Tyranny of tiny sizes pt.2

Shades of Tyranny of tiny sizes, my friend Valerie is a consultant. Old school like me, she writes complaining about changes in the trade with respect to sample sizing. She starts by quoting a line from The Entrepreneur’s Guide:

Everyone makes their samples in a size medium so if you make them in another size, you’ll be the only one who does.

This was the old school way of doing things. It is still considered the correct way among us old timers to make your first fit samples in a M or 10, and then grade down. This is not the way most high end design houses are doing it these days. Most of the high end design houses are using XS and size 4 fit models. They are using them for first fit and runway.

In many respects -but not without many caveats- she has a point. Before you rush off to follow either advice, there’s many things to consider. What’s your market? Who is your customer? What are your price points? Are you showing styles in fashion shows? Are your products marketed in showrooms (year round)?

Technically, the sample size is (or should be) the middle size based on range of sizes you offer. The reason being is that you can save yourself quite a bit of money by developing prototypes of that size and hold off on grading for other sizes until you see whether there is demand for it. Why grade something that doesn’t sell? How many sizes are you running? If you’re running five sizes 0-2-4-6-8, then size four is the middle of the size spread and in effect, is your “medium”. A part of me can’t deny that some impetus of the drive to smaller sizes has to do with Project Runway; the first step of your project being model selection. My not so inner codger says that is all good and well if you’re selling clothes to fashion models. Most of you aren’t. At best, only 3% of you are hitting the upper end of the market.

If anything, my overwhelming conclusion is that this is yet more evidence of size evolution (or inflation, take your pick). Size 10’s used to be smaller than they are now. With some pinning for catalog shots, you could use size 10 for photography. These days though, with consumers getting so much larger, the measures that constitute a given size have increased along with consumers (but models haven’t) so a size 10 isn’t as attractive in photos as it once was. My question is, of the people using size fours for fit and runway, what are their sizing spreads? Are they running size 4-14? (4-6-8-10-12-14). The most any new launch should start with is five or at most, six sizes. If one is running 4-12 (4-6-8-10-12), then it would be problematic that they’re using a four for fit and runway because it’s the far end of their sizing scale. In fact, my assessment would be that if you’re the type of line to do runway at all, then you should be hitting the lower end of the sizing spectrum (0-2-4-6-8-10) since wealthier people tend to be thinner anyway. For an upper end bridge line, it wouldn’t do to use a size 10 for fitting anymore than it’d be okay for a moderately priced line to use the upper end of their size range (an 16 or 18) for fitting and sampling.

Then there’s the matter of adopting a practice just because everyone else is. Should you? I don’t deny your PR or showroom people will want you to. Again, it begs a discussion of your market, how it’s shown, who’s buying it and how. If you’re showing your stuff in a staffed year round show room, you have to be able to hang fit-wise with everyone else in there. Whether it’s actual buyers or magazine editorial staffs looking at your products, the sizing must be commensurate with everyone else there otherwise you stick out like a sore thumb. This is what I describe as the pressure of sizing conformity.

I view this trend with some apprehension. The reason being that many producers who don’t show at the big shows or sell in show rooms will also adopt the practice but not without some (sometimes bizarre) twists of their own. As in specifically, augmenting the measures of their size “fours” and “sixes” in dramatic proportions as size four becomes the new “medium”. I have one designer bookmarked that I won’t link to for obvious reasons. She says (in a video clip) that she won’t make anything smaller than a size six because “nobody needs to wear those sizes”. Elaborating, she says she’s a size six. I just about fell out of my chair because she can’t weigh an ounce under 180 lbs. Some “vanity sizing” isn’t vanity at all. It’s more like sheer delusion or self deception.

Another element I find troubling is entrants focusing on the smallest segment of the market. I can’t tell if more DEs are shooting for the upper end because that’s where the best margins lie or whether this is a case of the extreme having the wherewithal (increasing power of PR firms and the predominance of showrooms) to exercise power over standard practices in the trade. I don’t like how many things have changed. Marketing didn’t used to be at this level, product demand grew holistically. While I agree clothes can look cuter on smaller bodies, is that where the market really is? It seems the competition is more intense at the smaller end of the market but is that where discretionary income lies for the vast majority of producers? Considering the increasing focus on the high end of the market (gestated I think, indirectly by handbags, a story for another day), this could open up the market for producers focusing on less lofty goals.

Valerie continues:

As long as that small fit models represents your target market you should be okay. The most important thing to remember is that there are many different types of size 4’s and every house is different. Start up design houses must set a fit standard and sick to it. Once you have established a standard, then you must establish your grading scale and stick to that. It is all about hanger appeal for showroom samples these days. I have a tee shirt I made that says please don’t feed the models…

I’ve said this over and over but I believe ultra-thin models have become more common precisely because obesity has become so common. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. More on the theory of ultra-thin models -and their increasing disposability (now what does that say about clothes?)- is here.

Please refer to the other articles in this series which offer substantive supporting material. Add to the discussion rather than backtracking to topics discussed elsewhere. It is likely that the exceptions you’ve thought of have been dissected in depth. For your convenience, links open in a new window or tab.

The Myth of Vanity Sizing
Fit and Sizing Entropy
Push manufacturing; subverting the fit feedback loop
Sizing evolution
Shrinkage and fit
Alternatives in Women’s sizing
Tyranny of tiny sizes?
The history of women’s sizing pt 1
The history of women’s sizing pt 2
The history of women’s sizing pt 3
Sizing is a variety problem
The birth of size 10?
Vanity sizing shoes
Tyranny of tiny sizes pt.2
Vanity sizing: generational edition
Vanity sizing: generational edition pt.2
Vanity sizing: the consumer spending edition

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  1. Esther says:

    I have worked with childrenswear designers who sample in size 3M. Mostly it is to save fabric since most sample in the fashion fabric (perhaps this plays a minor part in the reason for sampling size 4 in womens?). There is the hanger appeal too. It usually isn’t a problem when grading with CAD. But problems will show up when grading by hand – errors on the size 3 month become proportionally larger with each size. But if one grades from the 12M up and down, any errors are minimized.

  2. Kelly says:

    I was hoping you would address this topic! We manufacture an upscale women’s contemporary clothing line, and have been struggling with this. I’m a size 8, and am our fit model. The problem lies in fitting the models for our lookbook photoshoot each season.

    Because we’re on a limited budget, we use models who are “testing” and will work in exchange for prints. Usually, this means teenage girls just beginning to model. The sizes of models we have to choose from are usually a 0 or 2 (33 inch hips!!!!). Creative pinning and Photoshop can only go so far to make a size 8 garment look good on these girls. So, we’ve started grading pants and skirts down and making those samples in 2s, and everything else size 8 or medium. But we still don’t get great images of our tops and dresses.

    And then there’s the issue of sending samples out for press…of course they want smaller sizes.

    Buyers don’t seem interested in sizes over 10, so a size 4 or 6 fit model probably makes the most sense for us. Again, budget comes into play…fit models aren’t cheap. And even with a size 4 or 6 fit model, the bottoms would need to be graded down for good images. It’s a manageable solution while our line is small, but not as we grow.

    I’d love to hear what others are doing.

  3. Christina says:

    The company I worked for switched to size 6 fit models from a size 8, but this is because they now do the fitting at the manufacter in China. Finding size 8 models was a challenge, so switching to a smaller size made things easier. They offer the same sizes in the store and Women’s (plus) sizes still have to be fit in-house.

  4. Penny says:

    Wow, fitting at the manufacture in China on Asian fit models…that’s scarey! I know that many companies struggle with fit issues simply because it’s difficult to find people who know how to fit in addition to having dependable good models to fit on. It’s pretty much on it’s way to becomming a lost art. Some companies will hire their fit models to fill other on site jobs so they can keep them around.

    This industry has always been more about image than fit. Just look at any mainstream Catalog that sells Plus size clothing and are any of the models over a size 10? I’m talking about catalogs like Lane Bryant and Silhouttes, whose core business is in Plus sizes. If they actually shot the clothing on size 18 women, nothing would sell because reality is not the image they want to portray…or for that matter what the majority of the population wants to see.

  5. Christina Cato says:

    Fitting in China cuts down on lead time. Instead of 3 or 4 fittings that can take 3-5 months, there were 2 fittings (one in-house, and on overseas that was final approval). It was an amazing streamlined process.

  6. Dana says:

    Penny – FYI, Lane Bryant does fittings on Size 18 fit models but catalog and other ad media is shot on size 12 or 14 models.

    I used to do a lot of fitting in Hong Kong to save on development time but never on Asian models. There are agencys that can provide American and British ex-pat models. Occasionally we’d even bring our own model with us from the US.

    I also think Kelly has made some points that some of us are struggling with. We need to develop samples in one size and have photo samples in another, so how do you balance this so neither budget or fit is compromised?

  7. SarahM says:

    About 5 years ago, I applied to be a petite fit model for a major company that had an ad on Monster.com.

    The measurements in the ad were the same as mine. I bought one of their suits (on sale) to wear to the interview. The 2P fit me perfectly.

    However at the interview, before I even got to try anything on, I mentioned that I was a 2P or 4P. She said they were only looking for size 6P or 8P. End of interview.

    I have no idea how they found someone with the measurements indicated in the ad that would fit into their size 6P or 8P.

  8. Jessika says:

    We started using a 6 as our showroom sample size (as it is our middle size – in a 0-12 range ), but the showroom found that the dresses were not selling as well because buyers thought they looked a little dowdy (I have never heard that word used for my dresses before!) Now we make our showroom samples in a size 2 and everyone things they fit and hang wonderfully! On a body, a size 6 looks great – but flat on a hanger it looks too big to the buyers that have become visually trained towards a size 2. My solution is to make the original prototype in a 2 (my size is a 0) so I can try it out personally and work out any obvious issues. I then make the factory prototype (with any adjustments) in a 6. This is where I try the sample on someone else to see if the pattern works).

  9. Teijo says:

    This may be slightly off topic, but I’m in Sweden for a few days, and some of the boutiques are very interesting. It is clear that EN 13402 is already in extensive use in Europe. Similar systems are also used by Japanese catalogue companies.

    Many if not most of sizing issues could be eliminated by the use of a sizing system system this. Since sizes are indicated by actual body measurements there can be no sizing creep – unless someone sneakily changes the speed of light. (One meter is defined as the distance light travels in 1/299,792,458 of a second…)

    Since the sizes are always derived from actual body measurements the system also cannot be skewed. Once the customer’s size is measured the garment will always match, and the customers can never blame a bad fit on “brand sizing.” This also means the designer is free to draft in the true median size for the target market rather than having to assign an arbitrary number.

    I would definitely adopt something like this for a line were I to make one. I expect some people would initially be unhappy about having to ask a clerk for a size based on their true measurements rather than an abstract size number. However, a clerk’s job is to find the size that best fits a customer, and they couldn’t care less about how such sizes are expressed. With time I expect the improved fit would likely offset any aversion or embarrassment.

  10. Deanna says:

    I experimented this year with samples for runway shows in 4, 12, 18, because I wanted people to see the range of what I can do. What I design is made to measure for each individual client.

    In past years, people complained that they couldn’t see themselves wearing clothes that fit on 6′ tall size 4 models. I do a lot of work for plus sized women, so I showed with plus sized models. But people are fickle, and the response wasn’t as good as when I used regular runway models.
    People still have an expectation to see young, tall, thin models.
    I hear from a friend of friend of a stylist for Balenciaga that their runway samples had a 21″ waist. Is that insane? (Ok maybe it’s insane to believe what my friend tells me)

  11. sahara says:

    I think the increasing tyranny of the small, is the result of a generation’s obsession with the culture of wealth and celebrity; this was before Project Runway and handbags (there’s a high-end bag rental business in NYC now, the lust is so bad).

    My marker, was when fashion mags started using celebs on their covers for broader appeal. Then came rappers, with their passion for conspicuous consumption. Add the growth in income for the global wealthiest over a 20 year period, and cheap credit for the aspirational class. Now throw in what I call the “Paris Hilton” effect (being famous for nothing other than wealth), and the rising power of “the brand”––presto!

    Some of the most expensive real estate in the world contains clothing stores selling only 0-6. Shops like Lane Bryant may show plus-size models in their ads, but the women have no belly fat––you can be wide, but not round.

    I wonder how this size tyranny will affect the lower end markets, now that high-end designers think it chic to put out collections for stores like H&M (where Karl Lagerfeld almost busted a gasket, when he found out they were cutting one of his dresses in a size 12!).

    Media helps to create image and desire. It’s unfortunate that reality––and real people––have been deemed unattractive to the point where we can’t look at ourselves happily in the mirror. Once we can, we won’t need 21” waisted (yes, it’s true) models. Until then, we’ll only have obesity and anorexia as the standards, not a happy medium.

    And has anyone notice how thin the male models have become, as well?

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