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Thread: Female fashion models and stereotypes

  1. #1

    Default Female fashion models and stereotypes

    Here's a question that's been puzzling some of us here for a while now, and which Lumina and I talked about yesterday in a nice cafe in Antwerp :)
    How come that the majority of designers discussed on here - who work at the frontiers of fashion design and who dare to challenge various aspects of it - don't dare to challenge the type of female models that represent their clothes on a runway? While with male fashion models this has already taken place (see, for example Yohji Yamamoto's SS 2009 show), hardly anyone dared to do the same when it comes to women. If I remember right, Vivienne Westwood partially challenged this habit with less slim models, and MMM recently had some more senior female models, but aside from these exceptions, the situation has mainly been unchanged.

    The main question here is not why not diverging from the mainstream for the sake of certain ethical or political reasons (though that's an interesting question as well). What I am primarily interested in is the question, why are slim, young, tall, conventionally pretty models aesthetically more appealing for this niche in fashion design than other female types? Wouldn't a real challenge be to make a not-so-conventionally-beautiful person looking in an interesting way? And in any case, wouldn't, for example, an older, gray haired woman make an incredible impression on a runway? Why has this aspect of fashion, even in this niche, remained so incredibly mainstream?

  2. #2


    I find this question very interesting.
    Even if the question can be asked also for "regular" brands also (and I don't even talk about magazines), the question here is mostly adressed towards the designers discussed here. Why designers deviating from the "mass tastes" or regular fashion in regard to concept, construction of clothes, fabric, creating new silhouettes, building personal universes, challenging gender, the notion of fashion itself, of what is beautiful to wear, of what a clothe is, or should look like, WHY do these same people keep being totally enslaved to the fashion's beauty diktat by keeping on showing their clothes seasons after seasons on models very tall, very (too?) slim, very young women ?
    They challenged all these notions, were called avant-garde, revolutionized the history of fashion, they stood against all, but they conform to this whole narrow fashion view ?
    What about all the smallest, tallest, curviest, regular, out of the ordinary, older, but nevertheless pretty, women ?

    To take Yohji Yamamoto as an exemple, I know that he did some runways with more diversified models a few years ago, but especially for him, with his books, his thoughts, his view on fashion, against imitation, about being oneself, it is so frustrating and seems even contradictory, why doesn't he show his clothes this way ? Him, the lover of one size and non-perfectly fitting clothes ? Why does he do it for his men runway (old men, bigger men, smaller men), such a great diversity of shapes, and silhouettes, and body, faces, personnalities, and not for women ? Marketing and financial pressures ?
    He did it recently for his runway at the V&A taking couples in the streets in London, and it was so great, much more alive, playful, warmer, honest, so much more true to the spirit of his clothes. Seing them displayed season after season on regular all look alike models has something almost hypocrite, no matter how beautiful the clothes are.

    And Comme des Garçons ? With such a playful and daring view on clothes and fashion, why not show more the diversity of bodies as they showed us the diversity of view on clothes and what beauty can be or not be ?

    I understand that for designer like Rick Owens, enhancing sport and care of the body from what I understood, with a kind of body ideal, it may be a bit different and sounds a little bit more like a conscient choice of models, not just a soumission to runway's way of doing.
    But for others, I find there's really an "off" feeling. It doesn't feel right.

    Sorry if it feels a little agressive, but I really wonder and would love to have the view of the designers on that point, know what people here think about it, male and female, and it would be interesting from those here who are designers themselves too.

  3. #3


    This is an interesting subject matter, but to be honest and this might sound weird coming from someone like me. in some ways I really don't care...........well, at least not too much to want to change the system. personally,i don't like too much of a slim woman, its not personally attractive to me.

    Ive seen a lot of designers who have done alot in this regard, for example, Junya did it one season early in this career using unconventional models. Margiela when he was around made a point of using unusual models.........there have also been fuller figured models like Sophie Dahl, who has been very successful in the mainstream modeling industry. McQueen once used a lady (i dint remember her name) for whom he made special prosthetic legs to do his show.

    I think an there are several factors important to consider.

    1. its easier to make a wide assortment of clothing fit better on people who are less curvy that those who have curves
    2. designers generally use samples for press, editorial and other shoots over which they have no control. having garments made in a size that's closer to the standards used by the industry (regardless of how reprehensible this is) is easier to deal with than veering from the norm.

    essentially, I did womenwear for seven years, and I've been doing mens for three seasons, and I feel more fulfilled designing menswear than I did women. not because didn't love women swear and wasn't good at it, but then, there were some aspects of the work that was always against my personal convictions..............
    “You know,” he says, with a resilient smile, “it is a hard world for poets.”
    .................................................. .......................

    Zam Barrett Spring 2017 Now in stock

  4. #4


    I think with womenswear that if a designer changes things up with the models, everyone sees that and not the clothing. Every time a designer uses plus side models or whatever, it is usually just seen as a gimmick, and so the clothes tend to get sidelined. Because it is so rare to see anything but your stereotypical model body on the runway, every little instance of deviation is jumped upon - by all sides.

    It turns into a debate removed from the collection, and one of the model's body and fashion in general (the whole size zero debate etc.). Until a designer is able to use different types of model, and people are able to view it within the context of the collection rather than as some sort of major f*** you to the fashion world, it risks being read as a gimmick rather than a legitimate statement.

    The reason I think it is more acceptable in menswear (by which I mean people don't pounce on it with the same voracity) is down to a more social aspect. Menswear is way behind womenswear, so I think a designer has more leeway to present, or even just construct, their view of masculinity. The social conventions of menswear are not yet fully set in stone in terms of catwalk and what not.

    Plus an older man (or a fatter man) is unfortunately more acceptable than an older woman. A man can let his hair go grey and have wrinkles, and still be fashionable (just look at all those streetstyle blogs glorifying older Italian men). Whereas women unfortunately are put under pressure to always look younger and always look thinner. An overweight man can be viewed as jolly, an overweight woman is viewed as unsightly.

    It is a pressure perhaps created and reinforced by fashion, but it is for that exact reason that a designer is unable to break from that norm. They just wouldn't be accepted as making a valid point, people would unfortunately just brush it off as pandering to the crowd.

    Oh and Zamb's point is right on. You have to have standardization of some sort otherwise it would be mayhem. I suppose the cost of having to make everything in two sizes (in whatever runway size you want and sample size) would be untenable for many.
    "Lots of people who think they are into fashion are actually just into shopping"

  5. #5


    aw even when ann used patti smith in a show it was for the menswear lol ;)

    i would reduce it to marketing i dont think men especially want to relate to a glorified male model version of how the clothes essentially look the best its a bit self depreciating so its easy for designers to detach from that with odd balls women however a lot of the times care about the model more than the clothes and that whole fantasy. maybe it looks too much like an advert for Dove soap so they do not care. it is true though i think ann and michelle lamy look amazing in the clothes so its strange you dont see that depicted more often in a commercial sense.

  6. #6


    there's a lot of unfortunate baggage associated with trying to break away from the norm in this case.

  7. #7


    i agree with zamb in regards to the sizing and patrok in regards to - if you had an entire show of say, transvestites, it just would be bad. not having perfect 10 models can easily make your show look like a fashion school show. grab heather marks and your clothes look about 100 times better than they're actually worth.

  8. #8


    they dont have to be haggard - i think lumina was thinking more people who really embody the spirit and soul of the clothing but arent models at nine daughters and a stereo a bit like how limi uses a lot of asian models but slightly more extreme. Has PH used older women? i thought i recalled seeing something like that even though he doesnt do shows.

  9. #9



    in all fairness I think that is an extreme case, there you have an obese woman modeling clothing......... which shouldnto not be used as an example

    on the other end, we could argue that designers fro years have used anorexic models which is the other end of the spectrum

    i think the reasoning that Rilu and Lumina is getting at is more about unconventional beauties rather than the standard fare of the fashion industry.
    “You know,” he says, with a resilient smile, “it is a hard world for poets.”
    .................................................. .......................

    Zam Barrett Spring 2017 Now in stock

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by syed View Post
    It is a pressure perhaps created and reinforced by fashion, but it is for that exact reason that a designer is unable to break from that norm.
    this. quite simply, double binds are just more common in a women's world

    also of note is the fact that there is no such thing as a male 'supermodel'!

    and i think bless employs 'normal' people pretty often. but that label is just pretty fucking crazy all around

  11. #11


    Quote Originally Posted by zamb View Post

    in all fairness I think that is an extreme case, there you have an obese woman modeling clothing......... which shouldnto not be used as an example

    on the other end, we could argue that designers fro years have used anorexic models which is the other end of the spectrum

    i think the reasoning that Rilu and Lumina is getting at is more about unconventional beauties rather than the standard fare of the fashion industry.
    It was absolutely an extreme and silly example. But most serious designers want the clothes and overall look to be the focus of the show; specifically obnoxious models are mostly the domain of otherwise boring designers.

    Yohji Yamamoto can successfully use anyone he wants in his runway shows because his clothes are free size and because they still demand your focus regardless of what the guy wearing them looks like. a lot of labels could probably do this, especially classic ones like zegna, but they seem mostly unwilling.

  12. #12


    The actual article's writing isn't great, but this takes the issue of this topic a step farther:

  13. #13


    maybe it needs to be taken a step back too. while there is definite logic to the original topic - conventional models - models measurements are often fabricated to meet industry standards - etc its also crazy to suggest sz designers are just using generic pretty girls. jamie bochert is a legend in the industry but in no way represents conventional ideals of pretty to the average joe really. so she's essentially making the same point you want to make except for the rest of the industry sides with it aswell and it becomes moot. ann has her dark romatic view on things and i think the girls she recruits reflect this fine sure she could stretch things out a bit but she's not misrepresenting herself at all in her choice of models even with the boys jamie del moon is a noted muse of hers and personally assists with collections in terms of whats works and what doesnt. so maybe there's more depth to them being there than one might think. or maybe not ehe.

  14. #14


    skinny girls will interfere with structured or highly styled garments less, while simultaneously looking better in fitted clothing.

    you also have to look at the marketing side of the fashion industry. Most luxury brands are trying to sell an idealized "perfect life" through their advertising in print, video and showcases. Now what fits better with the idea of the perfect life- a thin, glamorous, 20 year old model photographed in an opulent apartment, or a slightly overweight, average looking 30 something woman photographed in her clean family home?

    it's more about fantasy than reality, and as long as people want something better than what they have, people will be sold products by people who look better than they do.

    but maybe I'm just getting defensive because we're discussing my profession here.
    Last edited by kirie; 12-12-2011 at 07:39 PM. Reason: rephrasing

  15. #15


    ^^ You can sell fantasy without super skinny models. With that said, the ideal (fantasized) woman changes over the course of time. The question is, who shaped the preferences of the masses? Is it the media, or is the media merely responding to that people truly want? Chances are our preferences are subsconsciously shaped by what's shoved down our throat, not vice versa, so in that case the media has the power to change the trends in modelling as well, no?

    Quote Originally Posted by Patroklus View Post
    Better too adventurous than not enough
    everyone should strive towards ballsiness

  16. #16


    Simply a business decision to save money?
    Just design one size fits all (+/- minor alterations after acually casting the models). Then wait for the preorders after the show and evaluate what actually goes into production. Hell they save money by not providing fitting shoes quite often.

    The beauty aspect is another thing... symmetry especially in the face, waist to hip ratio... those are some evolutionary conserved measurements.
    However I don't think it is that important in fashion anymore, the androgyny trend is common for both sexes. And I remember the same complaints that "actual men" should be more often present on the runway and not only those "drug addict" types.

  17. #17


    I think people are so jaded by the current state of things they think they often hear something other than what is actually being said..........

    no one is arguing for fat overweight models.........
    i think rilu (among others) is taking about diversity

    there are lots of really beautiful and interesting women who can be used as models who don't actually fit the standard now used by many in casting models.
    all she is saying is that since designer challenge so many other things in their work, why not this?
    “You know,” he says, with a resilient smile, “it is a hard world for poets.”
    .................................................. .......................

    Zam Barrett Spring 2017 Now in stock

  18. #18


    I misunderstood a little, I was speaking more in generalities than the specific designers primarily discussed here.
    it would be interesting to see more non standard body shapes being used by avant garde designers, but honestly I don't think we'll see it happening soon- maybe in the next 5-10 years, but it seems like body types in fashion go through decades of popularity. We had the scarily anorexic models in the late 90's-early 20's, and they're slowly moving out of that to the tomboyish thin girls that don't look incredibly ill. It'll take a dramatic change in the emotion behind the major collections before the body ideal start changing though.

    Additionally, hiring "unusual" shaped models usually means you're hiring outside of the agencies (many of which have multi year contracts with big name fashion houses to provide girls for their shows). I can't even imagine how much of a headache it would be to try to cast models outside of agencies.

    as a side note- no agency I've ever worked with will allow you to even go to fashion week castings if your hips are over 35", and even that's a stretch. They're usually pretty strict on the 24" waist, 34" hip measurements.

  19. #19


    i think itd be as easy to scout women who do not belong to agencies as it is to scout men - something dior homme was famous for (random sk8er boys on the street, kids in bars) and is commonly seen in boutique postings here and elsewhere with hometown heroes like the addict bsr christian and heirloom. a few womens boutiques come as close to what rilu is getting at like eva gentry uses a pretty everyday chick for the fit model etc and some others who probably just dont want to pay for a model aha

  20. #20


    Quote Originally Posted by syed View Post
    I think with womenswear that if a designer changes things up with the models, everyone sees that and not the clothing.


    It turns into a debate removed from the collection...
    This. But rilu, I'm with you on this, as obviously many others here are. Ever since I was a kid I remember wondering why the hell all the models look so much like each other, always pissed me off and still does.

    re: the H&M thing, I'm sorry this may be going on a tangent, I'd like to quote Ms. Nadya Lev of Coilhouse who has a really great take on the whole virtual models thing:

    even though H&M’s online catalogue conforms to the same beauty standard as any other big fashion retailer, this technology actually has the potential to subvert the paradigm altogether.

    Imagine an online shop where your preferred weight/height/measurements are used to generate 3D models of the bodies that you want to see. Imagine if there was an API for this that could be used across all online clothing stores you visit, so that no matter what site you were looking at, the models appeared the way that you wanted them to. Standardized beauty ideals would become less relevant, because people would have greater control over their exposure to them.

    In the short term, it may seem like computer-generated models reinforce a homogenous beauty standard. In the long term, this technology may pave the way towards greater body diversity and inclusiveness.
    Full article. On that note, imagine an interactive fashion show where you could program the models to your specifications..!

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