Changing shapes outpace designers

By Stuart Dye

The fashion industry is ignoring the changing shape of women's bodies, with designers and manufacturers making clothes to fit the traditional hourglass figure, when women are more likely to be top-heavy, rectangular or pear-shaped, a study claims.

Research from the United States found that although only 8 per cent of women now have the sort of hourglass figure flaunted by curvaceous 1950s film stars such as Marilyn Monroe and Sophia Loren, clothes are still made to fit a slim-line version of that figure.

Of the 6000 women's body shapes analysed, 46 per cent were described as rectangular, with the waist less than 23cm smaller than the hips or bust.

Just over 20 per cent of women were bottom-heavy "spoons", or pear shapes, with hips 5cm larger than busts or more, and almost 14 per cent were "inverted triangles" - busts 7.5cm or more bigger than their hips.

Experts in New Zealand say that those body descriptions are relevant here, but designers say there have not been any radical changes over recent years.

The study, by the North Carolina State University, was based on data from a two-year survey of American body types, SizeUSA.

Janice Wang, who commissioned the university study, said industry standards for size measurements were out-of-date.

"That needs to change if the industry wants to serve the markets they currently aren't reaching."

Fashion house Liz Claiborne has taken note. David Baron, a vice-president, said it would introduce "gradual changes" to eventually provide "better-fitting" clothes.

Although the study concentrated on American women, its implications were relevant for British women, Ms Wang said, because eating habits and lifestyle meant the shapes of women in the two societies "mirrored each other".

But High St stores that spoke to the Herald said there was a definite "Kiwi girl" body shape that made the market different from the US and Britain.

"We buy a lot of garments in Europe and they are a lot smaller," said a spokeswoman for clothing chain Max.

Elisabeth Findlay, founder and designer of the Zambesi label, said she had not noticed any radical changes.

Zambesi continued to make sizes eight to 14 and special order 16-18, and was "not getting complaints that the clothes don't fit".

"We are selling the clothes we have always sold," said Findlay.

But Auckland University body composition scientist Lindsay Plank said changes in New Zealand women's body shapes were to be expected in line with increasing levels of obesity.

Although lacking firm evidence, Mr Plank said there was less distinction between European women's body shapes in New Zealand and the US than 20 years ago.

The findings agree with a similar study of British women published late last year which found that the average woman's waistline had expanded 15cm since the 1950s.

British fashion designer Katherine Hamnett said women who did not conform to a svelte size 10 continued to be neglected by fashion.

"The fashion industry ignores the true size of women at its peril," she said.

"As to why they do, stupidity is the only reason I can think of. It is the result of adhering unthinkingly to a tradition."

And the idea that larger women were not the ideal to design for was a myth.

"It is not how fat you are, it is whether you are fit that matters. People can be beautiful when they are any shape or size."

- INDEPENDENT, additional reporting Stuart Dye

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