What is a size break?
In Grading is not morphing, I tried to explain why you can’t grade an infant sized pattern up to adult sized. This is why you can’t take a “normal” pattern and make it larger to fit plus sizes either. I will try to explain the difference using bowls.
Bowls are functional in that they are shaped to hold contents just as patterns are shaped to fit people. The shapes and volumes of bowls can vary as much as the shapes and volumes of people. Grading a bowl to make it larger or smaller results in the set of white nesting bowls you see on the right. However, if you wanted a different shape of bowl, you would need an entirely different mold (pattern).
Now compare these two one quart sized bowls. They hold the same contents but they are shaped very differently. You cannot make either of these bowls bigger or smaller (grading) to arrive at the shape of the other bowl. You can only modify the intrinsic shape of the bowls to duplicate the other -in other words, morphing. Grading the metal bowl to a larger or smaller size will not change its shape to match the shape of a one and half quart wooden bowl.
This also applies to pattern making. Let’s explain apparel grading in terms of children’s wear since it is less emotionally charged. The heads of infants are one quarter the length of their bodies. In adults, the head is approximately one eighth. If you were to attempt to grade an infant’s sized pattern to adult size, the result would be ridiculous because the infant size pattern proportions would be terribly misshapen “grown up” to adult size. You can download page 170 (pdf) from my book which has illustrations and more explanation.
Now, when people change proportion from one category to another -say infants to toddlers- the shape changing part (morphing), is managed with what we call a size break. A size break means we are starting from scratch to design for a new body that grows and shrinks according to a new shape. We will need an entirely different dress form, fit model and patterns to match them. Once we have designed a pattern to match the basic shape, then we can grow that size larger or smaller within its size category.
Using bowls, here is an example. These bowls are very similar in size and even shape but the one on the right is much rounder. A size break -a new mold or pattern- will make the shape changes needed. Once the shape has been morphed or changed with a new pattern to reflect the size break, then each shape can be made bigger or smaller.
Let’s apply this to recent controversy. Consumers think it is a simple matter for manufacturers to grade an existing shape larger and it will fit them, that manufacturers have a lot of stupid reasons for failing to do so. The thing is, between “normal” and plus sizes (and even petites) there is a size break. The shapes of people in these populations change. If you are a plus size who has purchased a garment with gobs of fabric in the upper chest and shoulders, you know that just because you gain an extra 75 pounds doesn’t mean your shoulder line or sleeve length is appreciably different from someone your same height who weighs much less -and you have every reason to be annoyed or dissatisfied. If this has happened to you, it means it is possible or likely that the manufacturer took the easy way out and graded the “normal” size pattern larger instead of creating a whole new pattern for the size break. This is why plus sizes are managed with a size break to allow the shape to change in addition to being able to make it larger or smaller.
The other important thing to know about size breaks is that it requires a whole new division or label. Adding another label can be expensive as I explained before.
Most of the time, manufacturers stick to only one size category but there are a few exceptions. One is mens wear. Many producers will make the bulk of their line in “normal” sizes but will offer the most popular of their styles in Tall sizes. Each company does it differently but most companies will take the existing size medium and lengthen it about 2 inches but they don’t change any other dimensions. This tall size is then graded by itself, separate from the “normal” men’s sizes (although it is graded differently according to its own grade rules). The reason they can do this is because men tend to gain height and weight in more predictable proportions than women do (which is not to say there is not a huge hole in the market for taller women’s sizes).
Another example is children’s wear. It is very common for even a tiny company to offer infants, toddler’s and children’s sizes in one division or under one label. This has more to do with demand and expected sales than anything else. Unlike adult apparel in which the majority of sales come from an “average” body, sales of kids clothes remain constant across the spectrum because the supply of little kids is constantly being replenished. It makes sense for a manufacturer to want to keep a customer who has been faithfully buying their infant clothes, they want your purchases to grow along with your child and hope you’ll also buy their toddler’s apparel. There will always be a rough correlation of equal sales across all sizes in kids clothes. A childrenswear company will sell as many size 12 mo’s as they will size 4′s -crossing 2 size breaks- so it makes financial sense to invest in the costs of doing it. This is not true of adult’s apparel.
One final word about manufacturers failing to meet market demand with specific reference to plus sizes. You have to realize that manufacturers are people who are fallible and make judgments as questionable as your own. For example, consumers and businesses alike will spend more money to recoup a loss than they will to get a gain. We call this throwing good money after bad. Two psychologists won the Nobel Prize in Economics for explaining how and why it happens. In this context it means that manufacturers -just like you- will spend more money to regain the customer they once had than they will spend to go after a new (plus size) customer. I agree that this position can be crazy or counter productive; no surprise that it took two psychologists to figure this out. Like you, manufacturers are less likely to spend money to get a new gain. This means that as sizes shift to the larger end of the spectrum, they’re going to hold onto their piece of the “normal” market like a shipwreck survivor clings to floating debris until it splinters into a thousand pieces before they ever consider spending money to get a new gain.