Alternatives in women’s sizing
In my continuing series discussing fit and apparel sizing (see links at close); I’ve failed to explain how sizing determinations are made, how standards are drawn followed by industry application. In this post I’ll explain how survey data is aggregated from which standard grade rules are drawn and perhaps, a potential solution to the biggest problems.
First of all, while surveys of human anthropometry may vary in method ranging from the measuring of young unmarried women typical of the Sheldon study in the forties to the Sizing USA study conducted with body scanners under the auspices of TC2, the data is summarized into aggregates and applied in identical ways. For example, consumers have the expectation that if they gain weight, they should be able to grab the next largest size in the sequence and obtain a good fit. Unfortunately, that is an unreasonable expectation due to summarizing of study results.
When mass-marketer manufacturers design their sizing specs, they’re looking at the mid-range of any given size. For example, the average size 2 woman is shorter than the average size 8. Manufacturers design grade rules that encompass those height changes. I think this is an issue of misplaced expectations. Manufacturers don’t take a woman of a given size and grade up or down to fit that particular woman as she’d go through the various sizing changes. That would mean they’d only be making clothes to fit someone of a specific height but it wouldn’t make sense to do that as people also get taller in the larger size ranges. It’s an issue of proportion. Most people who are heavier, are also taller. If manufacturers are not highly targeted (such as Lane Bryant) they’re going to shoot for the best sizing bets of the market.
The reason is that sizes are weighted according to aggregates of all measures including height. In other words, a general pattern emerges that the average size 10 is taller than the average size 2; that’s just the reality. Accordingly, when manufacturers apply sizing standards, they incorporate height changes into each size too, not just width. Unfortunately, grabbing the next largest size will not only be greater in girth but in height as well. For this reason, it’s an unreasonable expectation to expect identical proportionates across sizing. This is a problem in mass manufacturing which is why I feel product lines should be much smaller (as should companies) to fit a more specialized target demography.
I’ve received many comments from women who feel sizes should fit them specifically, often justifying this expectation with a comparison of men’s sizing. The latter is an inappropriate comparative (as is shoe sizing; your feet don’t gain weight commensurately) owing mostly to anatomical differences between the sexes. Men have their center of gravity in the chest and their sizing standard largely reflects these differences well. Men’s height changes are generally satisfied in selling pants according to inseam although shirts and jackets have similar height changes according to increasing size. Women have their center of gravity in the hip hence the disparity and diversity of sizing -owing to our unique biology of reproduction and the dramatic morphing of which our bodies designed to endure the rigors of pregnancy and lactation -the sizing variations present in women’s trunks are far more dramatic in differences than are men’s. Still, there has got to be a better solution and I believe there is. Similarly, it is insufficient to mention solutions without discussing the difficulties associated with implementation.
Specifically I’ve always felt that women’s dresses and blouses should be sized like bras -on a cartographic scale as opposed to the drafting standard of an x-y coordinate to which we’ve all been trained and acclimated. Drafting on an x-y coordinate is a simplistic strategy birthed of measuring a fixed inanimate object, in this case literally car seats. Yes, the “father” of CAD systems was initially developed by Gerber to develop interiors for automobiles and from there it spread to apparel. On the other hand, cartographic drafting relies on triangulation from one variant -one fixed point- to another which is more aligned with how someone like Vionnet developed styles as opposed to how it’s done today.
I believe sizing women’s blouses and dresses according to bra size would be a better solution. While small busted women may fail to appreciate the difference, there’s an enormous body sizing difference between a woman who wears a 32DD and who’s full bust measure is 38 than that of a woman who wears a 36B bra and also measures a full 38″. The difference being minimally 40 if not 50 lbs of total body weight. In other words, not all inches are created equally; the blouse sized to fit a 38″ chest has a much larger back than the woman wearing the DD cup needs; she needs extra inches up front, not in the back. Similarly, she doesn’t need the larger shoulders, upper arm girth or increased waist typically needed by the woman wearing a 36B bra. I realize that sizing blouses and dresses according to bra size won’t solve the issues of height incorporation but further differentiations between short, average and tall could be made by those companies who have the infrastructure in their product development departments to manage these size ranges.
Considering that the “average” woman wears a 36C bra, weighs 144 lbs and is just under 5’4″, I think sizing of this structure would make a dramatic difference in the fit of women’s apparel. Still, all the considerations of implementing such a sizing strategy aside -from consumer education to the development of entirely new grade rules there is still one enormous hurdle to adopting this strategy, namely, we don’t know how to do it. By “we” I mean the average pattern maker in the apparel industry. Implementing this sizing strategy would mean learning to draft according to cartographic coordinates and other than via a process of iteration and general rules of thumb (namely correctly identifying coordinate points), even I don’t know how to do it. I’ve never even seen a book that discusses cartographic drafting. In my case, I’ve had to use texts used by surveyors and map makers. Still, new sizes could be developed through iteration readily; the only question is whether apparel manufacturers would consider the effort to be worthy of investment. I have doubts whether larger established companies would feel the need to evolve their sizing to be more accurate anatomically but that’s why we need greater specialization in manufacturing which is most likely to come from smaller companies who are targeting a given proportion and demography. Large companies can’t do that job. Specialized apparel producers targeting specific lifestyle interests and practices can. Entrepreneurs like you, can. Consider the option, will you?
Please refer to the other articles in this series which offer substantive supporting material. Add to the discussion rather than backtracking to topics discussed elsewhere. It is likely that the exceptions you’ve thought of have been dissected in depth. For your convenience, links open in a new window or tab.
The Myth of Vanity Sizing
Fit and Sizing Entropy
Push manufacturing; subverting the fit feedback loop
Shrinkage and fit
Alternatives in Women’s sizing
Tyranny of tiny sizes?
The history of women’s sizing pt 1
The history of women’s sizing pt 2
The history of women’s sizing pt 3
Sizing is a variety problem
The birth of size 10?
Vanity sizing shoes
Tyranny of tiny sizes pt.2
Vanity sizing: generational edition
Vanity sizing: generational edition pt.2
Vanity sizing: the consumer spending edition