Fit used to be so much better? pt.2

The responses to the first entry were gratifying and helpful. I intended to follow up earlier but the party in question is still unpacking your many useful and insightful comments -thank you. By the end of it, I was beginning to get the idea that an argument could be made that the basis of the perception of worsening fit was similar to perceptions of vanity sizing. In other words, as vanity sizing is a myth, the perception of worsening fit may not be as valid as we thought.

chest_size_front_to_back1 However, this morning, Allen -who has since become my favorite person of the week- left a comment on an older entry (A question of thoracic shaping) with a link to an MRI scan of a woman’s chest (my marked up version is shown at right). While he left the link as corroboration of my earlier points of why bras fit so lousy, it circuitously contributed to today’s entry in that we have some proofs -not opinions mind you- that fit is worse even considering the many valid challenges to that idea.

In Allen’s image that I’ve marked up, the green line represents the side seam. The red line is the front chest wall. The yellow line is the back. As I’ve said over and over till I’m blue in the face, for nearly all humans, the front of the body is bigger than the back of the body. It is readily apparent that our example has a bigger front than back -even when her breast tissue is not considered. [I also note it is obvious that her arms are hanging off the front of her body rather than even-steven aligned with the side seam which contributes to my points about unjustified sleeve cap ease.]

Now, returning to the hypothesis that fit is not as good as it once was, do you recall a book review I wrote about children’s pattern drafting? [I’ll tie all this together neatly for you, I promise.] In comments to that entry, visitors were kind enough to elaborate on the idea of Form vs Flat pattern making, specifically that clothing these days is deliberately drafted so it can be folded more easily because this has become increasingly important for mass merchant displays. You can fit more garments with less wrinkling on a shelf if they’re drafted to be folded. Now, the only way you make clothing to be more easily folded is if the fronts and backs are the same size -see where I’m going with this?

Summary: The predominance of mass merchants and the importance of their display criteria has had a significant and direct impact on clothing fit. What’s worse is that it can only proliferate as pattern makers who cut their teeth in such an environment, go on to work at other places and take their practices with them. If fit is your greater priority, I would suggest you keep this in mind when weighing the work history of people you hire and not be as impressed as you normally would be that they worked at a large successful brand -unless of course, you hope to fit into the same market segment. In short, fit did used to be better.

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  1. Sabine says:

    I WAS gonna ask why the side seam cannot be brought forward to make the front and the back the same size…and then I was wondering: WHERE the same size?
    for right now, looking down at myself:
    Right below the collar bone…I daresay the back is bigger, even after correcting my poor posture.
    Once we get to the chest…the front is bigger
    waist…well, if I did not have that first floating advise attached to it, it would be about the same i am thinking
    Top of hips…the back is bigger again (here the handles and the floating devise are about the same size.
    there is no help for it, I really need to make myself a foam body.

  2. Adrienne Descloux says:

    Thank you for that. Fascinating how the shapes of the body are poorly represented in clothing and we have wondered why they look no good on people. In a dusty tome somewhere in my collection with regards to plus sizes, there was argument that the term ‘hanger appeal’ was the reason plus size garments don’t account for much sales floor space in the retail market; they just didn’t look as cute on the hanger. This is an unqualified statement since I can’t seem to recall the tome other than it had something to do with sewing for plus sizes.

    The impression of the garment and the emotional attachment and anthropomorphizing (“it’s cute, if I wear it I’ll be cute”) sort of marketing trick gets people to buy cloths that don’t meet their needs or goals. All because of that two second gut reaction while it lay innocently on the table or on the hanger. Even if it’s taken to the fitting room, it’s no guarantee that a person will put it back or evaluate it any more objectively. Marketers are apparently good at their job, I just wish their job also met some of my own apparel needs.

  3. Rocio says:


    I still remember the days when giving showroom samples “hanger appeal” was limited to pinning back the front “excess”….. But that was then…. now they want the production to be like the samples we used to pin

    I gave up working with big box retailers directly for this reason… they send “fit comments” that really amount to making the garment hang better, not fit better :-(

  4. Mimi says:

    On of my great design inspirations has always been a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo”, where the main character opens the closet, and frantically runs her hands across clothing that looks as if it could practically breathe on its own. At that point, I understood why the clothing in that movie looked so perfect on bodies, and why much of modern day clothing does not.

    One thing we can’t overlook, is that modern day “clothing” has changed, too. Now, it is semi-disposable, frequently made of inferior fabrics, using the quickest construction possible, neglecting much of the inner structure/details that would give it longer life, and help hold its shape better… Clothing, when it fit better, used to be much more expensive, right? So… if we ever decide to be practical about our clothing again, and more careful with how we choose to spend our money, it may push things in a different direction. But, in the big picture, better fit isn’t even a goal, is it? People want it, but they don’t want to pay considerably more. If they did, that would solve the problem, wouldn’t it?

  5. Elaine says:

    Kathleen, isn’t that photo of a person lying down? Would the arm location and the back flatness be the same if she were standing naturally?

  6. Cheryl Designs says:

    I TOTALLY agree with this ‘fit’ conversation. I have sewn since I was 6 yrs old, I am now 53. I made much of my own clothing when I was in my teens. Patterns fit MUCH better in the past. NOW…I realize ‘ready-to-wear’ fit much better in the past also :( I am busy with my sewing business. I do’t have the time to sew for ME :) I purchase retail clothing for myself. I am tall and slender but busty. I ALWAYS need to buy a large-sized blouse and alter…. I am a SMALL size EVERYWHERE except the bust area. Even with darts….ready-to-wear blouses and tops are almost EXACTLY the same measurement…front and back…..AHEM ….WHERE….Is the adjustment for our BREASTS???? I have noticed this on MENS’ clothing also. When men get LARGER..their FRONT is alot bigger than their BACK :) LOL We won’t get into discussing the men who look 9 mths PREGNANT LOL LOL I have to admit…I understand the retailers’ point of folding items to look neat.

  7. Allen says:

    Sabine – Hi you are right about the collar bone. Then two things happen – 1) the inner chest expands for the lungs which are smaller at the top than bottom. 2) the spine moves forward because its ” S ” shaped. If you look at back pictures the collar bone meets up with the back of the pelvis. Very flat.

    On the front, well the lungs and spine help push the chest and breast out. Just below the armpit this is not a problem. Further down the chest wall pushes the breas out further. Down by the elbow you get maximum expansion pushing large breasts out even furthern.

    Proof? Just take a deep breath. The collar bone does not move much but the lower lungs do. Imagine pushing the breast up to back fill the area under the collar bone. Here the head comming forward can help hide the extra tissue.
    Sadly squishing the breasts this way is a bad idea.

    Elaine – great point. Yes you are right – lying down flattens the ribs. However the skeleton hangs much the same way when standing. The arms will come forward and the chest will be rounder. Kathleen’s idea will be easier to see. She is right.

    Kathleen – thanks for the post. I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV (but I’m sounding like one :-)

    Have a great weekend !!!

    “Post early, post often” – U.S. mail serverice

  8. Kathleen says:

    Elaine- If anything, standing upright would further my points, arms would definitely be farther forward. The arms lay farther back in this photo than they would if you were standing upright since they’re lightweight and hinged. Kay sent me a very cool link this morning from the visible human project (NIH) that shows much the same.

  9. Marie-Christine says:

    I think you’re totally right about manufacturers wanting things that fold neatly. There is generally less ‘hanging’ display in stores I think, in part because of (formerly) rising prices in real estate. But ‘hanger appeal’ is a factor in any case, and hangers act as straight, middle-of-the-body shoulders in most cases.
    I definitely find that as I make clothes that fit me better and better they fold less and less neatly. If one wants things that fold neatly, one ought to make kimonos :-).

    Mind you, I think manufacturers also make more coffin clothes because of the modern prevalence of remote shopping, whether by catalog or online. There’s no payback for giving attention to the back. That’s a major reason why I’m using Japanese patterns more and more, since the back of the neck is still such an important body part in Japan they’re still producing design with interesting back details. Likewise, knitting manufacturers now consider ‘ball appeal’ slightly over how the yarn performs once knit into a fabric. Narrow-minded marketing and extreme bean-counting are poisoning many things..

    That said, your advice about sleeve cap ease is excellent. It’s improved my sewing probably more than anything else in the past… say 5 years. Made it more enjoyable too, since I’ve learned to remove it pretty routinely from commercial patterns.

  10. Eric H says:

    “That’s a major reason why I’m using Japanese patterns more and more, since the back of the neck is still such an important body part in Japan they’re still producing design with interesting back details”

    That’s interesting — I remember watching some documentary about geisha that made this point. It even shows up in wikipedia: “The scarlet fringed collar of a maiko’s kimono hangs very loosely in the back to accentuate the nape of the neck which is considered a primary erotic area in Japanese sexuality. She wears the same white makeup for her face on her nape, leaving two or sometimes three stripes of bare skin exposed.” There is an excellent photograph there (at the time I am viewing it) at the top of the page.

  11. Irene says:

    This brings to mind, in the (olden days) or rather long time ago, woman were constantly reminded to straighten their backs and push their shoulders back. I tried doing this and it felt very un-natural. However to prove a point, when I did this I saw where my arm alignment shifted some and maybe allowing better fitting sleeves.

    Perhaps better posture would affect the sleep cap fitting better but IF anything, pushing your shoulders back will add a coupl inches of height.

  12. Dorothy Klein says:

    Some points to consider re , breast position, breathing mechanisms, and arm position and movement (I am not an MD, either, but spent 20 years as an Occupational Therapist which demands careful observation of biomechanics. (I also was lucky enough to take cadaver anatomy, which was very helpful in making a turducken).

    1) Whether this image is taken while the subject is lying on her back (supine) or standing/sitting, breasts do not point straight forward. This is more exaggerated in supine, esp if the subject has no breast implants.

    2) The mechanics of normal breathing depends on lowering of the diaphragm (muscular wall separating the thorax from the abdominal cavity) combined with expansion of the ribcage. This expands the sealed chest cavity, allowing air to flow into the lungs.

    3) Ribcage expansion is accomplished by raising the ribs in relation to the spine as opposed to expanding forward. Picture raising a bucket handle from a position of resting on the lip of the bucket. Essentially, 12 pairs of “bucket handles” are being raised a few degrees with each inspiration.

    4) In cases of labored, or exerted breathing, additional chest expansion is accomplishes by a similar lifting (as opposed to moving forwards) of the clavicles or collar bones.

    5) In diaphragmatic breathing (used by singers, musicians, or people who need a lot of voice projection, the emphasis is on the diaphragmatic component of chest elevation, causing the abdomen to expand more than the chest.

    6) The shoulder is actually a complex system of 7 different joints and surrounding musculature, the largest and most well-known being the ball and socket glenohumeral joint. All shoulder movement depend on the scapula gliding against the back of the ribcage. Scapular gliding is responsible for 10-20 percent of shoulder movement.

    7) Most functional movements of the shoulder do not occur in a straight forward/backward motion (pure flexion). Instead, such movements occur in the plane of movement of the scapula (scaption), which is a combination of forward and diagonal plane of movement. This is because, as Kathleen, Allen and other readers noted, the arm’s resting position is slightly forward and rotated inward as well as the scpaula’s influence on shoulder movement.

    Not only is this pertinent to fitting for the masses, but it is crucial in fitting for the individual, depending on their activities and the function of the garment. For example, abdominal ease may be more essential for an opera singer’s costume than back ease. A fitted jacket for a violinist may require the armscythe to be more inwardly rotated and placed slightly more forward of the side seam, especially on the right hand side. And god knows we need more functional, supportive and better fitting bras, especially those of us who are not only chesty, but have neck or back problems.

  13. andrea says:

    Dorothy Klein’s analytical explanation of movement helps to explain some of the demands of clothing fit and ease. We must also consider that even if you lined up 20 women with identical circumference measurements including cup size that there will be variation in things like torso length, whether someone is long or short above the waist, inseam and arm length, and how the weight is distributed. Posture also can really change how something will fit and look. A 15 year old’s body will probably carry weight differently from a 35 and 65 year old’s body. A size range should reflect the average dimensions of the target market — but nailing this with each and every person is impossible.

    The observation that the MRI image is from a person laying on their back should also not be dismissed. Are there MRI or other scans that show humans in a natural standing position ? Again — I think a statistical analysis of many of these scans should be used to draw the conclusion about the body being larger in the front than the back — not just one. Weight distribution affects this immensely. It may be that 20 model sized women under 18 years of age have fronts that are the same size or smaller than their backs — while 20 plus size women above the age of 40 may be larger above the waist in the front 50% of the time and larger below the waist in the back 50% of the time.

  14. Dorothy Klein says:

    Yes, there are MRI machines that can generate an image of a person in a sitting or standing positions, though they are not as plentiful, and the imaging studies are sometimes more costly. Here in New Orleans, the only imaging center that does this is listed in the phone book as “Stand Up MRI”. I actually had one done for spinal diagnostic purposes, and the images were more definitive than those obtained a few years earlier in a supine MRI. This was probably more a function of technology advancement per passage of time than the position, however.

  15. Allen says:

    Wow – wonderful post. I had to read it a couple of time.
    Looking for standing MRI pictures produced nothing so far – eh will look.
    One thought – we do not stand like the figure used to hang and measure cloths on. The manaquin used for cloths have a flat back. The shoulders are held back. To really see this stand against a flat wall with the back of the shoulders. But and shoulderblades against the wall. This should feel tight across the chest from arm pit to arm pit.

    Extra credit – have a friend take a side picture before, during and afterwards.

    Why? Many of women I see with large chest hunch forward to kinda conceal them. Ladies with small (A to almost a B) seem to do just the opposit and wear cloths with more darts to help bring out their bust. Nusing scrups, lab coats, etc are of course the exceptions. :-)

    Alison – You are right – the bones do not change but but the layers of skin over the bone present different forms.


  16. Allen says:

    Stupid question :-)

    Is the goal to design a bra to support the breasts where they are or where one wants them to be?

    Supporting objects from their rest position another requires more tension and support. Sorry I’m better at physics than astehtics (or spelling :-)

    Please let me know what you think – or if I’m just wayyyy off in left field.

  17. Dorothy Klein says:

    Dear Allen, Thank you for your kind words re my posting. I know it was lengthy.

    Natural posture is the body’s response to maintain the body’s center of gravity. One reason you see so many variations of posture is due to the myriad of anthropomorphic variations in humans.

    Also, standing posture begins from the ground up: where the feet meet the floor. Foot and ankle positions influence the “hang” of the musculoskeletal system above. In ideal standing posture viewed from the side, the knees, hips, shoulder and center of head should be plumb.

    Variations of foot and ankle position will skew posture. Also if one has excessive abdominal girth or large breasts, you will see variations from ideal posture. These variations are a result of the body’s natural unconscious response to maintain a center of gravity.

    I can tell you from experience that large, heavy breasts tend to pull the upper trunk forward and place strain on the musculature of the neck, shoulders, upper trunk and back. MY personal goal with a foundation garment is to counteract the downward pull of gravity on the breast without transferring the load directly onto the shoulders and upper back which are already under tension by the weight of the breasts. With what is commercially available, I get the best success with a “onesie” which distributes the weight more across the entire back. I don’t understand how underwires are supposed to provide support: I find the bottom of the ‘U” presses on the ribs, the two upper ends poke forwards in the middle of the chest, and the outer ends poke me in the armpit. And yes, readers, I have been “sized” by many fitters and have never found the perfect bra.

    Corseting seems to provide the best support, in theory, but are not without their risks and disadvantages. A corset provides external support beyond the muscular support of the abdominal and back muscles. This allows the muscles to “take a break” and become weaker. The diminishing muscular support renders the individual more dependent on the corset for support, which leads to further weakness of the supporting musculature. This is a vicious cycle and is especially risky in the presence of low back pain. In hot and humid climates, excessive coverage, especially with synthetic fibers, is also uncomfortable and can actually cause fungal infections and/or maceration of the underlying skin.

    In essence, good posture and breast support should begin with not only appropriate footwear, but also customized orthotics if foot and ankle position are altered. You would be amazed at the positive changes this can effect. Bras should be designed to maintain the body’s center of gravity within optimum postural allignment. They should also reduce the strain that large, heavy breasts place on the trunk and neck musculature in a way that distributes the supportive forces across as large an area of the trunk as possible. And they should do it with as little corseting as possible in order to discourage weakening of the supportive musculature.

    I have not found an ideal solution available and have never made or designed a bra. I certainly don’t envy those who do, because it is a very complex biomechanical task. I also don’t forsee a world where women choose their footwear according to orthopedic function as opposed to style.

  18. Jasmin says:

    What a fascinating topic and comments. Since I’ve taken up the pilates, the mechanics of movement (and how it relates to clothing) has gotten even more interesting. Personally, after I read some of your earlier posts a few years ago, I focussed on increasing my collection vintage halfsize patterns, which fit well, and actually hang from the shoulder properly (even on a busty person). My rule of thumb now is to prefer human period patterns, before CAD / standardised grading. The sleeve and neck fit are just so much better in general. Some are still bad, but the odds are better! Either that, or Burda, and some vogue.

    I’ve got one other point – does anyone thing the quality of the textiles has anything to do with poor fit? You need good quality components to have decent fit – if the material has an unbalanced warp and weft, is torqued, uses thread that varies too much in diameter, or any of the other many things that occur with cheap fabric (which seems to be ‘resolved’ in chain stores with adding stretch to compensate for any issues) then you aren’t in a position to acheive great fit anyway, because the fabric simply won’t behave in a predictable and consistent way for every fabrication (other than by being unpredictable!). At least if the front and back are the same, you shouldn’t get as many issues from a display perspective with unpredictable fabrics, as you can just flat press / fold and it should look OK.

    Plus, it must be easier to calculate the fabric yield, and to sew when you just slap the pieces on top of each other … so I can see an accountant thinking it would be a fantastic plan.

    Overall though, isn’t fit really about the fact people will buy badly fitted clothes? In fact, it may be a self re-inforcing, capitilist, consumer spiral – clothes that don’t fit right but are cheap, never really make you feel good, so you go and buy some more, hoping this time ……. And in an ever broadening populace, further size related turnover is a bonus.

    Whereas really well fitted clothes, that suit you as a person, require thought, consideration, and effort – and they cost more, so you need to keep wearing them, so you need to think the whole wardrobe through …. none of which is normal in a western instant gratification environment (Investment vs. impulse shopping). Plus, dare I say, you need to remain approximately the same shape and size to continue to get use of your clothes. Disposable clothing makes it a lot easier to accept / allow size changes and or poor fit or style decisions.

    Allen – I think generally (for me anyway) a bra is about supporting breasts where they were naturally when one was, say, 18 ish. So there is an element of uplift, but not excessively so :-)

  19. Allen says:

    HI. Thank you. Lengthy and worth the read. You second posts underlines how personal experiance really fills out bare clinical facts. Facts are needed but, eh – there is more. What you say makes sense as the spine is in the back with the breass up front. I never thought how standing changes the body form. That cloths have to hold everything in place without holding everything still nor “locked down”

    Corset seems like the logica answer. Butthe front of the body needs to move and breath. Tying that area up does not seem right. Unlike the spine in the back, the front has a *great deal of movement* Dorothy transfering breast weight to the front of the hips, off the back and spine, would be great.

    Yes – breath! Have you ever tried working with Gore tex ? ( Its a good breathable fabric that wicks water away. Gore tex may be better than UnderArmor or other fabrics. Fungus and ulcers can be a problem for very large breast. Yeast is literaly in the air and there fore everywhere (see sour dough and beer making.) Here bras do not seem to provide any under breast air flow or cooling.

    Dorothy – for what its worth “we put a man on the moon before putting wheels on luggage” Hopefuly there is another simple answer out there to provide a natural uplift in the front v.s. the back.

    Jasmin – I hope you are wrong. “Hope that this fit will be right” is powerful. Yes “think the whole wardrobe through” takes more time. Would some guidence or re-assurance about what goes together help? When bringing in cloths there is a LCD screen and bar code reader. Place the bar code under the scanner and the LCD shows what else goes with that selection. In the grocery store a package of chillie has the list of other items needed to make chillie and dinner. While clothing styles change and can be disposable, bra’s are not. What they do, how they look has not changed in decades, unlike fasion (60’s, 70’s, 80’s or 90’s.)

    Jasmin, this is what I thought. To have the breast 1/2 the distance between the shoulder and elbow. However for some is the effort still worth the result when the breast becomes more like tube sock needing more elevation – not just lift. After a point it seems the breast is moved more to ‘its expected position” than a natural one.

    There is the whole discussion on if the cup should minimize or not.

    Thanks for the input, the responses and letting me post.


  20. Fiona says:

    All the cheap clothing stores I frequent (Target, Forever 21) seem to have everything on hangers, while the stores which display some folded clothing are more upscale (J. Crew, Banana Republic). I don’t shop anywhere super ritzy, so I’m not sure how they do it. It’s probably easier (cheaper) to keep things hung than folded neatly, since pulling a size M from the middle of the pile tends to mess up everything on top of it. However, I have noticed that the dresses I make myself, or the ones I order from a special brand for large-busted women, don’t look as good on a hanger as the ones from standard brands. So perhaps we can say that clothes are designed to look good when they’re not being worn, whether that means folded or hung. But it did occur to me recently that a wardrobe full of made-to-measure garments wouldn’t travel well at all, since they don’t fold easily.

  21. Grace says:

    I was visiting the home of a friend who is a MRI radiologist. He had to read some MRIs that weekend and I walked into his study while he was working. He closed the screen quickly (patient confidentiality) and I left the room.

    Later, he showed me some CDs of reference cases (like old-fashioned reference books, but with many more images). He said that 30% of his MRI practice consists of scans of women who are having trouble with their breast implants, a larger percentage than screening for breast cancer. He thought that figure was high, so he asked around at conferences. It turns out his practice was typical. One study said that women in sunbelt states where breast implants are common pay $1000/yr extra in premiums for the complications of breast implants. I really resent paying that premium.

    Did anyone else notice that the MRI shown has very large breast implants and uneven scarring that is making the breasts very asymmetrical?

  22. andrea says:

    Alison — my concern is that as people put on weight, that this weight distribution can and will vary greatly. In a basic sense, where people have arms and legs is pretty standard, with general demands for movement/ease in a garment. However — one plus sized woman may wear an H cup bra, with less than a 5″ difference between her waist and hip measurements, and a big belly(ie larger in the front of the body), while another plus size woman may wear a small B cup bra, and have a narrow torso above the waist, with very well developed back muscles due to lifting or exercise, but with a 20″ difference between her waist and full hip measurement due to a larger than average bum(ie larger in the back of the body). Their bone structure may be similar — but their weight distribution is not. I wish there were standing MRI scans of a variety of bodies with different weight distribution to ponder this question more thoroughly.

  23. Allen says:

    You make alot sense. A pleated long skirt have material all round and will lay flat. IMO its because the material is distributed equaly. For well endowed the back and side material are equal but the bust area in front is not. Hence it bunches up and does not lay flat. Does this mean large busted dress has to be displayed differently as well?

    There may be a psychological angle – not making the bust seem large when the dress is hanging. One women commented she was horrified of needing a G cup, why could’t it just be a tripple F (as if that changed the volume or size of the cup) What do you think?

    Grace – wow. I did not notice the MRI had breast implants. Thank you – good catch. Since the breasts did not slosh to the side I figured they where either resting on the arms, hand moved back toward the collar bone. They did not seem to be held in place.

    BTW yea I do not like paying extra for implant complications. I know its not cosulation that hundreds of thousands of women get augemtations to be more like well endowed woman. They are only going to D or DD, have more control and unlike so many, these women had a choice and asked for it. Nuff said. However there where 307,230 breast augmentation procedures done per year (yea thats almost 1000 a day or forty an hour or almost one every min. ) Source:

    What would be good to know is how much guys actualy care. Other than cup size – is there any thing they mention? Nipple maybe but little else. Some reading shows women are far, far more detailed.

    For fashion – volume, cleavage and perhaps shape then general location. Like everything else – large chest is not a man magnet. Jerk magnet from what I’m told but that is it. “your Milage may vary”

    Andrea – good point. The skeleton varies far, far less than over all body shape. The cartoon idea of bones following body contour is wrong. There are some MRI’s showing this. Some friends of mine are czechoslovakian. Their bodies store every, every calorie they can get and keep it. Like you said – one is a B cup, or there abouts with a big bum (not boy fried / husband ;-) LoL
    Andrea – I hate to say how much of the market are these body types? Perhaps I do not know what I’m talking about but it seems the fabrics and fasion change more than the base patters. There should be many guides to cut by. If not, one place was going to do LASER scanning for exact measurements before garment manufacture. That seemed like a mass market solution – other than the delay. No instant joy in shopping.

    Thanks to everyone for writing. Let me know if I’m commenting too much.


  24. andrea says:

    Allen — I think with any clothing line, the company has a vision of their “average”. Many women find a clothing line that is within their price point, and they like the style and fit of their clothes, and they feel they can depend on that line fitting them. Again — average is average — and anyone who has exceptional dimensions either gets to know a good alterationist or finds a line that has some items that will fit acceptably. There are specialty markets ie petites or tall shops, or plus size. I have noticed that as women get larger that the differences can get pretty specific. There are very heavy women with big busts and skinny legs and arms, and not very plus size women with small upper bodies but very heavy hips, bums and legs. Ethnicity can certainly be part of the picture for how a line will fit, and who it will fit, but again, I guess this is part of any clothing lines target market. I have heard for example that there are (demographically) smaller cup sizes in eastern Canada than in western Canada. A motivated company could make themselves nuts trying to accommodate every figure type — and go broke quickly ! Most women with figures that are outside of average either make do with separates, or finally find a line that fits (or make do with clothing that almost fits).

    Re: MRI Breast Implants. I am not a medical technician, but I am seeing what appear to be small cysts and ducts and an overall variation in breast tissue. I am assuming that implants would appear much more continuous , and would have a clearly delineated line for the skin of the implant. This is only from my personal ultrasound experience, however.

  25. Allen says:

    Hi. Very good and well thought out post – it makes me think.
    When you said specialty shops my knee jerk reaction was “Starbucks, Tropical smoothie Cafe, Muffin tops(which just sells muffins), Wine and Micro brew beer” etc that suceed at catering to niche markets – some nation wide. Also, online places like ApplianceClinic where I can order all sorts of parts and *talk* with a sales rep not a machine or web page.

    Good point that as women vary from “average” things change all over. Hmmm.

    Great MRI post as it also proves Kathleen’s point that breast do not face forward but to the sides. Better to use a rounded form than a box. IMO this also points to areas of strees in moving the breasts forward and into balaced alignment.

    I wonder if those are normal implants or if somethingn went wrong with the one on the left or if its just being pushed by breast tissue itself. Also, sub muscular implant holds is attached to the chest wall for support instead of needing bra support. However all the material that is forward of the chest wall still needs back support. Seems like someone would have invented an air filled one to get all the volume but little to none of the weight.

    Lastly, I am assuming that breast orientation and direction will vary with size, weight as a larger woman are more rounded with a larger gap between the breasts. Just a theory and something to think / talk about.

    Lastly Andrea, one thing not mentioned was difference in breast mass. Large breast can be from tissue, fat or fibroids. Each one has a different mass and firmness. Bra and cloths design should allow for this. IMO cater to what a woman can and can not take advantage of based on her breast density and seperation. Softer breast tissue can be pushed up towards the collar bone where as firmer tissue can not. There are advantages and disadvantages to everything.

    Please keep posting. Thanks.


  26. Grace says:

    @Andrea, the link you provided shows a saline breast implant inserted under the pectoral muscles. The hydrogen in the water in the saline sacs resonates and causes the bright area.

    The image that Kathleen showed has silicone implants on top of the chest muscles. The silicone implant doesn’t have any water, so it shows up as a dull gray. The natural chest tissue contains water and appears brighter.

  27. Marie-Christine says:

    The conversation seems to have drifted significantly away from fit here :-).

    Just an aside to say that arm position when lying down or standing is very different. Only a very small percentage of the modern population can lean against a wall and have their arms and shoulders resting against it effortlessly. Something which is rarely not the case when lying down.

    Unless they’re professional yoga instructors of course..

    Which is not to say anything against Kathleen’s observations on rib cage shape and its consequences for bra fit, all accurate as far as I can see/experience.

  28. Allen says:

    I’ve thought about your post. Yes, hanging garmets do not get messed up as quickly as stacked ones.
    On a more basic level – hanging garmets have more eye appeal. They catch a persons eye more than folded garment. When shopping for jeans today I noticed they had a hanging “sample” above each group.
    Also – when something is altered, how do you get the extra material?


  29. Allen says:

    Marie – Christine,
    Hi. From breast orientation, to specialty shops as a guide for creating clothing specialty to MRI and # of implants – the conversation has wandered to cover many topics.
    It may be my fault for making so many comments. Comments because answers can never be taking in a vacume. Context adds to what the answer means.
    There have been quesions because I’ve seen so many large busted women carry the breast at or near elbow level. That probably makes a huge difference in fashion and cut. Up to one cup sieze, say DD, they can balence the body by flairing out the blouse top and pant cuff to take attention away from the bust. After that they may either give up, not find a working bra or go braless depending on age and personality.

    Marie – you are right. Putting sholder blades against the wall is hard. It is part of good posture and the forms cloths are made on all seem to be set that way. Would it make more sense to use a form that is slouched forward to cut the dress to hang properly? ;-)


  30. jane says:

    I ran into this problem when I copied a simple trapeze slip to make some for myself. Then after a couple of years the slips were wearing out, but they were wearing out from stress on the back half which was smaller and flatter. I thought the problem was from stress caused when sitting etc. I made both sides from the larger front piece and the slips are now more comfortable and hopefully they will last longer.

  31. Seth Meyerink-Griffin says:

    On my mannequin (Alva male std. series size 40), the CB to SS directly under the armscye measures 10.25″, and the CF to SS measures 9 7/8″ (measured a little lower; the fullest portion of the chest is about 1″ below the fullest section of the back). When I look at the fitted shell that I draped on the form and transferred to oaktag, the back will measure approximately 1″ wider overall than the front. Supposedly Alva bases their forms on Real Life measurements and posture, so why would this be? I know that I threw some extra wearing ease into the back on the theory that you need it more for movement in the back than the front… The fitted shell that I sewed up *looks* right on the form, but I really need a Real Person to test it.*

    From spending time in the gym, I know that the latissimus dorsi and teres major tend to get significantly bulkier than the pectoralis major because they are a larger muscle group; will this have any significant fitting effects for people that are more muscular than average?

    *Sadly, spending a lot of time at the gym means that I can no longer get a rough feel for fit with a size 40 form; my chest, back and arms have gotten bigger. :P

  32. Melissa B. says:

    Dear Dorothy,
    In regards to your post of Sept. 18, 2010, in which you commented that you don’t know how underwires are supposed to provide support:

    Underwires do not provide support primarily to the body, but to the bra. They help to maintain the shape of the bra cup and hold it close to the body, but more importantly they help to maintain the shape of the bra band (which provides the majority of the support porvided by a well-fitted bra), distributing the stress of the pull of the band on the cup when the band is fastened on the body. Any woman who has taken the wires out of her bra can tell you that the bra continued to function for a while, but soon lost its shape and supported her in a different way, the major differences being that her breasts did not sit so high or round any longer. This is because the garment has stretched out of shape. (For women who despair of being poked/rubbed raw by underwires this is not generally regarded as a bad trade. However, they will need to replace bras more frequently becasue of them being stretched out of shape much faster without the wires for support.)

    The modern bra is refered to as a cantilevered device because the projecting body part, the breast, is supported by the bulk of the body it projects from. The band pulls the weight of the breast to the body. However, as the size of the breast tissue increases, it increases in weight and a stronger, usually more stable (read: less stretchy), support fabric is required in the lower half of the cup in order to assist in the cantilevering of the weight. In the past stronger, more stable fabrics, some reinforced by quilting, were the standard for all bra cups. I don’t know when nylon tricot and its flimsy ilk became the standard, but it did and now bras that can maintain their own shape without underwires are considered weird.

    For those of you who have never worn a well-fitted bra with properly supportive fabric used for the cups, I want to tell you that they are marginally less comfortable because they don’t move with the body as easily, but you get used to it.

    For those of you who have problems with underwires poking you in the chest, in the ribs and under the arms, I suggest you abandon wires altogether and look into bras in which all cup shape stability is provided by firm fabrics and elastics. If you can stand it, a piece of boning (cut in length just short of the band width) attached an inch or so from where the cup is joined to the band may help to stabilize your cup shape.

    In the interest of full disclosure, I am a woman with a 40 1/2″ upper chest/high bust, a 47″ full bust and 38″ chest. I am also a professionally trained patternmaker and I make my own bras.

  33. Allen says:

    Melissa B,
    Thanks for your post. Yes its catilever. Its harder to hold a cup on the end of a yard stick than a ruler.

    Thanks for the explination of underwire. I thought it helped keep the chest band is shape to increase the surface area of the band so it takes the weight – not the shoulders. This should also decrease back pain.

    As for sheer cup holding its shape – think golden gate bridge. Think guy wires. Using a nylon mesh to keep the shape while using a much thinner material for the surface area. The body should not notice the difference. We used this in Viet Nam. The uniform had strings of nylon weaved into the fabric. It was called “Rip Stop” It also allowed for a thinner breathable material that performed like stronger multi layer cotten. Yes if you got a rip or tear it only went so far.

    I hope you post more. Bra technology has not stopped. So many women post about wanting a “light colorful bra that makes them feel pretty” instead of the more industrial strength “granny bra”

    BTW – can you say how much it costs to make a bra v.s. buy one?

  34. Melissa B. says:

    Dear Dorothy, (part two)

    I meant to have included the following in my previous post because it clears up another common misconception the average person has regarding bra design.

    The straps are not there to support the weight of the breasts. They are there primarily to keep the cups in place over/around the breasts as a woman goes through normal range of motion including reaching above her head and bending down to touch the floor. (Stretchy fabrics used for the cups contribute to comfort during exertion as most women can feel the strain of the fabric against the breast when the cup is made of a stable one.) As some of us women have discovered in public at one time or another, much to our humiliation, a well-shaped bra cup on a band (read: a strapless bra) is not enough to contain a moving breast. Without a properly placed strap, breast and cup are liable to part company in a most embarrassing way and require the wearer to re-place the breast in the cup.

    It is inevitable that the straps support some weight while the wearer exerts herself, but ideally, when the wearer’s torso is upright, not slumped, the straps will bear little (read: less than 3%) of the weight of the breast below. Personally, I aim for the straps to sit on the shoulders with no weight/stress on them because transfering the weight of the breasts to the shoulder muscles (or shoulder and neck muscle combo in the case of a strap in a halter configuration) can cause pain, grooves in the shoulder skin and muscle and other health issues.

    Dear Allen,

    In answer to your question “can you say how much it costs to make a bra vs. buy one?” The short answer is “no”.

    The long answer is I like the bras I make for myself and I would say I have been successful in my bra-making because of my education, both formal (which includes having worked on an assembly line for a swimwear manufacturer and having earned a bachelor’s degree in apparel design ) and otherwise (which incudes years of listening to women’s laments regarding bras and support garments as well as my own experiences wearing same), the cost of which in time and money would appall you.

  35. Allen says:


    Hi. Thanks for your post. I’ve head the joke “Talking to a guy about bras is like talking to a mechanic who does not own a car. Lots of formal training but little experiance” Your real life examples are invaluable.

    The cost in time is huge. You are doing research, development, design, purchasing, manufacturing x (hand crafted) and customer statisfaction. So your prototype costs are astronomical. The hand crafted factor multiplies mfg. costs alot. Unlike those who card, wash, spin and weave thier own cloth I suspect you Melissa are working alone. The others are part of a weavers guild dong “sheep to shawl” They doe everthing but the sheering of the sheep. Long story for some great garments.

    I totaly agree the band bears the weight. Straps should not. A thick band does not allow the skin to breath. Have you ever tried using GorTex??

    Physiology makes me think a large band does not restrict breathing. The rib cage does not expand much during breathing. Stomach muscles pull the diaphram downward.

    I look forward to your answers for I have a few more questions.

    “Everything I know never changed my mind as much as the one thing I did not” – A. Shepard

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