perfect fit: impossible?

Why is it so hard to get a good fit?

Hands up if you are also as frustrated as me when shopping for clothes. When I finally find something that isn’t black or grey, the real misery starts with going into the fitting room…

In this blog I tell you why most fashion brands fail to create clothes that fit everybody. 

I hit a whopping 75 – 100 % return rate for online shopping, so I gave up on that. I do know how to read a size table and although I don’t wear a size 36, my measurements and proportions are pretty much average. But even then buying clothes is a nightmare.

Why is that? The fact that size labeling doesn’t make any sense is annoying at the most, but not attributing to a bad fit.

Why is it so hard to get a good fit?

There are two main reasons why it is nearly impossible to create well fitted clothes. The most important reason is that there is an enormous variation in body shapes and sizes. Next to that and partially because of that, size charts aren’t in accordance with anthropometric data (the measurements and proportions of the human body).

Let me switch from consumer mode to designer mode and explain. I’ll try not to switch to nerd mode 😉

Variation in body shapes and sizes

So many people, so many shapes and sizes. Just take a look around and you can imagine why it is almost impossible to catch all those different bodies into a few size charts. Gender, ethnicity, lifestyle, age; just a few traits that have an influence on body dimensions.

Variations in body sizes

In the early 1800’s when standard sizes were introduced, the variation wasn’t as large as it is nowadays. People all belonged to the same ethnic group and all ate the same diet. And catching 90% of them in standard size charts was pretty much doable.

Today it is totally different. We’ve become more diverse in every way.

The picture below shows how the average height has changed over time. But not only did the average increased (indicated by the black line), the spread also increased (indicated by the white box). 

This effect is even larger in weight related sizes like bust, waist and hip. The last 30 year the average height has stabilized, but the variation in bust, waist, hip and other weight related sizes has increased significantly as shown in the picture below.

And that is what makes it hard(er) to catch all those different bodies into a few size charts. 

Compare the following two sets of numbers: 4,4,4,5,5,6,6,6 and 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9. Both have an average of 5, but the first series can be divided into 3 bins of 1 , while the second one can be dived into 9 bins of 1, or into 3 bins of 3. 

Translated to clothing sizes this means that you need much more different sizes or if you keep the number of sizes the same, the sizes need to cover a larger range of body dimensions.

For clothing brands this means choosing between two evils. More sizes means higher costs which means less profit. Less sizes means poorer fit which can lead to fewer sales which also means less profit.

Unfortunately, it is often “solved” with the third evil, adding lots of stretch…

Variations in body shapes

Even if you choose to make your design in many sizes, that still doesn’t guarantee a perfect fit.

Two women can have the same height, bust, waist and hip measurements but have very different shapes. One could have a B cup and a broad torso, the other a D cup and a narrow torso. Or a flat bottom and broad hips or a protruding bottom and straight hips. I could go on and one about shoulders, neck, thighs and so on.

But a picture says more than 1000 words. The pictures below show the 3d scans of 3 real life women whose body dimensions come very close to a size 40.

As you can see in the upper picture, the body shapes are totally different. In the lower picture you see what the effect is on the fit of a garment. 

Size charts do not match data

The other important reason that it is nearly impossible to find or create well fitted clothes is because a lot of size charts aren’t in accordance with the anthropometric data (the measurements and proportions of the human body).

Sample bias

Since it is impossible to measure everybody, a so called sample is taken of the population for which you want to create size charts. Sampling is a science in itself and must be done carefully. I won’t go into details, but I want to point out one important aspect.

These surveys are often commissioned by clothing companies. And then the phenomenon of “sample bias” occurs. This means that people who are of ‘supermodel size’ (you know, size zero and legs taking up 75% of the total height) are more likely to volunteer than others. This has an impact on the data, every ‘normal size’ person that doesn’t take part makes the average tend toward being taller and thinner.

With surveys conducted by the government and with a health point of view this phenomenon occurs less. And therefore this data is more reliable. 

My own size charts are based on this kind of data and are made for real people. 

Size charts

The best size charts for real people

Faulty relations between measurements

No matter if the data is correct or not, a lot of size charts do not match that data.

I researched a lot of size charts and all of them showed relations between measurements that do not exist and vice versa, omitted relations that do exist.

For instance, a size range is usually designed for one specific body height. Which means that most length related dimensions are the same over the complete range. However, in all researched size charts these measurements varied across the size range, even though the body height was constant.

I don’t know what the reason behind this is. I guess that it has to do with keeping proportions the same and having larger size looking good on a hanger. But this is asking for trouble. Proportions do not stay the same when you only grow in width and not in length. You can keep proportions the same, but then you have to construct your pattern in a different manner. And this might not be in line with cheap and fast…

Do not despair, it can be done differently

Luckily, there are some options to increase the fit of your garments. Check out the blog “5 Tips to achieve the best fit possible” to find out what you can do to create more happy customers. And adding stretch isn’t one of them…

The purpose of stretch is to increase comfort,
not to create a "one size fits all"

Danielle Steman

5 Tips to achieve the best fit possible

Read this to find out what you can do to create more happy customers.

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