Some of my favorite blogs have been discussing the issue of how hard it is for women to find clothes that fit. (In fact, Alice's whole blog is called "Pants that Fit"). My husband can simply walk into a store, find jeans with his particular measurements, and buy them without even trying them on and they are guaranteed to fit. For me, finding jeans that fit is a day-long exercise in frustration. It seems that the difficulty in finding pants and other clothes that fit is universal among women, unless perhaps you have a boy-slender model's body.
On this one though, I have to say, that I am not inclined to blame the patriarchy. Clearly, clothing manufacturers have an economic incentive to try to get women to buy clothes, and it's logical that part of that is making clothes that fit. One reason I tend to drop my money at Ann Taylor* is that, even thought it's pricey, the clothes actually seem to fit me. That's worth paying a lot of money for! (I note that businesses also have an economic incentive to exploit the cultural imperative that women look good by creating insecurities in women about their appearance-- but this tactic is used more to market butt creams and diet drugs etc. rather than clothing itself, I think.)
I am open to theories. I am not inclined to think that dressing room distress is psychological, as Sara at F-Words speculates. Even if I have poor body image, I don't think I am imagining the fact that most of the clothes I try on do not fit me. I think that the culprit is our bodies and the fact that we are curvier and bulgier and thus more varied in more places than stick straight men are. I think for physiological reasons it's just plain harder to make clothes that fit us, especially jeans and trousers. That doesn't mean there is anything wrong with our bodies or that the clothing manufacturers hate us (although it sure as hell feels that way sometimes).
Solutions? Levi's had a program about ten years ago -- I don't know if it still exists -- where they would tailor the jeans to your body. So you go in, and they take all your measurements and have you try on different samples, and then based on what they learn, they make your ideal jean. Then they keep your measurements on file and you can just order new jeans when you need them. It was definitely worth the cost ($50 oe so for the tailoring process plus the cost of the jeans). I never went back and got new jeans though because I am not much of a jeans person. (Jeans tend to be very unforgiving if you gain even a little bit of weight.)
My only complaint with the Levi's program was that the tailoring process occurred right in the middle of the store in public view. So I had to stand on a little block while a stick skinny teenager measured the full width of my ass and the full circumference of my thighs and yelled out the numbers to the person who was helping her while other customers looked on in curiosity.
Long story short -- I'm inclined (unless someone convinces me otherwise) to let the patriarchy off the hook for my dressing room distress. But I will enumerate the following complaints:
-- Why the harsh dressing room lighting that magnifies every flaw?
-- Why do women's clothes so often lack any POCKETS?
-- Why on earth do I have to shop in a special, less well-stocked section of the store called "petite" when I am the exact height (5'4") of the average American woman?
*Inspired by an astute comment at Feministing, I did a quick internet search and learned that yes indeedy Ann Taylor has been subject to claims of exploiting sweatshop workers in China. Aaaaarrrrghh. The one place with clothes that fit! Is Ann Taylor really truly bad? Does anyone know the scoop on them? Anyone know of a label for socially conscious businesswomen who want attractive clothes that fit???