Flexible fashion that promises to shapeshift as your body changes

Eureka! The magic jeans where one size fits six: They’re just one example of a new type of flexible fashion that promises to shapeshift as your body changes. We reveal whose claims really are a stretch

  • UK shoppers own an estimated £10 billion worth of clothes they don’t wear 
  • Radhika Sanghani has seen her size drop after fluctuating in lockdown 
  • Gives verdict on the new ‘flexible fashion’, clothes that changes size with you 

We’ve all been there: you buy a new dress just after you’ve lost weight, but a few months later, you put it back on and the frock doesn’t fit. You can’t bring yourself to donate it to charity, so you leave it in your wardrobe hoping to fit into it again one day. Years later, the dress is still there.

UK shoppers own an estimated £10 billion worth of clothes they don’t wear, according to a 2018 Weight Watchers study. For a quarter of those who admitted to hoarding unworn togs, it’s because they’re waiting to lose weight to fit into them.

I can relate to this. I went up a dress size in lockdown last year, as I turned to baking and spent more time at home. But now I’m enjoying being on the move again, my size has dropped.

Like many women, it means I have even more clothes in my wardrobe that don’t quite fit.

Radhika Sanghani, who has seen her size drop after fluctuating during lockdown, gives verdict on the new ‘flexible fashion’. Pictured: Radhika SIZE 6

Fluctuating size is a big contributor to the fast-fashion epidemic that’s damaging our environment.

But some brands are trying to find a solution. Enter ‘flexible fashion’ — clothes that, one way or another, change size with you.

Take companies such as Hunza G and Frame jeans, which have created ‘one-size-fits-most clothing’ so that garments will adapt to fit the changing size of the owner.

U.S. brand Universal Standard takes a different tack, allowing customers worldwide to exchange a worn item of clothing for a different size up to a year after purchase.

Others, such as Mary Benson and Kit.a, have cleverly created clothing with extra seam allowances to ensure they can be altered if a customer changes size.

‘As a society, we’re starting to become aware of just how many clothes lie ignored in wardrobes or end up in landfill, often because they don’t quite fit or don’t make us feel our best,’ says Charlotte Turner, a sustainable fashion consultant.

‘A huge number of resources go into making clothes, so offering more ways to properly celebrate and use our clothes, no matter our size, makes complete sense for business and the environment.’

While the new flexible fashion sounds creative, do these fixes work? I put them to the test…

UK shoppers own an estimated £10 billion worth of clothes they don’t wear, according to a 2018 Weight Watchers study. Pictured: Nina SIZE 12

JEAN GENIUS

Frame Le One Flare jeans (£280, frame-store.com)

Unlike the majority of denim brands, Frame’s Le One collection currently mostly offers only two sizes: a 1 and a 2.

The smaller size is designed to fit waists from 23 in to 28 in, while the larger version fits 29 in to 34 in waists. They call it ‘one size fits six’, with the idea being the jeans can ‘evolve with and live in your wardrobe for years’.

The concept is brilliant. All I’ve ever wanted is a pair of jeans that will fit me no matter what, but as my size has gently fluctuated over the years, I’ve ended up having to throw out beloved jeans — and then regretted it years later when I’ve lost weight.

The Le One Flare has a high waist and on-trend flared bottoms. My size comes under the ‘1’ option and they fit me perfectly.

Radhika said the larger size of Frame Le One Flare jeans fit Nina as a size 12 and Bella as a size 18. Pictured: Bella SIZE 18

They’re tight enough to look good, but they feel incredibly comfortable. I also ask size 12 model Nina to try on a pair, and to our shock, they fit her just as well.

The same happens with the larger size — they fit Nina as a size 12, but the exact same pair also look great on size 18 Bella. Somehow, these jeans defy science.

How? The trick is in the ‘revolutionary and adaptable’ fabric that’s also fully sustainable, according to a spokesperson for Frame.

The ‘super-stretch denim’ is made from organic cotton, recycled polyester and Lycra — in a special mix that is engineered to fit a wider range of sizes.

At £280 a pair, these jeans aren’t cheap, but if they live up to their promise to fit for life, they will probably end up saving you money in the long term.10/10

SMART SEAMS

Mary Benson Wildwood Zappa dress, £350, marybenson.london

This Yorkshire brand, best known for its long, floaty dresses, has just launched a collection of ‘flexible fashion’ dresses with adaptable seams.

Each dress has an extra 1cm on each side running down from the sleeves to the mid-skirt, so it can be altered to take into account your changing size.

It’s such a simple concept that I can’t believe more brands don’t do this. (Charlotte Turner explains they probably don’t because the extra fabric can increase costs, but she stresses if ‘the lay planning [the pinning of patterns onto fabric] is done efficiently, it’s really viable.’)

The extra seam allowance means people could either let out their clothes themselves or (in my case) take it to a dry cleaner to have it altered, instead of getting rid of it altogether.

Radhika said Mary Benson Wildwood Zappa dress (pictured) is a timeless piece, as it can literally grow or shrink with her body 

I opt to try the Wildwood Zappa dress, a patterned style made from organic cotton.

Like all Mary Benson dresses, it’s made to order, which means it takes six weeks to arrive and — be warned — can’t be returned. It comes in sizes ranging from 4 to 30.

Normally, it would seem crazy to spend that much on a non-refundable dress, but I choose mine in a size 6, confident that even if it’s too small, I will have the extra seams.

It ends up being a little too wide on the waist, so I take it to a local alterations shop and they assure me it’s a simple job which costs £25.

This, according to founder Mary Benson, is deliberate: ‘We add extra seam allowance for ever-changing bodies, and also sew it in a way which is very simple to have taken in or out at any part down each side of the body.

‘For example, if you put weight on your arms, you can let the seams out under your arms and down the sleeve only. If you want to completely go up a size, you can let out every seam .

‘The way dresses are produced these days doesn’t allow for these kind of alterations. They are made specifically for using a few times and moving on and buying more.’

The dress is more expensive than something I could find on the High Street, but it’s clearly good quality, and the fact it can quite literally grow with my body — or shrink with me if I lose weight — means it’s a timeless piece I can own for ever.

In that way, it becomes more cost effective than constantly popping to Zara and, most importantly, far more sustainable.7/10

FLEXI BIKINI

Hunza G Ariel bikini, £145, and Pretty Woman dress, £175, hunzag.com

Radhika said the Pretty Woman dress (pictured) looked tiny when it arrived, but the fabric stretched to fit her 

This British carbon-neutral brand first appeared in the 1980s, and sets out to provide one-size-fits-most clothing.

It specialises in swimwear, along with a few tight, stretchy dresses made from the same fabric as the Pretty Woman classic (remember Julia Roberts’s Hunza G cut-out blue and white dress in the film’s opening scenes?). It boasts celebrity fans from Holly Willoughby to Hollywood star Kate Hudson.

I’m rather sceptical about a bikini that claims to fit most people. But I duly try out its on-trend lilac bandeau Ariel bikini. It’s made from a special crinkle fabric that can stretch to any body size.

The two-piece set is meant to be ideal for anyone who needs light chest support (the brand also does sturdier bikini tops for people who need more), which is me.

When it arrives, however, I’m not convinced, since it feels slightly loose. It fits well enough for sunbathing on a beach, but I’d be hesitant about swimming in it because it’s just not as tight as bikini tops I normally buy in my specific size.

I also try out the famous Pretty Woman dress in the same Instagrammable lilac. It looks absolutely tiny when it arrives, but the fabric duly stretches to fit me and, unlike the bikini, this does feel like a comfortable fit.

Still, as I’m on the smaller end of the size spectrum, I’m keen to find out if it also fits other sizes, so I ask my curvy size 12 neighbour to try it out. To our surprise, the dress fits her perfectly and is just as flattering for her body shape.

BIKINI: 4/10; DRESS: 8/10

SEW YOUR OWN SIZE

Kit.a Penny Shirred Midaxi dress, £135, kit-acollective.com

Radhika said Kit.a Penny Shirred Midaxi dress (pictured) should fit for life, making it worth £135

This new slow-fashion brand offers customers a chance to buy either a made-to-order item or — for the more creative — a cheaper all-inclusive kit so they can sew their own.

It offers clothing from sizes 6 to 16 with flexible cuts designed to ensure the wearer can go up or down a few sizes.

At the same time, it gives customers the option to request an extra seam allowance on ready-made items for no added cost, or create it themselves by following an option in the sewing tutorial.

I have no idea how to sew, so I order a ready-made lilac Penny Shirred Midaxi dress in a size 6.

As every brand seems to have varying sizing options, I have no idea whether it will come up small or large, but actually it fits almost perfectly, and there’s enough give for me to know I can eat a big bowl of pasta and still feel comfy.

‘By avoiding restrictive zips and buttons, and by using certain techniques such as shirring [a type of sewing that uses elastic to create gathers] to add stretch, our clothes will always be a great fit,’ explain founders Khirsty Campbell and Eleanor Gall.

‘Conventional sizing can often leave people out, so we think that our approach is more inclusive.’

At £135, it’s slightly more expensive than a High Street gingham summer dress might be, but the fact that it should fit for life again makes it worth the extra money. Plus, savvy creative types can save money by opting for the £45 kit and making the dress themselves. 7/10

SWAP SHOP

Universal Standard Geneva dress, £88, and skinny jeans, £72, universalstandard.com

Radhika said Universal Standard Geneva dress (pictured) fit perfectly and is a comfortable style with an asymmetrical hem 

Universal Standard’s shopping programme, Fit Liberty, allows customers to exchange worn clothes from a certain range for a different size for free within a year of purchase.

The idea is to ‘give you the freedom to change sizes without fear, anxiety or added expense’, and any returned pieces are donated to charities First Step and Dress For Success (which helps improve women’s career progression by providing professional attire and support).

I’m so excited that I instantly purchase its classic Geneva dress — a comfortable style with an asymmetrical hem — in an XS, as well as a pair of high-rise skinny jeans with a 25 in waist. When they arrive, they both fit perfectly — for now. I have a feeling the jeans will get a little tight as the winter months kick in.

In the past, this would have had me debating anxiously between a 25 in or 26 in pair of jeans, but now I don’t have to worry.

I can keep the ones that fit for now, knowing that if anything changes, I can simply replace them.

It’s a dream solution to size anxiety, and I hope that more brands will do the same.

It ships from the U.S. for about £20, although the return also costs another £20, but my clothes order arrives in less than a week.

To make this a truly sustainable option, however, we really need a UK equivalent. 9/10

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