When is a Peignoir Like a Pizza?

Usually I have a very light lunch, but for some reason today the kids wanted pizza, so I gave in and ordered, and it was really good. And so I decided I should make a note of what it was I had enjoyed so much. I went to tear a piece of paper off my pad when I noticed that the box was telling me clearly that this pizza had been made especially for me. And that made me think about peignoirs, and nightgowns and pajamas, and clothes, and how once upon a time, they had been the same.

For most of history, other than the last 100 years, if you had new clothes, they had been made just for you. Custom clothing was the norm. Most women could sew and were able to make their own clothes, for others there were the services of a dressmaker, but in every case clothes were made for the client.

1. Clothes used to fit.

2. There were no standard sizes.

Of course there have always been standard patterns, but all dressmakers were taught as part of their art, how to measure clients and adjust the patterns accordingly. The laced backs common on clothes of other centuries provide far more room for variation in measurement than modern day fastenings. So what happened?

Before the mid 19th century, there was no real concept of fashion as there is today. The concept of wasting a garment because it was no longer ‘in’ would never have occurred to the many generations who carefully removed lace, ribbons, buttons and ruffles from everything so it could be reused. One man changed all that. An Englishman called Charles Frederick Worth.

Worth became one of the first fashion designers because he attracted the highest profile clients of his age, from the Empress of France to great celebrities, like Sarah Bernhardt. His style was easy to identify – he moved women away from fussy clothes to a simpler design. Simpler outlines were easier and cheaper to make. Worth had excellent taste and an eye for what suited his clients, with the result that they came to trust his judgement more than they trusted their own. Instead of making what customers wanted, Worth held frequent shows of model clothes. Clients could choose a garment and have it made up in their choice of fabric.

Worth changed the world of fashion for ever. In some ways he created it. After Worth, the designer was more important that the client. Women didn’t want to look beautiful, they wanted to wear Worth or Chanel or Dior and they wanted in such quantities that a new idea was born, that of creating clothes which didn’t fit any one particular person, but were made to general sizes.

For almost another 100 years, dress shops sold mass produced garments which were then altered by the shops dressmaker to fit the customer, so although the customer had no control over color and style (stores only sold the current trend) at least proper fit was mostly available as long as the customers size was within certain bounds. These days it is important that the label reads the right size and the logo says the right thing. Flattering the customer seems to be incidental, and since items are made in standard colors or sizes, the opportunity for truly individual style and flare is very rare.

So what can the fashion world learn from pizza? Clothes should be made in a color that suits and a size that fits. Clothes should be made to make us look good, not to advance some designers brand. If you are more important than your pizza, I’m pretty sure you are more important than your peignoir, or your jeans, or your T-shirt. Make your peignoir like your pizza; the technology is here, many companies can and will make to order. You only have to ask.

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