Espionage for better sizing

The other day, I was explaining to someone about the sizing of apparel according to one’s particular market niche and how one could go about doing some research on the matter because you have to target brands when you target your market. Oddly enough, some people never consider whether they actually want the target brand’s customers but you should ask yourself that first. Just because someone is the market leader doesn’t necessarily mean you want their customers. Anyway, we thought this discussion might be of interest to you too. Also, I suggest you review the entire chapter on grading in the Entrepreneur’s guide pp. 170-175 as a refresher for this piece.

Briefly, to optimize your selling opportunities, you already know the accuracy of your sizing (grade rules) needs to be on target with existing products in the market. But, should you numbly follow just anyone’s sizing standard? I’d say not. I think it’s better to define the leader(s) in your niche, analyze their grade and then use the summary of your research as a baseline to develop your own sizing standard. Also, you will need to analyze the quality of their grade. The leader may be the best seller for reasons unrelated to fit and it won’t serve your purpose to follow a bad example.

Again, another reason you may not want to follow the leader’s grading standards is because you may not want their customers. Or, you must be cautious in style selection (for comparative analysis) because many manufacturers will have several labels in their stable -of varying price points- and you might want to target the upper end (suggested). The lower cost labels tend to have looser fit and more casual sizing. The better price points have higher standards in fit and sizing. Their sizing standards and grade rules are more defined with less wiggle room.

It is important to select items from only one label of the manufacturer’s stable because in large companies, these are separate divisions. It is more common than not for these separate divisions to have different designers, pattern makers, blocks and grade rules. In other words, just because it is the same company, you cannot assume their products fit similarly across labels because they can be as dissimilar from each other as they are from products from a separate company.

To conduct your research you will need to buy some products produced by the market leader(s) in your niche for comparative analysis. You can always return these items later but I would not use used clothing items for comparison. Speaking of, there are rules to item selection.

First, you need to buy three consecutive sizes in one style. By one style, I mean one exact style, same style number in only one colorway. Ideally, you’d buy the median size (whatever that may be) for your niche (e.g. the “medium”) and in addition, one size larger and one size smaller. You would compare the differences in width and girth measures for all three sizes. This is how you extrapolate the base grade rule.

Now, typically in ladies apparel (for example) in sizes 4-14, the grade rule is called a “one inch grade”. Now, do not believe for an instant that actually means that there is only one inch difference between consecutive sizes because that’s not how grades work (see fig.s 5.65 and 5.66 on pg. 172). Rather, there is a one inch grade off to either side of the median size but it varies after that. The smaller sizes may only be 3/4″ and the larger ones may be 1.5″ but this is still called a “one inch grade”. Using consecutive sizes off to either side of the median size will eliminate the potentiality of confusion if you don’t understand why that is. Now, if I were going to analyze the quality of a company’s grade, I’d compare it across all sizes with particular emphasis on either end of the sizing spectrum. If the smaller sizes were graded at only 3/4″ etc, I would be very jolly indeed.

Tomorrow I’ll continue this discussion with quality analysis as it relates to sizing across colorways and related or similar styles (apparently from the same block).

Espionage for better sizing pt.2
How to shop for clothes for sizing research
How to get sizing and grading standards

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  1. Elizabeth says:

    So if the style is said to be graded with a 1″ rule then it means the next sizes on each side of the median are 1″ apart (that refers to bust/ waist/ hips?), but not necessarily the lowest and highest sizes. Why is the grading in the extremities different?
    Thank you.

  2. Kathleen says:

    Hi Elizabeth
    Why is the grading in the extremities different?
    Look in your book, the pages I cited above. Also there is also the graph on pg 171 fig 5.63 that explains it. The reason is, is that when people “grow” or “shrink” they get proportionately larger or smaller. See that Richter scale? The differences in a size 2 to size 4 are just as dramatic proportionately -on that end of the scale because they’re smaller- as are the differences btwn a size 16 to size 18 on the upper end of the scale.

    Another way to think of it: Let’s pretend that one size equates to an increase of 1/8″ in depth all over your skin surface. Iow, you are a total of 1/4″ thicker in body depth than the next smallest size. Okay, if your body is larger, you’d need a grade larger than 1″ in order to cover that additional body mass. If you were a very small person, you wouldn’t need a whole inch to cover the mass. But still, since one size larger or smaller equals a 1/8th increase (or decrease) in body depth over surfaces (total 1/4″ front to back or side to side), you’d need more or less than that standard 1″ grade to travel the distance.

    Also as I said in the text, when people mature (infancy onward) we call that “growing” and our bodies are but they’re not growing proportionately. Rather, our bodies “morph”, some aspects disproportionate to others. Also see that fig 5.60. If our bodies grew evenly (meaning an even grade across sizes), we’d look pretty funny as adults. Just one example; infants have a head that is nearly the size of an adult’s. Just imagine how large our heads would be if they grew proportionate to the rest of our bodies.

  3. todd hudson says:

    I was actually going to comment when I first read this blog entry but sometimes I get emabarrased about gushing over Kathleen.

    Where else can you find information this valuable?! I was just telling my partner that I don’t know enough about grading to tackle these issues and now here’s some advice public and free. Now I can read this and help contribute value to our product. I don’t think any of my grading manuals mention this stuff. This is the area of patternmaking that can really help set apart your line and serve your niche. Kathleen is helping you make money. Please donate to keep this site going!

  4. J C Sprowls says:

    I’m not afraid to say it: I’m a complete FI geek, too.

    I am grateful that Kathleen is bringing this type of information (in a matter-of-fact manner) to us. There’s a lot to discuss inside and outside the arena of manufacturing.

    Grading *is* elusive. And, there are many lenses through which to look at it. For instance, a uniform mfg would handle the matter of creating grade rules differently than an RTW mfg.

  5. Robyn says:

    Talbots has one of the best grades for showing what Kathleen is expaining above. For sizes 2-10 they grade 1″, 12-16 they grade 1.5″ and 18-20 they grade 2″ total grade in the chest waist and hips.

  6. sandee says:

    This is a tricky subject -too many variables –
    if you analyse a competitors grade it may not be consitant over different styles ie they may have bought cleanskins from a mass manufacturer and rebadged them, the cutter wasn’t careful and chopped some off, the machinist did the same.
    I feel it is better to creat a sizing chart and stick to that everytime!!! I work in childrenswear in australia and used the australin standards sizing chart for a basis, then adpted as was nessecary to create our own sizing chart.From this you create grade rules which then means that you will be consistant with your gading and product, well as long as everyone else in the chain does the right thing!!

    Every label has its own sizing – that is why often I differ so much in size from one label to the next but at least as you become better know people will know that your sizes are consistant and will be able to buy with canfidence – this is especially important with internet sales and mail order.

  7. Alison Cummins says:

    Each inch (or 1/8 inch) increase in skin thickness actually adds exactly the same amount in girth no matter what size you start with. One inch increase in radius (skin thickness) always adds 6.3 inches in diameter (girth). Likewise, 1/8 inch increase in radius always adds 0.8 inches in diameter. So that’s not a complete explanation of why grade increases would change as the sizes move up and down from the median.

    I simply think of the increases as being proportional. If your skin is only 1/8 of an inch thick and you gain weight so your skin thickness doubles, you might want a bigger size. If your skin is 4 inches thick, you won’t even notice another 1/8 inch. You’ll wait to change sizes until there’s a more significant jump.

    More dramatically, when a newborn baby gains ten pounds it goes through two or three sizes to get there. I can gain or lose ten pounds and still wear the same clothes.

  8. Eric H says:

    WARNING TO NEWBIES – the measures of 1/8″ per side in girth and the 6.3″ in diameter came out of THIN AIR! Do not use these!

    It is true that the difference in circumference from equal increases in width of a very small and a very large person would be the same. The 6.3 Alison is using is 2 x pi, assuming a person with a cross section of a circle (can we count the rings to get their age?). But circumference and width are not size.

    The selection of sizing is based on population sampling of your target market, and the expected distribution of people within that market, coupled with your decision of what is a reasonable and economic subdivision of sizes (granularity). You could separate them into S and L, or S, M, and L, or 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, etc. S/L sizing works okay for cheap t-shirts, but not for bras (the other extreme). A scientific approach might look something like the examples in this post on the history of women’s sizing. Note in the NBS and both ASTM charts that the sizes are spaced closer together at the smaller end of the scale, illustrating what Kathleen is saying when she says, “they get proportionately larger or smaller”. It’s not linear, it’s exponential, similar to the Golden Spiral or the Richter scale.

  9. AJ says:

    Assuming a new company buys a number of garments from a competitor in a range of sizes to spec them and compare, in a situation like this does a grader want the designer to give them grade rules or to give them measurement tables they’ve amassed from the specing? Is it safer to give the tables because of possible errors or non-understanding of grade rules by the designer? I guess maybe both would be best for someone who is unsure.

    And what about a new DE on a limited budget who is competing in the luxury market and can not afford to buy a range of garments. Would it be preferable to buy as many as can be afforded (even if it is only 2 or 3) or to buy from a less expensive competitor aimed at roughly the same market?

    I feel kind of stupid always asking these questions, I don’t know why I can’t grasp this. I was an AutoCAD teaching assistant in university for goodness sakes! My head is too far into creative arts right now I think…

  10. Kathleen says:

    Assuming a new company buys a number of garments from a competitor in a range of sizes to spec them and compare …does a grader want the designer to give them grade rules or to give them measurement tables they’ve amassed from the specing?

    I can only speak for myself. I prefer direct measures, not grade rules. Providing grade rules presumes the designer knows a lot about grading, for example, minimally where the cardinal points lie. Most designers don’t know what cardinal points are (I have a story about that one too) so the data just gets messy. They don’t add up and so one has to waste a lot of time going back and forth to argue about trivial measures like 1/64th of an inch just figure out what the customer wants. If the client truly does know about grading, they also know that arguing about 1/64th of an inch is NOT worth the time or money spent discussing it but amounts to a rounding error.

    And what about a new DE on a limited budget who is competing in the luxury market and can not afford to buy a range of garments. Would it be preferable to buy as many as can be afforded (even if it is only 2 or 3) or to buy from a less expensive competitor aimed at roughly the same market?

    I don’t think this is the right question. I’ll start with the summary: it takes money to make money. You can’t work too many levels above your own level of disposable income, only one or two. If you’re not at the luxury level yourself, one can miss a lot of nuance of value the luxury customer expects because one doesn’t travel or rub elbows in that milieu to know the nuance of differences. One is not attenuated to that level of detail, it takes time being around it to appreciate it. It takes time to learn it. The only possible exceptions are if one grew up in the lap of luxury and then fell on hard times. Or, one has worked in luxury retail for a long time AND understands technical matters intimately.

    There’s a lot more cost to producing for the luxury market, buying garments for research is but a tiny portion of those costs. Luxury doesn’t mean buying silk or cashmere and calling it luxury, it’s everything else going into it. You know, the nuance, the fine hand of skilled practitioners who can take you there -and they’re not cheap.

  11. Jill Homiak says:

    How would the following apply to me if I’m working on a woman’s wear line that focuses on woman with a bigger bust size?

    and you might want to target the upper end (suggested). The lower cost labels tend to have looser fit and more casual sizing. The better price points have higher standards in fit and sizing. Their sizing standards and grade rules are more defined with less wiggle room.

    Although I want my line to have the more “standard” rules applying to it because its a better price point, I’m also differentiating myself in order to fit a particularly sized woman….

  12. Jill,
    At a better price point the standards are more defined because the clothes fit more closely — but you are the one who sets those standards. If you want to fit a woman with a fuller bust, your standards will reflect that. At a better price point clothes are expected to fit nicely. At a lower price point, a men’s XL t-shirt covers the body, but the fit is “imprecise.” It will cover anyone’s body. Your clothes will only fit some bodies, so you need to have a clear idea of which those bodies will be. If your clothes are body conscious and your customers have full busts and small waists, your clothes will not fit women with full busts and no waists, and they will not be your customers. If your clothes are looser, they can fit both shapes of women.

    Is this what you’re asking?

  13. Seth Meyerink-Griffin says:

    On the assumption that you already have a particular customer in mind (for instance, I like the style of certain higher-end denim labels, but I dislike the fact that most of them only fit models trending towards anorexia rather than healthy muscle mass), and your initial pattern and in-house sample fits your fit model correctly, is it advisable to have a professional pattern grader create the grading rules rather than attempting to do it yourself? I know that I don’t know how to grade effectively, and I don’t know if it is an effective use of my time to learn the intricacies of the procedure.

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