How to define poor fit?

Despite flailing and failing at attempts to define bad fit previously (links at close), I’ve long argued there are some fitting aspects of apparel that are bad because they either fit no one or fit so few people as to hit any sizable segment of the market. Point is, I’m flogging the topic again because I have a (partial) definition!

Keeping in mind that our focus is RTW and not custom clothing, we have to look at fit more broadly. One cannot say the fit of a garment is defective because it does not meet the expectations of a given individual; you can only say it does not fit that person because it could fit someone else. You can’t say the fit is off because variables are too broad. Fit is subjective and open to preferences of an individual and likewise, any pronouncements are subject to the interpretive skills of the one judging. There’s also the matter of styling to be considered (oversized streetwear etc).

My point is, I think we can say an item fits badly (across the board) if it can be said that the fit is incongruous. I was reminded of this last Saturday when I went to a party and wore this jacket. The fit was incongruous in both length and width. By incongruous, I mean the different fit attributes of the product are disjointed. Using this jacket as an example, you can compare lengths as proportionate measures. For example, if the sleeves are inordinately long but the waist is too short, it can be said that the attributes of the garment are not complimentary to each other.

Length: In this case, the sleeves were about 1.5″ too long. Since I have long arms for my height, sleeves are usually too short so I wouldn’t complain when I’m lucky to find sleeves that are a bit too long.

Now, if sleeves of a garment are inordinately long, the body landmarks for length of the garment should also be a bit long. In this jacket however, the waist was too short (by at least an inch). Sure you could say the jacket waist was too short for me but I’m short-waisted already so this jacket was definitely too short if it didn’t hit my waist. If the jacket body was cut proportionate to the sleeves, the waist of the jacket should have been about 2″ below my natural waist.

Summary thus far: longer than typical sleeves implies a taller body. If the body is taller, the trunk should be longer too but it was actually too short. In other words, sleeve length was incongruous with body length.

Width: Now let’s discuss girth of the jacket. The sleeve girth was fine, not too tight (in spite of the sleeves having been set backwards). The shoulder line was a good fit. The bust was fine for me but it should not have been (I’m busty) -and lastly, the waist was too big (if something fits my bust the waist is usually too large). If a jacket fits in the sleeve girth, shoulder length etc, it is usually too small in the bust (because it should be, that being a natural proportion).

Here’s an illustration of what I mean:

incongruent fit

In summary, one could justifiably say the fit was off in this garment because it would only fit a figure that was short, thick and stocky but with extremely long skinny arms. The sleeve length matches a woman who is 5’8″ and weighs 120lbs and the body fits a woman who is 5’3″ and weighs 145.  This is what I mean when I say the fit is incongruous.

I have a bathrobe that is worse (an offshore job). The sleeves match a woman who is 6’4″ and the matching belt is ideal for a woman with a 20″ waist and the body is perfect for me -I’m 5’5″.

So, do these parameters help in deciding what is good fit? Do tell…

Jeans fit lousy these days
Jeans fit lousy these days 2
Jeans fit lousy these days
Jeans fit 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

Get New Posts by Email


  1. kay says:

    If it doesn’t even go around the model it was intended for or based on, I’d say there definitely is a fit problem. Camel toe pants, the blouse with such a tight, high armhole that the plate on the dress form was only half-visible, petite pants with a longer rise than the “talls” in the same size — those are all poor fit as far as I’m concerned. (I’d admit the pants might have been mislabeled, but the inseam of the petites were about 4″ shorter than the talls, right across the sizes.)

    Overgraded plus size clothes are another place where you commonly see poor fit. Shoulders don’t get massively longer if the person puts on weight, for instance. Most overweight guys do not carry their mass in the pectorals and traps, but in the belly, so drastically tapered shirts are probably not going to be a good seller in that market.

    Some of the “poor fit” may just be “definition of customer base”. Clothes for pro basketball players and clothes for sumo wrestlers may take up about the same amount of fabric, but the body shapes are quite different. One of my friends is a very slight Asian man; he goes to Hong Kong or China or Japan once a year or so on a shopping spree, or else he’s stuck in the boy’s department here. Another is a Dutch immigrant who has never yet found gloves or shoes that really fit her here — family in the Netherlands shop for her.

  2. Lesley says:

    You’ve given me something else to think about, Kathleen – I must make sure that my Plus-Size clothing is proportional. I think that I’m making my sleeves a little long.
    But I’m also marketing to Plus-Size-but-Proportional, so maybe I’ll have to think about whether to add some lines that are for more petite body shapes.

  3. Quincunx says:

    I think I have a jacket drafted off of the same proportions. It has a waist belt. This rides just above my natural waist. I’m a smidgen over 5 feet tall. What’s more, since this was new and bought from a youthful retailer, the waist should have erred towards riding too low in styling, as well. This has been coupled with a huge armscye that immobilizes my arms, demonstrating that this is no mis-labeled petite jacket. And just to top it all off, that trip we were visiting outlet store after outlet store, and that jacket came from one of only three we visited that sold first-run full-price clothes!

    Hear hear about shopping in the right geographical region for the body you have. Having a tall husband in a short market is the reason for trawling through several dozen clothing stores on every vacation to a land of taller folk. Also, if you donate your old clothes while on vacation to second-hand shops that don’t exist in your home market, it means next to zero chance of seeing them again.

  4. frieda says:

    What puzzles me most regarding this article is: Why the heck did you wear this jacket at all (and even to a party, where I at least do pay a lot of attention to my clothing beforehand and really would have stumbled upon that bad fit )? And why do you keep this awfull bathrobe? You above all should really know better than to stick to clothes that do not fit. Life is too short to pass it in any form of ill-fitting “straitjacket”. ;)
    But anyway, nice and really educational article, I am always delighted by your insights into an area of fashion I otherwise have only little to do with. (may be you should keep wearing those clothes despite of my comment above, at least if the outcome is so beneficial to us … ;))

  5. Marie-Christine says:

    I second Freida, even if you don’t have time to make a jacket (I know, the velvet matching the hat thing… people will look more at the hat, it’s true) why the bathrobe? I’m pretty sure you have a shoemaker thing going and you didn’t either switch the jacket sleeves or hack off the bathrobe’s.. Or am I just projecting :-)?

    Vogue, both patterns and knitting, was and still is guilty of one horrible fit faux-pas in the 80s: in drop-shouldered garments, they added to the sleeve length as they increased the size. But no, you should actually remove length from a little rectangle-stub sleeve as the person’s circumference increases. It’s possible to increase one’s arm length as one gets fatter, I suppose, but it’d be in the realm of the aristotelian ‘possible but not bloody likely’.. I’ve removed as much as 8″ from recommended sleeve length in hand-knit sweaters, and still had the sleeves flop down a bit exaggeratedly. They haven’t stopped incidentally, so be careful. I once measured a 20-person class and only one particularly tall and lanky woman had Vogue-size arms. The average sleeve length in that class was 3″ shorter than Vogue thinks. That is a lot of wasted fabric to hack off..

    And then when manufacturing moved overseas en masse in the late 80s, plus sizes got a new phenomenon – clothes that more or less fit the body according to size declared, but with armholes and sleeves barely above a size 10. Cup size barely reached a B too, not too common in plus sizes. The problem of course was that none of the new manufacturers had ever laid eyes on a real plus-size American, and their interpretation of their shape was fanciful enough to be reminiscent of 16th century bestiaries of the same continent. Things have gotten better since, but just a couple months ago I ran into another example of it.

    That said, I’m your opposite Kathleen, short stubby arms with a long waist :-). I could just get used to it and roll up my sleeves. But I think of it as just one more reason to sew..

  6. Jennifer says:

    Interesting examples, I’ve seen similar things, but it’s still hard to believe. One fit mystery I’ve contemplated is toddler pants. You’ll see many fit disasters in a preschool. Often pants that are the correct length or even too long don’t begin to cover in the rise. It’s actually worse in potty trained kids. I suspect it has to do with how disproportionate a pair of fitting toddler pants looks on a hanger since their legs haven’t caught up with their torso length and they still have their baby girth. Parents aren’t dragging anyone into fitting rooms for cheap knit pants, they just buy what looks long enough. But perhaps it’s not a manufacturing mistake at all, but the 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. Any insight?

  7. Dennis says:

    Briefs for me is something. I am a size 52, but when I wear a 52 briefs, the leg holes are big and the excess fabric bunches up in the hinder. Not so with a 44, the waist elastic does stretch around the belly, the leg holes are just right and no excess fabric bunching. I suppose a size 52 should have large thighs. Time to find a brief pattern or make one from my software. Do have a long john pattern from a French company.

  8. Kathleen says:

    Did it drive you crazy to wear it?

    Sort of but not for the reason you think. What makes me crazy about it is that it doesn’t have pockets -and I don’t like carrying a purse (mostly under social pressure). I usually wear a half apron, I feel naked without it. Otherwise, I use pockets.

    If the jacket fit the way it was supposed to, I probably would not have bought it because form fitting apparel makes me uncomfortable. Everything I wear is usually too big by at least a size if not two (or three). Maybe it is because I grew up morbidly obese and don’t like people looking at me but I prefer to not stand out in any way. You know, be invisible. Either that or I have genetic memory owing to my family having been Brethren (Amish like sect) for 500 years (anything showy is sinful, e.g. white undies only!) so I could wear a habit and a wimple and be pleased as punch (as long as it had pockets). Some people like to call attention to themselves with clothing but since I am painfully shy, dressing non-descript is part of the camouflage.

    What Frieda said kind of hurt my feelings because I actually took pains to dress better than I usually do because I didn’t want to embarrass my friend who was hosting the party. My top and bottom fit nicely, much better than my usual, it was just the jacket (I love velvet, I love the color and it matched my hat) I threw on over it that didn’t fit well.

  9. frieda says:

    Sorry, I really did not mean to hurt your feelings. But I really cannot understand why someone would knowingly wear something that does not fit well. Where well fitting of course is a very stretchable term, somehow. I would tend to say, if you feel comfortable enough in a piece of clothing, then the fit is well enough. Unfortunately I had to suffer a long time from really awfull fitting clothes, since I am tiny 6 feet 2 tall. And I very well remember how awkward it can feel to run around in stuff that looks like you have somehow grown out of it.

  10. Kathleen says:

    Oh Frieda, I didn’t think you intended any harm and I am not angry. I have never mislead readers about my fashion habits; I’ve always been out of step and awkward. While it may be ironic that I work in fashion it does not preclude a successful career. In some ways, I think it makes me more credible. I don’t have to dress well to know how to be a good maker or to know what makes a good product.

    I’m glad you cared to contribute in a way that was meaningful. That is what most matters and I appreciate it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.