What does a 1″ or 2″ grade mean?

A funny thing happened on the way to writing a follow up post to Pop Quiz: grading necklines -and as it has come up before, I thought to dispense with it for once and all time. Namely, what do we mean when we say we have a 1 or 2 inch grade (or however much)? This is not so easily summarized because it seems ambiguous if one doesn’t understand the underlying references. I’ll try to explain the primary tenets of grades which are:

  1. A grade describes sizing changes for the major fitting attribute only.
  2. Application of the grade is proportionate.
  3. Grading is a logarithmic scale. Or should be.

Defines major fitting attribute: Generally, when we say something has a 1″ grade, we mean that the major or defining attribute of the garment will grow or shrink that amount. If the item is a blouse, it is understood that the bust measure will grow or shrink 1″. If the item is a pant, it is understood that either waist or hip is the primary fitting attribute. It is also possible they both are, it depends on the company.

Application of the  grade is proportionate. If a blouse is graded one or two inches at the bust (primary attribute), it does not mean the other points of the garment also grade an inch. Rather, those areas are adjusted proportionately. Meaning, a neckline may only grade 1/2″.  Even so, we will still call the overall scheme a 1 or 2 inch grade because that governs the proportions applied to other garment areas*.

Grading is logarithmic. Or should be. When we say 1 or 2 inch grade, we mean that the sizes directly off to either side of the base size, grow 1 or 2 inches. It is entirely possible and actually desirable, that sizes on the farthest end grade differently. The point is, when we refer to a grade, we mean a set of defined proportions.

Here’s an example in the table below. Table A (ISHHWLDT stands for “I sure as heck hope we’re at least doing this”) shows that 10 is the base size and the two sizes off to either side are graded 1″. As the figure gets smaller or larger, the grade varies (purple). We still call it a 1″ grade because the rate of proportional change is based on the 1″ grade.


Table B is the category for purists and other annoying ilk (in which I could be included). The 1″ grade only extends one size off the base size and varies for every other subsequent size.

Redux: If you don’t know much about grading and find that the primary fitting attribute of your size 2 is 4″ smaller than the size 10, I’d think your grader doesn’t know much about grading either. Either that or it is a very loose floppy style or a low price point. Table A dictates the size 2 should be 3.5″ smaller than the 10 while Table B shows the 2 should only be 3″ smaller than the 10.

If you want to read earlier entries on grading distribution, this -reading comments is obligatory- and this would be helpful.

*The issue of the which proportions to apply to given areas is subject to cantankerous debate. The answer is  “it depends” . To minimize debate, let us drill it down to something simple like necklines for adult males who are height and weight proportionate.

Anthropometrically speaking, the total neck size is about 40% the measure of one’s chest (again, male, hgt/wgt proportionate). It is not so difficult to draft a pattern with this as a guideline, the problem is grading it. Reason is, the front and back neckline are sized differently so they should not be graded equally. Specifically, the back neck total measure is 1/6 of chest but it is awkward to grade like this. [For the purposes of this discussion, back neck is resting between C7 & TI.]  Here’s an example:

Chest = 42″
Total neck measure (40% of chest) = 16.8″
Back neck (1/6th of chest) = 7″.

Being that we represent commercial enterprises rather than bespoke, we take shortcuts of which the quality can vary dramatically depending on price points and styling of the garment. If it’s a loose top, it matters less. In more expensive suits, it is typical for the neck proportion to be split in 5ths. 2/5ths of the grade goes to the back and 3/5ths of the grade go to the front neckline. If we were to grade them evenly, it would blow the proportions. For example, if you did the math for size 44, you’d find the back neck grows 1/3″ total but the front neck grows the remainder -about 1/2″ (total grow is .8″ so the 3/4″ grade mentioned in this post isn’t so far fetched).

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  1. dosfashionistas says:

    Another point of clarification, probably not needed but maybe useful: When describing how much a point on the garment grades, one usually speaks of the total grade around. Therefore, in speaking of a 1/2″ neck grade, you are describing the length and width grade for the entire neck, front and back total. In speaking of a 1″ bust grade however, we would mean the total amount around, a width grade only. So when talking about the amount of grade, it can mean the x & y grade or the y grade only depending on whether both axis grades influence the fit of that grading point.

  2. Colleen says:

    Please Help Clarify – I understand it is standard to measure Woven garments total circumference, but measure Knits on the half.
    Ex. a Woven Blouse has a 36″ Bust (as written on spec), but a Knit has an 18″.
    Is the Knit Grade always 1/2 of the Woven Grade?
    Both my vendors and co-workers are mixing it up, measuring Wovens on the half and Knits on the whole (sometimes), but using the same grade. It’s making me crazy.

    Also, any good resources, on-line or books, for Children’s Grading (Infant, Toddler, Little and Big, Boys and Girls).


  3. Kathleen says:

    Very good point Sarah, context is everything. And which is why, for example, that using terminology properly is critical. If you’re not sure a word means what you think it does, clarify because others will take you at face value (to your detriment).

    Colleen: We’ve discussed children’s sizing and grading a lot. A lot. So much so I couldn’t paste all the links. I suggest going here, pressing Ctrl+F, type in your key word (“child”) and hit next, next next etc till you find all of them. For expedited or personalized help, there is the forum.

    As far as the grade issue you mention with knits, not necessarily and unless you’re in a position to change or standardize it, there’s not much you can do. Mr. F-I complains non-stop about documentation that interchanges metric and imperial measures.

  4. Cary Pragdin says:

    Kathleen, thank you for a very clear and concise explanation, and especially for Table B, which ties in with your writing about radial grading with the concentric circles showing the contrast between “old-fashioned” and “new-fashioned” (boo, hiss!) sizing, right?

    A totally off-topic query: browsing older entries I came across a page where you had to close comments due to much competition over fabric scraps. My query is; what is standard CMT practice in the USA with scraps? Here, our CMT in one city used to give them back to us and we then donated them to charity. Our new CMT up here did not. I would like to get them because there are community sewing initiatives up here that could use them, and I did pay for the fabric, but I don’t know what the norm is.

    Would it depend on who was doing the shipping?

    It seems a shame that the scraps would go to waste when they can be used, but on the other hand when I worked in Aircraft Maintenance the hangar bought rags in huge bags for wiping grease etc., so perhaps the scraps don’t go to waste after all, but move on to non-apparel purposes?

  5. I couldn’t say. It is possible the factory repurposes the cuttings. You know, like a machine shop saves metal scrap to resell to a metal recycler. I wouldn’t imagine there is much (if any) money in it for them, they’re probably happy if someone comes by to take it off their hands for nothing. I would ask.

  6. Lynne says:

    Can you give me industry standards for tolerance of missy contemporary sportswear/jackets & skirts if they have a 1″ grade?

  7. Avatar photo

    Sorry Lynne, not possible either. See the comment I wrote in response to your first question today.

    Tolerances are assigned to given points of measure on the garment. Here is a post about that. There are links within that entry and at its close that could likewise be helpful.

    It is unfortunate that you’re having a time crunch; this would have been a good topic to tease out in the forum.

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