts to Fit Modeling. What girl wouldn’t love to get paid to try on clothes for a living? I have always liked clothing and have always appreciated a well-fitting garment. I had an eye for it, so I think it was easy for me to gain a reputation as a good Fit Model. How did it all begin?
A friend, in the fashion business, suggested that I become a “Fit Model”. Like most people, I had absolutely no idea what a Fit Model did. I soon learned about a new world behind the scenes in the fashion business. Of course, we all see the models that the designers hire to show off their clothing in print and on the runway. What we don’t see are the Fit Models – the models who never leave the designers’ studios. A Fit Model exemplifies the designer’s vision of a “standard frame” – the body that the designer designs for.
I wanted a go at the business so I got myself a Fit Model Agent. It wasn’t long before I was sent out on Fitting Interviews and landed a couple of accounts. Soon, I found myself working back-to-back in fittings on most days. The hours were flexible, and I made great money – a hundred dollars an hour to start. It seemed too good to be true!
Whether it was for Fall, Winter, Summer or Resort Lines, I tried on new designer sample designs for the designers, pattern makers and sales department representatives so they could study the clothing on my “standard” frame. The group then decided whether the garments were flattering and saleable. If so, the designers would fit the garment perfectly to my body.
From my fit, the basic pattern was made. After the pattern maker perfected the “size small”, the pattern was graded up to a medium and large size. If sizes didn’t fit women properly, then the clothing didn’t sell.
It’s very strange to be considered a “standard” size, because it’s hard to find a “standard” anything! We are all built so differently and carry our “weight” in different places. One of my girlfriends is the same clothing size as I am, but our body shapes couldn’t be more different, and sometimes, we don’t even fit into the same designer clothes. When my girlfriend and I tried on the same pair of jeans in the same size, and the jeans fit me, but didn’t fit her, the designer had designed the jeans for my body type, not hers. This has happened with my girlfriend and me many times in reverse. A given size can look like a million different shapes. That’s why, when designers choose their Fit Models, they are making a choice about the “type” of body they are designing for.
Some designers and sales representatives ask for my input regarding the fabric and fit of a design. Others simply ask if I would wear a certain design. Most designers and staff prefer to make their own decisions on the fate of a garment, although I will speak up if something is truly uncomfortable (or truly ugly).
I am often embarrassed to call myself a model because a Fit Model should really be called a fit mannequin. While I’m working, there are no cameras, no press, no fans. It isn’t very glamorous. I have to stand still for long periods of time and relish people invading my personal space. Sometimes, the designers and pattern makers spend 20 minutes fitting a pair of pants to my bottom. I have to tell you, it’s very awkward having a group of people kneeling down, staring at my lower half! The things that go through my head! Did I shave my legs today?
My worst experience had to be the “Infamous White Spandex Pants Episode”. There’s a reason we women don’t buy white-see-through-spandex leggings. When the designer, patternmakers and sales representatives entered the room, I remember the cold sweat on my neck. I really wished I had skipped the burger and fries the night before!
The first few months of my new job were fantastic. I was building clients and meeting new people. But soon, I started to feel the pressure. My size was my job, and I felt like I was going insane. One designer would tell me I was a large size four while another designer would tell me I was a small size four. The designers would talk about my body as if I weren’t even in the room.
“Well, keep in mind her breasts are big for a size small.”
“She’s not very tall, is she?”
“Her breasts are smaller than usual.”
“She’s curvier than most.”
“Look at her back, it’s abnormally swayed. That’s why the shirt hangs that way.”
“Have you seen her hips?”
“Her shoulders are very narrow.”
I began to realize my confidence level depended on the company I was fitting for. I even stood differently to help the “fit” fit me better. If I had a fitting with a designer that thought I was on the thin side, I would eat a bigger meal the night before. Isn’t that crazy! I thought I could change my size overnight.
It wasn’t until I had two fittings in one day, and one company asked if I had gained weight and the other asked if I had lost weight, that I realized that I could never make everyone happy. Why was I torturing myself? What was the point? Some designers would see all my body’s flaws. If I took it personally, I would be letting them win. Instead, I had to realize my body was my body – flaws and all.
It was then that I learned a very important lesson. There is no such thing as a perfect anything. So I decided not to get discouraged if I didn’t fit into a certain company’s clothes. Most likely the clothes were fit on a flawed body like mine. Here’s to imperfection!