My year as a petite fitting model

As previously mentioned on this blog, I used to read the audition pages of the arts and entertainment newspaper The Stage religiously from the ages of 16 to 23. And one day in early 2004, I saw an advert for a casting for fitting models, placed by a London agency called Fittings Division.

A fitting model isn’t the same as a runway or catalogue model. No one cares what you look like. It doesn’t matter if you have a face like a disfigured otter – all that matters are your proportions. Fitting models are used by retailers as real live mannequins to measure and fit clothes on.

The UK clothes retailers fit to a UK size 10 and extrapolate the other sizes from there – so all their samples are a size 10. Unfortunately for me at 21, I was a size 6-8 (oh to have that ‘problem’ these days!). I’d struggled with anorexia in my teens and was quite used to not eating. I’d never eat when I wasn’t hungry, and sometimes I wouldn’t eat when I was hungry.

I went to the Fittings Division casting to be measured as a petite model. There are three categories of fitting model: petite (5′ to 5’3″ – I was 5’2″); core (5’4″ to 5’6″ – they get most of the work); and tall (5’7″ to 5’10” – they get the same amount of work as petite models). Little-known fact: maternity models are core models wearing prosthetic bumps!

The head of Fittings Division was a lovely blonde girl called Gemma who couldn’t have been much older than me. She worked with her brother Alex in an Oxford Circus studio up a flight of stairs. She measured me, and I remembered that I wasn’t a true size 10 and breathed in, sticking my stomach and chest out (I couldn’t do much about my hips, but I was always slightly pear-shaped so they weren’t a problem).

Gemma seemed really pleased, and said she’d call me soon. She did, and told me I’d be working for TopShop, Debenhams and Wallis. At my busiest, I would only work for eight hours a week, and would make £20 an hour. It was a decent wage, and I was pleased, as by then I was tired of the insecurity and danger of belly dancing.

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The first thing the clothing retailer would do when you walked in each week was measure you – they’d take about ten measurements, including waist, lower bust, bust, lower hip, upper hip, bicep and nape-to-waist. You only had a tolerance of one inch – if any of your measurements were out by more than this, you would be fired. Fortunately my weight didn’t fluctuate much back then.

I had always thought that being a model was glamorous and easy. It’s every girl’s dream to try on clothes for a living, right? Well, I still love clothes, but modelling definitely isn’t my dream after being a fitting model. Though it wasn’t as boring as the three mind-numbing days I’d spent working as a shop assistant in a clothing store, it was tedious and not remotely glamorous. I was working in the Arcadia offices off Oxford Street, with their grey carpets and bog-standard furniture (I’m not sure that’s where most of Sir Philip Green’s money went).

Each session, the fashion assistant would wheel in a hanging rail full of clothing samples for me to try on in a little dressing room, before emerging into the larger fitting room. My heart would sink if the rail was full, and lift if it was relatively empty. I’d go into the changing room, emerge and generally be told off by the garment technologist for having buttoned the shirt wrongly or having the dress the wrong way round: ‘For heaven’s sake, learn to dress yourself properly!’ It’s fair to say that my heart wasn’t really in it.

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There were three main people examining the clothes and how they fitted me: the garment technologist, the buyer and the fashion assistant (and sometimes the designer would drop in too). They’d circle me holding a tape measure and pins, and say things like ‘drop hem circ 2 centimetres’. They were always women, except for the occasional male designer.

They didn’t want my opinion on the clothes – they were mostly quite nice people, but I was just a piece of meat to them without a brain. I remember when I told the ladies at TopShop that I’d need to take a day off to appear on Channel 4’s Countdown: ‘That’s nice love, you’re going to be in the audience, yeah?’ Their mouths dropped open when I said I was going to be a contestant!

TopShop produced the cool clothes, and I also modelled shoes for them (my feet were too little, but I would splay them out to get measured). I didn’t really like the TopShop clothing range though, even though it was youth-oriented and modelled on me. They’d kindly give me loads of free samples and I’d sell most of them on eBay to supplement my income, which I now accept was wrong, but I was just out of university and money was tight.

Debenhams’ clothes were more mid-range and uninspired, while Wallis’ clothes were frumpy and middle-aged. I don’t have a single thing in my wardrobe from my modelling days. I once had my eye on a very sexy pair of TopShop thigh-high black suede stiletto boots, and the shoe technologist promised to keep them for me – but when I went back and asked for them, he said someone else had pinched them. Such is life.

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The agency Fittings Division were perfectly pleasant, except for the Christmas card I received from them which said ‘We all like to eat a bit more at Christmas, BUT…’ and basically reminded me not to tuck into the Quality Street for fear of losing my job! I guess it makes sense – all our livelihoods were on the line if I pigged out.

I only remember one hilarious thing that happened in the whole of my modelling career: I’d turned up at Wallis for a session, and asked the receptionist to let the garment technologist know I’d arrived. She clearly misheard what I said, picked up the phone, and announced, ‘Your teat model is here!’ I love the idea of walking up and down in a giant pair of norks…

I gave up modelling after about 14 months when I got pregnant the first time, aged 24. I’d only got the news days before but was just so happy and wanted to focus on the baby and impending motherhood. I knew I’d have to give up when my bump started showing anyway, and was also a bit worried about being prodded at work. When the pregnancy didn’t work out because my boyfriend turned violent, I tried to get back into the modelling – but though I went for another casting, Fittings Division didn’t call me afterwards this time. Perhaps my measurements had changed?

It was probably for the best, as the work was incredibly dull.


This post has been made possible by my awesome Patreon supporters Peter Weilgony, Ricky Steer, Marc Alexander, Sammy and Jelly, Charlie Brooker, Mary and Tim Fowler, Steve Richards, Alan Brookland, Mark Ormandy, Oliver Vass, Keith Bell, John Fleming, Mark Bailey, Rebekah Bennetch, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Aragorn Strider, Lucy Spencer, Dave Nattriss,, Mark White, Dave Cross, Graham Nunn, David Conrad, Rob Turner, Shane Jarvis, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

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4 thoughts on “My year as a petite fitting model”

  1. I feel that the term ‘technologist’, in relation to garments and shoes, is akin to calling a window cleaner a Vision Technician.

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