When I worked in Zara, I was exposed to part of the meticulous but fascinating process of bringing haute couture from catwalk to shop floor in two weeks. Zara are renowned for bringing some of the most contemporary fashion to the high street. They are truly at the frontline of every fashion trend; including the trend for tiny sizes.
The initial buzz of working for the Inditex group, one of the most successful clothing companies in the world, wore off when the reality of their beauty standards became apparent. Gradually, I began to realise that both men and women assess their self-worth in accordance with the label on the back of their clothes. This realisation was distressing.
While working in the fitting rooms, women would often sheepishly peep their heads round the curtain, cheeks flushed, and whisper to me to bring the next size up. Some were embarrassed to find that they didn’t fit the meagre sizes set by Zara, but worse were the women who would leave the shop if their usual size did not fit. For these women, wearing a larger size would mean accounting for less in their self-image. Yet, their bodies haven’t changed; instead, the requirements of what it takes to be fashionable have.
I began to suspect that Zara sizes are made to exclude us. Whilst most British shops cater for sizes six to sixteen, Zara stops at a fourteen. In Zara, a medium is a ten, a large is a twelve, and an extra large is a fourteen. What I want to know is, when the hell did a size twelve become a large?
I do admit that they occasionally stock of a few token XXL/XXXL jersey style t-shirts, but rarely anything considered stylish. Ladies, if you don’t look like Candice Swanepoel, then Zara does not want you in their clothes. Fat shaming? Absolutely. In today’s modern world, everyone knows that discrimination is unacceptable, so how have Zara gotten away with effectively being sizist?
When we consider the victims of the fashion industry, we normally think of women. However, male customers at Zara were not exempt from the company’s bizarre standards. In menswear, sizes also run small, but most customer’s shrugged this off quite quickly. However, there was a bigger insult heading their way, which often hit a soft spot: all men’s Zara jeans and trousers come in a 33.5-inch leg length. To compare this, when I worked at French Connection, a 34-inch leg was considered long, with 32-inch the standard size.
When men asked me for jeans in a shorter length, I would dread informing them that 33.5-inch length was the only size we stocked. Some of them would look at me, genuinely in awe at the ridiculous idea that a 34-inch leg is supposed to fit every man that walks in the door. Like the way we women (whether you admit it or not) want to feel slim and petite, most men want to feel tall, broad and strong. And, like the way customers in women’s wear are denied feelings of pride in their appearance when their perfectly normal bodies spill out of a Large, men too are left feeling dejected and unworthy when their trousers bunch and roll at their ankles.
So, what is the message Zara is sending here… “Under 6ft? Forget about it. Go home. Stretch yourself out on one of those gruesome medieval torture devices before you dare buy clothes in our shop. You could, of course, utilize our terribly convenient alteration service for an additional cost…”
In 2006, the CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch, Mike Jeffries, made an appalling statement that essentially ordered fat people to refrain from buying their clothes. Abercrombie and Fitch have since paid heavily for Jeffries’ comments, as the company has suffered massive losses in recent years. However, it has become clear that Zara’s mantra is not so different from that of Abercrombie and Fitch. Zara might be clever enough to avoid admitting it, but one only has to try on their impossible sizes in order to hear their message: if your body’s dimensions are not that of a model, this shop is not for you.
While Zara is rejecting those who don’t fit their ideal of beauty, what are the rest of us normal-sized folks doing? Are we boycotting shops that stock ludicrous sizes and expect to be taken seriously? Or, are we franticly reading into the latest juicing craze whilst sipping green tea? Trying on a waist trainer? Buying a body wrap? Squeezing our curves into Spanx? Searching ‘#fitspo’ on Instagram?
Although I do love Zara’s unique style, and I credit the company for ceasing the use of Angora fur in their clothes, we, the consumer, have become puppets. We behave exactly the way large fashion brands like Zara want us to, altering our appearance to fit in. The sooner we realise that the our true value lies within our talents, charisma, kindness, intellect and humour, the sooner Zara will stop bullying us into buying their vision of beauty.