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So That’s Why Clothes Don’t Fit the Way They Look in a Catalog

catalog spread

FBG Kristen in her modeling debut … and, apparently, finale.

Did I ever tell you about the time I was a model?

Several years ago, while working as a style writer, I was asked to come to New York to do a photo shoot for a catalog that was planning a “Fabulous at Any Age” feature. I immediately said yes, and ended up have an amazing experience; a car picked me up at my home, drove my husband and me to the airport, we were met in New York by another driver, and stayed in a cute little boutique hotel in the city. It was amazing.

At the photo shoot itself, I was introduced to a whole new world. Now, I’ve never been shy; I’ve spent plenty of time in front of the camera, hamming it up and posing like Tyra Banks was watching, so that part wasn’t hard for me. Getting my hair and makeup done was great, too. I learned a few new tricks, some of which I still use today. But when it came time to get with the stylists and put on the clothes, well, that was … interesting.

I was quite fit at this point, but that still put me at a solid size 10, sometimes a size 12 depending on the fit. I’m not, nor have I ever been, a small girl. I’m fine with that, as were the stylists. Some of the clothes, however, were a little less forgiving of my not-quite-sample-size figure.

Here’s the deal. When a catalog does a shoot, they might not have all sizes of all outfits available. And even if they do, we all know that sometimes things just don’t fit properly. But you can’t have that in a catalog, right? The clothes need to look perfect on the models, otherwise nobody would want to buy them.

So what do they do? They clip, and they cut, and they pin. The clothes are reworked so that they look amazing from the front, even if that means they’ve had to completely cut the ass out of a pair of jeans and pin them all up the back in order to get a pair of sample size pants on a size 10 model. Ahem.

I refused to let my husband take a picture of me from behind. At the time, I was humiliated that I was so much bigger than what was available. The jeans in question were a brand new style and simply not made in other sizes yet, so there was nothing else to be done. Now, however, I totally regret not having photographic evidence of the kind of work that went on to make me “catalog ready.”

The experience was great fun, if at times a little embarrassing. But, it forever changed the way I look at clothes on models. I have no doubt that, when they’re working with professional models with a set body type, there are far fewer alterations made, but the fact remains that all sorts of tools and tricks are used to make clothes look great on models in catalogs and online. And that’s even before any Photoshop magic occurs.

So, the next time you order an item of clothing and wonder why it doesn’t hang on you the way it did on the model, consider what work might’ve gone on in the background. It’s not because you don’t have a model’s figure; it’s because you don’t have a stylist with a belt full of scissors and clips and pins tucked away in your closet.

Do you have any stores or brands that you’ve noticed do a fabulous (or far-from-fabulous) job with showing clothing they way it actually fits? Lately I’ve been crushing on Boden, and it doesn’t hurt that the reviews on there tend to be really helpful, but I’m always looking for new stores to browse! —Kristen

FTC disclosure: We often receive products from companies to review. All thoughts and opinions are always entirely our own. Unless otherwise stated, we have received no compensation for our review and the content is purely editorial. Affiliate links may be included. If you purchase something through one of those links we may receive a small commission. Thanks for your support!

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9 Comments
  1. Its great to know what really goes on behind the scenes. Thank god I have finally gotten to a point where I realize that real people don’t usually look like the people we see in magazines. For young people it is great to have positive body image things to look at, and you looked great in that catalog!

    ~Cat

  2. Alison C says:

    I just received a copy of the Autumn/Winter Next directory (a UK shop) and looking at one of the models I thought “she is too thin to have a size off the rack”. Its not a good thing when it is obviuos that the clothes must have nee altered to fit her.

  3. Alison C says:

    “must have been altered”

  4. Tish says:

    Wow! I would kill to see the back side of a model now lol…Never knew I’d ever kill to see that!

    Interesting. Makes me feel a WHOLE lot betta!

  5. I’ve totally noticed similar things on celeb reality type shows when they film them doing a photo shoot, the shirt/dress/whatever is usually being clipped in the back to make it fit more to their form and their hair is totally clipped forward to give it more oomph but it’s not like they’d actually wear it out that way in public. Not to mention the whole photoshopping thing. It’s so crazy.

  6. Michele says:

    You can also see this evidenced on mannequins in any store, from Target to Ann Taylor to $$$$$ boutiques…all the clothes on the dummies are pinned and clipped to fit the form of the plastic body perfectly and look more tailored.

  7. CarynW says:

    I’ve found that most apparel made for active lifestyles tends to fit me a little better.. Athlete, TitleNine, and most of the stuff from REI (Patagonia, Lole, etc). I’m also an athletic size 10, and not likely to get much smaller, so I need stuff that fits my very healthy thighs! I also LOVE SkirtSports, and wear their Happy Girl dresses all summer long… just as flattering as they look online and they feel great, too.
    Interestingly enough, though, TitleNine had a casting call recently for “real” models, but they had to be something like under 30, and size 4-8 or something like that, so their models look “real” in the catalog, but they’re little, too! In spite of that, I’ve still had pretty good luck with their stuff (I guess they size up proportionately).
    I tend to avoid stores who advertise with waif-thin models. I can get down with thin but muscular (healthy comes in different sizes!), but when there’s not an inch of visible muscle definition, I just assume the clothes won’t fit me!

  8. Kristen says:

    I LOVE Boden. They have a great return policy as well. And their clothes (particularly the dresses) are super-flattering for a wide variety of “real woman” body types. Plus, they are really well-made, so if you do choose to have something altered slightly it works out great.

  9. Allie says:

    Well that makes a lot more sense! Thanks for shedding some light… very interesting!