The Myth of the 3/4th Length Sleeve
I’ll be the first one to tell you - I stand a healthy six foot, flat.
And my limbs are long. So long, that as they were growing, I couldn’t quite figure out where they were, and broke more toes than the average teenager would care to admit. To this day, the arms of most of my shirts (and the hems of my pants) hardly hit my ankles or wrists. Sure, these are champagne problems - but they’re also real issues retailers have ignored. Most providers of reasonably priced garments aren’t thinking outside the boundaries of their own, skewed idea of what the limits of sizing look like. Per The Balance Careers “For female models, clients usually look for [a fit model] 5’4” to 5’9” with measurements of 34-26-37” which aren’t even close to what an average human’s body looks like.
From there, companies just size up, as opposed to thinking about the way a woman’s body changes as it moves further away from what numbers designer has tailored the garment to fit.
I’ll never forget 2003, when I was fifteen and obsessed with Sarah Ladley’s skirt. It was short, bright green from Hollister, and sat squarely on her hips with polka dots and a ruffle that wrapped from the back to the front. Sarah was 5’6” and around 130 lbs with a boxy frame, whereas I was curvy, and did whatever I could to avoid having to participate in gym class.
Later, I found myself there, where it smelled of cheap cologne. I tried on the skirt in an extra large, and found it wasn’t large enough to keep from biting my sides. My thighs looked gargantuan under the overhead spotlight they’d rigged above the dressing room mirror, and the skirt was so short it was impossible not to notice the white triangle of my underwear sticking out from below.
That afternoon, I remember leaving the dressing room in shame — my head low, heart on the floor. I knew I was never going to look like Sarah Ladley, but somehow, I’d convinced myself the skirt could help. Leaving the store without the garment in-hand felt like admitting the one thing I was most afraid of being true - that I wasn’t good enough, and would never measure up to the other girls at my high school.
I understand this situation differently now, but at the time, I felt shut out of the fashion community, just for the size of my body - something I was born with and will never be able to change. Except when you’re an independent designer or a fast fashion retailer - you’re not thinking about the high schooler who wants desperately to fit in, you’re looking to hit your own bottom line. It just doesn’t help anyone who is bigger, or smaller or taller or shorter or… than their initial measurements suggest.
Retailers want you to buy their clothes. It’s why they try so to predict trends and indulge in vanity sizing. How much more likely are you to buy a pair of pants with a waistband that’s an inch smaller than you thought you were? A lot more likely, research suggests because it makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something in the dressing room, as opposed to wasting your time.
It’s hard to hit the majority of the population when the population is about 7.5 billion. Which is why it’s so important to look at the clothing you buy from a personal lens as opposed to a broader perspective. Trends are significant, but it’s more important to ask yourself - how does XYZ work for my body? Companies aren’t going to make sleeves long enough for my arms, so I make a deliberate choice to buy 3/4th length, and roll the bottoms of my pants. It puts me back in the driver’s seat to say hey - these are my choices, this is a style looks good on me - instead of lamenting the lack of options I only see in my dreams.
What do you do to make your clothing work for you? And how do you wish retailers would change what they produce?