How to shop for clothes for sizing research

David wrote:

I was wondering if you could shed any light on the average fit model sizing for male and female? I know that is a reflection of the target demographic but my demographics are across the range. I would just like an average comfortable fit.

I know a lot of people are in the same boat and want a fast and preferably inexpensive answer. There isn’t one. If you’re just getting into this, read each of the entries that I link to in this post (!).

David was correct that target demographic is number one. You have to know who you hang with to size appropriately with competing lines. There is a demography worksheet on page 40 of my book that will help. The entries on sizing espionage (also pt.2) will be helpful too. Sure, you could trot off and buy a sizing data set (don’t need to read, save it as a reference) but there are problems with those (just scan that one) so the data may not be as reliable as you would hope. You might find a pattern maker who specializes in your market and hope they have the stats but that may be tough to find a perfect match. In the end, you have two choices. One is to hire someone to go out into the field to shop for you or for you to do it yourself.

This was the crux of David’s issue. He wanted me to collect the information for him and provide analysis and suggestions. He didn’t expect me to do it for free so that wasn’t an issue; the problem was the cost of the job. It is very expensive for someone other than you to do it. Here’s my response to David:

I would have to go to the mall and buy a range of products. Then I’d have to measure them all. Then go back to the store to return them. Throwing the numbers into a spreadsheet and analyzing the fit is not the problem (and I actually enjoy doing that), it’s the acquisition of samples and returning them and then, they may not be what you would pick out. One is grunt work so there is not much value in paying $100+ an hour for me to do it (estimated four hours or more). The measuring and analysis is worth paying for (an hour or two). It might be more cost effective for you to do the shopping and to mail me the samples.

For me to do the job would cost $600 minimum. You can save yourself a lot of money by doing the buying yourself and shipping the product to whomever will do the sizing analysis. I would caution you that unless you know quite a bit about how to measure garments, you should pass it off to someone who does.

Now, you can’t run down to the mall and pick whatever, there’s a science to buying the right things. After I explain how to select product lines for comparison, I’ll give you two scenarios. One assumes you’re made of money and represents the most comprehensive results and the other assumes your cash flow is limited.

How to select product lines for comparison
Did you read the “who do you hang with” post? If not, you hafta. There’s actually three of them in the series. Point is, you have to select products by brands that most closely resemble the price points, quality level and styling features you intend to use. Find items from brands that are closest to the design features you intend to incorporate in your own products. A common mistake is someone who buys Ralph Lauren polo shirts at the outlet mall (avoid the outlet mall) because they hope to compete with RL only their product line is bridge dresses. If you want to compete with RL’s bridge dress line, buy RL bridge dresses.

Do not buy things on sale! They’re on sale for a reason. Sizing being off the mark could be one of those reasons.

Buying the right sizes and colorways: You will need to buy more than one style. Only pick a style of which you can buy the sizes off to either side of it. It is better if you buy a small, a medium and a large (or 8, 10, 12).  It is best to buy these in one colorway. You will not get more bang for the buck by buying each size in a different colorway! In an ideal world you would buy a minimum of three different styles in three sizes in one colorway, making for a total of nine pieces.

If you have more money for comparison shopping, you want to do it a little differently. First, buy the identical style in three or more sizes in different colorways. Meaning, three sizes in three colorways equals 9 pieces per style. Stick to the major colorways (black, white, red, blue). Don’t pick colors just because you like them unless you intend to keep and wear them. If you can only buy two colorways, get black (or dark green) and white. Blue would be my third option. The reason being, if I were doing the analysis, I would also be researching the competitive position of your competitor. In other words, are they cutting separate patterns for each colorway? The best manufacturers do. I’m specific about color suggestions because the rate of shrinkage is different depending on the dye process. Black (or dark hunter green) always shrinks the most. White is a good baseline, a non-color. Blue is relatively stable shrinkage-wise. These three color ranges provide a very good idea of what’s going on in the back of the house of your competitor.

The other suggestion I would make is to buy more sizes of each style. It’s a very long and complex story but a “one or two inch grade” is not uniform in all sizes across the spread (an earlier entry). Really.  The difference between the XS and the small should be less than the difference between the small and the medium. The reverse is also true at the opposite end of the size range. There should be a greater difference between the large and the extra large than there is between the medium and the large. A lot of people aren’t doing it that way anymore, too bad. It doesn’t cost more to do it the right way.

In summary, it’s best to buy the goods yourself and ship it off to someone for analysis. If you offer to do this, it will be easier to find someone who will do the job. The reason being, we know how costly shopping can be if you haven’t produced anything yet, we won’t really know what kinds of styles we should select for comparison.

Cheat sheet: in descending order depending on your budget

  • Buy one style in one colorway, three sizes S-M-L
  • Buy two or more different styles in one colorway, three sizes S-M-L
  • Buy two or more different styles in two or more colorways, three sizes S-M-L
  • All the above but buy more sizes of each, getting as close to the full size range as possible (XXS-XXL).
  • Avoid buying items on sale, items marked down for clearance shouldn’t even be considered. Don’t shop at the outlet mall either. Most products sold at outlet malls are specifically designed for that market and will not reflect brand performance expectations of mainstream retail stores.

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

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  1. Rocio says:

    The difference between the XS and the small should be less than the difference between the small and the medium. The reverse is also true at the opposite end of the size range. There should be a greater difference between the large and the extra large than there is between the medium and the large. A lot of people aren’t doing it that way anymore, too bad. It doesn’t cost more to do it the right way


    This is a great issue to bring up…. it shouldn’t be an issue but I’ve lost count of the DE’s who question my knowledge level when I suggest that they grade “properly” vs blindly following the 2″ grade brand “X” is doing.

  2. Sinikka says:

    Interesting post. The solution to the problem seems to differ from country to country. I come from Finland where the sizing is quite a lot easier problem to solve. Back in 2000, in a university of applied sciences a research project in the field was carried out. Thousands of Finnish people were measured, and as a result, a table of sizes was created. There are four body types and thirteen sizes in each type. In my experience, the table that contains the detailed measurements of each individual size is an effective tool.

    95% of us Finns would find quite well fitting garments if only the apparel industry and the shops here would offer all the sizes. Unfortunately, they don’t. In general, only two of the body types are available, and the largest sizes are very rare in collections. The business seems to think that it would take too much out of profits to offer the whole range of sizes. So, the job well done didn’t yield as good results as people were hoping for.

    But, why do people expect that a garment produced in mass production would be individually fitting? I think that people shoudn’t expect as much of the fit as they do.

  3. Kathleen says:

    You’re fortunate in that Finland is largely a homogeneous society, it makes sizing easier if there is less variation within the population.

    If business profits are eroded through what amounts to altruism, it is possible they will close their doors, leaving more people out of work. In my mind, this represents opportunity. There is nothing to prevent anyone from starting a clothing line to address unmet needs in the marketplace.

    Much as we wish it were not true, clothing companies -like other businesses- aren’t utilities (regional monopolies); they’re not obligated to serve any customer who wants to buy from them.

  4. Penny says:

    For average men’s fit, I would purchase samples from a store like the Men’s Warehouse that deals with fit of a “regular / average / across the range” clientele. Brooks Brothers and Ralph Lauren would also be good brands. Companies like Lands End, LL Bean and Eddie Bauer aim for an average, comfortable fit for a wide variety of body types for both men and women.

    Purchase a sample in a light color, (for wovens preferrably white with a woven plaid ). It is easier to see the fit issues in light colors and a plaid will easily allow you to see how the grainline hangs. Avoid solid black color samples at all costs! You cannot accurately see fit issues on black. Also avoid styles that are trendy with multiple details and style lines. Look for items that are straight forward that could be considered as blocks.

    The most important thing is to know your clientele and purchase samples that are going to fit their needs, body type, and lifestyle. Put time into figuring this out first and it will save you a lot of time and energy later.

  5. Kathleen says:

    Excellent, excellent points Penny. Woven stripes are absolutely ideal. I’ve said ad nauseum you can’t fit black styles, in recommending black here, it had more to do with measuring the garment specs and acquiring strategic intelligence as to whether the competitor cut patterns specific to colorways. But definitely not for fitting!

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