Saturday, July 11, 2015

Fitting your tree

ROBABLY right to the end of my days, I'm going to argue that J.M. Barrie was one of the most consistently underrated authors of the 20th century. One vignette from Peter Pan that illustrates Barrie's satirical brilliance discusses how Peter measures each of the Lost Boys (as well as Wendy, John and Michael) to fit a hollow tree, so each one can enter the Lost Boys' underground house without being seen or followed. Due to the way the hollow trees work, each person must fit his or her own tree precisely:

Usually it is done quite easily, as by your wearing too many garments or too few; but if you are bumpy in awkward places or the only available tree is an odd shape, Peter does some things to you, and after that you fit. Once you fit, great care must be taken to go on fitting, and this, as Wendy was to discover to her delight, keeps a whole family in perfect condition.
Wendy and Michael fitted their trees at the first try, but John had to be altered a little.
-- from Peter Pan, Chapter 7, "The Home Under the Ground"
When I read the book as a child, I didn't see anything particularly funny in this passage -- but as an adult (and specifically as a plus-sized woman), I suspect Barrie wrote about altering people to fit trees as a way of poking fun at the ready-to-wear clothing industry. Ready-to-wear, particularly for women, was just getting started when Peter Pan was first published in 1911, but already it was establishing a clothing standard that would grow from the merely ridiculous to the outright insane: although every human being's body is unique, ready-to-wear is only produced in standard sizes, so rather than alter the garment to fit the unique body shape, each consumer is expected to alter her own shape to fit the garment. And "once you fit, great care must be taken to go on fitting" -- heh. Because heaven forbid one should ever go from a size 5 to, say, a size 7.

Have you ever bought a dress you never wore? Not because you regretted buying it -- but because you deliberately bought it a size too small as a "carrot" to entice you to lose weight so you'd be small enough to squeeze into it? Then you're trying to alter yourself to fit your tree. Need to wear special foundation garments (say, more than your basic underwear) for your clothes to look good? Fitting your tree. Have you had or are you considering plastic surgery so you can wear a particular size? OK, how do I put this delicately -- YOU ARE OUT OF YOUR TREE.

For heaven's sake. Make your clothes fit you, not the other way around.

Do you really think the celebrities in the trashy fan-mags all have perfectly standard-sized bodies that let them fit their fashionable clothes off the rack? BZZT WRONG. They get their clothes tailored to fit them. (Or they go the haute couture route, but let's just set that aside because most of us can never hope to afford -- or would be embarrassed to own -- custom-made clothing that costs the annual GDP of a small country.)

I know, not everyone knows how to do alterations, and tailoring is expensive. But think for a second. What's easier, faster and cheaper to alter -- a human body or a piece of fabric? Even if alterations end up adding to the cost of a garment, if that means you'll actually wear it and look good in it, that's money well spent. In my not-so-humble opinion, the only clothes you're allowed to leave unworn in your closet are the ones you wore at your wedding.

I've been going through my own closet, trimming away any vestiges of the alter-yourself-to-fit-the-tree mindset I grew up with. If there's anything in there that doesn't fit my body right now, I have two simple choices: pay to have it altered, or broom it. This process is going to take time and money; I can't do any but the most basic alterations, and while I've found a tailor I trust, she isn't cheap. But if in the end I have a wardrobe full of clothes I can wear -- clothes that actually fit and flatter me, not the me I hope to be one day -- then I think that's worth the investment.

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