Sasso: Why does fashion industry hold regular women in disdain?

(Indianapolis Star, September 28, 2016)

Along with the onset of football season, harvesting, and raking, is the arrival of fashion week and store catalogues. I mostly recycle those magazines without opening them and pay little attention to the newest runway fashion shows.

But the national and international news has been so depressing that I thought the new season’s fashions might provide relief. What I saw was disheartening. While models are no longer anorexic and a few are plus size, they simply do not look like most American women. Truth be told, I am not sure most America women actually care to look like the models in the catalogues and on runways.

The new upscale styles are worn by women and men who appear miserable, suspicious or downright depressed. If there are other people around, no model makes eye contact. I ask myself, “Why does everyone look so angry, distant and unengaged? Why do only few people look past 40 or wear anything bigger than a size 2?”

In a Sept. 8 article in The Washington Post, fashion consultant Tim Gunn notes that many designers and merchandisers say that they are not interested in plus size women, despite the reality that there are 100 million of them in the United States. It is hard to understand the contempt many designers have for such an important market. Gunn asked a designer why he did not make clothes for these women. He responded, “I don’t want her wearing my clothes. She won’t look the way I want her to look.”


The concern of the fashion world should be on how women want to look and feel. And one thing is for certain, they do not want to wear clothes that make them feel as dejected as most runway models appear. While there are more models who are older and plus size this year, they too look despondent.

Even as we might wish to lose a few pounds, we do not aspire to the misery and contempt reflected on the models’ faces. The only reason I can imagine for such tortured expressions is that some of the women are wearing stilettos! I was surprised to learn that it is not the shoes that produce such painful faces, but the instructions that models are given to frown and not to make eye contact.

The higher priced the clothing, jewelry and perfume the more miserable the model looks. Somehow scowls mean status. If you are modeling expensive items, the distant look tells others that you are too important to notice or care about anyone else. Shouldn’t wealth and success make us more compassionate than conceited?

In my family, when someone bought a new outfit, we said, “You should wear it in good health.” The Hebrew saying is, titchadesh, meaning “renew yourself.” In other words, the custom was to wish our friends enjoyment and long life, enough years to wear out the garment and to buy a new one. We hoped that life would be full of creativity, engagement and service, not dejection, disdain and dissatisfaction.

There is good reason to applaud the trend toward greater inclusivity of age and size. I’d like to see another trend, one in which models show compassion, curiosity and joy, not arrogance, apathy and gloom. The problems in our world present enough reasons for us to be afraid, angry and worried. Clothes, no matter what the cost, should make us feel good about ourselves and renew us.

Sasso is rabbi emeritus of Congregation Beth-El Zedeck and director of the Religion, Spirituality and the Arts Initiative at Butler University.