Anatomy of a Camel Toe pt.2

If Camel Toe had a big brother, his name would be “Wad”. You know what I mean, that bunch of wadded up fabric at your crotch. Levi’s 501 was infamous for the wad -and every pair was different. That’s because Levi’s has been outsourcing their product development for years. Rather than having product development at headquarters develop one set of patterns that would be then sent to each factory, the style was spec’ed in detail and each contractor was left to develop their own proprietary pattern based on the measurements. Well, as I’ll show you here, not all inches are created equal. Headquarters passes sample wad/camel toe patterns unknowingly because the most critical specs of waist and hip measures are met.

At right you’ll see how a camel toe/wad is born. Starting with the basic pattern on the left, some area is sliced off from the side seam and added onto the center front. With this, the makers seem to be saying that one inch in the front is equal to any other inch in the front (or back too but that comes later).

Taking an inch off the side seam and sticking it at the center front doesn’t make it equal which is why something would fit (if fit were defined as having enough fabric to cover body parts) in the waist and hip but you’d still end up with a wad or a toe in the crotch. The reason this happens is because the total crotch length is shortened. Adding fabric onto the center front effectively straightens that line. Unfortunately, you need that length in order to shape around the pod shaped body -in addition to the curvature of course. Presumably contractors test fit their own samples but upon whom? It is exceedingly rare that a fit model in an off-shore facility is going to match the physical dimensions of the larger boned and taller average US citizen.

The motivation for a pattern designed with the camel toe “feature” can be summed up in one word: savings. While the savings are not apparent from one pattern piece, consider the savings once the pattern has been make into a marker and paired with the other pieces. I realize the mocked-up marker below is incomplete; in real life, you will be able to fit in more pieces across the width than what I’ve shown here. Also missing are companion pieces such as pockets, waistbands and flys. The black ink indicates the placement of a better pattern. The blue shows the outlay of the camel toe patterns. This sketch is a bit small, see the larger illustration of this marker.


I should also mention that a similar problem occurs with the seat of pants which is why some pants don’t flatter your rear and your butt looks flat. Have you ever looked at a pair of “mom” jeans? I mean, really looked at them? Everybody’s got at least one pair. Try them on. I’ll bet you money your butt looks flatter in the back and you either have Camel Toe or her brother Wad in the front. Yeah, I know the waists are often higher too but try to overlook that -ignore styling issues- and just look at fit.

Another thing you can do is compare different pairs of jeans you have, compare jeans that fit you well vs. ones that don’t by turning them inside out and sticking the leg of one side into the other leg to expose the cross section of the crotch seam. Lay them flat and you’ll notice a big difference between the ones that are camel toed and the ones that fit you nicely. The camel toe ones will be straighter and shorter in the crotch line than the ones that bend to fit you nicely.

Camel Toe and Wad are usually brought to bear through outsourcing. Depending on the manufacturer placing the contract, contractors are often paid a package price per unit delivered. Therefore, there is an incentive for the contractor to tightly control marker utilization which defines the total yardage used. The reason a company like Levis (by no means the only transgressor) will assign package contracts is because Levis won’t need to source the fabric goods in the market closest to a given contractor unless they have to. Likewise, assuming the contractor had CAD facilities and Levis provided them with a pattern, the file transfer may not work due to conflicting file conversions. That might not seem like a big deal but I know of one pattern company in LA with the bulk of their revenue coming from file conversions. A manufacturer’s only other option is to ship a marker to the contractor but with the costs and time involved, that is usually untenable considering distances.

The solution to controlling these problems costs more but is unavoidable if you really care about the fit of your product. First, you must develop the pattern yourself or hire it out until you have a pattern you like. Then, you have to send that pattern to your contractor be it by file conversion or shipping. Unless your product is really simple -say pure rectangles, squares or circles, you’ll have to provide the pattern. Despite an entire industry grown up around the spec’ing of products and the advent of “technical designers”, there is no other way.

Related: Jeans and pants fitting tutorials
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. Mike C says:

    Excellent overview of the macro-issues that can cause the problem.

    Any chance you’re doing a part 3 that addresses the micro-issues involved?

  2. CLB says:

    I am 6′ tall and medium boned and have spent better than 40 years thinking the camel toe was my fault–a curse if you will–but now I am free! Free! FREE, I tell you! Blessings on you and all your house…

  3. ebbie says:

    Great article, The tight fit has always been accepted for ages. I learned a little more insight having worked at a factory in usa before they began outsourcing. The designer designs patterns for the plotter which prints whatever is entered into the computer. The pattern is laid onto a stack of fabric for mass cutting. 1.cut by a cutter that may cut small tips off or cut over the line.
    all parts are bundled and taken to the floor. Here zippers may be lost. parts may be taken out for repair and not put back in the correct order or subsituted from something made up by some one on the floor. Most of the bundle travels through the line together. Most problems occur when the machines that use folders trim too much fabric. A small margin of fabric is intended for triming by kniefs on the machine by the designer. Starting from the insertion of the fly. the joining may be off margin, the seat is sewn through folder as well as the inseam. The side seam is sewn on a serger and some people would trim the legs to make them match rather than stretch them as intended by the desinger. The inseam ,seat and joining is supposed to be notched to get it through the folder without having it wash out raw. If these parts need to be pulled on as they are sewn and if they do not come out even the uneven tip is just trimed off, thus elimating more fabric. the hem may be trimed to get through the the dhl because it does not sew over thick seams well. Even though They have spec that need to be followed I found that very few people followed them or even know what they were supposed to be. I have looked at jeans in stores and can say thanks to the people who make their own because then you can get the fit you want,ebbie

  4. Daniel says:

    Interesting topic! Too many times the fit of a garment is compromised by the need to maximize fabric.

    As CAD software continues to evolve, pattern coversion becomes a non-issue. I train and support Production CAD software for the leading CAD software vendor and I can confidently assure you that this is an area that is constantly being developed in every software evolution.
    Our pattern development program can import/export AAMA/ASTM DXF files as well as our number one competitors native files directly.

    My company is Lectra and our main competitor is Gerber.

  5. what a great post! I just got your book and i love it. Patternmaking has always been my favorite part of making clothes. i just got your book and as a fledgling label am excited at all the great, great information. my question is, is there a method to draft a pants pattern for an individual from measurements? i’ve always had to rely on existing well-fitting patterns to look at as a jumping of point. But I want to make from scratch.

  6. Tatiana says:

    Of course there are systems, that allows you to make very precise individual pattern from scratch. In some cases you will need additional and rather “unconventional” measurements, but the time, effort and frustration you save on fitting are just unbelievable.
    The pattern drafting itself is not any longer or more cumbersome then with any “conventional” method, especially if you employ help of, for example, Excel, and can be programmed into any patternmaking CAD system that have such capabilities.
    Below are pictures of some of that “weird” measurments:

    I’m not sure whether this is an appropriate place to discuss patternmaking for an individual, and apologise in advance if it is not.

  7. Randi says:

    I have spent all this time thinking the bulge or bad fit at the crotch was my fault too. I’m really short so I have a hard enough time with jeans as it is. But this has freed me from blaming a blameless body part. Thank you!

  8. Deanna says:

    To the camel toe, and wad, I would add the crotch curtains. On sizes 16 and up you will find lovely vertical pleating from knees or ankles pointing directly at the crotch. This effect is accentuated by the masses of extra fabric at the hips. I think (correct me if I am wrong) this is because the grading in larger sizes does not take into account that the front to back depth of the body increases in a greater proportion than the overall hip measurement increases. More space needed in the horizontal portion of the crotch curve, without lengthening the overall rise. It throws off the hang of the pantlegs, giving the “yech” silouette. Even wider leg pants can give the ice cream cone silouette if the pantlegs are forced to rotated toward the crotch.

  9. IB says:

    * sigh *

    Reading you always makes me wish I’d :

    a) taken home ec in school so I could sew clothes and not just art projects, or

    b) the time to learn how to sew now.

    I’m always having this camel toe problem. Thank god I love dresses.

  10. Jasmin says:

    You are so right – I am 5’2″, and have been sewing for the last 25 years, and have finally hit the jackpot in terms of a pants patterns – a Burda petite (yes, I did some minor adjustments!). Burda do seem to be more uncompromising in terms of fit than other patterns.
    I would recommend to short people like me that they use specialised petite patterns, and avoid the issues you’ve identified – the crotch seams on standard patterns just don’t work for shorter women, not mention the knees etc etc …
    Thank you for the great article, :-)

  11. nicholas says:

    this is probably dumb, but is there no way to tell when you’re at the store buying something whether it doesn’t fit properly or one of these problems you’re talking about?? I realize this doesn’t have anything to do with making a garment from a pattern, but I had to ask.

  12. Kris says:

    I have a few pairs of jeans that I have held onto because I love the fit everywhere EXCEPT the crotch :( It is harder for me to find jeans with my inseam measurements, so I was keeping them in hopes that one day, some genius would come along who knew how to fix the camel toe. :)

    I am a newer sewer, (without the $ to pay for tailoring)and I was wondering if it was possible to fix jeans that are already made?? If so, could you possibly post some basic pointers, or some links that would be helpful??

    Thank You!!!

  13. Bobby the K says:

    Personally, I like the Camel Toe (CT).
    You don’t see them happening nearly as much as you used to.

    But I am sorry for the ladies who don’t want that kind of thing.

    Try Lands’ End. I think they make great quality jeans at a good price. They fit and wear like old fashioned jeans.
    And I’m pretty certain you can get custom inseam measurements and stuff like that. Or at least talk to a living person about it.

    Give them a shot.

  14. RoseMarie says:

    Hi Kathleen,
    I have enjoyed your explanation of CTs. What about in the back? The pants cleave snugly between the buttocks, causing a bit of discomfort (not necessarily physically but because of perceived immodesty) and there is plenty of fabric between the offending seam and the side seam. What would be the fix for that besides a gusset? Is the back seam too short?
    Rose Marie
    PS I sent you a check earlier this year and it has not been cashed. I would like to donate to you to keep your blog going.

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  16. Becki C says:

    I have read several of the many, MANY pants fitting books out there, and none of them explained this problem well. You actually explained it in a way that I can manage and fix! Now I can perfect a pattern and break into the good part of my pants fabric stash

  17. I definitely have the camel toe and wad issues. Plus a little bunching in the top back & front center waist. I’ve been trying to make a pair of short shorts with a 3″ inseam, close but not tight around body with a looser flare leg and everything points to the crotch. How can I improve the pattern before cutting my next pair of shorts. I’ve been using the Kwik Sew patterns for bikinis and shorts and it seems they all have the same camel toe “feature”. I’m having a hard time seeing /reading the illustration, poor eyes I suppose. So, how can I fix it on the tissue pattern, the designs are cute but the camel toe and wad have got to go. Especially since I intend on attaching a powernet lined panty. I for sure don’t want multiple layers of camel toe and wad.

  18. Kite says:

    Great article, thanks. RoseMarie, I would assume that the same thing as the CT is going on at the back there – the crotch curve is too short and so the pants are forced in between the cheeks. The reason the crotch curve is too short is because too much fabric exists at the centre back – causing a tighter shorter curve. That fabric belongs closer to the hip. I try to get a crotch curve shape on paper that looks like the ideal shape that your pants would make from centre front to centre back when worn – which will differ with different styles, and skim the front and back nicely, not cut in.

  19. Michelle says:

    Just happened upon this website while looking for instructions about sewing in a lapped zipper… I’m an amateur home-sewer.

    NOW I understand why my 7-year-old complains about her pants always giving her a ‘wedgie’ as we call it! I just thought they were too low-cut (don’t get me started on why they make LOW-CUT pants for the 5-10 year-old set!!!!) – but it’s the SHAPE and OVERALL LENGTH of the crotch seam that’s important. Since I have to hem all her pants up 6 inches anyway, now I can look for one with a better cut, regardless of length. THANK YOU!

    I would love to see instructions on how to measure and hem pants to the correct length. I’ve been doing it by my own trial-and error, but would like to see how to do it properly! As someone else commented, I wish my home ec class had taught me some of these things!

  20. Darla Ferranti says:

    My sides are split from laughter.
    OMG after spending 4 months in Milan then loosing weight from not eating their diet (bread, pizza, gluten & pasta) I was forced to purchase Italian popsicle spandex pants. It didn’t matter what size I was or the pants..We were all doing the camel toe dance until wee hours of the morning in them…I cursed all the way home on the plane until I got back to Dillard’s to find my favorite no-waisteband twill pants….I could feel in every pair that that tiny corner was missing… Little lies can hurt you!

  21. Joanna says:

    Had to make a pair of pants for my mom this weekend. I had read this article several months ago (hey, with that title this is a cant miss) and filed it away for future reference. Well suffice to say that of all the many little adjustments that come with pants fitting especially for a novice like me – this was the easiest and quickest to fix. And I would never have just figured it out myself ( ok maybe I would have after many days, hair pulling, adding even more fabric there convinced it was happening because it was too small, weeping and knashing of teeth). You made it so easy. Thank you.

  22. C.K. Kidd says:

    In different terms, I see the “to separate or not to separate” principle as this: For no cleavage (e.g. no camel toe), snug horizontally around the thigh at the top of the inseam and loose on the vertical center seam. For cleavage (e.g. bun separation), loose horizontally around the buns and snug on the vertical center seam. For a man, there exists a different problem at the front which I believe would be solved by twin vertical seams about an inch apart in the front which join at the inseam, but the result, while super comfortable, would be too anatomically explicit for other than gym wear… and me. :-) Does there exist a service that can custom tailor men’s running tights with professional flat stitching?

  23. MissE says:

    I know this is an older post but I found this so illustrative of not only how I need to adjust my sewing patterns but of macro-economics! And Levi’s aren’t even all that affordable considering their ill-fitting qualities!

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