Anatomy of a Camel Toe pt.1

Until about a year ago, I’d never heard of “camel toe” but significant other explained it was a popular culture description of the crotch of a woman’s pants that was inordinately defined due to wearing pants that were too small. Ha! I knew immediately what he was talking about, we’ve all had that experience. Although it’s difficult to quantify this sort of thing, I think camel toe has become more common over the past 10 years. By that I refer to camel toe becoming more frequent among women who are not wearing their pants too tight. This is something I’ve been meaning to write about for a long time because if there is one thing I know, the fitting problem known as camel toe is not caused by women wearing their pants too tight. No, no. Most of the time, camel toe is rarely the extreme you see on certain websites; it’s more subtle than that. Most of the time, camel toe is caused by wearing pants that are too big -in one specific area- making a reciprocal area too small. It’s an engineering problem, not a weight problem. In fact, here’s a skinny mannequin. If she’s got a camel toe, everyone else will too.

The poor engineering exemplified by camel toe has become one of my favorite topics of discussion -with those near and dear- because I can slap down the all too common fat-bashing myth perpetuated at the expense of heavier chicks accused of wearing their pants too tight AND -quite gleefully- I have two of my favorite culprits to blame; those being outsourcing and the use of CAD pattern templates. With those two targets in my sights, I just couldn’t be any jollier. The victim is innocent. The Man is to blame.

As my visitors well know, I just love to disparage the use of CAD templates for pattern making; that in spite of the fact that some of my best friends are CAD pattern makers :). I’ve made not so subtle implications that CAD is to blame for everything from teenage pregnancy, to decreasing literacy, to intelligent design, onto the scourge of plastic cutlery. Given enough time -and leeway- I’ve been known to link the use of CAD templates to everything from the Black Death in the fourteenth century to the bombing of Dresden. This of course is not to say that CAD isn’t useful -far from it- but if you’re not using the templates that came with your word processing program as is, why would you use the templates that come with a CAD program as is? Neither have been proven to fit you or your needs precisely. You tell me, is that true or is that true?

The problem with illustrating the problem is that you can’t fit something that is too small. By how much is something too small? If an area is stressed beyond the intended range of expansion, by how much can you quantify the difference? I realize I said in the second paragraph that the crotch is too big but the too-bigness is creating a paradox of too-smallness. So, the first thing to illustrate is what I mean by too-bigness creating too-smallness. A good example of this concept is not cutting lines away; it makes the pattern grow. For example, failing to cut the lines away on a curved neckline conversely make it smaller. Worse, a collar which is sewn into the neckline is getting bigger than its reciprocal set down seam -depending on the shaping of course.

Here’s a sample: Nearly always, a crotchline -like a neckline- is concave. If you draw around a concave neckline -keeping the shoulder line and center front static, the neckline -or a crotch line- will get smaller. Below is a sketch of a neckline traced out several times, in just this fashion.

Now, at the same time your neckline is getting smaller, your collar -say a mandarin or some other sort of straightish collar- is getting larger. Below is a sketch of the end of a straight collar.

So while your neckline is getting smaller, your collar is getting larger and the two will never fit together. This is one reason why you can’t grade a pattern by extending the boundaries of every edge by some determined amount. Proportionately, the concave areas get smaller and the convex or straight edges get larger. Believe it or not, this has a lot to do with the explanation of how camel toe is created through poor pattern design practices. Outsourcing product development to people who are much smaller than we are prevents the problem from being discovered and corrected. Failure to catch the problem in outsourcing explains why bad design is often approved. Particularly by push manufacturers.

Next in the series I’ll explain the specifics of how camel toe is an engineering problem for those of you who don’t guess it from the antecedent explanation. I’ll also explain the less obvious outsourcing connection sans hyperbole -or maybe only a little; exaggeration is fun and funny.

Related: Jeans and pants fitting tutorials
Marking & Cutting
Jeans fit so lousy these days
Jeans fit so lousy these days pt. 2
Yet another pet peeve: Waistbands
Anatomy of a Camel Toe pt.1
Anatomy of a Camel Toe pt.2
How to fix a camel toe
Adding a gusset to pants pt.1
Adding a gusset to pants pt.2

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  1. Esther says:

    My brain most be tired as it is nearing the end of the day – but I think I understand what you are saying.

    Is it a grading error at the shoulder? The additional neckline length is added by raising the shoulder at each size step. I always pick a couple of graded sizes and walk my pieces along the neck line to ensure everything is grading correctly. This is really easy to do with a CAD system, btw.

    Any stitcher who attempted to sew the described collar would have to make the pieces work together – shortening the collar or stretching the shoulder, or something.

  2. Josh says:

    Maybe it’s just me but I have had quite a few bad experiences with teachers. I was once called “stupid” by my 5th grade Math teacher. It’s a scar that will never go away. I was once accused of being on drugs by my 10th grade Science teacher. Who had the gall to call my Mother and try to confirm it. And I’ll have you know I had never tried drugs or drink a drop of alcohol, still haven’t, in my life. To be accused of the very thing that you detest was the biggest slap in the face of my life. My criminology teacher in the 11th grade once said, and I quote, “75% of all homosexual relationships end in death.” Was I hearing this right? Was she actually arguing to the class that being gay was a crime and not a victimless crime at that. I graduated without very good English skills. Was this my fault? If or if not I write well it’s because I took an online English and grammar course at 21. Also had to study it independently through various books to get up to speed with most people. And I realize I still need to make improvements.

  3. Kathleen says:

    I’m sorry Josh and I do know what you mean. My professor (patterns) in design school, hated me. I thought she was going to have a stroke when she found out that I was the author of the book she loved, so I’ve had bad teachers too. It’s just that life-long, the good ones far outweighed the bad. And by teacher, I don’t mean somebody who’s necessarily got a teaching certificate. I mean mentors and influential people I’ve learned from in my life.

  4. Alison Cummins says:


    If 75% of homosexual relationships end in death, that’s quite a testament to their longevity. Even if you restrict the definition of a heterosexual relationship to legal marriage, most legal heterosexual marriages end in divorce. Relatively few heterosexuals hook up with the first person they like and stay together until one of them dies. And your 11th grade teacher was saying that 75% of gays and lesbians meet this idyllic standard of staying with their first and only for an entire lifetime?

    I think he was over-romanticising.


  5. Josh says:

    Alison, the teacher was actually arguing that they end in death, as in one winds up killing the other. She was portraying homosexuals as sociopathic vampires incapable of loving. She went on to say that homosexual relationships that did survive were mutually abusive. What’s worse this teacher was the wife of the schools principal. I’m also recalling an incident in the same school where in art class another teacher was allowed to show us an antihomosexual Jerry Fallwell video she had recorded off television. We only watched about 15 minutes of it, it was on the tail end of a show she had recorded about Salvador Dali. Ironic isn’t it? Shockingly, no one had any objections to it. I was psychologically mute (unable to speak in public for 5 or 6 years) or I would have said something about both of these instances at the time.

    Kathleen, You are definitely an influential person in my life. So by that definition I consider you a great teacher.

  6. Alison Cummins says:

    Yes, I got that it wasn’t meant in a nice way. I was just putting my own spin on it. Sorry you were subjected to all that unnecessary hatefulness.

  7. Peggy Mayfield says:

    Kathleen, I agree wholeheartedly about the misuse of templates. I believe the problem is, in part, that many people feel a template is a finished product, minus the details. To try and simplify, if you are making cookies and you cut out three identical circles, then embellish them differently (frost one, add sprinkles to the next, add chocolate squiggles to the third), you are using a template, and adding some design features. I like this example because it graphically demonstrates what most of us purport to hate: cooky-cutter design. Now, use that same circle cutter to make a cool quarter moon cooky, a thread spool cooky (which takes some modification at the top and bottom), and a smile cooky, and you have three utterly different cookies, all having used the same template.
    For me, a template is just a sloper. In custom design you make adjustments to that sloper for the individual client, in doing a line, you make the adjustments for the target audience. Rarely, if ever, do you use the sloper as is.
    I must concur with Josh also – Kathleen, you rate right up there with the best of my teachers. You have forced me to think through problems I naively thought I had already solved, and I’m no spring chicken. You challenge your readers to push themselves. You model what you instruct. You’re a credit to the whatever profession you choose – but as for teaching – well, you are especially gifted. Many thanks.

  8. La BellaDonna says:

    Oh, Josh. From me to you, to use, God forbid, if that situation arises again:

    Smile, and say, “That’s great! Because 100% of all heterosexual relationships end in death!

    You can say that because it’s true. Everything ends in death. Everyone dies.

    If you’re lucky enough to have loving relationships along the way, it’s a real bonus.

  9. Jesse says:

    first of all, i haven’t read your book, but i have ordered it & i just can’t wait for it to get here (last night when i checked it had been processed in denver… not that i’m keeping track…)
    for a while i had been very discouraged about not having a vast knowledge of CAD, feeling insecure about my draping and drafting skills… but i guess what it comes down to is how you think and work. i’m an artist, all of my sketches and croquis are had rendered and painted, not to say that computer generated illustrators are any better or worse, but, they think with their computers (which i absolutely cannot do!) and create beautiful art which i never could even attempt, and i think with my hands and create sketches which are art. i drape and draft according to my client’s measurements, others use CAD templates, the ones who use CAD well and think with the computer do it as well as i drape, the ones who use CAD as a crutch, well… come up with camel toes ;)
    thank you for being so insightful & gettin us thinking on your wavelength, it’s a beautiful place!

  10. Alvin says:

    You write nicely :)

    “I’ve made not so subtle implications that CAD is to blame for everything from teenage pregnancy, to decreasing literacy, to intelligent design, onto the scourge of plastic cutlery. Given enough time -and leeway- I’ve been known to link the use of CAD templates to everything from the Black Death in the fourteenth century to the bombing of Dresden.”

    That’s really funny.

    I’m struggling to find my own voice on my blog too. I realize I have a problem with being too far removed and tech, but you seem to be balancing that well.

  11. jinjer says:

    I suspect most people don’t know WHAT to do with CAD templates, and decide not to think about it rather than have to learn something new. I’m being mean, but I’m feeling burned from working with people who think ignorance is the secret of success.

    The thing is, it really MAY be the secret of success…ah, if only “success” were more important to me than doing-a-good-job. sigh.

  12. karen v. says:

    We may be a little too late on the Camel Toe thing, because the manufacturers figured a way around it without improving either their engineering or patternmaking skills. Those “whiskers” that are now on all the jeans–they make it look like the “camel toes” are there on purpose, with the whiskers like arrows pointing to one’s crotch.

    I know someone was offended by the term “sheep”, but it seems to me that people will buy anything and wear anything. (case in point, cropped pants–they don’t flatter any body at all, fat, thin, tall or short)

    I don’t wear pants for religious reasons, they just are not modest (these days anyway) and it does seem worse now than in the past. I wonder how men deal with the constant visual stimuli of the “camel toe” problem, isn’t it distracting?

  13. Alison Cummins says:


    Pakistani women wear loose pants because they find skirts immodest.

    You can wear whatever pants you want – they don’t have to be tight low-rise jeans and display a thong. They can be palazzo pants worn with a loose tunic. And you can wear whatever you want for religious reasons, the way Catholic nuns wear a habit and Buddhist monks wear saffron. But to say that any woman who wears pants is immodest is overgeneralising. Kind of like someone saying any woman who exposes her hair or ears is immodest just because she doesn’t personally expose her hair or ears.

    Of course, lots of us pants-wearing, hair-and-ear exposing women *are* totally immodest and like it that way. But not all of us.

  14. Lou says:

    Did anyone answer Esther’s post about the grading? I am curious as I’m not sure I get (understand) the analysis in the article (just call me slow).


  15. Rosemary says:

    I feel terrible about all these awful teachers out there, demoralizing students. As a teacher of 30 years it just reminds me of the power I wield every day. Teaching requires immense patience, and also immense self-confidence to recognise and accept, that you can ALWAYS learn something new from your students!

  16. Thomas says:

    It was great reading about this popular topic from a whole different point of view. Thanks for helping me explore the technical reasons for this common fashion faux-pas!

  17. Layla says:

    I work in intimates and this explanation is amazing… also the second part explaining how it’s due to offshore production and how they try to save fabric. Have you ever had a pair of underwear with a seam in the front that rides up! I just realized this is due to the same “take from here” and “add to there” pattern fiasco! I kind of always blamed it on the seam and not on the pattern!

  18. Pipe E. Leif says:

    First of all, please pardon my thread necromancy… but this was actually one of the top hits on Wikipedia for ‘cameltoe’!

    As a representative of the heterosexual male community I found the last paragraph in your comment quite amusing, simply becuase of its relevance. In short, the answer is ‘yes!’ Even ‘Hell, yea!’. Even so, this is peanuts. From a man’s point of view, every waking hour is spent on the recieving end of a constant bombardment of advertising, most of which try to appeal to the sex drive. There is so much of it that a mere cameltoe garment means almost nothing, it drowns in the maelstrom of other visual stimuli. The only major advantage I can think of right now, would probably be the signal effect (that is if one assumes the wearer of such garments enjoy being checked out in the nether regions by total stranger). No surprise here, sex sells clothes.. duh? :)

  19. Maria says:

    And this is why sweat pants (and many other pants) haven’t fit me in years. They are baggy or the waist sits under my boobs or they pull or the really great ones have a crotch that sags almost to my knees. Doesn’t matter what brand I try on, most make me look like an escaped…camel or a homeless woman wearing men’s pants. And that’s before we talk about how many pants have a 29 inch or maybe 30 inch inseam! What happened to just hemming them if they were too long? What about those of us with a 32 inch inseam that look like Flintstone peddling his car because our pants are forever too short!!!

    Not that I’m ranting over these injustices. No, not at all.

  20. Apryl Wynona Hall says:

    Wow! I’m so glad that I read this. Now I will no longer blame the victim (wearer). I’ve seen this calamity on television shows. So it’s the cutting. Once again thanks. As a new DE I cannot stress the importance of reading THE BOOK. Kathleen FASANELLA will keep you from looking completely uninformed to those veterans whom you will have to deal with. Even without being able to apply the techniques on a practical level you will be prepared to speak intelligently. You’ll be able to follow the conversation. This is like wearing armour for the DE.

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