Sizing for the Eco market

An interesting controversy on the sizing of apparel for the eco market has surfaced on a discussion list I belong to; that of the business members of Co-op America. There were three elements to the discussion that I thought would be worth discussing here:

  • Appropriateness of unisex sizing
  • Typical size ranges and availability of given (out) sizes
  • A specific fitting defect

Unisex sizing
While many thought unisex sizing was a good strategy to hit both sides of the market (men’s and women’s apparel), others disliked it. The most common reason cited was poor fit.

I won’t wear unisex shirts because frankly, they add about 25 pounds to my appearance and turn all my curves into flabby cylinders. I give all the unisex t-shirts I get to my boyfriend.

Another said:

…many times women’s t shirts ARE cut differently, slimmer through the waist and shoulders, more form fitting, not that this should cost more just that it would make it more of a challenge to label all t-shirts unisex. Even though I am not a skinny minnie, I still like a bit of a tailor in my t-shirts, not skin tight but some shape, not just a box.

A retailer said

The trouble with a unisex shirt is that Men’s shirts are usually longer and have that “beefy-t” look which women don’t especially care for. I’ve been through every manufacturer and the only way to get it right is to have a custom shirt.

Generally, I dislike unisex sizing. I summarized my arguments by saying:

…men have their center of gravity in the chest and items are cut accordingly. Women are just supposed to live with it. Paradoxically, how come unisex proponents don’t suggest we cut bottoms with unisex sizing? That’s because women have their center of gravity there, the waist to fork is longer and it won’t fit any men, other than the corpulent “over belly” guys. How come women are supposed to acquiesce and buy unisex apparel (sized for men) but producers would never assume men would buy unisex sized apparel designed for women?

Generally, the unisex sizing strategy is a cost reduction strategy. There’s nothing wrong with saving money, but I think there’s better ways to do it. No one is fooled by that. I mean, if it’s actually sized to fit men (and it is), just say so, be honest. Those women who readily buy men’s sized apparel will continue to do so.

I pulled my punches considering the audience but as you know, have little compunction about doing so here. I worked for a company that did some unisex jackets. I thought it would have been more honest to add sizes at the low end of the size range for women who might buy them but they’re weren’t flattering. Also, it mattered that this company would only buy zippers in two lengths (!) so the jackets were always too long. In the end, they dropped them, the concept didn’t go over well. That’s not to say it wouldn’t work for you.

I think I’ll save the next section, size ranges and availability of given (out) sizes for another entry. I did an interview that’ll have some bearing on the topic which would make this entry too long. In advance of that, if you have any questions about sizing for the eco market, leave those in comments. Also, if you’ve been producing a few seasons, I might like to interview you.

Get New Posts by Email


  1. Oxanna says:

    I don’t think unisex sizing tends to work, based on precisely the reasons you mentioned. I *hate* it when the “offical T shirts” given out are unisex. This essentially equals droopy shoulders and an unflattering silhouette for me. The guys might look casual, but I look frumpy. :(

    I don’t see why the issues would be any different for eco apparel, as I hardly think all eco-conscious customers are interested in looking unisex.

  2. Kathleen says:

    I don’t see why the issues would be any different for eco apparel, as I hardly think all eco-conscious customers are interested in looking unisex.

    I should have mentioned the biggest driver in eco apparel is tees, often commodity blanks, which is why I talked about this before. As most of the lines are really young, they’re looking for cost effectiveness, hitting the market broadly figuring targeting men and women in one fell swoop will up their chances. I’ve never been a fan of that strategy. I think people are more successful if they specialize at the outset, uniqueness, becoming yet more focused as their lines develop.

  3. Eric H says:

    Perhaps in a future post you can explain the seasonal migration of shirts from my closet to yours and what this implies for producers’ assumption that women will buy clothing sized for men? ;)

  4. MW says:

    Unisex tee shirt sizing really only moderately works when the male is based on a metrosexual type, tall, slim, young guy who wears form fitting tees. Some lines do it successfully (american apparel and alternative come to mind), but they are going after a very specific market.

  5. Kathleen says:

    explain the seasonal migration of shirts from my closet to yours

    what hunny, don’t have enough to do? you have to go trolling now?

  6. J C Sprowls says:

    I agree, in part, with Miracle, except my word is: “androgyny”. It’s chic from time to time and tends to linger more in very specifically targeted demographic, namely pre-pubescent or gamine figure types.

    Frankly, these consumers swap clothes between genders (i.e. boys shopping in girls’ shops, vice-versa). I don’t know that Unisex is quite the right way to reach that market segment.

    It might be a wise strategy for pattern blocks in order to contain some startup costs; but, the packaging should differentiate the products.

  7. Lisa Bloodgood says:

    When I was in high school, I had low self-esteem and was very insecure about my body. I used to wear large men’s type T shirts and non-fitted women’s shirts and blouses. I was very skinny, a size 1, and pretty flat, and it was the ’80s, so some stuff was big like that. But times and my figure have changed (I’m a size 8 and not flat). Now I think that wearing the same kind of T shirt looks too sloppy and unflattering. I gave all of the T shirts I had left to my husband. Yes, I too dislike “official” T shirts to be just in men’s sizing. I know that at least 1 band has fitted women’s type T shirts as well.

  8. India Flint says:

    rather than creating unisex sacks the eco producer would do better to challenge the fast fashion market by addressing what sizes the population actually needs, and providing these, better made and from sustainable renewable resources that last a long time (like wool!)

  9. Kate says:

    I will wear some unisex sized t-shirts, but then I am small busted and long waisted. And I need to wear a small, “official” t-shirts are almost always size large and look awful.

    But what I hate the most is the way that the design printed on such shirts often extends too low– if I were to tuck them in the bottom of the design would be hidden!

  10. LizPf says:

    As a GOAT/WOAT (not a DE) and a woman “of a certain age”, I’ve thought about this quite a bit. Most of my summer t-shirts are male cut.

    Why? The female cut t-shirts tend to be cut for itty bitty young women, who are willing to wear tight teeny sleeves and bare midriffs. I prefer true “half-sleeve” shirts, long enough not to bare flesh, and can only find them in men’s cut.

    Ultimately, this is a question of fit. Older women just aren’t shaped like young ones, and we need clothing that fits and flatters our shapes. If I could buy a shirt cut to flatter my figure, sagging upper arm skin, flabby belly (less due to weight than to pregnancies) and all, I’d buy it in a flash.

Leave a Reply

You have to agree to the comment policy.

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