Your One-Size-Fits-All Future
What the Oversized Silhouette Tells Us About Our Time
- Text: Adam Wray
- Photography: Rebecca Storm
If fashion moves forward, it does not do so in a straight line. It meanders frantically, looping back on itself, and if we are lucky, something legitimately new emerges along the way. After a decade-plus of shrink-wrap skinny jeans, designers are going big—volumes are amplifying, sleeves are extending, hoods are ballooning, and trousers are pooling around ankles. In both men’s and womenswear, the dominant silhouette is skewing massive. The line dividing gendered garments is looking ever more porous, and the way we shape our bodies through dress is becoming more homogenous as a result. When a designer sends a four-foot-long sleeve down the runway, what are they responding to or reaching for? What does the urge to cloak ourselves in all this excess fabric tell us about ourselves?
The bigger the garments get, the more their wearers shrink within them, revealing less and less of their bodies. Our hands are our most expressive non-verbal body parts. They communicate actively through gesture and adornment, passively through color and markings—scars tell stories, chewed cuticles reveal habits. To conceal one’s hands, then, is to withhold information. And we all have reasons for keeping secrets. For some, concealment could be about self-defense—a man hiding his nail polish in a neighborhood where it might put him in physical danger. In the age of ubiquitous surveillance, could anyone be blamed for wanting a little privacy?
We do not just communicate with our hands—we work with them, too. Recoiling into a cavernous hoodie is a petulant, punky objection to labor made by both the garment and its wearer. This is a statement of unavailability. With a hood drooped over one’s eyes and sleeves obscuring one’s hands, social niceties are restricted, too. Eye contact and handshakes have to be earned. Aesthetic touchstones of the 90s like the ones pushed by Vetements offer an antisocial pose through slacker cosplay. Dress up, log off, drop out.
Raf Simons’ enormous sweaters jam the accelerator on the oversized look, taking it to its illogical conclusion. Magnified to an absurd degree, these pieces are as much one-size-fits-none as they are one-size-fits-all. Conceptually, they could be interpreted as a tongue-in-cheek formal exercise, questioning the whole notion of “good fit.” Practically, though, the effect is simple—something this huge is designed to make its wearer feel small. It recalls wearing a parent’s old sweater. It is a comforting retreat into childhood, and a brief reprieve from uncertainty.
Unless you sit atop the food chain, evasive action is a necessity. Many creatures defend themselves from predators by appearing larger than they really are—one of the oldest tricks in the book. So while we cannot change our bodies—at least not without a combo of time, money, and effort—we can change our clothes. Just as they can make us feel small, they can help us occupy more space. A stacked shoulder makes an edifice of a torso, and billowing trousers turn legs into columns. Fabric becomes prosthetic confidence.
In 1919, Italian artist and designer Thayaht proposed a wholesale reinvention of the wardrobe with a drab, shapeless jumpsuit he called the TuTa. He published the pattern in Italy’s La Nazione newspaper so that anyone could make their own. A futurist, Thayaht wanted to streamline our bodies, to make them more functional. His TuTa typified a steady sameness that appears in most utopian design thinking: designers envision a better world and pick motifs and materials that match. Think of Le Corbusier’s Radiant City, his ideal metropolis imagined as a grid of identical high-rises and green spaces. Think of the color-blocked, form-fitting uniforms from Star Trek’s advanced societies. Even the stark minimalism of an Apple Store suggests perfection is attainable through standardization. Thayaht’s proposal is a relic of a partially-industrialized world. Today, most of us have no idea how to create a garment from scratch, pattern or no, so barring a breakthrough in maker technology—cost-efficient consumer 3D printing, for instance—a DIY world uniform is not in the cards. We are stuck with mass production, which means that for a garment to fit a plurality of bodies across genders, it needs to be big. One-size necessarily leads to oversized. Through generic excellence, we exchange individuality for comfort and peace. At least, that’s the idea.
- Text: Adam Wray
- Photography: Rebecca Storm