Fashion Finding goes Techno

My boyfriend is always puzzled when I can’t tell him what size I am in clothes, in case he wanted to buy me something. He thinks I’m being coy or unwilling to divulge some womanly secret, albeit one that is as closely tied to a girl’s self esteem as her weight on a scale. I am not, I tell him, it just depends where you are shopping: one store could be completely different size-wise then another. That’s not to say I’m not more or less the same size in all of them, but I definitely have pants that cover a wide range of sizes that all fit my body the same.

Finally, my personal struggle (which is really just normal for most women) with choosing the right size has been vindicated, and I can say I’m not inventing this nuance to avoid telling my real size. The New York Times this morning ran an article titled “One Size Fits Nobody” that preceded to detail the shopping trials and tribulations of the average woman, noting dutifully that men’s sizes are measured in inches and standardized across all retailers. Why isn’t this the case for women too? Instead of just proposing to standardize all the measurements for fear that women everywhere will be mortified by their “true size,” one company is debuting an elaborate technology that will, in under 30 seconds, make for an easy shopping trip circumventing the quest for “the right” size.

What is it? A full body scanner. Yes, like those now universally hated in airports for their violation of personal privacy, this horror is coming to the second most crowded place where America spends all their time: Malls. Of course, when this is used as a tool for fashion and not as a terrorist-control measure it seems to be more accepted, even welcomed. Soon to be installed at malls across America, this full body scanner will measure you personally and compare those measurements with individual retailers, and the corresponding sizes sold in that store. You can get a print-out list of which sizes you will most likely be at each store, and then supposedly pick just one size off the shelf rather then trying on two or three sizes to get the best fit.

Is this ridiculous? Maybe, but it introduces a level of control for consumers that was always present, just slightly less intentional. That is, a shopper can choose to patronize those stores that show the smallest sizes available to fit her, and thus improving self-esteem. Given time, this may lead to a general increase in sizes across the country, if this body scanner technology does become widely available and used. Shoppers everywhere could save time and money by having to return less ill fitting items and spending less time in the dressing room.

Sounds wonderful doesn’t it? But while all of us may be a range of shapes and sizes, this technology far from eliminates the self-esteem issues related to fashion. I have said before and will reiterate again here, that it should be the way one feels in clothes rather then the size on the tag. The scanner may tell consumers they should fit into a certain size, but “fit” is a loose concept, and defined differently by the comfort levels of individuals. Loose clothing, baggy clothing, tight clothing are all preferences that only the shopper can know and feel, something a scanner cannot sense or measure. Besides, for most shoppers that wish it to be a social activity with friends or family, the pursuit is half the fun, and this scanner efficiently and mechanically cuts down on the “extraneous” time spent by exploring size options. Not to mention that by obtaining a print out of your size at different retailers, the concept of size and the desire many women feel to be a certain size is only reinforced and pinpointed as important. People will start buying the size the machine says they should be rather then what they feel most comfortable wearing. I know that for all I talk about feeling comfortable in clothes it is still a source of anxiety for me, and I can’t imagine how much that would intensify if I did not fit, for example, into the size at the store this scanner had indicated for me.

Doubtless the novelty of this is intriguing, and if I encountered this machine at a mall I frequented I would doubtless go try it out. If nothing else, I would be curious to see the size variations put on paper. But I do not think this is the answer to the sizing woes of the fashion industry. I think we should just put all clothes in inches and refrain from artificially ranking our bodies to fit a contrived image.

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