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What does a model do?

image: Monika Jagaciak

When you think “model,” who do you imagine?

Young? Thin? Tall? Today, these are the characteristics we almost universally associate with fashion models.

In a general sense, the word “model” means “a thing or person to be imitated.” Think of the scale models used in architecture, for example. As applied to humans, the term was used to describe artists’ models, men and women whose bodies were “imitated” in a sculpture or a painting.

In the 20th century, this term came to also describe fashion models. The use of fashion models evolved from the use of scale models, actual miniature dolls that were used to showcase new styles. But like artists’ models, fashion models were chosen to represent a particular vision of human beauty, one that clearly changes with the times and the vision of the designer.

I believe we can see the role of fashion models in two ways:

  1. The first is to model what the clothes might look like on the wearer.
  2. The second is to present an idealized form of a woman in the clothes, thus modeling what the wearer should aspire to.

Most companies today choose the latter approach. They stick to a status quo of beauty norms, knowing that most of their female customers have already been pre-conditioned to find thinness, youth, and I would say even light skin desirable.

image: Monika Jagaciak

Thus you have a vicious circle. Advertising creates (or maybe just cherry picks) particular beauty norms, and then constantly reinforces them to the public. Once the public is conditioned, there is no incentive to change the ads. Beauty becomes rigid.

Is Beauty Oppressive?

But does it make sense to go the other direction completely? To reject the idea of beauty all together?

No matter what type of woman is chosen to model a piece of clothing, she will be idealized in some way. Makeup, lighting, location – all of these create a picture that, if not quite realistic, does tell a story.

We could show clothing on average women pulled off the street. We don’t have to give them professionally done hair and makeup. We could use the fluorescent lighting that most of us live with in offices. We don’t have to ask them to pose, or even stand up straight. We could leave clutter lying around in the background. Just like real life.

But this isn’t really what modeling is about either. It meets the first criterion, of modeling what the clothes will look like on actual people. But it doesn’t tell us anything about the designer’s vision. It doesn’t tell you what the clothes are about. It doesn’t inspire or influence or say anything new.

Is it possible to blend the two criteria? Can we represent more women, while at the same time creating something that looks “beautiful”?

I believe we can. Because diversity is beautiful.

Expanding Beauty

I think of it this way: back when models were purely artists’ models, they represented the beauty ideals of the day, as interpreted by the individual artist’s vision. Think of the exactly proportioned bodies of sculptures of greek gods, or the voluptuous hips and small bust of a Boticelli.

But today, in the 21st century, I believe many of us have progressed beyond the idea that there is only one way to be beautiful. We can recognize beauty in curvy hips without rejecting the beauty of a petite and boyish figure. Sure, we may identify more with or be naturally more attracted to certain people. But the idea that there is only one version of “beautiful” is outdated. And good riddance.

So if that’s true, if that is the world we live in now, doesn’t it make sense for that to be represented by the models we see? Can’t we simultaneously show clothing on women who represent us and bring out their beauty?

What do you think? Can diversity and beauty ideals co-exist? Or is the very idea of beauty always exclusionary?

Note: No body shaming language in this discussion, including disparaging remarks about thinness.

(PS: Next week, I’m going to share the process we use to find and hire our own models, so stay tuned for the nitty gritty.)

Sarai Mitnick


Sarai started Colette back in 2009. She believes the primary role of a business should be to help people. She loves good books, sewing with wool, her charming cats, working in her garden, and eating salsa.



June 11, 2015 #

It’s so good to see you back and posting such thoughtful, badass stuff! And bless you for requesting no body shaming language — the ‘real women look like x’ argument is so damaging.

As to whether diversity and beauty ideals can coexist, I think it’s possible. So many times I’ve seen or met a person with characteristics I would normally find aesthetically undesirable, but on them? Perfection.

I love this Jackie Gleeson quote for many reasons, but mostly because it directly refutes that One Direction song: “If you have it and you know you have it, then you have it. If you have it and don’t know you have it, you don’t have it. If you don’t have it but you think you have it, then you have it.”


June 13, 2015 #

That is a great quote! The most beautiful thing a woman (or a man, matter of fact) can wear is confidence.


June 11, 2015 #

I love that your company uses models that look different. All women should feel that the body they have been given is beautiful.


June 11, 2015 #

I absolutely think diversity and beauty ideals can coexist. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with models being aspirational — fashion has always necessitated a little bit of fantasy. At its best, fashion photography distills and packages up the little sparks of excitement, joy, rebellion, and pride that we experience when we shop for, make, and style our clothes. At its worst, as you point out, it reinforce a too-narrow view of what’s “beautiful.”

I’ve always appreciated Colette’s diverse pool of models — not only does it make the community feel more inclusive, it also helps us envision what the patterns will look like on a variety of bodies (going back to the pragmatic function of a model).

The blogging world has also has done wonders in this arena. I love that my daily feed includes women of all ages, ethnicities, backgrounds, and sizes – so much more interesting than browsing through a copy of Vogue! It may not be a perfect sampling of reality, but it’s a heck of a lot closer.


June 12, 2015 #

Well said, Jacqui!


June 11, 2015 #

What is the old saying “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. Yes I think it’s possible for diversity and beauty to co-exist, wouldn’t it be rather boring if we were all the same. But let us not forget how many women and especially young girls have become dangerously ill trying to aspire to this perfect “model”. Let’s have more pattern companies that reflect today’s woman.


June 11, 2015 #

This reminded me of ads for a Canadian women’s shop a few years ago. “Designed for real life” campaign for Reitman’s. Ladies in fashion model poses in the grocery store, or pumping gas. Stylized, but more believable.


June 12, 2015 #

These ads are pretty hilarious!


June 11, 2015 #

In french, we use the word “mannequin”. It also means “dress form”…
PS : please forgive my bad english


June 11, 2015 #

If I think back to when I was a little girl, I can remember a time when I hadn’t yet been trained to recognize beauty. I thought my plump grandmother was beautiful. I thought my best friend with more freckles than I could count was beautiful. I thought the little boy who lived down the street was beautiful. Looking back, none of them had “ideal” faces or bodies or complexions. If I think now about what I find beautiful, it’s nearly always that I find beauty in what/who I think is interesting. In terms of sewing for myself, I’m interested in how something might work for me or for someone else who might wear something I would sew for them. It’s much easier to get perspective when I’m presented with images of how a garment appears to work on a variety of interesting looking people. Yes, designs should convey a sense of beauty. And garments need to function. And if you can simultaneously empower women to define their own beauty and give them tools to create their own interpretation of how that works for them, you’ve taken a stand for our collective sense of self esteem. Thanks for having the courage and creativity to do that!


June 14, 2015 #

I agree. My 4 year old daughter says ahe loves me best when I’m naked, because I am soft and my tummy is smooshy. She thinks I’m beautiful, because I am her mommy who embodies all that is comforting and warm and nurturing to her tiny soul. I hope that I can shed the feelings that I have about my three times stretched out, post partum body in time for her to not catch on to how sad I often feel about my changed and larger self. I try to turn from the cultural view that my body is now wrecked and less beautiful than it used to be. Article like these that remind me that I shouldn’t be comparing myself to the mainstream expectation put forth by fashion magazines and advertising are so encouraging. I’d much rather focus on what I look like now and how I can dress myself and (hopefully someday) sew for myself, so that I feel my vision of myself is expressed best.


June 17, 2015 #

Yes, this. Beautiful post, Debera. Great conversation.


June 17, 2015 #



June 11, 2015 #

I think the key to ideals of beauty and diversity co-existing is exactly what you called for: quit body-shaming. Let’s support our fellow females instead of competing with, knocking down, or ignoring.

Anna Irving

June 11, 2015 #

I do believe you can have both and hope it’s a trend that continues to gain momentum, for all our sakes.
I’ve been a fashion model, which resulted in me becoming a very unhappy, emotionally disjointed and severely anorexic fashion model. I then became a mum and struggled with the weight I’d put on during pregnancy, which led to me becoming a borderline anorexic mother of one.
Body dismorphia, caused in part by emotional trauma and in part by the unsustainable ideal that the fashion industry spoon feeds us, has plagued me most of my adult life.
Now, at 41 years old, as a mother of two and with a BMI that cusps the line between healthy and just a sliver overweight, I’ve never been happier, nor felt more beautiful. I see the models you’ve used for your ‘florence’ and ‘mabel’ shoots, with their curves and they are inspiring, make me smile and I, in turn, celebrate the curvilicious, mature, confident woman who stares back at me in the mirror.
We need more reality and I, for one, applaud you!

miss agnes

June 11, 2015 #

It is an interesting debate. Here in Quebec, many women magazines use real women (as opposed to professional models) for their fashion editorials, not exclusively but often. They also often use curvier models. My size is 6, so more than my young self size, but by north american standards, on the slim side, with curves. I found that I relate way more to professional models than regular women, not because of the size but the beauty. Not that I consider myself beautiful, but I will be much more attracted to clothing presented by a beautiful woman, whether thin or curvy, than by a woman who could be me, or my neighbour, or a friend. Maybe it is conditioning, with so many years of seeing perfectly photoshopped young girls. Or maybe it is just esthetic appeal. All clothes look better on a well proportioned body, whether we like it or not.


June 12, 2015 #

I’m glad you brought this up. I wonder if it depends on the stage you are in when considering buying something. For example, when you first see a garment, perhaps you need to be wow-ed by great styling, models, photography for you to take notice. But when deciding whether it suits you, it might be helpful to see it on someone more similar to yourself.


June 13, 2015 #

Hi Sarai, I just thought I’d chime in here. I think you are on the right track about the timing of where someone is at in the buying process as to what’s more important. Whenever I’m on ravelry searching for my next project, I am always more drawn to the projects that are professionally presented, meaning the use of professional models, with good lighting, styling and overall photography as opposed to the projects with selfies of the designers or friends/family modelling the object in their homes in “natural” settings. For better or worse, I judge the potential quality of the pattern by how it is first presented. If a designer has gone to the effort of making the object look appealing, then I’m more likely to trust that they care enough about what they are selling to have proof read it etc. Then, if I’m still really considering it, I will check the project pages and see how it looks on other people with different body types to get an idea about how it might look on me but also how the design looks when made up by a “normal” person. I go through a similar process where possible with sewing, but admittedly differences in fabric choice make it much harder to compare. So overall, I think yes, a consumer does need to be wow-ed if you want to maximise the potential for engagement and buying into whatever you’re selling and you do that by having a well photographed image. I don’t think showing diversity excludes beauty nor are all tall, thin, young white girls always beautiful. The model is only one aspect in portraying beauty in an image. With the right tools, and I don’t mean photoshop, anyone regardless of size, age or race can look beautiful it’s in how you present the overall image.

Anna Rodriguez

June 15, 2015 #

I definetly like to be inspired by beautiful pictures and appreciate when beauty can be presented in all shapes, ages and skin colors. I love the images you present on Colette patterns. What is also helpful is to be able to see images from all of the wonderful and diverse sewers who interpret the patterns to fit their bodies and style. I think that is why so many of us choose to sew, because it allows us to celebrate our unique sizes, and styles.


June 11, 2015 #

While I’ll admit that I have issues with some “ideals” promoted by fashion culture, I can also appreciate it as “art” -lovely to look at, but not necessarily serving a practical purpose to my life. Honestly one of the things I love about the Colette patterns is their Flicker Pools for each pattern, it’s wonderful to see what the garmets look like on everyday people and in a wide range of fabrics. It gives me a much better sense of what the pattern will look like when I sew it and how it might actually fit.

Kate Carvalho

June 11, 2015 #

That’s what I think is so exciting about blogging and why I love following fashion and sewing bloggers. I love seeing women of all ages, colours, sizes and walks of life showcase their own unique sense of style on their blogs. Not only are they modelling and styling the outfits but they also have a voice and personality which shines through in their writing.


June 11, 2015 #

I have just one thought. While everyone has intelligent things to say….it’s so good to see you are back posting on your blog! The heart and soul of Colette Patterns!

Janome Gnome

June 12, 2015 #

I love the reliably thoughtful writing here, the choice and diversity of the models and the fact that this is one of the best examples of the rule that you should never ever read comments on the internet, unless it’s a sewing blog in which case you absolutely must. What finer thing, to be sitting here at the end of a week happily appreciating all this loveliness encouraging loveliness. Keep it up!


June 12, 2015 #

Haha, so true.


June 12, 2015 #

Beauty is diversity, at least, it is to me. I like to see people with interesting faces and different ethnicities. I’m an artist, and sometimes I think that means that I see beauty in a different way than others. It almost renders the model invisible when they all have the same kind of look, especially as you see endless pages of women who look the same. But throw in somebody who looks drastically different, and I stop and pay attention. I think using more diversity might actually work in a company’s favor, not just because it’s right, but because it will make people notice and be more engaged. People are attracted to differences. That’s why we love new things and ideas- gotta get that new whatever! It’s different than the old one!
I admit, when I do look at a fashion spread, I’m looking at the clothes, and then the photography, and the model barely registers…unless she’s really interesting to look at!

Gretchen Potts

June 12, 2015 #

Answer: Yes. Diversity and beauty ideals co-exist.

Thoughts: The first thing that popped into my head as I read this post is that Im always more interested in what the designer is wearing that what is on the model….Some of my favorite designers dress themselves in striking contrast to what they design and to me that provides a touch of humanness to fashion. A subtle display of diversity I suppose.

When I was a teenager, I loved Vogue magazine particularly for the artistic photo spreads (and the perfume samples!). They were so abstract that the models in the images became part of an art form rather than a relatable beauty ideal. When the ads were more “reality” based, it was difficult to avoid the pull of wanting to emulate a model dressed in my favorite designer clothing. But then again, I could never afford these clothes so I had no practical way to attempt a decent copy-cat act. So is practicality a component of diversity?

Questions: Who do we dress for? How much of the beauty ideal is a fragment of our inherited social roles as women? Does diversity in modeling and beauty ideals change the social role paradigm?


June 12, 2015 #

I haven’t been bothered too much by the “beauty ideals” that are pushed by big fashion. Super-highly produced photo shoots look so impractical and fake, that I really just appreciate them for the artistic aspects of the photography itself. That, along with Gretchen’s point above about never being able to afford the clothing modeled by supermodels makes it that much more removed from my life and easier to ignore.

That being said, when it comes to sewing patterns and clothes that do actually want to make or purchase, I prefer to see the designs on a variety of people. I agree that when a design is being photographed for advertisement, it should be styled to reflect the designer’s vision, and hopefully that vision is inclusive of many people, like it is here on Colette.

I can’t speak for society in general, though! It’s easy to feel immune to comparison with supermodels when I’m on my own, but I have had to defend my perfectly healthy body on several occasions. I’ve shocked dates (and my family, to be honest) by mentioning that I’m interested being healthy, not in losing weight, and have noticed that when I edge towards higher BMI numbers, I command less and less attention – in all aspects of my life, not just from potential suitors. That’s a very disappointing, frustrating thing!


June 12, 2015 #

I think first the model is there to show us the clothes and second to show us how the designer sees them. It’s very useful to see models of different sizes, especially if you are looking at a model wearing a garment made from a pattern that you’re considering buying. You can try on RTW and decide if you like it, but patterns are trickier and the broader the range of sizes and shapes of models, the easier it is to decide if you want to cut up a precious fabric and invest time to make it.

Laura J.

June 12, 2015 #

I think beauty and diversity can certainly exist — if fashion magazines would allow it, and currently, they don’t. Colette is a perfect example of a company that shows real-sized models in beautifully styled clothes and settings. That’s why I buy your patterns.

When I look at fashion magazines (or most of Pinterest), it’s just so disheartening to see all those beautiful clothes that just wouldn’t look that way on me. I avoid buying a lot of clothes and patterns because I have no idea what they would look like on someone with breasts or hips. And how weird is that? As a woman, I can’t find pictures of women-shaped people wearing women’s clothes.

When a normal woman is photographed with all the makeup, styling, lighting — like the “plus size” models we sometimes see — they look absolutely every bit as stunning and feminine and beautiful as the woman pictured above. And often a lot healthier, too. We just need for more fashion houses to do it.


June 12, 2015 #

I totally agree, diversity and beauty exist together.


June 12, 2015 #

It depends. If the primary purpose is advertisement to promote a sale, then what constitutes beauty is aligned with images that sell things that are appealing to the audience for that product, or who the marketers think is appealing to that audience. If diverse beauty sells, then so be it. But as others here have stated, real meaningful beauty is so much more than what we see in promotions of items for sale. Vogue isn’t about fashion, it’s about money.

As an older woman, I feel mostly out of place and certainly not beautiful when most every model used for patterns and catalogs are under 30. It’s like I am a refugee from the dystopia Logan’s Run, where life expires at 29. But I understand that the ad designers believe (and it’s no doubt accurate) NO ONE wants to be OLD and everyone wants to be young. Honestly, me too! The trouble is, clothes never look the same on post-menopausal bodies (I’m looking at you, widow’s hump, where did you come from?) so the result is always a dissapointment, because I didn’t translate the “look” in my head to fit my new body. Yet, when I look around me in my neighborhood and town, I see a lot of women who look like me. Maybe that’s why so many women my age either don’t see their own clothes, or they give up and sew only for young people they know, babies, or quilts.


June 12, 2015 #

Have you seen the Céline ads with Joan Didion? There seems to be a trend right now of celebrating accomplished older women in fashion, which I hope lasts.

I think this particular ad is a great example. Joan Didion has always had an air of brainy cool, which makes sense for the Céline brand. Although the ad has met its critics as well, I think it’s great that this particular ad celebrates the entire woman and all she represents. It’s still aspirational, but who would not prefer their daughters to aspire to be a great literary figure rather than another “perfect” face?

Of course, it’s still selling designer sunglasses…


June 13, 2015 #

I have seen those ads, and I am happy the advertisers are giving gray hair a go (and I don’t mean the latest fashion trend of gray hair from a bottle!). And Seamworks has done a good job too, promoting models of varying age, size and color.

My vision is of a pattern catalog with a section devoted to the mature figure. It would offer several basic separates – pants, shirts, blouses, etc. – which were designed around a mature body. A shirt blouse or dress would have a longer upper back, as an example, of just an inch or so, or an adjustment noted right on the pattern piece, because the upper back lengthens as we age. Same for a full bust adjustment. Make it standard. Reorient the focus of common makes and styles for a mature figure. Fuller waistlines, for example, or waistlines that include hidden elastic sections for ease of wear for figures that rapidly change over time.

The models would all reflect the intended audience too! Designing and marketing patterns to this niche market…It’s a dream…

Leigh Ann

June 13, 2015 #

Yeah. If only!


June 12, 2015 #

Thank you for putting that restriction on disparaging comments about thinness. Often people seem to forget that thin women are still real women with feelings too.

Last year as part of my fashion degree we did a project on diversity. I instantly felt that the intention of the competition we entered was to fight thinness and promote larger women, so I took the opposite position and promoted smallness. Even smallness is often disparaged in some ways. People can be made to feel too short or not curvy enough. (I am thin and short but I like my looks).

The thing is that everyone can look attractive. It comes from inside and shows in the smile. Besides, everyone’s tastes are different and what one person thinks looks nice or unpleasant, others won’t even notice. I think the important thing is to dress how you like and be confident. If you start thinking about what others think, it’s time to say “stuff ’em” and shrug it off.

As far as models etc. go, I think fashion is a force for good or bad. At the moment there is a big shift towards urban cycling. This is largely helped by the fashion world and styling. If we can use fashion and styling in a way that encourages people to do things that are good for them and the world, that’s great. It’s our responsibility to use fashion for good.

There is a balance to be found between realism and aspiration. We need to have something better to aim for. I don’t mean a “perfect 36” figure or gleaming white teeth and a mansion and Mercedes. But intelligent, educated, fulfilled, self-respecting, healthy women who dress and live in the way they like are a good aspiration, and the only way to be such a woman is to live happily and make good choices.

Another point about advertising is this: at the beginning of the year I felt that I was becoming a bit of a shopaholic (not too badly — I didn’t use credit or anything). So I tried to go a week without looking at anything commercial, like adverts on emails, or shopping websites. This was helped by the fact that I started a full-time work placement. By the end of the week, I was far less motivated to buy anything. I had other things to think about. As a result, I felt more relaxed, happier.

I think we get sucked into the fantasies we see in adverts, even when we’re not paying attention to them. Blogs and review websites have the same, or even a stronger effect because they are subtler. We get to see the products as part of the jigsaw puzzle of our fantasy selves. But the reality is that it’s not the product, it’s the doing that lives the fantasy. E.g. cameras. We could buy a top DSLR, and go from on lens to the next, but unless we actually go out and take pictures, we’re not going to be photographers. We’re going to be shoppers.

Looking at too many adverts makes us want things we haven’t got, and forget what do have. The quickest way to feel rich and happy is to think about what you have that you wouldn’t change, even if you found a genie in a bottle. Perhaps the same applies to our looks.

On a final note, especially with regard to Photoshop, I once heard it said that: we look at pictures of models and think “I wish I looked like that”, but you know, so do the models!

Betty Jordan Wester

June 13, 2015 #

This is such a great comment, especially regarding advertising. I only have internet, not cable and as a result I’m subjected to fewer ads. I also don’t read a lot of lifestyle blogs bc the people writing them are so far removed from my life. If I want escapism I read a book on the actual jet-set from the past. Because I’m insulated I do find that I just don’t do a lot of shopping, unlike a few of my friends. I don’t know if I’m more content than they are, by I feel pretty happy myself.

I think we’ve traded the unattainability of looking like a lovely symmetrically faced 14-17 year old fashion model for the unattainability of living like an upper middle class 20s/early30s woman with a carefully crafted internet facade.


June 12, 2015 #

What does a model do? S/He sells things. A model is there to make the product look good. It doesn’t matter the size, shape, sex or whatever. They are there to push the product.


June 12, 2015 #

The topic of modeling is a very complex one. I appreciate the time and care you put into your brand. I value a company that thinks through topics at every level.
With modeling I feel there is more than just a body ideal. There is also an economic ideal, a “has-it-all-together” ideal and maybe even an attitude ideal. So many models- including the ones utilized in this post- have such cold looking facial expressions. They look blank (at best) or judgmental (at worst).


June 12, 2015 #

I think that when we have a discussion about diversity it is worth using a broad brush. In addition to representing women of various body types, sizes and ethnicities I would like to give a shout out to some of the major department stores and clothing manufacturers who have included models with physical differences and disabilities in their print ads. I think seeing a young woman with Down syndrome or a person who is a wheelchair user modeling this year’s cute skirts or an awesome pair of boots is fantastic.


June 13, 2015 #

What I appreciate when I see clothing on a model is the quality of the photo, lighting, and the ability to actually see the garment on a person (vs. a drawn image often seen in a clothing patterns). I have unsubscribed (online) to a clothing seller because I got tired of seeing garments only on one type of figure. It was impossible for me to be able to judge whether or not that garment would remotely work on my figure (I am of average size). I also peruse Pinterest to gather ideas of clothing/out fits I might like (translate into garments I would make). I glaze over seeing the same “Type” of model. I do not relate to a long haired blonde women (nothing wrong with blonde hair at all). And I think if that’s all you see you start to not see. It’s all a blur. I love diversity in women. Frankly, diversity adds interest to the photo, adds beauty. And when you see all the variety people come in photographed well it gives people like me hope that I can look that good (with good lighting, ha). Love the quality of your photos and love the models you choose. I look forward to your next model.


June 13, 2015 #

Very nice! This reminds of a quote I read of a model after seeing herself on the cover of a fashion magazine”,I wish I looked good everyday!” Thanks so much for this post,as always they’re thought provoking and interesting!


June 13, 2015 #

I’d love to see more models who are seniors, post menopausal, grey headed, wrinkled, so we might imagine what it would look like on us. With the percentage of ‘ baby boomers – seniors rising- I’m surprised that the pattern company/ clothing companies are not showing more older models. For example- I have loved that Jamie Lee Curtis has kept her grey hair and allowed herself to be photographed with her wrinkles visible. The designer Marame Carven passed recently and there wS a beautiful picture of her- 100 yrs old perhaps. Really lovely woman. There is beauty at every age and condition. Seeing them reminds us of this truth.


June 13, 2015 #

Meant to say Madame Carven

Isaboe Renoir

June 13, 2015 #

I think people have forgotten what “beauty means”; they seem to stick to a narrow reference to someone’s aspect, “the quality of being physically attractive.” They forget it has another or rather expanded meaning as well – “the qualities in a person or a thing that give pleasure to the senses or the mind” or “the quality or aggregate of qualities in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit : loveliness”

Yes, we are all attracted to different qualities, and thus beauty IS in the eye of the beholder. But there are general principles to “beauty,” notably those qualities that give pleasure – harmony, accord, symmetry, flow, unity, balance of composition – this is what makes something beautiful, what attracts us to it. Humans do have an innate sense of what is “correct” and thus “beautiful”; if something is unbalanced it bothers us and we do not find it attractive. But these are general terms and again the individual will have developed his own tastes. So is this question even a question, “can beauty and diversity coexist”; I would say that beauty is by nature diverse, simply because we are each of us unique.

I’m a little tired of the argument about whether “fashion models” are unrealistic. They exist, they are human, their appearance is not invalid. Do not misunderstand me, I believe it’s important to teach people, especially younger ones, that just because they see something doesn’t mean they should feel the need to look that way. I do think images are being retouched to unrealistic extremes; even in this blog post, the second photo has had the model’s knees completely smoothed – human knees just don’t look like that. But it can also be argued that they used photo retouching to achieve their artistic vision.

I suppose there have always been human beings that, upon seeing and artist’s representation of the body, said “I don’t look like that, but somehow I feel I should look like that” and then taken steps to do so. And I can see where if someone you admire – a parent, a spouse – say’s “aren’t they beautiful” and you feel that since you don’t look like that “beautiful” person, you could feel you aren’t beautiful. But for me fashion has always been an art form, so what the models look like has never bothered me, I have never thought to look that way.

But too people should remember they are not passive in what they choose to consume; you choose to look at fashion magazines, just as you choose to look at Rembrandts – do you feel the need to look like the people in Rembrandt’s work? For me fashion magazines are advertisement, pure and simple and when advertising does not appeal to me, I simply assume I’m not the “target market” so I ignore it. Remember that what people choose to look at or purchase is what businesses are going to put out there.

I don’t know if I agree with the second statement “The second is to present an idealized form of a woman in the clothes, thus modeling what the wearer should aspire to.” –the wording feels off to me; but I agree that businesses use models that will appeal to consumers and so induce them to purchase. Perhaps consumers choose these images BECAUSE they are ideals, or because they feel they SHOULD be choosing these images, or maybe because they simply find them beautiful; I imagine it’s all three and more.

Yes, over my lifetime people have been cruel to me, said that I should be ashamed of my appearance or that I should look a certain way; but I choose to believe instead the many, many more people who have something nice to say about my appearance (selective reinforcement of existing preferences, I know, but I think that has a good side.)

Leigh Ann

June 13, 2015 #

I don’t care if fashion is “aspirational.” I don’t aspire to look like the usual fashion models, and I don’t feel that I should. The unspoken message is that we should all want to be tall, extremely thin, and young– but no, I’m not buying it. Some people look like that; most of us don’t. There’s nothing wrong with looking like that; there’s nothing wrong with not looking like that.
I also am not particularly interested in “artistic vision,” though of course that matters a lot to the designer. What I really care about is what the clothes look like on someone who looks like me. So I welcome the trend towards more diverse models, some of whom–if I’m lucky–do look somewhat like me. I appreciate what Collette has done in that regard!
As for clothes looking better on tall, thin, young people–that seems a bit subjective. Models originally looked like they look because they are basically clothes hangers designed to showcase the clothes. But I guess I feel if a designer create clothes that ONLY look good on a hanger, then they’re not much of a designer if they can’t figure out how to work with a curved body.
I’m glad things are changing, for the sake of young people in particular. They seem particular vulnerable. I was, when I was that age. We internalize so much subconsciously about how we “should” look.

bobbie Calgaro

June 13, 2015 #

I hear and like what you say and wish it were true. But I believe now more than ever that the”beauty ideal” is fostered and shoved at us all the more. If you are not young and thin you have no place in the fashion world and that is a real travesty for everyone. Even average women are considered obese by fashion standards. I saw a Facebook post where in one of the Scandinavian countries a department store was using size 12 and size 16 mannequins. Pundits were complaining that this was encouraging obesity. Come on a size 12 obese. I was an average sized 5’7″ woman in my younger years who wore a size 12. I was nowhere near obese. And quite frankly, I don’t know too many size 16 women of which I am now who looked as shapely as the mannequin in the store. I would love to have that “flat” stomach. I would like to know how tall the mannequin was. So all in all the “beauty ideal” prevails and we are all the lesser for it as we squeeze ourselves into too small clothing and styles that quite frankly are made for tiny ie super thin extremely young women no matter what the size tag says. We don’t need to “cover up” but we certainly can “drape ourselves in a way to look more in proportion and maybe that’s where the rub is. Modern designers are only designing for the proportions of the very thin and the rest of us just have to take it or lump it. People are pored into their clothing. But to me here is where sewing can save the day. If we can foster and continue to promote it, sewing will give women a chance to rise above the nonsense and create lovely clothing that suits and fits.

Susan C

June 13, 2015 #

As a mother of a child that suffered anorexia, I changed completely my ideas about body image and the wider world and its arbitrary standards. Firstly we all have a natural shape, so no picking on the lean or the curvy, just be who you are naturally. Secondly “fashion” is artificial, it is designed to constantly change so we can ditch last years model and slave away to afford the newest and latest. I now actually feel physically ill when I look at the dress forms in clothing shops because I know that they are unrealistic.
To navigate the new world after anorexia, my daughter and I are comfortable with our bodies….and boy that took a lot of therapy….I put on 30 pounds nursing her back to health. We dress for our shape, not shape for our dress. She has broad shoulders, I don’t, she is taller, I have a large belly but a firm butt, she has a small bust and a curvy butt….we are Mather and daughter and we are poles apart in shape.
Sewing our own clothes has freed us from “fashion” we sew indie patterns because they suit our body types. We don’t look at fashion magazines but follow blogs that suit our style. We don’t look at models as who we want to be, I look and realise that that dress she is modelling will not suit me because if it makes a tall slim model look like that I would look ridiculous.
We have found ourselves and we know what suits us, models are not role models just clothes hangers.


June 13, 2015 #

Your company does say something about bodies just by having your pattern sizes stop at size 18. Having been overweight most of my life in the past 1 1/2 year I have lost over 100 pounds. I now am at 180 and am in a misses XL. I still can’t fit into your patterns. I haven’t worn slacks or jeans since I got married in 1980. I feel most comfortable in a dress or a skirt. I really like some of your styles but you exclude me. I continue to lose weight and someday I hope to be able to wear your patterns. You may see beauty in curvy hips… but only just so curvy. You are exclusive also!


June 15, 2015 #

Hi there, I’ve been following Colette since they started and at some point, Sarai actually talked about this and her patterns for the past couple of years at least have gone up to a much higher size. Look at the recent Aster shirt, just for one example. There are a lot of plus size sewers who use Colette. If you search for curvy Colette or plus size Colette, I think you’ll find a lot of inspiration.


June 15, 2015 #

Our patterns for the last year do go up to 3x (size 26), as do all of the Seamwork patterns and all future patterns! But I hear where you’re coming from. We’d like to go retrofit some of our most popular patterns from the past someday.

trisha aitken

June 14, 2015 #

As a costume designer I want models that can say to themselves:
1) I am “a model in my mind”
2) I can make this outfit look like I love it
3) Modeling is just playing dress up….I can’t take this seriously !

And I want the “watchers” of models to say to themselves:
1) this is a show and I can’t take it to seriously!
2) I’ll go home now and be with my old clothes that I love ! and that love me !


June 15, 2015 #

From a purely aesthetic viewpoint, I really like it when someone is wearing something that somehow just suits them. This is not to say that you should only wear things for your ‘body type’ or coloration or whatever, but there is just a pop or sparkle when someone is wearing something that complements their frame, a color that really brings out their eyes, etc. In fashion this would mean models would have to be chosen to complement the particular clothing line or style, rather than having a completely top-down approach where they all look alike and are stuffed in the same styles and shapes over and over. Unfortunately this would probably cost more, and the clothing industry doesn’t seem like it likes to splurge.


June 18, 2015 #

As someone who has recently sized out of the standard sized clothing available in stores, I really appreciate that recent patterns have been modeled by women who are of a variety of sizes.

I have no idea what looks good on me anymore. Looking at pictures of standard models does not help me figure out what would look good on me. Looking at pictures of women who are closer in size to the one I’m at now is extremely helpful. And I am much more inclined to purchase the pattern.

There are so many minefields for me around clothing acquisition, including both buying and making. Use of women of all sizes removes at least one of them.