Battlepanda: The Real Fashion Police


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Real Fashion Police

Women in search of fashionable clothes the world over have a similar problem: What do you do if you are not a size 6?

Some government leaders in Argentina have an answer. They have passed a controversial law designed to break what they see as the tyranny of tiny sizes. Starting Dec.21, Buenos Aires province, which includes the capital's glitzy suburbs but not the fashion-forward city itself, will require shops catering to adolescent girls to stock clothing in a minimum range of sizes roughly equivalent to sizes 6 to 16 in the U.S.

Provincial inspectors will scrutinize merchants' clothing racks, "tape measure in hand," says Ana Serrano, the province's director of commerce and designated sizing sheriff. Shops that don't have the prescribed sizes in stock will face fines of up to $170,000. Officials maintain that the small clothes put pressure on young women to take up extreme dieting. That in turn contributes to one of the highest rates of anorexia and bulimia in the world, they say.

In a nation where stylishness is a national religion, the sizes law is triggering a fevered debate...Argentina women who aren't extremely thin have an unusually tough time finding fashionable clothes.

Of course, there are serious questions over whether state power should be applied in this fashion (no pun intended, honest). But the underlying market failure is interesting, and very real. Clothes are not just objects to cover and warm one's body, they are status objects. When we buy a pair of jeans, we are not merely purchasing pants, but "style", "sexiness", "sophistication". Since those qualities are associated with extreme skinniness, stores are in a conundrum. Sure, stocking clothes in realistic sizes will see them flying off the shelves, but go too far and you become a "fat" store. And even overweight people would not want to shop at your store.

Taking away the ability of stores to signal their exclusivity by only producing very small sizes stops the game in its tracks. But using heavy fines is a very blunt instrument to achieve this. It would be far better for womens to realize the self-defeating futility of buying into an unrealistic body image. Vote with our wallets. We don't have to put up with quixotic, insulting behavior like this.