How to define poor fit? pt.2

I’m very pleased with the comments from yesterday’s entry and greatly appreciate the time and thought you put into your responses. There was a lot of good stuff in comments so I’d like to highlight that which will help define poor fit vs sizing that is inappropriate for a given person. Based on comments, I think we agree we can define poor fit if broad or key attributes are incongruous with one another.

I’ve sorted this into two rough sections of pro and con. Pro includes your comments that I think are clear examples we can use as indicators. The cons are more ambiguous and probably require a bit more definition for analysis or are so complex that it may be too hard to use for rules of thumb.

Kay suggested that petite pants with a longer rise than the talls in the same size are poor fit. I would agree with the caveat that the examples are from the same brand.

Quincunx says she has a jacket that fits like mine except she is 5 foot and bought the item at a store appealing to younger women. She thinks that the waist should have been lower. She’s probably right but without a photo, we can’t know complete context. [Some empire line styles out these days run just under one’s nipples. Makes me shudder every time I see it.] She didn’t mention cost but that could have been a factor.

Frieda chides me for my fashion faux pas but her comment is very useful because many designers do not understand why people buy the clothes they do, sometimes fit is the least of it. I originally bought it for a business trip, I liked the color, love velvet, it matches a lot of things I already have and it matched my hat (the focus of my outfit). Fit wise, the sleeves weren’t too short (they normally are), it went around my bust and the total jacket length wasn’t so long that it made me look choppy and short. In short, it is difficult to nail down what will resonate with your customer until you’ve been at it awhile. Fit is not the only reason. In this case it was merchandising and utility.

Jennifer‘s comment about a too-short rise in toddler pants was particularly astute. She suggested “customers find the look of the adult proportions more appealing and would reject the correctly fitting pair on sight alone therefore making poorly fitting pants sells”. She’s right; manufacturers judge whether they hit their targets based on sales. It is only if something flops that reasons are analyzed. If the customer bought them (these were low cost and not tried on) the manufacturer will think all is well. Being inexpensive, the pants might have been worth the hassle of returning or they gave them away to somebody or even, cut the legs off into shorts once the kid was potty trained. Who knows. The only insight I can offer is price points. Cheap pants are less likely to be tried on (and vice versa) so more expensive pants that are properly cut may sell better.

Dennis brings up another useful point with his briefs example. I don’t know that we can call this an example of poor fit even though the legs openings of briefs that fit his waist are too large on the order of five sizes. Because five sizes is such a large disparity, it is likely that his legs are smaller than the legs of other men who wear his same waist size -meaning he’s an outlier (like me) but he doesn’t mention that he knows this and if this all holds true, he would know it. The only way to know or rule this out is to confirm by comparison, the leg openings of competing products. It could be that Dennis could solve some of this by shopping other (likely more expensive) brands which may be cut for another body type.

My contribution to this side of the argument is related to what Dennis said and in regards to context. All fit critiques must be contextual rather than a comparative of the broadest spectrum of the market. For example, if you produce fit that is particular to outliers, like a line of blouses for busty women or undies for men with smaller than average thighs, the debate of good or bad fit should reflect attributes that are specific to the market. This is why it is important to clearly communicate a fitting profile to the customer; it’s even better if you can be specific with respect to dimensions of garment features. I don’t know why designers don’t do this because I think the potential increase (and consumer confidence) in the sale would off set the losses of customers who don’t fit the profile. Especially once the cost of returns were thrown into the mix but that’s just my opinion.

Some other things you mentioned bear discussion and while I’m inclined to agree, I refrain from whole-hearted endorsement if it is difficult to quantify comparatively. We need to stick with landmarks (on both bodies and garments) that are easily measured. Unfortunately, some attributes are not so clear cut and there can be a great deal of disparity between individuals.

Kay: mentioned overgrading shoulder length in plus sizes. While I’m inclined to agree this is a constant and significant problem, it can be hard to nail down. The problem with defining shoulder slope length is memorizing that grade rule and since it is problematic and rife with debate already, I’d give it a pass if only because it is likely there are more pressing issues in the block or grade design itself.

Quincunx said the poor fit of her jacket was magnified by a too low armscye which immobilizes the arms. Marie-Christine made a similar note; that armholes didn’t grow beyond a 10. Believe me, I understand your points but like Kay’s example above, this is difficult to quantify both for the memorization of grade rules but also styling because some things aren’t styled for the feature of a broad(er) range of motion. The other problem with this line of inquiry is the debate over whether the trunk length should grow (which governs armscye depth). I say it should grow but many European manufacturers use a static grade in the trunk and if they’ve been selling clothes successfully all this time, who am I to suggest any differently? I still think I’m right, heh.

About my bathrobe since I didn’t talk about it much and it was discussed in comments. I bought it online from one of my DEs -I try to buy from them as much as possible. I know they don’t always get it right but this is a risk I’m willing to absorb. Also it must be said that there is little I detest more than shopping. I am willing to risk the inconvenience of less than ideal fit if I don’t have to go to a store to get it. Again, keep your customers priorities in mind.

I had shopped for bathrobes in the stores and was dissatisfied with weight or frou-frou design details. I like heavy bathrobes, I wanted warmth. The bathrobe I bought is bamboo, it is plush and warm. I like the color. Some day I do plan to shorten the sleeves and use the excess to lengthen the belt. Speaking of, if you need to lengthen a belt like this, do it from center back not the tips even though it is more work to sew two sides rather than one because the belt ends will never fold as neatly with a seam on the end and it’ll just look clunky. No one will notice the belt is pieced at center back.

Somewhat off topic: I have to say that it pains me that many people believe the industry doesn’t care about fitting their customer considering the tremendous expense and research that goes into it. Most only understand if they start a line and have to grapple with fitting to a proverbial slice of demography. Most of my business is fitting related -and you’d be shocked by my customer list because few are small companies. I try to write about it here so it is accessible and free because it is expensive to hire consultants or to buy fitting studies. Fitting studies can cost between $20,000 up to over a million or even several million dollars. They are so expensive that governments often fund them. If fitting were easy, most would be doing it well and we wouldn’t ever need to discuss it.

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  1. Marie-Christine says:

    Excellent tip about shortening a belt in the mid-back, thank you! Just the kind of thing one thinks about -after- screwing it up.
    And about your shopping habits, I completely understand, it’s so heinous that it’s possible to end up with just anything that’ll remotely do the job. Frankly, just about every time that I tell myself I’m a grown-up now, with a job, and I should just be able to go out and buy myself a — instead of wringing my hands about being behind in my sewing, it ends first with a fit then at the sewing machine. I certainly have some things that get worn because they’re there, ‘there’ is an excellent quality in a piece of clothing.
    And it’s true too that sometimes people have to know me well to realize I’m dressed up for their event. But they do notice, and those are the people that matter :-).
    I’d like to add that I stopped being able to find clothes that fit me when I was 11, in part because of that static European trunk grading. Then I discovered sewing, mercifully. Tall French women are basically commuting to Holland, Germany or the UK in order to stock up on clothes.

  2. H. says:

    Great articles today and yesterday, Kathleen~ Very informative and helpful. Thanks for all your hard work and devotion to sharing your hard-earned knowledge!

    Your point about how many different reasons a customer might be buying your product is GOLD! This often overlooked point is also crucial in every other “industry” I can think of, and I would like you to know that I read your blog for the marketing wit and wisdom as much as for the sewing and design lessons.

    I have grown as a business person as much as I have as a textiles person- from both your book (love it, money WELL invested) and your blog.

    All the best to you and your family, Kathleen!

  3. Lisa Bloodgood says:

    I have to second you about the empire waistline hitting too high: it looks so ugly that way! Most things RTW with that line fit me ok cuz I’m not busty.

    I don’t know if this qualifies as bad fit or is relevant, but Target had some Mossimo brand 3/4-length sleeved T shirts with sleeves way tighter than their short- or long-sleeved shirts.

  4. I think I am still not really understanding is, why companies do hassel so much with sizing?

    There are sizing norms and you can buy them. (Okay, at least in Germany… yes, we do have a DIN Norm for everything, it seems.) Of course they are expensive (since they are based on big measuring campaigns) and I understand that a new designer who has only two or three pieces to offer might not be able to buy them, but wouldn’t it in general be easier to buy that instead of making very expensive fitting studies?
    At least as a departure point for own changes if someone is targeting a very specific “non standard” market?
    Wouldn’t that help to avoid the biggest fitting mistakes?

    Or do those sizing norms not exist in other countries?

  5. Marie-Christine says:

    Nowaks, you need to read Kathleen’s many previous articles about sizing in order to begin to understand the discussion… This isn’t a hobby sewing site, so we’re talking about a very different level. And if you yourself can walk into any store and buy the same size every time and have it fit every time, I’m certainly buying a plane ticket for Germany this very week to go do some shopping :-).

  6. Marie-Christine, I did read her articles and I understand that there are more factors in sizing, not only one chart. (But believe me, those norm charts are not for hobby-sewing, they are nothing you get for free but they are expensive. To my knowledge far more expensive than the pattern making system Müller & Sohn which seems to be a professional standard here.) And this is also why I said “as a departure point”.

    I have not much experience with buying clothes in the US, so I can’t compare, but if I buy in Germany and go beyond the super cheap the sizing is pretty consistent. If I buy pants its German 48 and very rarely that I can take 46 or need 50, the latter means usually that it’s a cheaper brand like C&A. Or that the trowsers have a special cut and I buy a very slim legged pant that I will wear as “normal width” and therefore go down up size.
    On tops I need usually 46 and also that is quite consistent over all brands. With one size up or down, often according to the cut of the piece.

    And very often it is if something doesn’t fit in one size, the next bigger or smaller wont fit either, because the proportions aren’t right for my body.

    And if I buy in France I normally have to go up one size number, but within that among the middle priced brands it is pretty consistent, yes.

    After years of not buying clothes I had to buy quite a lot over the last year and I’ve found that the sizes I’ve bought were more consistent than I had expected. At C&A pants are 50, more expensive brands 48. I had never tried a 46 or a 52 that did fit. And for Shirts I wear 46 and 48, 50 is always to big, 44 always to small.

    A range of one size I found pretty acceptable, because each individual has different proportions and there is such a thing as design ease, that also can make a difference.

    Would that be the case in the US that you buy let’s say sometimes a 16 and sometimes a 22? And both fit the same?

  7. Alex says:

    I’m in Canada and I agree with Nowaks in that the sizing is pretty consistent. I normally by a size 8 or Medium. In some brands I may be a 6 (small) or at 10 (large). I have never found that I need to deviate more than one size up or down. But I do tend to stick to the same retailers.

    I think the differences in sizing may be attributed to the established base size and grade rules of a particular company. For instance if a company uses a size 4 as their base size and has an uneven grade rule, their sizes will likely be different than a company that uses a size 8 as their base size and has an even grade rule. Not to say that either method is correct, only that most companies have established rules in place.

    Production quality can also be a factor in sizing and fit. With manufacturing overseas, a technical designer may ask for a specific measurement for bulk goods-we don’t always get what we ask for.

  8. Sabine says:

    Nowak, Germany and Europe are a lot different when it comes to that. I find it quite helpful that certain measurements are regulated in DIN, which has actually become an international standard in many industries. It is certainly nice that you can say you are a certain size, and if it does not fit in that size, you KNOW it’s because of the style and not because of the size.
    Of course, there is so much North American designed apparel on the European market now, it gets more complicated again.
    Here, I am generally a size 40, I am not sure if I have anything smaller/bigger. Canada I am anything between an 8 and a 14, but most of the time 10 or 12.
    It does not change the fact that I rarely find something that fits comfortably, other then sweatpants. Generally shoulders are too narrow, sleeves are too tight, monobutt makes pants slide down more then they would otherwise, thighs are too tight and/or the waist gapes in the back- in short: poor fit most of the time
    all in all I wish though that Desigual made some things that actually fit me, I really like how their stuff looks.

  9. Sabine, it sometimes annoys me that we have a DIN for everything here in Germany, but sometimes I am grateful for it also…
    (I just came back from India where I’ve bought myself some Kurtas/Kurtis. The labels range from 44 to 48, but I always use my tape measure to check the critical points. Because those numbers really have no meaning at all… )

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