Models as Walking Clothes Hangers


OK. So. I really do get that fashion shows are meant, on some level, to be viewed as pageantry, pure art, theater. High-end designer clothes get worn by very few actual people – the haute couture stuff by even fewer – because very few actual people can afford them. Many clothing designers consider themselves to be visual artists, and clothing is simply their chosen medium.

And I try really, really hard to remember this when I hear the argument for extremely tall, extremely slim models as the ONLY choice for runway shows. When I hear the argument that these women are basically just “walking clothes hangers,” that their bodies shouldn’t interfere with how the clothing appears.

But I can’t. The more I hear that refrain, the angrier I become. And here’s why.

THEY ARE STILL CLOTHES even if they’re meant to be arty, sculptural, outlandish clothes. Clothes are meant to be worn on bodies, not look great on hangers. If they were just meant to look amazing on their own, they’d be fiber art, textiles, sculpture. Clothing is meant to clothe. Period.

Put aside the fact that models are human beings too, and are often told to their faces that they aren’t thin enough to get work, dehumanized, disrespected, and sometimes just plain abused. Put aside the fact that designers and mags claim they’re creating an aspirational fantasy from these luxury goods, ignoring the fact that the women shown wearing these clothes become part of that fantasy for many viewers. Put aside the fact that every designer who has taken the tiniest baby step toward model diversity of any kind has been buried under an avalanche of praise, only to return to the stable of tall, thin, predominantly white girls in the next season. PUT ALL OF THAT ASIDE, and you still have this:

Clothing is meant to be worn by humans. If you design items that only look amazing when no one is wearing them, why call them clothing? Why send them down the runway on living, breathing bodies when you could just hang them up on the wall and let people ogle them? It would be so much cheaper,

I am aware of the factors that make drastic change difficult – including the questionable-but-lauded sample size argument – and I don’t have a solution to the lack of diversity on the runways (or in ads, on TV and in the movies, etc.), much as I wish I did. I also have many more bones to pick than this one with the fashion industry, as you all know. But the walking clothes hanger issue is one that has been stuck in my craw for ages because it seems like one of the flimsiest excuses ever for maintaining an exclusionary, damaging status quo. Bodies interfere with how great your clothes look? Are you sure they’re clothes?

What do you think of the argument that models are meant to be walking clothes hangers? Do you think something can still be considered a garment if it looks awful on a range of human body types, but great on its own?

Images courtesy (Calvin Klein SS14 RTW) // This is an archived post that I wanted to refresh and revive for any new readers.

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13 Responses to “Models as Walking Clothes Hangers”

  1. Catrine

    I am a new reader and am so glad you reposted this Sally. I agree so much! Clothing is meant to be worn! Clothing is meant to be functional. I feel that the designers have failed if they cannot make clothing that flatters people, like regular beautiful people who are not as tall or as thin as runway models. Thanks for posting: you verbalized what I have been thinking about runway shows and the exclusiveness of size.


  2. Rachel

    I have also heard the argument that models are tall and thin because “clothes hang better on tall thin people”. Which infuriates me because it is just not true! Some clothing looks great on tall thin bodies, yes; but other clothing is better suited to a curvy figure, an hourglass shape, etc. Also within the “tall and thin” category there are still differences in body shape, e.g. broad shoulders, breast size, waist definition etc. Clothing can look good on all kinds of people depending on proportions, build, personal style and attitude, etc.

    With no disrespect whatsoever towards people who are tall and thin; I really reject the idea that there is one Holy Grail body type which automatically suits everything; there isn’t. We also seem rather blind to the fact that tall and thin has only become the “ideal” in very recent times, and then only in certain parts of the world; it is by no means a fixed and permanent standard.

    I would also argue if you are designing clothing which only looks good on one body type, then maybe rethink your designs!

    • jan.4987

      I agree. It took me a long time to fully accept and start to work with the fact that my body is a *component* of the overall look, not a vehicle for it.

      For example, in the most general terms, I can take a look that’s quite masculine on the rail and by adding my body to it, can feminise the outfit simply by the wearing of it. Someone else could do the opposite. Or they could make a look more youthful or more mature just by being the one to wear it. Outfits are rarely talked about in that way, in my experience; their fluidity is not acknowledged. Which strangely enough, doesn’t seem very artistic to me.

  3. jan.4987

    I agree with you completely. If the clothes aren’t working *with* the body, then the designer isn’t doing their job properly.

    The clothes hanger argument to me is like if I were asked by my city to design a block of offices that functioned well as a workplace and worked well aesthetically with its surroundings in the place where it was intended to be built, and in response handed them the plans for a baroque cathedral, and then responded to objections by suggesting knocking down the surrounding buildings so that my work of art looked the way it’s supposed to. I wonder if there are any areas other than fashion where this kind of proposition is widely accepted. I’m struggling to think of any.

    • Amy Blankenship

      When I was an architecture major, an early assignment was to design a house so the new owners couldn’t extend it and mess up the design. So, yeah.

      I switched to art by the end of my first semester.

  4. Courtney

    I totally agree and I’ll add this thought: even granting them the “it’s really just art, not clothes” argument, why only make one type of art? What sort of artistic statements could you make around different “hangers”? Art is at least in part about pushing yourself past boundaries, to consider new forms which haven’t been considered before, to make the seemingly unbeautiful beautiful, or at least arresting. So to refuse to use the full potential of your medium is to limit youself from fully expressing the potential found in your art.

  5. Megan Gann

    The thing is, actual clothes, ones we buy in stores? They’re designed to look good on an actual hanger versus an actual body. Why? Because that’s how we buy clothes, off a hanger. Considering how many people refuse to try on clothes before buying them these days, some people never get an idea of how a garment even looks on a body – ANY body before purchasing. It’s hanger appeal, literally.

    All in all none of it is designed to flatter us as people, as bodies, it’s meant to cater to how we BUY as consumers.

  6. Elle

    Wow, this was an eye-opening read for me – I have definitely used the “well, models are only meant to show off the clothes, not distract from them” line in the past, not only regarding the mainstream modelesque body shape, but also the no-makeup-makeup and nondescript ponytails favoured on the runway (two of my favourite daily looks, but not exactly attention-grabbing!). You’re totally right: it is a ridiculous and weak excuse to glorify a single body type to the exclusion of all others. If a designer doesn’t want a body interfering with their clothing design, then what compels them to design garments in the first place?

    It is bizarre that it’s appropriate to compare a living, breathing model to, say, a beautiful frame or a well-placed spotlight, a conduit for the work of art rather than a part of it. No matter how “artistic” in design or intent, clothes are surely designed to be worn – although, in the case of the avant-garde and price-on-application world, are they really? I suppose that’s another matter entirely! Can this argument still apply when the clothes exist only to be worn briefly for “art’s sake” by models or celebrities, and are not designed for mass sale or appeal?

  7. Liz

    Wonder if this has anything to do with the fact that most well-known designers nowadays are men. I read that Alexander McQueen once said no woman over a size 2 should be allowed to wear “fashion.”
    This from a man who struggled with his own weight for most of his life. Maybe male designers don’t really “see” women.
    In contrast, Carolina Herrera’ s and Diane von Furstenberg’s clothes suit a variety of figure types.

  8. 33

    Designers need to sell to keep the business going. If an artist isn’t selling his paintings, he can’t survive for too long (unless he has a benefactor). Therefore, the clothing design should be viable on an actual normal sized human body. If not, no sale. No sale, no money. No money, no business. Simple logic.
    Above being said, from taking my own outfit photos for the past 6 months I have to admit that my clothes do look better if my body would not interfere with them (not filling them out). As I slowly losing weight, I can see my images looking better and better each week.
    Thus I don’t blame the designers sending tall and slim models onto the runway. Although they must sell the design. Part of the design is a fantasy. They are selling dreams.

  9. Amy Blankenship

    The thing about the sample sizes seems odd, because the only place I’ve seen samples for sale is MaxStudfio, and they tend to be medium or larger. I’m by no means tiny (120 lbs, 5 ft)), but I wear an xs there.

  10. jan.4987

    Haha! If it works well to start with I can see the point, but designing something that doesn’t work to begin with then getting annoyed by reality, that I don’t understand.