Espionage for better sizing pt.2

Apparently this topic is a total bust, not one single comment from yesterday’s post. Was it too arcane, too technical or just too boring? Ah well. Plodding onwards, yesterday I was explaining why you might analyze the sizing of your competitors (or rather, those you’d hope to compete with) to develop your own sizing standards. If you’re new to the business you may not realize that you can’t adopt blanket grading standards out of a book because every niche is different; consumers in each niche will have existing prejudices and expectations based on the performance of existing product lines in the market. Contrarily, you may also choose not to size as competing products do, this being an edge in your market if sizing is the factor you think is poorly executed.

Once you’ve followed the instructions to extrapolate a competitor’s grade as described yesterday, now you may want to gauge the overall grading quality of a competing line. The first thing I would do is repeat the exercise I described yesterday but in another colorway of the exact same style. There’s a couple of reasons for this. One, I’d want to know the overall quality of the pattern making and product development. One way to judge this is to compare colorways within each style. Depending on whether the item is washable, garment washed (prewashed) or dry clean only, dimensions of color ways of the same exact style may vary and this can be a good thing! If the items are dry clean only, you can ignore the rest of this; the styles across colorways should match up. If the items are washable, they should differ because even if it is the “same” fabric, shrinkage will vary based on the color. Usually, darker colors shrink more than light colors.


For example, a lot of people will go into a store and try on a pair of pants. If they like it, they may buy that color plus other colors without trying them on. Or, they may try them all on. Now, if these pants are washable and they fit exactly the same across colorways, I wouldn’t buy them because after processing, they won’t end up fitting the same. Now, if they fit differently prewashed, I’d make my purchasing decision based on the fit of the smallest pair (usually light colored, white or taupe). If the smallest pair fit, one can reasonably expect the larger sized item (often black) in another colorway to fit similarly after it was washed. It is the product line with varying fit across colorways of the same exact style that has the highest quality pattern making, not the contrary which is what most people think. Even if the item is marked “pre-shrunk”, I don’t trust it; it usually shrinks up more anyway. Accordingly, you want to analyze the fit of competing products in this way. Generally, a product that follows this pattern of varying fit in one style across colorways will have higher quality sizing characteristics; there’s more integrity (and cost) in the development. The manufacturer had to have first shrink tested the goods and then made a separate pattern for each colorway. The latter is a simple matter if one has a CAD system because the system will automatically grow the pattern based on shrink percentages. This can also be done by hand but it takes longer.

Now that you’ve analyzed one style for consistency and quality of product development, you may want to examine related styles, so called “parent” or “child” styles; in other words, styles that are similar enough to the first that it is likely they were generated from the same block. Again, you’d pull three consecutive sizes, the median size plus the others off to either side of that. The differences of girths and widths should be identical to the previous measures. If these all match up, then you could expect that this product line had a measure of integrity and consistency that you’d do well to consider adopting for yourself.

A word about intellectual property. All of this is fair game. It’s not a situation of “everybody’s doing it, therefore it’s okay” although it is true everyone does it because I don’t believe that just because “everybody” does something, legitimizes it. It’s a case where the dearth of accessible information regarding consumer dimensions must be pulled empirically from practitioners in the field with their ear to the ground, responding more rapidly to changes in the market than charts in books ever could. It’s just a launch point, an entry. If you plan to continue in this business, sure, you’d start here on the basis of this research but then it would become incumbent upon you to evolve with the changing needs of your customers. In other words, while this may be your launch point, it’s not your destination; you’re not relying on constant derivations from your competitor. Your sizing will evolve over time as you create your own identity and meet the needs of your customers.

That is all. If you’ve gotten this far, I can only hope you haven’t have expired from boredom, necessitating the prying of your dead rotting corpse from the chair in front of the monitor. If you live in a dry climate, it’s not so bad. A humid climate and things could get messy. Ick. By the way, it’s poor form to die there you know. Someone else may want to use the computer.

Related:
Espionage for better sizing
How to shop for clothes for sizing research
How to get sizing and grading standards

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29 comments

  1. Darby says:

    This was interesting for a newbie… I keep second guessing myself for my decision to go S,M,L vs. actual sizes every time I go checking out other swimsuits out in the marketplace. And, BTW, I made it to the end of your post without dropping dead (And here in the NE, they’d have to pry my frozen fingers off of my mouse it’s been SOOO cold!)

  2. Marie says:

    Kathleen, thanks for both posts about sizing. You answered a lot of questions I had about setting such standards!…P.S. I’m a total F-I nerd, I eat up anything that’s posted here!

  3. Carol Kimball says:

    Dead quiet may also mean great attention and not wanting to interrupt while you’re on a roll.

    You want encouraging comments, here I am. Go, Kathleen!

  4. Elizabeth says:

    How would one drive accurate observations when measuring? Is it more accurate (and costly) to take the garment apart, rather than measure it as is? I found it difficult to measure well when it’s together because it’s not a flat item. Maybe I’m doing it wrong?

    Would the variation that occurs when cutting within the same size be a factor to consider when comparing one size to the next? In other words if you compare a size 8 item to another size 8 item of the same style and color, sometimes there are size fluctuations. In that case, would it yield a different rule when comparing size 8 to 10, like add or subtract 1/8″, 1/4″ or more?

    Pre-shrinking. If the process does not work 100% (and as a customer I know it, I bought items that were marked pre-shrunk, and they still shrunk when washed), is it still worthed to add to the price and do it or it does not really matter to most customers? To me as a customer it does not make much of a difference, I don’t know about everyone else. Has anybody seen increased sales on pre-shrunk items over similar styles that were not pre-shrunk?

    Oh, and dummy question, other than saying you’re buying an item for a friend whose size your not sure of, therefore getting 3 or more sizes and then returning them on account of none fit, what other ways are there to justify the bulk shopping? I assume, “I’m checking out what your company’s pattern grading” might be a little too straight forward.

    Thanks.

    PS- Still breathing- good post- I could come up with even more questions, but I’m afraid if people haven’t passed out already, they will for sure.

  5. Suzanne says:

    Kathleen,

    I wasn’t bored at all. I was absolutely fascinated yesterday, sorry I didn’t comment. This is a great topic!

    I totally agree that checking out the sizing of competitors and/or similar products is a great launching point, and of course not a destination. At least this gives a roadmap!

  6. Kathleen says:

    How would one drive accurate observations when measuring? Is it more accurate (and costly) to take the garment apart, rather than measure it as is? I found it difficult to measure well when it’s together because it’s not a flat item. Maybe I’m doing it wrong?

    It will always be more accurate and costly if you disassemble the item. Automotive manufacturers do that with each other’s products but I don’t think that is tenable in this market although some manufacturers will. I try to measure each seam in isolation, shaping it to the configuration it’d lie in were it a flat pattern piece and unattached to anything else.

    Would the variation that occurs when cutting within the same size be a factor to consider when comparing one size to the next? In other words if you compare a size 8 item to another size 8 item of the same style and color, sometimes there are size fluctuations. In that case, would it yield a different rule when comparing size 8 to 10, like add or subtract 1/8″, 1/4″ or more?

    This is a very good point, I should have mentioned this in my post. These days ~sigh~ I suppose circumstances dictate that we actually have to compare an 8 to an 8 since many manufacturers have “identical” styles produced by different contractors -as anybody who’s ever bought a pair of 501’s knows. 501’s made in Cambodia are much different from ones made in Bangladesh or wherever, not singling out those two countries for disparagement. In such cases, check the label for the country of origin. You can eliminate some ambiguity by selecting the same country of origin for each style and *hope* it was the same contractor in that country that made them. In any event, if the manufacturer can’t get 8’s to match up to another 8 of the same exact style, I’d pass on using that company for the purposes of comparative analysis.

  7. Babette says:

    Not expired.

    I simply wouldn’t have thought of doing this but I can see that it’s a great insight to your competition whether you think they do sizing well or not. It will at least tell you what not to do in many cases.

    Total allowable variation in a finished garment under most better quality control rules is 3/8 inch as I understand it. How can you be sure that the variation you might measure between colourways is the allowance for shrink by the patternmaker or just the total combined error from cutting and sewing? Wouldn’t you need to check multiple garments of the same size?

  8. Elizabeth says:

    “I try to measure each seam in isolation, shaping it to the configuration it’d lie in were it a flat pattern piece and unattached to anything else.”

    I did that and it works well on inseams and similar lines.
    My problem is measuring pants/ jeans, especially the hip circumference. First is determining the hip level- if I eyeball one to be let’s say 7″ below the waist of the style on size 8, then where does it fall on size 6? Then if I measure 7″ down on Center Front, where does it fall on the Side Seam, and even more puzzling, on Center Back, especially if, like in a lot of cases, the back is higher to accommodate for sitting.

    If one puts the pants on a fit model (assuming she fills them in the right places and is of the right shape), then I can feel for her hip line and measure there. This is not completely feasible because at least three models of the respective sizes would be needed and even with the right measurements (which we don’t know in the first place), it’s no guarantee that the weight is distributed in the same way. Another issue would be the grading height. If the median size would be let’s say 5’5 1/2″, then what is the supposed height of the next size model?

    That’s why I asked about taking the garment apart and pressing it, but if your competition’s pants are $145 a piece, times at least three… there goes the budget before even paying for my own patterns.

  9. Sarah in Oregon says:

    Hi Elizabeth.
    Try measuring from the crotch up instead of from where the waist might be. The crotch is less elusive than the waist.
    Sarah

  10. Alison Cummins says:

    “Oh, and dummy question, other than saying you’re buying an item for a friend whose size your not sure of, therefore getting 3 or more sizes and then returning them on account of none fit, what other ways are there to justify the bulk shopping? I assume, “I’m checking out what your company’s pattern grading” might be a little too straight forward.”

    Just do it, no explanations necessary. Around here the boutiques know that when a middle-aged fat guy comes in and starts grabbing things pretty much at random, different sizes and colours and styles, that it’s not for his niece. He’s taking them to the shop to be copied, and he’ll be back in the boutique with in a week returning the goods.

    All you need is nerve.

  11. J C Sprowls says:

    And, to further Sarah’s suggestion:

    The fullest part of the hip on a proportionate female body is approximately 2/3 the depth of the crotch.

    In other words, the rise is say: 6 1/2″. This means the distance between the lowest part of the crotch and the ‘true’ parallel-to-the-floor “waist” is 6 1/2″, the fullest point of the hip should fall at 4 3/8″ (a little rounding, included).

    If the waistband of the front of the trouser is cut to follow the ‘natural’ waist, you will need to factor that in.

    ROFL, Alison!
    Your comment made my day. I needed that visual!

  12. Kathleen says:

    The fullest part of the hip on a proportionate female body is approximately 2/3 the depth of the crotch……

    JC, I don’t know about all of that regarding women’s bodies, lots of problems with that. First of all, assuming the crotch was even set properly, if we were going to equivocate with that standard, I’d think it’d be closer to 3/4 down but still, I don’t think that’s the way to go about it and that kind of muddies matters because honestly, I’ve never seen a rise on a woman that was only 6 1/2″ in vertical height (assuming the pants were waist high). It’d have to be at least over one head in length (proportionately, 1/8 of the woman’s total height). That figure would be about right for menswear (and I know you do menswear as do I) since their torsos are longer and their waists are closer to their hips proportionately but that’s our center of gravity, hence the larger area. Conversely, a man’s center of gravity is in his chest, hence its larger size proportionate to total body length.

  13. Trish says:

    Loved this entire grading blog (not to mention how much I love your book!!)

    My addition is to suggest using size charts from branded merchandise sold in catalogs. They offer the specs on a golden platter… it is usually on or near the order form. I know you will not get every spec but you get many measurements and all the sizes are shown. This way you could calculate your jumps and go from there to logical grade rules.

    This is an addition… not a replacement for Kathleen’s suggestion of measuring the three sizes.

    Kathleen, what do you think about this concept?

    Also, do you have a source for the Grad-o-matic equipment? I have it but I am always getting people who want to buy it from me and I do not plan to sell it… but perhaps I could point them in the right direction. Even Sun Apparel only had the “machine” because one of the employees brought theirs to work. TIA

  14. J C Sprowls says:

    I’ve never seen a rise on a woman that was only 6 1/2″ in vertical height (assuming the pants were waist high).

    I have got to stop pulling numbers out of thin air. It gets me in trouble every single time. :-)

    If a woman’s rise were 6 1/2″ she’d only be about 50-52″ tall. Presuming, of course, that proportional measurement held true in her case to begin with. A more apt number should have been based on a 5’6″ woman so: 7 5/8″ – 8 3/8″

    I don’t believe in proportional measurement, myself. So, I have no idea why I keep coming back to it. Old habits die hard, I suppose…

    I see your point about center of gravity. You’ve provided more mind candy for me; and, I’m tuckered!

  15. colleen says:

    I’ve worked for a variety of companies – from 7th Ave. to middle America – and agree with Kathleen that everyone checks their competitor’s base sizes and grade rules. It’s a great tool when developing a new size range (say, adding a niche like Talls or Plus). Calvin measuring Gap jeans? Probably.

    RE: using catalog measurement charts – I agree with Trish. Many customer service operators can also give you the spec for a particular garment area/size.

    Keep in mind that there are “tolerances” allowed in manuafacturing (Example: a size 8 skirt, pull-on, garment washed, has a Relaxed Waist spec of 24″; the tolerance is +7/8″ or -1/2″; an acceptable Waist msmt. ranges from 23 1/2″ to 24 7/8″). An UNwashed skirt has a tolerance of +5/8″, -3/8″, therefore accepted waist msmt. for UNwashed would be 23 5/8″ tp 24 5/8″. In spite of the tolerances, nailing the competitor’s grade isn’t difficult.

    BTW, the above example is from an actual skirt produced for a large company. Yes, the tolerances with 1/8″ were agreed on “by committee”.

  16. noel alvarez says:

    OK – now I’m officially confused. Colleen, can you expand a little on your example of the size 8 skirt tolerance? I am trying to visualize a size 8 skirt with a natural waist measurement of 24″ (is this an elastic waistband?). My 7 year old has a 24″ waist, so I’m missing something in the paragraph.

    And when you mention the “1/8” tolerance in the last paragraph, do you mean that the “committee” agreed that if a customer bought their size 8 unwashed skirt, that the waistline would only shrink 1/8″ after laundering?

    Thanks in advance for clarification – I wish there were some pictures or diagrams or other visuals that could really let all of this valuable detailed information fall into place for me!

  17. Josh says:

    I think our silence was an indication that you were doing a good job of explaining. I did read these articles and am very interested.

    Also, do you have a source for the Grad-o-matic equipment?

    I got a sales paper from South Star a week or so ago and it had the Grad-o-matic.

  18. colleen says:

    Sorry my post wasn’t clear.

    Noel asked, “OK – now I’m officially confused. Colleen, can you expand a little on your example of the size 8 skirt tolerance? I am trying to visualize a size 8 skirt with a natural waist measurement of 24″ (is this an elastic waistband?). My 7 year old has a 24″ waist, so I’m missing something in the paragraph”

    Yes, it’s a pull-on skirt w/ an elastic waist.

    Noel asked, “And when you mention the “1/8” tolerance in the last paragraph, do you mean that the “committee” agreed that if a customer bought their size 8 unwashed skirt, that the waistline would only shrink 1/8″ after laundering?

    No, I was complaining that the committee agreed to tolerance’s to the 1/8″ when I would have prefered rounding to 1/4″. For example, where they wanted +7/8″ I would have prefered +3/4″ or +1″. When the specs are precise to w/in 1/8″ it makes auditing the final garments more difficult. Especially when the garment is a garment washed, woven, pull-on skirt! In my humble opinion.

    Hope this clarifies.

  19. Tonya says:

    Speaking of measurements, I was watching tv and a plastic surgeon commented that studies have been done that show that women who have a .7 ratio waist to hip are thought to be most desirable. He further stated that the .7 ratio was more important than whether she was a size 6 or 16. Doing the math that means that a women with a 24″ waist, her hips should be 34.29″ and for a women with a 38″ waist the hip should be 54″. Has anyone ever heard this before? I know this .7 is not being used for commercial apparel made today.

  20. Kathleen says:

    Has anyone ever heard this before? I know this .7 is not being used for commercial apparel made today.

    Tragically, I can affirm it’s rarely being used. Many of us can find things to fit our full hip but the waistlines gape. It’s worse if you’re slender because it’s hard to find small misses sizes (0-4), but easier to find slender juniors sizes but then juniors aren’t shapely with that differencial. The torso portion of pants are almost tube-shaped, barely cinching in at the waist. I’ve written about this ratio several times before, just two of the entries are History of Women’s sizing pt.2 and The Zen of the Survival of the Prettiest

  21. Noel Alvarez says:

    Thank you for the clarification Colleen. Now I can picture it! I will be so embarrassed if I still don’t get it, but are you saying that when the skirt is made, the finished waistband must be measured by hand, and the relaxed elastic waistband must meet the finished spec within 1/2″ smaller or 7/8″ larger? Why can’t it be just + or -1/2″ of the 24″? Or, like you said, -1/2″, +3/4″? This is what you are describing, right? rounding to the nearest quarter inch? sounds cleaner.

    And am I understanding this correctly, that a person is responsible for checking the finished garment(s) against the spec? Are ALL of the garments checked, or just one from a batch or is it random? And is the 1/8″ also an issue because it’s easier/quicker/more accurate for the quality control person’s eye to see the 1/4 ” intervals on the measuring tape rather than the 1/8″ intervals? I apologize if I am sounding so ignorant, but I have not worked in a real production setting, so I crave these nitty gritty details!

    thanks again

  22. Colleen says:

    Yes, Noel, you understand perfectly! The factory is aiming to meet garment spec within tolerance. The tolerance range (-1/2″; +3/4″, for example) is agreed to prior to production.

    When production begins, the retailer often sends someone to measure garments and inspect quality before the finished garments ship to the warehouse (usually the Technical Designer). This person will work alongside factory QA inspectors to insure that everyone is measuring and evaluating quality the same way. This practice helps correct any errors before production is too far along.

    Once production is underway, there is a statistical method used to select a percentage of garments to meausure. If these garments pass, great; if not, the QC Inspectors pull more garments to check. Oops – If there are extensive problems, the Product Development teams (Merchant, Designer and TD) and often their managers evaluate the problem and decide how to proceed (extend tolerances, re-size, etc).

    Yes, a tolerance to the 1/8″ is difficult to measure and gain consensus on. Especially on an elastic, pull-on skirt!

  23. noel alvarez says:

    Thank you so much Colleen! You gave me a very clear picture of how things work in the real world – since I do all of my own designing, patternmaking and sewing myself (on weekends:)) I always wondered about all of the nuts and bolts of how a garment is produced in the real world. Kathleen’s book helped clear alot of that up, but it is also interesting to hear experiences directly from people who have worked in these areas – such as yourself.

    I wish there were a video of the different phases of manufacturing; from patternmaking to production etc. I find it fascinating. For now, I’ll just trudge away at my dressform. Thanks again for sharing your experience and thanks for your patience!

  24. Elizabeth says:

    Doesn’t sizing up (or down) uniformly across the measurements of a garment create fit problems at the outer ends of the spectrum? Some proportions shift differently than that from a size 4 to a size 14. I’m thinking specifically of underarm and armhole measurements on the size 14 or 16 end. So that while a woman might find a garment that fits in the bust and waist, the armhole comes halfway down her rib cage. Or, in a sleeveless garment, the armhole shows half of the side of the bra or worse flares out sharply from the underbust measurement – but not at the bust, where she needs it – from her side, under the arm. How do you correct for those problems – I’m thinking simply adding inches from your size 8 doesn’t do the trick to achieve good fit at the “outer limits.” This is also a problem with a B cup standard in commercial patterns – a 5’1″ inch 105 pound woman with a B cup looks significantly different than a 5’9″ 165 pound woman with a B cup – the proportions are not at all the same.

  25. Seth Meyerink-Griffin says:

    You really, really make pattern CAD software (…and digitizing table, and plotter…) sound very desirable… Brother, can you spare $50K?

    I know that if you are using certain software solutions for patterning you can send swatches in for testing to determine shrink rates, input the values into the program, and it will automatically correct the pattern for the shrink rates. How accurate is this, in your experience? Can you also request variations in washing (i.e., requesting multiple hot wash/dry cycles vs. multiple cold wash/air dry to get an idea of variations and worst-case-scenario in garment care), or is that going too far?

    When I’m sewing for myself/friends, I usually wash/dry my washable yardage on hot before cutting to deal with shrinkage. How practical is this in terms of production? Clearly it will cost more.

  26. Shelly says:

    I feel sorry for your lack of commentary, so here goes. I appreciate this topic as I am working on developing my own design company and the proper way to go about creating sizes and grades is rather foreign to me. I thank you for the time you put into this and other articles. I’m in the process of reading them all.

    Best of luck with the rest.

  27. Janie says:

    I am a new Designer/Seamstress, trying to figure out the road to success on my own with help from the internet. I have been wondering about sizing standards and how to determine them for my business for a couple of weeks now. It has been a mystery to me until I stumbled upon this article. The timing is perfect. Now to put it into action… Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us.

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