Designing for extreme body types

I recently attended a trade show where I visited the booth of a company that I receive mailings from. Most of the time I keep line sheets, even when they are old. While browsing the booth, I remarked to the sales rep that I noticed in the previous line sheet they mentioned an item had a new and improved fit/cut. I asked her what that meant.

This item is a woven (non stretch) chemise. It pulls over the head. Because of the styling, there are no buttons, zippers or other closures so getting the right cut is extremely important. Apparently, when they created the style, the designer cut for her own body, which was very small on the top, with wide hips. Thus. most women couldn’t fit the garment because it would be far too tight on top. They had many complaints and returns on that style, so they re-styled the fit. I called Kathleen about this because it brings up an interesting topic.


Many people want to make garments to solve problems that people with certain body types have with fit. But when you do that, you develop a retailing problem because your retail stores usually target women based on demographics and taste and not body type (with the exception of petite, or plus size). You don’t have a store that -for example- caters to women who are small on the top and large on the bottom because it is nearly impossible to cater to the different tastes that women with that body type would have. So it questions the very thought of cutting based on your own body type, when your body type is atypical.

When I brought this up with Kathleen, this is what she said:

It can be difficult to make a go of a product line if one is using an extreme body type upon which to develop products. While I think that there is some natural variation between body types -and it can be useful to exploit that- it is sizing extremes that are the problem. This is why a designer should use a fit model as a prototype for fitting their customer. The example that always comes to mind is the DE named Jeremy that I wrote about in my book. Jeremy developed work out wear for triathletes who tend to be lean but Jeremy was using himself as a fit model and although Jeremy was very fit, he had an inordinately large seat proportionate to the rest of his body. By disproportionate, I mean that his caboose resembled a caricature it was so large. To the extent that then or since, I have never seen any other men -ever- who had such a large seat proportionate to the rest of their body. And I mean among men in general, not just among triathletes. Therefore, Jeremy was having a rough go of things because the figure type he was using was unusual in the broad spectrum of men and accordingly, even rarer among the fittest of male athletes.

You could make the case that the way I proposed the fitting of the blouses in my line to be an example of fitting to the extreme but I think it varies in crucial ways. For one thing, I’d be sizing according to bra sizes. Therefore I’d have one top that’d be comparatively small -an A/B cup- yet I’d also have a top available in C/D. The chemise in the above example provided no such alternative for women who were the approximate same frame and weight. Although unfortunate, I think that being able to size clothing to extreme differences in body shaping will be limited and nearly always limited to separates. Again, the operative words here are “extreme differences” because many designers are able to create a following for apparel that follows general body shape characteristics other than the most idealized one of an hour-glass figure.

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2 comments

  1. Jonquil says:

    “your retail stores usually target women based on demographics and taste and not body type”

    This is absolutely true. It is also why many of my friends who can afford it shop at Nordstrom’s, where the saleswomen will pull clothes for you based on your figure type. A saleswoman who knows her stock is worth her weight in diamonds. The same goes for shoes — I once had a child’s shoe salesman who realized instantly that my son had a high arch, and who brought shoes only from the lasts that would fit him. Until we moved, we always did our shopping at that salesman’s store.

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