The Thursday column at Healthy is the New Skinny looks at a century-old question: Why Do Models Have to Be So Tall? Excerpt:
The modern modeling industry as we know it goes back just about 100 years. One of the first fashion designers to recognize the power of the model was the great French innovator, Paul Poiret, inventor of the “sheath dress.” In 1913, when he was at the height of his fame, Poiret toured America to showcase his designs. He brought with him five models, each of whom was strikingly tall and very slender. Most Americans had never seen anything like these women.
Poiret preferred tall models because they were easier to see from the back of the room at a fashion show. He also preferred them because their longer bodies allowed him to showcase his work more effectively – there was simply more material to display. Poiret liked his models with broad shoulders, narrow hips and small busts for the same reason; he was the first designer to want the “hanger effect” where the buyer’s eye wouldn’t be distracted by the model’s curves.
While many of us complain that the standard model body is unrealistic and nearly impossible to attain, it’s worth remembering that Poiret had another, surprising motivation for his preference for tall models. Late 19th-century European fashion had been very concealing, but it had also emphasized the bust and the hips. For Poiret, that meant focusing on women as mother figures. Poiret wanted his models to symbolize independence and freedom. And what could be more liberating than a body type that seemed almost masculine: tall, a nearly flat chest, broad shoulders, and narrow hips?
I also ought to recommend a really wonderful source on early 20th century fashion and its relationship to feminism and body image, Nancy Troy’s magisterial Couture Culture: A Study in Modern Art and Fashion, now regrettably out of print.