It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to buy a pair of well-fitting trousers, at least without getting the store’s tailor and a lot of expense involved. While it’s true that I’m overweight and that I’m a little long in the torso and short in the legs, that doesn’t explain the situation. The problem is that the garment industry doesn’t make clothes that fit me anymore.
It used to be that a man could go into a store and buy clothes in his size. (I can’t say if the same things are true for women’s clothes; I’ve never been able to figure out women’s sizing.) Pants were available in all kinds of inseam lengths and waist sizes, in inches. Shirts were available to fit a certain neck size and sleeve length. Jackets were by chest size and sleeve length. Shoes were in numbered sizes, in widths at least from A to E, with very narrow and very wide sizes available on order. Hats were in ⅛ sizes. Clothes were cut regular, long and short, and sometimes “husky.”
That’s gone now. Yes, sometimes one can get a little more detailed sizing in certain luxury, specialty and mail order outlets, but not in regular stores. What’s available now is vastly more limited. Shirts come in small, medium, large and extra large, with bigger sizes available in some things. If you have a thick neck, you’d better have long arms, too, or the shirt will not fit you. Trousers come in even waist sizes and even inseam lengths, 30 inches and longer. I wear a 29” inseam and everything is too long. Jackets and coats come in four-inch increments; large is 42”-44” and extra-large is 46”-48”, and your arms had better match your chest. I wear a 45” and everything is either too big or too small. Shoes come in regular and wide. Hats are S, M, L and XL. The problem has worsened now that most clothes are made abroad. Sizes are not the same as they were and are not consistent. I used to wear a size 9½ shoe. Now it’s usually a 10½, but is sometimes a 10 and sometimes an 11.
People don’t come in even waist sizes, nor in four-inch increments, nor in S, M, L and XL. People come in all shapes and sizes! When clothes come in such a limited range of sizes, everyone (except for those who are financially well off, perhaps) has at least some things that don’t fit correctly. Look around you and you’ll see. Had this occurred a couple of generations ago when there were many single-income families, and wives stayed home, knew how to sew and could fix such things, and when tailors were more abundant and less expensive, this might have been a little less of a problem. Nowadays, most women have been released from the bondage of the home (a mixed blessing), but have entered the bondage of the workplace and don’t have time for such things. And, with the decline in real wages and the number of good-paying jobs, they couldn’t change the situation even if they wanted to.
In fact, the problem is much bigger than just a lack of enough clothing sizes. The garment industry doesn’t make clothes to fit people anymore; it makes clothes to fit inventories. Stores didn’t like having to stock a large variety of sizes; it meant keeping larger stocks and having more money tied up in inventory. The industry responded by making fewer sizes. This indicates a different attitude on the part of the garment industry and merchandisers. It changed from “the customer is always right” to “the customers will take what we give them, and they’d better get used to it!” After essentially the entire industry started doing it this way, customers had no choice.
Competition among businesses is supposed to do several things. One is communication from customers – they buy some things more than others and thus let the store and manufacturer know what they prefer. But when the whole industry is offering the same thing, this communication never happens and there is no way for consumers to let the garment industry know that sizing is insufficient. Unfortunately, this seems to be just what the industry wants.
Another thing competition does, according to theory, is to force suppliers to make the best product for the best price. This should encourage good ideas produced efficiently. Instead, the industry has chosen to be “efficient” by shedding workers, exploiting cheap foreign labor, including child labor, as we have seen recently with the GAP, and operating sweatshops here and abroad that practice poor labor standards and pay starvation wages. Each company says it was “forced” into this race to the bottom because competitors in the industry did it. Some giants of merchandising, like Wal-Mart, have aggravated the problem by using their huge buying power to force foreign manufacturers to meet their price demands. Part of the package is, however, that consumers don’t have the choices they used to have in sizing; they must live with what the industry chooses to sell. After several decades of being hammered by declining wages and fewer good jobs, most customers can’t afford to buy the more expensive clothing that offers better choices, but has higher prices.
It’s not just the garment industry that has changed this way; it’s happening throughout the economy. Instead of using automation to make people’s lives better and their work time shorter and easier, big business has chosen to cast aside the people who have built their companies. With the intellectual support of bought-and-paid-for economists, big business has hoodwinked people into believing that the “laws” of economics dictate that “globalization” must happen, that it will eventually be good for everyone, and that it is beyond anyone’s control. It is not! Corporations are creatures of the law and can be changed or redirected by the law, if people are willing to get involved and do it.
It’s a sad situation. In a democracy, the people are supposed to be able to decide how the country is run. Americans have, instead, let big business make the choices for them, and allowed their democracy to be subverted. Rather than using its strength (import duties) and influence to help raise poor countries up to our economic level, the United States is being pushed into becoming a Third World country.
The fact that a pair of trousers is too long in the legs or that a shirt’s collar is too tight should be an uncomfortable signal that things aren’t right. Americans need to start asserting their power before it is all gone.