Last week saw the launch of yet another BBC series which seems designed to take off in a country that boasts seven different shades of middle class. The Great British Sewing Bee is made by the same team as The Great British Bake Off, and presumably aims to make smooshing the new plating up, polyester mix the new firm crumb, and puckering seams as popular a catchphrase as Mary Berry's "soggy bottom".
Last week also saw another niche term – "fit model" – reach the ears of a general audience, thanks to a new book by Kirstie Clements, the former editor of Australian Vogue. The Vogue Factor explains the meaning of "fit model", which to a general audience means "Phwoar, fit model!", but to fashion designers means a model even thinner than the norm who is used to check the fit of clothes. When Clements asked one model about how sharing with her flatmate was going, she replied: "Oh, it's fine – she's a fit model so she is mostly in hospital on a drip." The book also describes a model doing a three-day photoshoot without eating, and explains how catwalk models swallow tissue paper to try to stave off hunger pangs backstage.
The next time we read about the creative genius of our wonderful fashion industry, let's remember: healthy young women are starving themselves so that designers don't have to learn how to do bust darts. Rather than eliminate a puckering seam around the annoying curve of a hip or bottom, designers persuade models to eliminate their hips and bottoms. As the Savile Row tailor Patrick Grant said on The Great British Sewing Bee on Tuesday, there's "some complicated geometry" in a woman's shape, and the contestants have to know their stuff to make a flat pattern fit a real live body. The amateur stitchers on BBC2 pulled it off with varying success. But in the brilliant world of high fashion, women are making themselves ill because the people making the clothes can only do straight lines. Can't they go on a course or something?
Most high street shops sell jumpers and tops that simply scale up the entire pattern to make bigger sizes, so to buy a shirt that fits bigger boobs you have to have one that comes down to your knees. Meanwhile, trousers tend not to go in at the waist, whereas the women who wear them do. At least Debenhams seems to have woken up, unveiling last week models tall, small, with disabilities, and over 30, in outfits designed for them. But instead of going to the trouble of making clothes to fit the women who buy them, the industry as a whole has been created to persuade women to change their bodies to fit the clothes.
I'd like to think that the BBC is secretly staging a bloodless coup on the advertising industry. With The Great British Bake Off they encouraged us to eat cakes, and in The Great British Sewing Bee they are teaching us that clothes can be made to fit women who eat cakes. Viva la révolution, ladies! Up with bust darts! And down with those who would pucker our seams!