The Untold Tales of Fashion's Invaluable Fit Models

In our new series, we'll share the stories of fit models, past and present, who will divulge the fascinating minutiae of this little-known but very integral (and well-paid) line of work.
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A look inside an AYR fitting with a fit model. Photo: AYR

A look inside an AYR fitting with a fit model. Photo: AYR

Working very much behind-the-scenes and without cameras documenting the process, fit modeling is an invisible but invaluable — and incredibly lucrative — segment of the fashion industry. Armed with perfect proportions and size 6 or 8 physiques, these women play a key role in how the clothing we buy actually fits. And, equally as importantly, how it sells: An awkwardly short hem or chafing armhole can mean thousands, if not millions, of dollars in losses for a brand, due to poorly fit pieces that won't make it to the sales floor; or, if they do, that get returned.

The work is not glamorous — though neither is runway modeling in reality, nor most jobs in fashion, for that matter. Fit models change in and out of a slew of looks in quick succession as technical designers pin, prod and ask questions, expecting highly specific feedback. The best in the business can detect if something feels a fraction of an inch off, and know the technical design vocabulary needed to express what's wrong with the cut of a sleeve, or how a pair of jeans could hug the butt better. It's a gig that certainly pays: Fit models make upwards of $200 an hour for their services as live mannequins, and the most seasoned, sought-after ones can make a cool $400 or more for 60 minutes of work.

Some designers have long-term relationships with their fit models: Nanette Lepore, for example, has been working with the same woman, Natalie, for 20 years. "Natalie is so experienced, she can tell my pattern makers how to fix their problems; her advice and comments are always right," Lepore says. "Natalie has repeatedly helped me use seam lines and details to trick the eye and create the most flattering silhouette possible. Women know and appreciate a great fit, and I couldn't do that without Natalie: she's very good at diminishing hips, and she understands a women's needs and insecurities." 

Besides astute feedback on design minutiae, posture and patience are essential qualities of the gig, Lepore explains. "It's important that a model knows to stand straight and be as still as possible, and I find the young models that I fit runway on to be constantly fidgeting, slouching, leaning to one side, or on their phones," she says. "That's really not acceptable. It's not easy to stand at attention while people tug at your clothes and comment, but it's necessary for the job."

AYR has worked with its denim fit model for a decade, and that sort of tight bond makes "the fit process quite an intuitive one between us — she knows exactly how I like a garment to feel on the body and is precise in calling out anything that feels off balance," shares Jac Cameron, AYR's co-founder and creative director. "Hyper-specific feedback is integral to achieve a fit that moves with the body, provides comfort to the wearer and ultimately inspires confidence. This level of input during crucial stages of garment fittings help us assess whether a design element needs to be changed or modified in any way."

Most brands will use a size 6 (or a 4 or 8, depending on the company) to fine-tune the dimensions and feel of each piece before and after it goes into production, then scale that garment's dimensions to produce other sizing. Major NYC-based fit model agencies like True Model Management and Fit Models LLC also have rosters of fit models spanning sizes 00 to a 24, which are often used for wear tests or size sets that enable a brand to see a particular piece or collection that was first fit to a size 6 or so model and has subsequently been scaled and produced in a full sizing range. This ensures that everything has been sized (or graded) properly.

These perfectly proportioned women end up in the profession for all sorts of reasons, and more often than not, completely by accident. Take, for instance, the longtime industry vet that segued from fitting with the likes of Michael Kors, Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger and Oscar de la Renta — the designers themselves, not just their eponymous brands — in the '90s to running her own massive fit modeling agency. Or, the part-time ex-fit model who got into the field to help financially support her entrepreneurial dreams of launching an empowering, Photoshop-free indie women's magazine that combats the prescriptive ideals and exacting standards of fit modeling.

Fit models often work strictly behind-the-scenes, yet the demographics seem similarly homogenous to their model counterparts that work on the runways or in front of the camera instead of in the design studio. Finding racially diverse fit models for this series proved to be unexpectedly difficult, which seems to indicate that this sector of the modeling industry is lagging behind in regards to inclusivity. Perhaps this means that fashion brands don't take the bodies of women of color into consideration as much as they should when designing collections, which taps into the ongoing industry- and culture-wide conversation about what a woman's body is supposed to look like — how curvy, if at all, a physique should be — and how clothing ought to fit.

Each Friday in the coming weeks, we'll share the stories of eight fit models, past and present, who will divulge the fascinating minutiae of this little-known but very integral (and well-paid) line of work. First up: Fit model turned trainer-slash-fitness influencer, Megan Roup.

MEGAN ROUP

Megan Roup. Photo: Women/360 Management

Megan Roup. Photo: Women/360 Management

Current clients include: Kensie dresses, Guess coats, Karl Lagerfeld coats, Kenneth Cole coats, Levi's coats.

Past clients include: Gap, DKNY, Calvin Klein dresses, Club Monaco, Kenneth Cole, AYR, Tommy Hilfiger, Jessica Simpson, Ellen Tracy dresses, Eliza J

"I graduated from NYU's Tisch school for dance and danced professionally until 2014. When I graduated, I was trying to figure out how to support myself financially in New York City, and I saw an ad for an American Eagle casting, for a size 6 jeans girl. I didn't know much about fit modeling, but I figured I'd go try it out. I didn't get the job, but I was encouraged to find representation. Shortly after that, I signed with Ford Models, and began working almost immediately — about nine years ago.

I am the creator of The Sculpt Society, a dance-based fitness class in NYC. My main focus is on my fitness career, while my side hustle remains fit modeling. Monday through Friday I'm usually in fittings; I leave 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. open for fittings. However, with most of my clients, I have standard fit times for each. So that gives me a good idea of what my week is going to look like. My fittings can be just one hour, or they can last up to four/five hours, but it's usually a standard amount of time for each client. I run around between appointments in the garment district, with 15 minutes to get to and from appointments.

With each garment, we go through a really detailed list of every measurement. Usually there's a designer and a technical designer in the room; I like to think of it as the architect and the engineer, respectively. The designer creates the garment, and the technical designer really brings it to life. We talk about how each garment feels — if it's too small or big, where it feels off — and usually the technical designer will cut, safety-pin, tape, or even use a Sharpie to re-draw style lines that the designer doesn't like. We talk about the fabric; designers will want to know how it feels, if I like the fabric, any other feedback I can give. You learn as you go. Technical design is extremely important for fit models to understand in order to give the correct feedback. It's so important to be able to speak about the fit of the garment to the technical designers. They're the ones cutting and draping garments, and also relaying information to factories abroad, who then make changes to the pattern. There's so much detail that goes into each garment, including discussing the thread color. One garment often goes through four or five fittings before it goes into mass production.

I know every single measurement on my body — my wrist or ankle, for example. Ridiculous measurements I never thought I'd know! I get measured weekly by my clients; the tolerance is within a quarter-inch. If you gain or lose weight, it's not good either way. I'm at a stage where I know my body so well. At one point from 2012 to 2014 I was dancing professionally with the Brooklynettes, the dance team for Brooklyn Nets. I would teach fitness classes in the morning, be in fittings all day, and then at rehearsals or performing at night. It was an intense time, but fit modeling allowed me financially to pursue all these things I wanted to be involved in.

I don't think people realize that for each brand, there's usually only one fit model, and the changes they're making on my size really affect the entire line, whether they're grading up or down in sizes. So what goes on in those fit sessions are really vital for the performance of the line in the store. If I'm doing a fitting for a brand for Costco, those orders are 250,000 pieces. With that amount of [product] selling, you want to make it absolutely perfect. I realize if I don't say something or call something out before it hits production, it could be a big problem.

It can be sad when a brand decides to go with another fit model; you work very closely and intimately with a team for a long time, and often it's not in the control of the technical designers or designers. It could be an executive decision, someone new to the company wants to re-strategize the fit. Sometimes the conversation is awkward and sad; the team might say, 'Listen, we tried everything we could to keep you, but we have no control over this.' Other times it's an email from your agent saying, 'Listen, they've dropped you.' Luckily that's only happened to me twice. In this industry, you have to develop a thick skin and you can't take it personally.

It's a lucrative job. Rates are usually between $250 and $300 per hour. People are surprised by that, but there's a lot that goes into the job that make the rates high. And it's an industry you can be in for 30 or 40 years; I know fit models in their 60s, and that's what alluring about it. You can make a long career out of it."

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