Mel Campbell’s first book is a lively and personal waltz through the history and culture of clothing size and fit. Campbell cuts through the rhetoric of clothing designers and fashion magazines to analyse the industry from the perspective of an educated—and fed up—consumer. She admits in the introduction that these issues are deeply personal and that it’s ‘hard to talk about them with any clarity and objectivity’, though she does a great job of viewing her own experiences through a broader cultural and historical lens. She trawls through boutiques, department stores, magazines, movies, vintage shops and museums in order to explore the seemingly nonsensical rules governing sizing systems and how we have ended up measuring our selves—and often self-worth—against them. Campbell chronicles a complicated love affair with vintage and looks into our cultural penchant for all things vintage and retro. She points out the ridiculousness of modelling standards in fashion magazines and argues against ‘sciencey’ writing, which uses scientific language— minus the actual, arguably important, science—to shame people. Part academic analysis, part personal exploration, Campbell’s study takes a meandering path through the world of fashion, but one that is illuminating and enjoyable.
Portia Lindsay is a former bookseller who now works at the NSW Writers’ Centre. This review first appeared in the Issue 2 2013 of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.