Too many sizes!

Edited 9/19/2012
This is an article written by Esther of Tiny Packages. In the post immediately precedent to this one, I closed the entry with links to two grading articles on her site. What appears below is yet another article she wrote about grading children’s wear patterns. Since Blogger is acting wonky, we couldn’t get a link to this article on her blog so she gave me permission to reprint it here. Thanks Esther!

One designer asked me two fundamental questions. At the time I wasn’t sure how to answer them. The first is really a grading question and the second a sizing standard. Both are related. To keep things simple, I will start with the sizing standard question.

“Why are there so many sizes for children’s clothing?”

Because children grow. Ok. That is the easy way out. The truth is that children grow and manufacturers try to have a range of sizes to choose from.

The other half of the question was, “Can we have fewer sizes?”

This is a much more complicated answer. Because children’s clothing can cover such a wide range, it is possible to have a lot of sizes. One company I worked for produced clothing from Preemie to a size 16 – not including the plus sizes. When you break this down it looks like this:

Preemie, NB, 3M, 6M, 9M, 12M, 18M, 24M, 2T, 3T, 4T, 4, 5, 6, 6x, 7, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16.

This is a whopping 21 sizes! This complicates bookkeeping and sales information incredibly. If you create a style in one colorway, then each size will have its own SKU (stock keeping unit). If you add a colorway, then each size in this style can have two SKU’s – one for each color. The company wanted to try and reduce the number of SKU’s each season. This particular company produced a new line every 4 months which consisted of dozens of new styles. Thinking about it can give anyone a headache.

To reduce the number of sizes, you have to either combine some of the sizes into ranges and eliminate some duplication. The duplication is the easiest to see first. There is very little difference between a 24M and a 2T. A 24 month old child is essentially a 2 year old. The T simply means that ease is added to the pant area for a diaper. Most 24 month old children and 2T children are still wearing diapers, so there should little to no difference in the patterns there.

The other likely duplication is the 4T and 4. Again these sizes overlap with only a slight difference in the pant area for a diaper. Most four year olds are potty-trained, although it is possible that some are not. In any event, if you manufacturer girl’s dresses, this is another area where sizes could be combined. Some companies have started putting out a 5T, but it would be unusual to find a five year old wearing a diaper.

The next size duplication looks like the 6 and 6x. In this case, there is a fitting difference introduced. There should be little girth difference in the patterns, but there will be a length difference. A 6x is a taller size for a 6 year old. Some retailers combine the 6x with a 7. This is where it would be important to know your customers before eliminating or combining sizes.

So now our sizing looks like this:

Preemie, NB, 3M, 6M, 9M, 12M, 18M, 24M/2T, 3T, 4T/4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16.

And this is where I have to interject. Retailers, and especially big box retailers, do differentiate the sizing of the patterns on the sizes we just combined. A 2T is just a little bit bigger than a 24M, even though it really shouldn’t be. Consumers have become accostumed to this type of sizing system and so have the technical designers in the business. In other words, don’t expect any big changes anytime soon. This proposal is a way to simplify things. You are more likely to find a simplified sizing standard in boutique or specialty stores.

From my blog entry “Too Many Sizes!”

Ok, back on track now. The next step is to create a range of sizes. This is simplest in the infant sizes and another grey area. Every major manufacturer has come up with their own size range break-down, and it really is all over the place.

I really like how JcPenney has broken down their infant size range:

Newborn, 0-3M, 6-9M, 12M, 18M, 24M/2T

The nice thing about this sizing standard is that there are no overlapping of sizes.

Some companies will create a range like this:

Newborn, 0-3M, 3-6M, 6-9M, 9-12M, 12-18M, 18-24M

As you can see, there is a lot of overlapping. This could cause confusion for a customer because it is difficult to pick just the right size range. Also, this doesn’t reduce the number of sizes carried.

If we eliminate the newborn and preemie sizes and use the size range from JcPenney, we would get this:

0-3M, 6-9M, 12M, 18M, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16.

If you look carefully, you will see that I eliminated the 24M size and the T’s on the 2, 3, and 4. This is where you have to decide how the size will appear on the care/content tag or hang tag. It would be best not to confuse customers – keep things simple and logical here.

You will also notice that there seems to be a size missing in the infant sizes. The size 6-9M is often combined because either the 6M or the 9M is considered a half size between the 3M and the 12M. This is obvious when you study measurement charts, so just take my word on it for now.

The other thing to consider when generating a size standard is the patternmaker/grader. The size 0-3M, for example can be created in one of two ways. The measurements of the Newborn and 3M could be averaged out or the patternmaker could just make the patterns a true 3M. In order to fit the most children, it is best to make the patterns fit the high-end of the range. In our example, the patterns would be made in a 3M. The clothing will fit loose on the small end of the range, but kids grow fast. The only exception might be sleepwear which needs to fit snug to the body in all of the size ranges. This is another place where you need to know your product and customer well.

By following this example, we have gone from a whopping 21 sizes to 15! While this still creates a lot of sizes, it is so much simpler and easier to understand.

0-3M, 6-9M, 12M, 18M, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16.

The next question to address is the grading question. And that will have to wait for tomorrow.

From my blog entry titled “Creating a Grading Standard”

Before I can move on to the grading question, I must make a couple of comments on my previous post. The best time to determine a sizing standard is at the very begining of your company. If you have been in business for 30 years, for example, it will be very difficult to change things around. So please, please do your homework.

Another thing, you can make your sizing standard anyway you want. Even though I am suggesting a simplified sizing standard, it may not be appropriate for you. If your intended customer is a big box retailer, it may be too simple. In fact, they may not like it. They are accustomed to choosing from a lot of different sizes. If you become part of a private label program, they will tell you what the sizing standard should be anyway. If you have something similar already set-up, there will be less stress for your patternmaker. Again, the sizing standard suggested in the previous post would be more appropriate for a company targeting specialty boutiques and small retailers.

Ok. Now the grading questiong…

“Can’t we use the 3mo size for our base size and grade everything up from there?”

The motivation for this question is to save some work. In essence you make your pattern only one time and let the grading take care of all of the other sizes. While the idea is good, it presents some problems.

First, it is important to know how a child grows. A very good description and diagrams are shown in the book Patternmaking for Fashion Design by Armstrong. In my second edition of the book, it is on page 674. Up to about age 3 children are cylindrical in shape. There is little differentiation between chest, waist, and hips. At about age 4-5, girls start to develop a waist. At age 8, there is more definition and curves. Boys and girls are similar in shape up to about age 8.

Because there is a change in body shape at regular intervals, a patternmaker will break-up the sizes like this:

0-3M to 24M, 2T-4T, 4-6x, 7-16

By breaking up the patterns into these size ranges, a patternmaker would then make base size patterns in a 12M, 3T, 5, and an 8 (or whatever sizes are chosen). You could sample your initial style in any size you prefer – hopefully a middle size. When the design is approved and read to go into pre-production, the patternmaker will then make patterns for your style in each of the other base sizes. Those patterns are then graded for each range.

Some manufacturers will go to the trouble of sampling their style in each range. Retailers like to look at more than one size range because they have to “see” how to merchandise their floor areas. It is possible you will end up making a lot of sales rep’s samples if you plan on selling the whole range. These extra samples are called sisters or brothers.

Even with our simplified sizing standard, you would still break up your sizes like this:

0-3M to 3, 4-6, and 7-16

Now some design entrepeneur’s may still insist on having only one base size and grading everything off of that. What will happen is you will introduce errors into your patterns in the extreme ends of the range. The grading will be more complicated. The fit will be off in the transitional sizes between infant to toddler, young child to older child. For organization sake, your patternmaker/grader will greatly appreciate having things broken down into simpler groups.

Also, you will be bucking industry standards and not playing by the rules. Walk into any department store and look at how the children’s clothes are arranged. You will notice that the clothes are arranged together in the size ranges we talked about above – infant, toddler, young child (4-6x), and older child (7-16). Your order form should have your styles broken down similarly.

By this point you are probably thinking that it is still a lot of work to make that many patterns for each base size. If you have a CAD system with nifty pattern drafting and grading capabilities, it isn’t really that big of a deal. Even if you had to do it by hand, it should only take a day or so. Your patternmaker will be just repeating the same drafting process over and over again. If you make dozens of styles every season, you may seriously consider investing in a CAD system.


  1. dez says:

    Very much enjoyed your post. I design knitwear as a sideline and I often incorporate “growth elements” into the patterns I come up with. Of course, the essential difference is that knitwear is forgiving, ribbing stretches, sleeves can be designed so they look fashionably cuffed and then rolled down as the child grows.

    Cut fabric, of course, is not so forgiving. What I get comfused with modern parents is their aparent over-concern with how perfectly a garment fits a growing child. Most parents I know don’t buy clothing with “room to grow” as our parents did; they expect their chidrlen’s clothes to look perefectly tailored.

    I think a smaller range of sizes makes more sense.

  2. another wish says:

    fabulous! I was JUST discussing this with our design team. Kathleen, are you sure you don’t have ESP?!?!!?

    Thank you ten fold for this post.

  3. Yahzi Rose says:

    Thanks so much Esther & Kathleen. I’m getting my first samples & patterns created now (sooo nervous & excited) and was just having a discussion with the patternmaker about this. Especially since I have to use my children as fit models both of which are true sizes but not mediums…aaarrgh. As always, invaluable info right on time!

  4. sarah says:

    I entered an Italian design competition and I need to make women’s size 40/42 garments. I have the bust/waist/hip measurements, but do you know of any good sites that have more detailed dimensions ie bust to waist, bust to hip etc. It doesn’t have to be in Italian sizing specifically, I can just convert it.

  5. Carol in Denver says:

    For Italian sizing, Marfy Patterns apparently are highly regarded in Italy for expert home sewers and custom clothiers. For an English-language home page, see:

    here is a link to the size table for Marfy Patterns. It’s not as detailed as other European manufacturers, but maybe it will help get to the right order of magnitude on body shapes.

    While traveling in Italy, I bought a magazine targeted to the beginner to medium-skilled home sewer (so I’m thinking their fit model would be similar to the average population: La Mia Boutique, April 2006 edition. The styles are for twenty-somethings with size ranges Italian 40 – 46, and the magazine includes actual full-size patterns.

    I can’t find a website for this magazine and I don’t read Italian, but based on the figure diagrams, here is my interpretation of the dimensions for Italian sizes 40 (size 42 in parentheses) in cm:
    Bust: 88 (90)
    Waist: 64 (68)
    Hip: 92 (96)
    Shoulder point to shoulder point, horizontally across the back: 37 (38)
    Back waist length: 39.5 (40)
    “skirt length” from waist to just below the knee: 70 (72)
    around the arm, armpit to shoulder point & back to armpit (like armscye but without extra curves): 19.5 (20)
    Shoulder point to elbow on arm resting on hip: 28 (29)
    Shoulder point to wrist on arm resting on hip: 56 (58)
    [this next value is a guess, based on the figure diagram values] Difference between side length from waist to floor and inside length from crotch to floor: 24.5 (25.25)

    The diagram shows where to take the neck circumference, side neck to bust point and side neck to waist over the bust point, but I can’t find these values posted in the side table. I think the user is supposed to check the pattern & adjust before cutting (wish USA home sewers would think to do this).
    ——–comment 2—–
    I just found another Italian pattern magazine from my souveniers – This is Diana Moda for Autumn 2005(?). This product line would be more like Simplicity or McCalls. However, their size table does include dimensions the other magazine does not. For size 40 (42) in cm:
    neck circumference: 35 (36)
    Side of neck to bust point: 28 (29)
    Side of neck over bust point to waist: 45.5 (46.5)
    Bicep circumference: 29 (30)

    height of person: 168 cm for all sizes
    ——-comment 3——-
    Aargh — I think I didn’t hit the correct button for my first post — If it doesn’t show up later I’ll re-do it. But for the question about Italian sizing, try the size tables attached to links for paper patterns on:

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