I f you attach no importance to weight problems, if not being able to wear new, trendy small-sized clothes does not cause you any regret, this book is not for you," states fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld (1933-). He gained fame or notoriety when he lost 80 pounds in one year. "I suddenly wanted to dress differently, to wear clothes designed by Hedi Slimane," he said. "But these fashions, modeled by very, very slim boys—and not men my age— required me to lose at least eighty pounds. It took me exactly thirteen months." He followed a diet created for him by Dr. Jean-Claude Houdret, which inevitably led to a book called The Karl Lagerfeld Diet. Thus, a fashion designer joined the countless numbers of people who invent and write books based on diets. However, some might argue that people in the fashion industry have always been influencing the world of dieting by perpetuating or creating bodily ideals.
In the late 1700s, Beau Brummell helped change British fashion by promoting a more natural look, reverting to the bodily ideal of the ancient Greeks (Hollander 1999: 137-8). Around 1815, tailors created standard measurements, based on standard proportions, in order to mass produce ready-to-wear clothing (Hollander 1999: 139-40). As a result, people could compare their bodies to the soldiers' bodies from which the norm was established. In the Victorian era, the Western world believed that women needed corsets in order to support their frame because their waists and spines were not strong enough. Tightly lacing their corsets also allowed women to attain the ideal body, which, from the i820s, had a waist circumference of i8 inches and forced an upright posture. These corsets, despite inducing fainting, uterine and spinal disorders, muscle wasting, and crushed ribs, helped women achieve large hips and breasts. According to Germaine Greer's highly influential The Female Eunuch (1970) "Nineteenth-century belles even went to the extremity of having their lowest ribs removed so that they could lace their corsets tighter" (Greer 1970: 40). By the 1830s, padding was also used to enhance one's hips and breasts and was even used for one's arms and thighs (Banner 1983: 48, 60-1; see also Ogden 2003: 35). Meanwhile, New York couture toyed with the "willowy look, with a hint of frailty, as standards of appearance began to be more important for respectable women" (Stearns i997: 7).
Then, from 1830 to 1870, the new ideal was a fuller figure, so clothing included puffed sleeves, heavier material, and strong colors (Lurie 1981: 64-9). Also at this time, Amelia Jenks Bloomer, with her Bloomer reform dress, attempted to change fashion with trousers and no corset for women. The damaging effects of corsets were also noted around this time (Thesander 1997: 989). From the 1870s, upper classes began trading in their corsets for a more natural, corsetless look with loose dresses that hid one's body size. In the 1880s, an electric corset was introduced to the market by "Dr. Scott," with an advertisement that claimed that it cured many diseases, including rheumatism, paralysis, liver and kidney troubles, and constipation. The corsets were declared to be "equalizing agents in all cases of extreme fatness or leanness, by imparting to the system the required amount of 'odic force' which Nature's law demands" (Rudofsky 1971: 107). That is, this magical corset claimed to be a body shaper in the both the mechanical and metabolic sense. But by the 1890s, the trend of going corsetless spread to the middle class and clothes became tighter, further encouraging thinness. In 1895, upper-class women still padded their clothing. In 1908, a French designer came out with corsetless dresses, although this sparked a controversy that lasted until the 1920s. One argument against corsetlessness was based on an aversion towards females and exercise. One author even wrote, " What has the average girl to do with a gymnasium? Sweeping and scrubbing a floor and dusting out a room, is infinitely more beneficial and useful than going to a sanctified room to turn somersaults" (Rudofsky 1971: 182). At the time, unless they exercised in a women-only facility, women wore corsets while exercising.
Gradually, a fuller figure was openly traded in for a thinner one. In 1912, the magazine Journal des Dames et de Modes vacillated in opinion by espousing both beliefs, that "fashion . . . only modifies very little the voluptuous silhouette of women of fashion" and that "thinness triumphs" (Steele 1985: 230). In the 1920s, the flapper look was firmly in vogue, so women desired a more natural, albeit asexual, shape, also known as the "modernist body." This streamlined figure may have been a reaction to the growing independence of women who earned the right to vote and were part of the workforce during World War I. The popularization of this shape can be seen in the changing display mannequins, from a natural, curved shape to a straight, boyish one. The consequence of this meant that sports and diet replaced corsets, although some women even used some sort of bodice to compress their bust. From 1925, legs became an indicator of one's fitness, so dresses became shorter and stocking production increased (Wollen 1993: 20-1; Thesander 1997: 107, 113, 118). After World War II, the corset returned to fashion. In the 1970s, a modern corselet, or combination of corset and brassiere, appeared, called the body stocking which fit one's natural shape. In the 1980s, fashion promoted fitness: Beauty meant youthful, slim, and active bodies; and dieting replaced corsetry (Thesander 1997: 201; Steele 1985: 241).
Since the early 1960s, fashion models have been thin. Photographers argued that thin bodies did not compete with the clothing, such that full interest could be devoted to the garments (Banner 1983: 287). In the 1960s, girls dieted for the extremely thin body of model Twiggy (Thesander 1997: 181). By this time, a transition occurred from corsets of wire and lace to rubber to no corsets at all. This so-called freedom actually meant that one needed more internal control of one's body, which resulted in expansion of the dieting industry (Ogden 2003: 106).
Clothing has continued to be used as a substitute for or supplement to a diet to achieve the illusion of one's desired body shape. For example, the Oprah episode titled "Look 10 Pounds Thinner—Instantly" advertised that viewers could "Look skinny! Look like you lost weight just by what you wear." One stylist suggests that plus-size women should wear capri pants because "it shows enough leg to look summery, and with a bit of a heel or wedge your legs will look longer so you will look leaner" (Bouchez 2005: 2). Similar fashion advice could be found in a Men's Health article called "Return of the Thin Man" (Dotson 1991: 45). Besides creating this illusion, Hillel Schwartz notes that this advice to "wear navy blue or black with vertical lines, slender jewelry, soft collars and noiseless materials. No large or glaring patterns, no jangling trim, no noisy taffeta or satin, no striking colors" served to do more than hide small flaws: "The clothing designed for the Stylish Stout was clothing designed to be inconspicuous, to fit in" (Schwartz 1986: 161).
In our current era of fashion, finding clothes that "fit" is of utmost importance. A new, state-of-the art invention that supports this trend is called "Intellifit." It is a see-through booth that uses radio waves to collect your body's measurements and suggest brands and sizes that best fit you (intellifit.com). In addition, many stores have added plus-sized clothing, and other stores have popped up that cater exclusively to this demographic in adults and children. Just as before, without corsets or, for men, without the slimming double-breasted suits, people are expected to maintain a thin look naturally through dieting.
Studies have not been able to clearly explain the relationship between fashion and dieting. While one study has shown a positive association between reading fashion magazines and having dieted or exercised in order to lose weight among U.S. preadolescent and adolescent girls (Field et al. 1999: 36), another study showed no such correlation between reading fashion magazines and dieting (Stice et al. 2001: 270). Despite the contradicting research, popular belief still holds that the fashion industry encourages dieting by promoting thinness. In 1953, Vogue editors wrote "Fashion is often reproached for this preoccupation with slimness—and, as a fashion magazine, we mind not at all sharing the accusation. For doctors agree that most women's desire to be slender is a vanity that can pay off in good health and a longer life" (Schwartz 1986: 334). The fashion industry has been criticized for the glorification of thin bodies and for size discrimination. In addition to fashion's influence on dieting, it is also true that the dieting industry has influenced fashion. With a greater emphasis on dieting, corsets are unnecessary, but fashions still attempt to be fitting and flattering, allowing the wearer to look thinner. Although fashion ideals came first, there is a definite association between fashion and dieting and a symbiotic relationship that has lasted for centuries.
See also Hornby; Winfrey
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