Size issues in the fashion world

Tricks in the clothes production stage

It’s not a secret, that the fashion world and shopping, no matter if it is online or offline, have changed during the years. The growth and impact of consumerism in fashion is noticeable in all of our lives. Fashion world is so dynamic and quick, no wonder, that the fashion companies and their manufacturers are forced to think about the fast planning, shipping and presentation of their products. And this all can influence the sizes and shapes of the clothes.

This time, let’s start with those little diligent bees, who actually produce the clothes. You will discover what tricks some mass clothes manufacturers use and what personal experiences real pattern designers have to share.

Theory M

When talking about the manufacturers and how they plan their finances, orders and fabrics, it is essential to explain the “size M theory”. “The function of the size 10/M is really arcane, its value is not obvious to consumers because 10/M is a standard yardstick that manufacturers use to calculate costing and allocation (amount of fabric needed) for all the other sizes.” (Kathleen) In other words, size M is the reference point of the whole size range. Then, no matter how many garments you sell, when you lay out the fabrics to cut, biggest sizes are paired with the small to prevent the fabric waste. Unfortunately, mediums cancel each other out (see the visual explanation here). That is why, the sale of the mediums allows manufacturers to predict the amount of the fabric they need, and in this way, their finances as well.

But what happens, if in this constantly changing world, your customers do not fit in their clothes anymore? They start to demand for more ‘large’ clothes and not so many ‘small’. Now you face the real problem- suddenly you waste a lot of fabric and it is impossible to plan the whole workflow and finances. ”So what manufacturers do is grow that medium to be a little larger than it was. When you do this, that increase in larges falls back again so they will be evenly balanced by the smalls (and you’re selling more mediums).” (Kathleen)


Of course this is just one part of the story, where a blogger named Kathleen presents her ideas and some facts in a blog called “The Myth of Vanity Sizing. But the theory is so interesting, we decided to share it also with you. Like everywhere else, there is another side of the story, and we believe there is. This is why we decided to interview the pattern designers, to learn more, what challenges do they face, concerning the clothes production.


From the inside

Image: Piktochart

Q: In your opinion, what are the main reasons, that there is no one unique size guide?

Laura: First of all, we should have in mind, that we have different continents and people differ from each other. For example, when you think about a Japanese woman standing next to a house model from Chanel – the proportions, height, finally, sleeves’ length are so different. So that is why, shortly speaking, there is no one unique size guide. Nevertheless, women and men have different body shapes and measurements, on which size charts depend on. When talking about men shirts – do you know what means 39/40/41… size? It is the measurement of the neck width. Usually that is how men are used to find their fit in some of the companies’ products, especially formal wear.

Lynn: Because all countries have different sized people. Asians are small, Americans are big, Europeans differ a lot among each other (the stereotypes: dutch is tall, French is petite, Italians are skinny). Aside from that, people also have a lot of different figure types. You could be an hourglass, pear, apple. This all should be considered, while making the size guides. Since all humans have different body measurements, it will be impossible to create a size guide, which suits all people around the world.

Q: What size guide(s) are you using, when dealing and making clothes? Has it changed over the years? If yes, why?

Laura: At TEKO VIAUC (university) we are using Scandinavian TEKO EURO measurement chart, which was here for a long time. Teachers have told us, that it was made by measuring thousands of people and due to such tests being quite difficult to facilitate than they are, the measurement chart has not been changed for a long time.

Lynn: I start with the TEKO euro size guide as a starting point. When I get a model for my clothes, I would change the size guide according to her/his measurements, but usually I am keeping the TEKO euro grading steps.

Q: “<…>Clothing is now being designed (the pattern) in such a way as to facilitate its being folded for store displays. So that it looks neat and even while folded up and placed in cubbyholes or counter tops.”( Fashion Incubator) Agree or disagree? Is it an important aspect in your work?

Laura: Disagree, I have never heard of such thing. Although trousers are constructed so to fold upwards proportionally from the knee line.

Lynn: Personally, I never consider how it looks in the store (aside from minor details, like the inside seams not showing on a hanger). My top priority is that it should fit a person properly and flatter that person. I believe, that a customer will return, when she/he likes the looks and comfort while wearing the outfit, not when she/he is ‘tricked’ by store appearances and later on discovers the fitting and/or comfort isn't achieved at all.

Q: What other aspects in designing, cutting or sewing processes can influence the size of the clothes? What are the biggest challenges for pattern designers concerning clothes sizes?

Laura: Seamstresses can accidentally sew more than seam allowance allows, that means, that the size is decreasing in its width. Right now, can not think of anything else… The biggest challenge for pattern designers is to calculate the shrinkage/stretching of the fabric, that is why we have to put it into the program to make the pattern adjustments. Another issue is to be careful with grading – grading is the most important in the production, therefore, the pattern maker needs to be aware of that (detail grading, calculating the proportional size increments and so on – of course, in the big companies, there are no graders separated from the regular pattern constructors). If it is graded wrong, it won’t fit the bigger sizes of the target group, which leads to the decrease in sales.

Lynn: The fabric and finishing has influence as well. When you are working with a stretch fabric or a really stiff fabric, it will definitely have an effect on the comfort and sizing.

Q: On which clothing size system do you usually rely, when you buy your own clothes? (EU, UK, US etc…), why?

Laura: Personally, I rely on EU size system, because I know my size in it the best. Although, it all depends on the company. Sometimes they do not provide all the converted sizes and you are left with a wonder…..which US size am I? Thanks for the smart phones (laughs).

Lynn: I go for EU. Simply because I’m European and this is the size system I’m most accustomed on.

Q: Finally, do you often shop online? Why?

Laura: Not very much recently, but just because, I do not have so much time to shop. During this summer in London, I used to go to the shops rather than checking it online, and it all comes down to the real retail therapy.

Lynn: Every now and then. Not too often. The biggest issue with shopping online is that I can’t see and feel, what the fabric is like through the screen. Also, fitting is an issue. I don’t know, if the clothing piece actually fits, until I have received it. When I’m shopping online, I go for clothes, which usually don’t have that much fitting issues… Like dresses and (sleeveless) tops. I’d never buy trousers online, because there could be too many fitting issues.

Laura adds some more insights: When it comes to the women – the different body shapes (4 most common the- hourglass, pear, apple and square) are the main problems for clothing companies to adapt. They are fitting on a house model, and that is why all the features, like curviness, tightness and so on, appear. Because they are making it according to this one body type – one girl – how can it ever fit on everyone?

In the end…

“Consumers are narcissistic -that’s shorthand, not an insult. Sizes aren’t massaged for the convenience of anyone other than the retailers and manufacturers (for retailers, it’s merchandising consistency; for manufacturers, it’s costing and resource planning).“(Kathleen, the Myth of Vanity Sizing)

Unfortunately, statistics show, that almost six in ten women are usually trying more than one size of the same garment, because they are never sure, which size will fit them best. Same research confirms , that many of the shoppers feel unhappy about this situation.

In the end, the question is, is there a win-win solution for the both sides, shoppers and retailers/manufacturers? Has the online shopping and sizes changed over the years? How are the online shops’ retailers and designers dealing with these issues? Many more questions will be raised and discussed in our future blogs about the size issues. Stay tuned!-

Ieva Smitaite, Communications Intern at Easysize