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One Size Does Not Fit All, Part II: Tailor-Made vs. Ready to Wear

September 18, 2012

This is the second post of a series. Please remember to read the first part here

ready-to-wear vs. couture

Yesterday, I wrote a post outlining some of my reservations against many of the LDS church “ideals,” taking special exception to the analogy that likened these ideals to being a pattern or clothing design. While I think my reservations can apply to a number of ideas within Mormonism, I focused in the last post on Mormon ideals for family, marriage, and sexuality, as described primarily in The Family: A Proclamation to the World. A topic that I thought could be addressed in one post revealed itself as a chain of thoughts that I knew I couldn’t do justice in one post alone, so I ended the earlier post in this series with two questions:

  • Why would we want to focus on mass-producing shirts based on a pattern when we could have custom tailored, bespoke clothing?
  • If one size truly doesn’t fit all (or doesn’t fit all very well), then shouldn’t the church try to come up with different shirt sizes in the same pattern for different body types, so to speak?

Today, I would like to discuss the first of the two questions.

The Ready-to-Wear Revolution

As per Wikipedia, ready-to-wear clothingis the term for factory-made clothing, sold in finished condition, in standardized sizes, as distinct from made to measure or bespoke clothing tailored to a particular person’s frame.” Ready-to-wear contrasts with the opposite “bespoke” clothing (or haute couture if you’re fancy/a woman), and in-between the two is made-to-measure. The major difference between these three is their relationship to a pattern — ready-to-wear clothing is industrially mass-produced based on a pattern, made-to-measure clothing is based on a pattern, but with variations to match a particular consumer, and bespoke clothing is produced without reference to a pre-existing pattern at all.

For much of history, all clothing (I guess) was “bespoke.” That’s because ready-to-wear wasn’t even “invented” until the mid-nineteenth to early 20th century — thanks to the Civil War (at least for men) and the advent of the sewing machine and other later industrial processes (electric sewing machines! factories!). Not to be sexist (but only to point out HISTORY!), ready-made clothing, much like sliced bread and vacuum cleaners, would probably have been seen as a godsend to the women of the country (world?), as it meant that all the family’s clothing needs did not have to come from the efforts of the dutiful wife/mother.

“I spent MONTHS sewing together these outfits and after this 7-hour family photo, we’ll never wear them again!”

So yay ready-to-wear clothing!

The history was a bit murky, though. When ready-to-wear clothing first was developed, manufacturers didn’t have a standardized set of measurements. In other words, zhey could not see vhat ze hell zhey were doing. As a result, the cost of ready-made clothes (with necessary alterations) was often higher than that for made-at-home clothing.

(Then again, that’s not to say that made-at-home clothing was the same as what we would consider today to be the best-fitting bespoke clothing…clothing made by a dressmaker would often be more expensive than doing it at home or going ready-to-wear in those early days.)

…man, isn’t it surreal to think that we owe the thanks to the Department of Agriculture for coming up with standardized clothing sizes?! Because that totally makes sense.

ANYWAY, we have certainly come a long way. Today, although ready-to-wear clothing is still seen as not being the best fit, it’s far better now that we have standardized clothing. I have no issues ordering clothes from Amazon without having ever tried them on. And what’s better, these clothes are far more affordable now. I mean, with haute couture creations costing several thousands of dollars, yeah, that’ll break the bank for most folks. And so, in response to my previous post, Justin replied to my question:

Why would we want to focus on mass-producing shirts based on a pattern when we could have custom tailored, bespoke clothing?

Because you can get more people into shirts when you’re stamping-out the mass produced variety.

But Justin already knows the score. As he wrote in his latest post at LDS Anarchy:

There’s this Western ethic of viewing reality as this binary, yes-or-no, true-or-false, etc. category for things — one that also holds that anything “true” must be universally scalable to be “right”.  You see it come-up anytime you propose or suggest an idea — and some genius pops-up with some outlandish, fringe scenario where that idea might not work. Like if they can invent just a single case where an idea might not be good — then that just invalidates the whole thing for everyone, everywhere, all the time.

There isn’t “One-True Answer” for how all people ought to live — and the search for such an All-True, Correlatable, Scalable, and Marketable Answer is a fruitless endeavor and leads away from getting towards any answer worth having.

God is about love: real love — chesedagape — that open-faced, fully-naked, no-stinginess at all, complete sharing of all things kinda love.  God is love — which is why God is uncontrollable [or all-powerful], even anti-control.  But there’s a fear of relative truth or subjective ethics because they’re uncomfortable — they aren’t well-defined edges and lines that we can check-off and box-in.  But love requires the situational, the voluntary, and the accepting.

Never Forget Bespoke

So, I guess that leads me into the main point of this post, which is not to serve as a history lesson (although it was fun for me to research all that stuff) on clothing logistics. Rather, I wanted to talk about the idea of an ideal being a pattern that should be replicated, as opposed to being something tailor-made to every person. From his talk General Patterns and Specific Lives, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland states:

Let me use a parable that I hope can make this point, whatever your marital or family circumstance. For lack of a better title, I call it “The Parable of the Homemade Shirt.” My mother, bless her, was a marvelous seamstress. In my childhood years, when money was short and new clothing hard to come by, she would sometimes make clothing for us to wear to school. I would see a shirt in a store window or in a mail-order catalogue, and my mother would say, “I think I can make that.” By looking at the shirt as closely as she could, she would then cut cloth and put in seams to a degree that was close to the expensive original.

I pay her the tribute of being both willing and able to do that. But she didn’t like to do it that way. While she could study the commercial product and come close, what she really wanted was a pattern. A pattern helped her anticipate angles and corners and seams and stitches that were otherwise hard to recognize. Furthermore, if she went back for a second or a third shirt, she was always working from a perfect original pattern, not repeating or multiplying the imperfections of a replica.

I think you can see my point and hers. We are bound to be in trouble if a shirt is made from a shirt that was made from a shirt. A mistake or two in the first product—inevitable without a pattern—gets repeated and exaggerated, intensified, more awkward, the more repetitions we make, until finally this thing I’m to wear to school just doesn’t fit. One sleeve’s too long. The other’s too short. One shoulder seam runs down my chest. The other runs down my back. And the front collar button fastens behind my neck. I can tell you right now that such a look is not going to go over well in the seventh grade.

Now, I hope this helps you understand why we talk about the pattern, the ideal, of marriage and family when we know full well that not everyone now lives in that ideal circumstance. It is precisely because many don’t have, or perhaps have never even seen, that ideal and because some cultural forces steadily move us away from that ideal, that we speak about what our Father in Heaven wishes for us in His eternal plan for His children.

Individual adaptations have to be made as marital status and family circumstances differ. But all of us can agree on the pattern as it comes from God, and we can strive for its realization the best way we can.

We who are General Authorities and general officers are called to teach His general rules. You and we then lead specific lives and must seek the Lord’s guidance regarding specific circumstances. But there would be mass confusion and loss of gospel promises if no general ideal and no doctrinal standard were established and, in our case today, repeated. We take great strength in knowing the Lord has spoken on these matters, and we accept His counsel even when it might not be popular.

To be fair, I have little problem with the last paragraph under certain circumstances. If the “general rules” are general and broad enough, then I think they can be a helpful foundation upon which we can make adjustments regarding specific circumstances. And you know…patterns are good for cutting a lot of the work…one doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel because the basic pattern has already been developed. One similarly doesn’t have to “reinvent the shirt” because a pattern has already been developed.

…but it seems to me that Holland’s parable is incomplete. While making a shirt based off a shirt is problematic, and patterns can be a good alternative, the simple fact is that sometimes the pattern can be inadequate for certain body types. In this case, we ought not say, “Well, the body type must conform to the pattern.” Rather, we should anticipate not only “angles and corners and seams and stitches” that might otherwise be hard to recognize with respect to the construction of the shirt, but also anticipate the curves and angles that make one body different from another.

I think the “pattern” the church provides can do a lot of good for certain kinds of people. For example, if you are white, cismale, heterosexual, middle-class, and don’t have any major problems with believing the narrative, then I think the church can be a great help to you — or at least, won’t hurt you too much in general.

But as those factors change, the problem is that the pattern doesn’t change. And even more, because the pattern is idealized, your individual deviation from it is your problem. Rather than the pattern being made for man, man is made for the pattern (because the pattern is supposed to be what man aspires to be.)

But why does this have to be?  Why can’t the church — especially since it prides itself on continuing revelation and personal revelation — be tailor-made to each person, given their individual circumstances and experiences and tailoring an ideal aspiration for each? So that, for example, sexual ethics doesn’t end up telling everyone — gay, straight, or otherwise — that the ideal for everyone is one husband that works and one wife at home with the 2.5 kids?

I feel at times that the church, and many churches, has missed a great opportunity. That will be the focus of the third and last post in this series, and the answer to the second question:

If one size truly doesn’t fit all (or doesn’t fit all very well), then shouldn’t the church try to come up with different shirt sizes in the same pattern for different body types, so to speak?

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