From the Edge of the Bell Curve

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As usual I was trolling the Ted Talks for my latest afternoon creative break when I came across David, Goliath and the appeal of the underdog. This took me back in time to one of my concepts lying upon the heap of Things To-Do Someday.

Being 5’ 11” in eight grade brought with it many fashion challenges. Especially in the early eighties with puffed sleeves, metallics and ruffles being the rage. Not what a girl heads taller then all the boy’s needs; to wear a beacon. I learned to sew by designing my semi-formal dress out of sheer desperation. A v-neck sleeveless shift dress with an understated ruffle made out of a mint knit with ivory lace overlay. This began my fashion design path.

In school I focused on (can you guess?) tall girl’s fashions. Over 5’11” was my target clientele- if they were taller than my 6’1” frame, even better. Cue the women’s basketball teams all shopping my clothing line fantasies. I imagined sewing clothing for fellow Amazonian warriors. Any girl who had to defend her femininity by pointing out she did indeed have two breasts but could easily kick your ass for being an idiot.

So first I created a questionnaire. Inquiring where my target customer shopped, what their biggest fashion challenges and desires were, and collected the data. I approached every woman I found who was built tall even if they actually fell beneath the 5′ 11″ bar I’d set. I began to recognize tall women’s proportions on the average gal. I found a fit model, Kari, my 6’3” electrolysist. I was absolutely envious of her extra inches. And I began to develop a clothing line based on my fundamental knowledge of tall women’s psychology.

Over the years of pattern work and sewing, as well as shopping, and endless fitting disappointments, I learned that designers of tall clothing lines were not tall women (at least not from my generation). The proportions they created were all wrong. They did not take into consideration very fundamental tall girl basics.

First, and most importantly, after years wearing boy’s jeans, and men’s clothes just to be able to achieve the appropriate waist to inseam ratio, we don’t wear anything at our true waists. So DO NOT design clothing for us in this manner; it feels foreign and unnatural.

Girls today, of all heights, take the advent of Longs for granted. This is the invention of someone who finally got a clue. I’d like to shake that designer’s hand. When I began this journey Longs didn’t exist at all and the initial Talls were just sorry. Tops tended to be more workable than bottoms. The shirt lengths were too long, sleeves okay. Admittedly I am short waisted with a linebacker’s shoulders.

Most of my height lives in my legs but pants designed for Talls were extremely problematic. The crotch depths were way too large. Cue reminder-design nothing intended to sit at the natural waist unless a dress or high-waisted skirt. I’m personally a huge fan of Longs as are most women who wear heels to exaggerate their height. Bridging the divide in demographics was smart thinking from a marketing perspective.

Now in college my friends and roommates were all 5’3” (at the tallest). We made an odd crew. A fact I was utterly unconscious of until passing a store widow one day and catching our reflection. That was my newton’s apple. I learned during this time my friends had the same types of complaints I did around clothing and finding things that fit right.

And when I was teaching measurements class I was endlessly fascinated by the human body and the science of proportions. Things like the fact that most people’s height is equivalent to their wingspan finger tips to fingers tips. (My one friend with abnormally longs arms whose wingspan is 2” greater than her height is an exception to the rule.) Or the fact that one of my students torso length and shoulder width exactly matched mine even though we were at opposite ends of the height spectrum. I was in awe of the patterns and oddly the math. I couldn’t get enough- constantly comparing each student’s stats.

And by now I am sure you’re wondering what any of this has to do with the tale of David and Goliath. Well I developed a concept for a clothing store and designs based the tailoring principles men’s clothing has taken for granted for centuries like extra seam allowances allowing for alteration. I wanted to open a store that catered exclusively to tall and petites.

I would have a tailor on staff for minor tweaks. A few items would be custom made in various fabric choices (graded like furniture fabric) with muslin samples to try for initial fit. This is a side effect of spending too much time in my Dad’s furniture store growing up. And my storefront would have two doors- one tall, one small.

This is the condensed explanation of the concept but gives you the general idea sparked that day with my roommates whilst catching our window reflection. And the ensuing image that popped into my head of David & Goliath, or as Malcolm Gladwell refers to it, the concept of the unlikely victory.  For this is how most tall girls feel once they enter the fitting room in search of something stylish that fits, and as it turns out most petite woman as well. So I decided it was high time someone designed clothing intended for the underdog, intended to create fashion victories for everyone living at the far edge of the bell curve.

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