An open letter to fashion designers and manufacturers from Kathryn Brown, a Zoomer reader.
Mature women say repeatedly they simply can't find clothes to fit them. As a sewing teacher who specializes in "fit," I've observed the changes in women's bodies as we mature—and the lack of changes noted by clothing manufacturers.
Clothing sizes for women seem to be based on ego now, rather than standardization. I know I can wear a size six in some clothes but can be a 10 to 14 in other brands. What has happened—and why—is an intriguing tale that, I believe, is ready to be told.
In 1969, I was the first woman to show up wearing pants at my bank job in Halifax. I chose an Italian knit pantsuit from my closet because it was beautifully tailored to my then young, trim body. I was called into the bank manager's office and cautioned: it was OK for today, but I should not make a habit of this attire. Our mothers and grandmothers never wore pantsuits. Pants were worn on the farm or maybe in the factory. Pants were never designed to fit women. Pants were men's clothing. Our mothers wore housedresses at home—housedresses that were straight on the sides and never encouraged to show a female form. Dress-up occasions and social functions meant a fitted dress, but under this dress was a full-length corset or a girdle. My, how we've changed.
Yes, we are true pioneers for the fashion marketplace. Women in their 60s and 70s are now much more vibrant and active than in previous generations and would like to own clothes that fit their lifestyle. We exercise, travel and work in a new world. We don't wear cotton stockings and laced leather oxfords, but manufacturers don't seem to understand what to do to make the clothes they design fit our mature bodies. We simply aren't ready for polyester pants with elastic waistbands!
I'm not thinking about the tall, slim young women we see modelling in current ads. Neither am I thinking of the women who have gained a lot of weight and have special sizes needs. I'm speaking of the average woman. She's five feet two inches to five feet eight inches tall and may have gained five to 20 pounds since her early 20s.
Designers and pattern makers are taught to work from a dress form. These dress forms are based on the flat-stomached, five feet seven inches tall, B cup bra-wearing 19-year-old with a 10-inch difference in bust, waist and hip. We were like that once—quite a while ago.
I'll start from the top and work down just to keep this request orderly.
- To the manufacturer: Please hear that just because our bust lines are a little fuller in front and our bust line diameter is larger, our shoulders did not grow. Please do not increase the shoulder width. Our shoulders are the same size they were when we were 20. Never have I heard a woman who has gained a few pounds complain that her shawl is too tight! Shoulders do not grow.
- Bust lines need to be fuller. If you considered allowing for a D or C cup rather than a B cup bra, we would be forever grateful. By the way, the apex of the bust line is usually an inch lower on mature women than younger girls. Darts should be a little lower to compliment the new fullness, and bust line buttons and buttonholes placed an inch lower to eliminate the gaping.
- Whoever told designers that mature women want sleeveless dresses was getting revenge. Mature women can often have "angel wing" upper arms. Please, give us some sleeve! We have slightly broader backs now and a little of a high, round upper back. Necklines on clothing should reach the neckline of the body. Our neckline is where a chain necklace actually sits!
- Waistlines are thicker for us. Please reduce the depth of the darts around the waistline in both front and back. We appreciate the slight fitting giving us the "illusion of waistline," but it simply isn't as pronounced as it used to be.
- OK, let's progress to pants. We want to wear pants that look good on us and if we find some to fit us well, we'll probably buy them in a minimum of four colours. Yes, we have mature bodies but we have mature platinum cards too.
Mature women of a healthy weight seem to fall in one of two categories. First is the curvy girl where the hips and bottoms are fuller and the waistlines smaller. For these ladies, I have a request: please increase the length of the pant zipper so she can get them on more easily. An adjustable invisible waistline elastic in the back, just like in children's clothes, might fit the bill perfectly. This would eliminate the gaping at the back of the pant.
Speaking of waistlines, please put the waistline at the waistline. The idea of dropping the waistline to five or six inches below was a great promoter of the "muffin top" effect. Yikes, we hope that's over! A few manufacturers are producing a "curvy" fit now, and that's an appreciated gesture.
The rest of us seem to be becoming a little more rectangular than the others. If we find pants where the waist fits, the hips and butt are too baggy. If we get the hips to fit, the waist won't fasten, and there is still some bagginess in the seat. To address this, please widen the distance around the waist; sometimes an inch or two is perfect. Please give pant hips less shape, we're getting closer to having hips like young boys.
Now, the baggy seat. If the waist and hips fit, chances are there simply is too much fabric in the back just under the derriere. You can reduce the width here by an inch or two, and we'd love you for it! Fly-front zippers are a great convenience, but next on my fit list would be to end using metal zippers. Women have little tummies in front, and metal zippers don't lock. They only work well for men because men carry their tummies above their waistlines.
Now, the final request. Please drop the crotch line in the back of pants for mature women. Even in very expensive looking pants that look great in the front, it is not unusual for the back crotch to fit poorly. Usually, you see the pants sneaking into the crack between the buttocks. This happens because the back crotch is designed for a "perky younger" bottom. It is easy to lower and square off the crotch curve at the back. Ladies, when you're trying on pants, don't forget to check the rear-view mirror.
Women, our generation has made a lot of changes in our world, and we should be very proud of them. I honestly believe we deserve to have clothes that fit available in our stores.
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