Image Courtesy of New Zealand Fashion Museum

Fit models are an increasingly invisible part of the fashion industry; a standardised body on which to test clothes, of which the ultimate consumer is unaware.  

The history of the fit model in New Zealand (sometimes known as a house model) was for a long time intertwined with runway and photographic models, and fit models would often also work in some capacity in the fashion office.  As runway model’s bodies have changed, fit model bodies have remained largely the same - thus leading to the split between the two.  Fit models typically have to have specific body measurements which fit with standardised sizing and helps with grading.  However, the measurements of models required is really up to the discretion of the brand they’re working for, who may have different requirements based on the size of their average consumer.  But fit models are more than just a living mannequin - their design input is also invaluable, as they can give insight into problems which may arise for consumers, sleeves that are too tight, skirts which are uncomfortable to sit down in, or fabric which doesn’t feel good against skin.  

However, the fashion industry now faces more challenges and changes than ever before - increased fast fashion means that designs need to be turned around quicker and the growth of the body positivity movement has put pressure on designers to create a wider variety of sizes.  

So where do fit models fit in?  We asked a few New Zealand experts for their opinion on the matter…

Doris de Pont of the New Zealand Fashion Museum has heard a lot of stories about fit models.  Originally, fit models usually worked in fashion offices, often as the secretary, and were a necessity for all fashion designers.  Entire collections used to be modelled for department store buyers by fit models.The change came in the 1990’s, she believes, and was the result of import and export changes - New Zealand manufacturers began selling more to Australian companies, and New Zealand consumers began buying more clothes which had been made off-shore.  The Australian consumers followed American trends more closely than New Zealand had, and were interested in vanity sizing, a “slippery slope” according to de Pont.  The average size of a fit model used to be a size 12, which is now, of course, a size 8.  However, it’s less standard now to use a fit model, and de Pont thinks they are more popular with brands who make uniquely shaped garments, such as lingerie and need to check very specific fits.

Ruby and Liam use a standard size 8 fit model, in order to have a standardized starting point, which is important in critiquing designs.  Designing requires feedback, says General Manager, Christine Sharma.  The body is “an irregular shape and a moveable object” meaning garments must be tested for fit and movement.  In addition to a standard fit model, the Ruby office staff range from size 6 to 14, and they regularly try on garments samples.  According to Sharma, “as grading goes up, the bodies don’t change proportionally”, so trying garments on a range of sizes in the office provides useful feedback on grading, which Ruby and Liam still get done manually.  Additionally, the feedback provided by the fit model is taken into account -especially in regards to the feel of the garment and comfort.  Sitting, walking and moving is important to find out about the practicality of garments.  When asked about the future of fit models, Sharma was confident that fit models will always be vitally important within the fashion industry, even if the design process becomes more technology-based.  Because of the physical and practical nature of the product, it will always need to be tested, “technology won’t change the end use...and the methodology won’t change.  They’re just necessary.”  

World doesn’t use fit models, according to Denise L’Estrange-Corbett, who says World got their fit down very early on, and have used the same measurements ever since, save for small changes in measurement “as people got taller.”  They have never felt the need to use a fit model, although they do occasionally get staff members who are around standard size to try on garments, if there are questions about fit.  L’Estrange-Corbet has previously worked with fit models in London, before starting World, and seemed surprised that fit models are still used.  As pattern making is increasingly being done all online, with precise computer measurements, L’Estrange-Corbet believes there will be less need for fit models, as the fit can be done with correct measurements and graded without need for a model to test.  

So what is the consensus?  Fit models are disappearing from some brands, but other designers swear by them.  Body shapes haven’t changed, but vary between designers based on the target customer.  And increasingly, it looks like having someone in the office try on samples seems to be the norm, which may be slightly less standardised, but also give a wider range of feedback from people with different body shapes.