How Does The Industry Interpret Body Shape
You've heard the expression that people come in all shapes and sizes. Everywhere you go the distribution of shapes and sizes of people change. A sleepy sea side village may have a larger percentage of older retired residents. A 20 year old size 10 is generally very different in body shape to a 60 year old size 10. The average Caucasian American woman is much larger and taller than the average South East Asian woman. Teenagers today are much taller than those of 20-30 years ago. Differences between nationalities are more than just face shape and skin colour, there are also significant variations in body shape.
This is why it's hard to establish a universal and standard set of sizes and measurements. There is no standard human, so why should there be a standard size? Well there does need to be some system of incremental difference in ready to wear. In reality it's not too hard to select one measurement as indicative of size (typically bust measurement) and to select the other measurements to suit your demographic. So what you end up with is a size indicator of a designers selected shape envelope. You might also have noticed that some manufacturers specifically state the bust, hip and/or waist measurement their garment is designed to fit, rather than specify an arbitrary size.
If you think this system would work, you'd be wrong. Putting political correctness aside for a moment, it has somehow become the designers responsibility to not just tread carefully around people's feelings so as not to offend, but to be responsible for how many people feel about themselves. There's arguments for and against the fashion industry's responsibility for self image, but unfortunately very little responsibility on behalf of the person for their perception of their own self image. So no matter how you label size (and you need to obviously) someone will always find a way to be offended by it and it'll be your fault entirely.
Nothing is more offensive to a person than being told exactly how much weight they've put on to the centimetre. Having a size number is somehow indirectly saying the same thing, and an actual size value is horrifying to some. I have literally had people come to the counter in a retail situation and tell me that I have insulted them because the same size 10 they tried on last week no longer fits. Obviously they hadn't gained weight, but the same garment that was on the shelf last week had suddenly shrunk (that was sarcasm by the way). I've even had women get abusive and fully believe I was deliberately trying to upset them by calling the garment an extra-large (it wasn't even my label) inferring in fact she was extra-large. This happened frequently ...
Hint: The above will happen no matter what you do. Usually you only experience this in retail. Someone that comes to the counter to start such an argument isn't going to listen, and any kind of logic about how we need to label garments with some kind of sizing system will not work. I instead try to redirect them away from the argument and toward a solution ... such as creating a custom made garment especially for them, but with no size label! Be gentle, understanding, talk indirectly, but don't get upset ... if they behave in an inappropriate manner you are entitled to ask them to leave.
Designers produce garments aimed at a specific target market. This is usually a narrow demographic in which body shape doesn't vary too greatly within each size range. For example, a high fashion swimwear designer aiming at a young and fit body type would still label an 84cm bust as a Australian size 10, however the waist and hip measurements might be smaller than those used by a sportswear designer. Add to this, different garment styles having different amounts of ease and you get some people at the top of each size envelope (the amount of variation in body shape each size will tolerate) being pushed up a size for a more comfortable fit. I've even seen many high fashion garments with size envelopes so narrow that some people are too big for their size 10 and too small for the size 12!
The other complaint is that a person fits a medium in one garment but not in another. This is not at all sinister. Manufacturers label a medium as whatever is average for their intended market, not the average person. For example, the average rugby player would be bigger than the average jockey, so if you made rugby jerseys your medium would be bigger than a jockey's silks. This does not explain why two ready to wear ladies blouses manufacturers have different mediums however!
Then there's the big marketing issue. Let's say a person can fit into one designer's size 10 but only just squeeze into another's size 12. Here is where the problem lies. The person wants to believe the second garment isn't sized properly and will buy the garment labelled as the smaller size. This forces manufacturers to constantly re-evaluate their size tables, some labeling larger sizes as smaller in order to compete in the market place. The public then criticizes the fashion industry for not having a standard set of sizes. The market doesn't realise that it ultimately determines the product.
Many pattern makers will attempt to logic and explain away the reasons for discrepancies between sizing systems and while many can be reasonably explained, there will always be the element attributed to the simple vanity of the market place. Strangely, many pattern makers refuse to accept that this type of problem exists, and that discrepancies are more to do with demographics and human evolution. I can assure you I've seen it being done myself! I could write a book on the psychology and mathematics of sizing but it'd only get me in trouble! Please don't write to me complaining about sizing problems you are having or asking why you can't buy clothes to fit. I simply make patterns to the size groupings given to me by the contractor and cannot speak for other manufacturers or even hope to convince them to change why they do what they do. A manufacturer will do whatever makes the most money. Altruism doesn't pay the bills.
If all this isn't enough to confuse you, the human body has another curve ball to throw. As you go from one size to a larger size, the variation in shape within that size increases. To put that another way, one size 8 person is usually very similar to another size 8, with more than 75% of size 8's (80cm bust) fitting the same garment. Only about 50% of size 10's will fit the same garment. About 30% of size 12's will fit the same garment and it just gets harder from there. This is because as women's bust measurements increase, there is a greater amount of variation in waist, hip and other measurements. Women DO NOT simply scale up proportionally between sizes. The average may well do so, but the percentage falling within that average decreases as size increases. Most designers cope with this variation by adding more ease with each sequential size.
For swimwear this is not possible, so how do swimwear designers deal with this problem? They usually ignore it exists and only manufacture a limited number of the larger sizes. This tends to go unnoticed as larger women don't seem to like buying swimwear. It doesn't, however, help larger women who like to swim. Instead what you find is larger women buying styles that may look 'too old' for them.
Some high fashion swimwear designers even go as far as to say they don't want larger women wearing their garments because it adversely affects sales of their smaller sizes. This is because smaller women who are prepared to pay more to look really sexy in a high fashion garment generally don't want a larger woman wearing the same style they've just paid for because it lowers the perceived 'sexiness'.
So how do commercial designers deal with this problem? Unfortunately, they usually ignore it exists and only manufacture a limited number of garments in the larger sizes. This tends to go unnoticed as larger women don't generally seem to like buying swimwear. It doesn't, however, help larger women who like to swim. There was also a kind of backlash years ago against some brands that didn’t provide larger sizes, leading to negative publicity.
Generally commercial production runs produce proportionally more smaller sizes than larger sizes, meaning they’re still manufacturing principally for the smaller sizes, but can announce they manufacture a wider range of sizes, gain better marketing advantage and avoiding the negativity of bad press. The disproportionate mix of sizes is actually more representative of real sales anyway!
As a smaller, boutique scale manufacturer I tended to design only Australian sizes 8 through 12 in ready to wear sizes and leave the really small sizes and much larger sizes as made to fit only. In this way I was also able to make the style better suit the individual.
Likewise, the methods outlined in this text will work reasonably well for Australian sizes 6 through 14. Larger sizes require more experience and understanding to decide which technique is most appropriate for your market. I am leaving the techniques for larger sizes to an advanced section.
7. Measuring & Size Tables
Which Measurements Should I Use For Women's Wear?
If you accept that there's no such thing as a standard sized person, just a uniquely shaped person who needs to fit within some kind of a standard, how do you arrive at a set of measurements around which you can base your sizes? Most people start out by using someone else's set of measurements and changing these over time until it better defines their market. I used to database all the measurements I took from my made to fit clients and after a few years I had enough data to check that my estimated size ranges where evenly distributed. What this meant was taking the system universally used by industry of 'size based on bust measurement' and establishing what corresponding measurements my clients had for that particular bust size. An Australian standard size 10, for example, is designed to suit a B/C cup bust of 82-86cm. The other measurements are then based on the bust measurement in order to create the standard. My 84cm bust clients might have an average waist of 66cm, whilst your demographic might have an average waist of 62cm for the same 84cm bust. We both have a size 10 that fits the industry standard and each our markets, but our size tables are different!
Like everything else, there is an art to taking measurements accurately, consistently and professionally. Only take the measurements you need to create the required garment. Some people will tell you to take as many measurements as you can because you never know if you might need them later. I disagree. You discuss the design with the client before you get out the tape measure. Nothing screams "I'm not sure what I'm doing" louder than someone who is taking too many measurements. Measuring someone is a very personal experience that can make them feel uncomfortable. As a professional it is your duty to minimize that discomfort by being as fast and discreet as possible. Do not linger with the tape but move promptly and confidently from one measurement to the next. If you are confident, your client will feel more comfortable and be more likely to return for future garments and more measurements.
Do not measure a person who is stressed for whatever reason. Wait for them to calm down or suggest they return on another day. If your client brought her children along, have one of your staff members play with them for a few minutes so your client can relax and have their measurements taken.
Before your client attends for measuring, suggest they wear a good fitting bra and undies. This way they will anticipate having to undress and will wear something they feel comfortable in. I offer a robe in my dressing rooms so the client can quickly uncover and recover before going back to get dressed. Do not measure a fully dressed client. Items like T-shirts, jeans, and woolly over garments obviously cause bulk and while you think you might be able to guess, it screams unprofessionalism. Generally, have the client remove their shoes as even small heels can affect the arch in the back. If your client is having the garment made specifically for a beauty pageant or parade then you might actually suggest that they bring their heels along.
With the advent of breast implants has come a new fitting problem. If you measure such a client in a bra you have no idea how much lift has already been included in your measurements. Women with implants can only have the bust lifted so far before the perimeter of the implant begins to show (not a good look). Technically you need to measure these clients without a bra, which is easier said than done. Alternatively you measure with the bra, and ease your garment rather than add any more lift.
Never make a garment for "after the diet". I can't tell you how many clients will say they're dieting and suggest you change your measurements a little. If you take that suggestion and make the garment accurately and it doesn't fit then you'll have a difficult time telling your client her diet has failed. Instead you'll end up remaking the garment at your expense. Only make a garment from real measurements.
This website will mostly use the measurements from the table below (in centimetres). It should provide a reasonable average for Australian metric sizing and suit Anglo-Australian women with an average B/C cup bust and of between 167cm and 178cm in height. It will not be suitable for women will a larger bust, much taller women or pregnant women, or those of other ethnicities, such as Asian body types. Refer to the relevant section elsewhere on this site for discussion on those issues. Ready to wear is all about a standard set of measurements that reflect your particular market .... no RTW set will be perfect ... its an approximation ... every set you see will be different ... and you need to tweak your set until you get it right.
Note: Upper arm, thigh and calf do not share the same consistency with respect to bust as other body measurements. Although added to this table for completeness, I suggest being cautious when using these values.
Bust and Waist are the most well-known measurements so you'd think this was obvious. To demonstrate how difficult this is, I once asked several students measure the same woman (another student) and illustrate variations in their measurements … of as much as 22%. Variation came both from the client and the measurer. A woman being measured for bust and waist will automatically breathe in, puff out her chest and suck in her tummy, hence 'optimizing' her size and shape. Instead, you need to have the client to stand upright with their arms to the side, breath all the way in, then half out and hold. Take the measuring tape from side seam, across each bust point and around the back in a smooth line that's firm, but not so tight as to indent the breast. Have the client breathe in and half out again before measuring the waist.
The Waist to Bust measurement is rarely taken, let alone utilized. Yet it is probably the one true constant among women of all nationalities (for the same breast cup). It is almost always 16cm plus or minus just a tiny amount, and that amount varies as they breathe. It serves to verify whether or not the Nape to Waist measurement is correct. A woman with an abnormally high nape to waist measurement will have a Waist to Bust that is equally longer, assuming of course there is no obvious reason for the longer back, such as hunching. In other words, if your Waist to Bust is longer than 16cm then your Nape to Waist should be longer also. Now here's the fascinating part. No matter what the woman's height, the Waist to Bust varies little for other average measurements. With experience you'll start to see this proportion and immediately estimate, with accuracy, how much you may need to stretch a standard block to suit your client.
Note: the Waist to Bust measurement is taken against the sternum at the bust line to the true waist, not from the nipple.
It is essential to locate the Bust Point (not always the nipple) on your blocks and patterns. To do this you need at least one horizontal measurement and one vertical measurement. I use Bust Point to Bust Point (sometimes called bust separation) for the horizontal because I can discreetly sight it while taking the bust measurement. Mid Shoulder to Bust Point is most commonly used for the vertical as it simply follows the average bra. Some people use centre front neck to bust point, but this has shown to be open to interpretation as to where exactly the centre front neck actually is. A variation of even 2-3cm can equate to a 10% error. You can use whatever system you like for made to fit clients, just be consistent. If you are working for someone else or on subcontract you will need to use whichever system they prefer.
Chest and Underbust are often used in swimwear; these measurements can be used to verify your patterns around a complex bust construction. Chest is taken above the breast from arm hole to arm hole on the front of the body. Underbust is taken from side seam, across the rib cage at the underwire line to the opposite side seam, and back around. Underbust is sometimes referred to as the empire line, the later of which is technically just the front only. It's also possible to estimate cup size by comparing Chest and Underbust measurements to bust measurement.
One of the more difficult measurements is the Waist to Waist measurement. Take a tape measure and place it at the centre front waist and run it between the legs and up to the centre back waist without the tape falling between the cheeks. If you were measuring for a thong back you'd allow the tape to sit between the cheeks. Of course these aren't measurements you can easily take from a female client so it's recommended instead you use the formula below. If you use waist to hips and find the corresponding Gusset measurement you can calculate Waist to Waist by the formula:
Waist to Waist = (2 x Waist to Hips) + Gusset
8. Cup Size Distribution
How Is Cup Size Distributed Across the Sizes?
If you followed my site 10 years ago you might remember my Lazy Person's section where people input their measurements to get a computer generated pattern. The data from over 20,000 people showed clearly there aren't as many larger busts on larger bodies as there are larger busts on smaller bodies ... this is completely contradictory to common sense and indicates perhaps that much larger bodies are either avoiding swimwear or simply not making their own ... or that breast surgery really is rapidly on the increase in the 25-40 year old population as stated on all the plastic surgery TV shows and magazines. Honestly I'm not sure what I think about this.
Below is a computer generated table of bra sizes based on all the data people entered into the Lazy Person's block section. You can clearly see the anomaly in the 6-10 EE-F area of the table ... surely one wouldn’t expect to see any tiny figures walking around with anything larger than D breasts, let alone EE-F. This does suggest breast implants to me. Now I know there are people out there with natural breasts of that size, but the relative percentage should still decrease with each increase in cup size ... instead the opposite has occurred. I had been suspecting this for some time and I'm assuming I may well have had a large number of visitors in this category … such people will have trouble buying swimwear off the shelf!! I have had many people write in and tell me that they know more women with larger cups when it comes to a small band size than they do smaller cups ... this may well be true for their relatively small sample size of a dozen or so friends in a specific community or racial group, however this site developed a sample size over 20,000 that fall within 1 deviation on at least 2/3rds of their measurements which shows otherwise. So those who believe natural larger cup sizes exist on smaller bands, you are right, but still not outside of normal percentages.
9. Teen/Tween Girl's Size Tables
Where's That Gap Between Childrens And Adults?
Ok so there's a lot of confusion about teens sizing for girls, namely the body length or girth measurement .... and rightly so. Sometimes for a complete set of all the same measurements, various girls can be way shorter or longer than average ... and this has everything to do with growing times.
The following comments are probably going to confuse a lot of people but this is something I'm fairly sure no one in the dance business has ever seen before. This is verification of everything we all knew but couldn't identify or define clearly. Now keep in mind this is anthropometrics so it's theoretical.
What I have here is the anthropometrics for teen girls in the UK across a broad range of ethnic backgrounds all put in together so designers can do things like ergonomic furniture, simulate can accidents, plan prosthetics and all the weird stuff like that. It is not specific to fashion or a young dancers body shape. It is 100% about how the age range from 5yo to 25yo grows. This is the most amazing thing I've seen in years. Now it's based on formulas developed from literally 10's of thousands of data sets. I've had to pick out the relevant sections that apply to what we're trying to do.
I have 5 graphs in the images below. Firstly let me define the axes. The horizontal axis is not age or time nor a specific size, but it represents the rate of change of a body in a chronologic linear fashion. This means that an average girls body will develop along a certain path over time ... some maybe earlier or later or faster or slower, but they all follow the same path. The vertical axis represents equal units of measurement although I've removed the units so I can put 4 different lines on the same graph next to each other in the order of height, chest/bust, waist and
hips. It'll make more sense as we go through it.
Image A represents my Adult Women's verses Children's blocks for the perspective that follows ... the blue box is the region of the graph that I hoped my children's block would have covered and the green box is the region covered by the adult blocks ... just bare with me.
Image B ... t he yellow triangle represents my trend line for the long body (top of triangle) and the short body (lower edge of triangle) based on the data I had for kids ... this was the upper and lower girth converted into a proportional height. The orange line is the trend line I used for height for adult women. The obvious thing is these two don't meet in the middle but they should!! While it's only about 6cm in real terms I figured back then we needed only two blocks so the trend line had to be linear and only 6cm was damn close at an overlap area considering we could adjust for girth at the waist. I was wrong ... sort of.
Lets go to Image C. This is where you're all going to see something miraculous ... at least that's how I felt as I drew it out today. The top dotted black line is the anthropometric linears for heights scaled to the height of my original data. My adult line is extremely close to the UK average and almost perfectly parallel ... but considering I have 20,000+ adult women's sizes globally this should be this close to perfect ... all except the start of the line. My children's line is parallel in the center, but not for the earliest part ... there is a shallower start that my limited data didn't show clearly. BUT the top end of my kids block is out! The lower line works for the early part and my top line is closer for the last part but still not right. This is because I looked for one child's block and a linear trend .... if you turn the anthropometrics into a single line you get my top line, so my logic was right for one block ... but off as far as reality is concerned.
So what do the anthropometrics really show? Height increases steadily in children until somewhen between 10 and 11 years old (variable) and then suddenly increases RELATIVE to previous growth in height up until 17 to 18 and then suddenly slows back down to the earlier rate of growth. You are all seeing the same rapid increase in height relative to all your other measurements in this time period on all the girls you are measuring so you know it's there but you've never seen it defined relative to earlier or later development ... THIS! ... this my friends is indeed the in between section we knew existed but couldn't categorically define. This means I can create an in between block with accurate trend lines. But there's even more!!!! Can you tell I'm excited?
Height increases at a rate faster than chest, waist and hips ... we know that. But how much?? Now we know that too ... definitively. Chest increases slower than height but happens well before the increase in hips. Hips continue along on their own trajectory for a while before they decide to play catchup so for a while we have the appearance of a small bottom. Why is this happening? Well apparently I was right on something. Should to should width stays proportional to arm length which is proportional to height so they grow develop at the same time, just at a different rate. Hips however are not related to leg length ... indeed you can have really long legs on a tiny bottom. Hips are a later hormonal development closer timed to budding busts. the waist is a factor of the chest and hips rather than any skeletal structure and the anthropometrics show that with it being a linear trend that starts when the height shoots up and ends when the hips slow down ... that's to be expected. But this folks means we can plug in our particular dance markets measurements and they should float around either side of all these lines ... it means we can create a middle block. But where exactly?
Move to Image D. I like overlap so I've placed the middle block's limits either side of the trends and I'll straighten out those trend lines. Why? Because I want to be able to say things like "this girl is the top half of the teens block but still in the bottom half of the children's block" ... and teach people how to check ... this is really only important for bodies that fall outside the trend line ... and everyone is slightly different so we need to choose just the right block. The blue region now has a set of linear trends, the green has a set of linear trends and the new orange region can have a linear trend set when I create overlap. Well technical the children's and adult blocks can stay as they are and I just create a teen set that overlaps both of them ... then we learn how to choose the right ones!
Image E is simply me putting the limited amount of dancer data you guys have sent me so far into the same SCALING ... and you know what? It matches!!! I'd like to add more data to be a bit more accurate but I'm content enough with the scaling to know that it's not going to change a great deal. This is indeed that middle kink that we've all been looking for ... and here it is for the first time ever in a stretch wear context. Yes others have made really good fitting teens leotards based on measurements and that's really all you need to do ... but here is WHY ... here is that actual change from kids to teens to adults ... here it is defined. I sure hope this is what you were waiting for ... the block part is actually the easy bit once I have this .... this is the hard part to pin down. From this I can now use the rest of the anthropometrics to judge the slight differences in other parts of the pattern caused by the rapid height change relative to other measurements.
I sure hope people can understand this ... yes it's just a visual representation ... it's how I determine trend lines. But anyway, you need the actual numbers in a size chart so here is what I'm basing my blocks and patterns on. Remember I'm teaching ready to wear fashion, not dance specific clothing, so I used things like nape to waist and waist to hips to be consistent with everything else here. I do not use systems like girth. I'll add more to this table as data becomes available.
10. Men's Size Tables
But What About Men's Sizes?
Now this is something you're not going to easily find on the Internet! It took everyone a lot of effort to gather enough data and I even needed to purchase some from various places to get enough data together to be able to identify trend lines that would be reliable enough to publish. You see, women's data is easily found ... men's, not so easy. It might have something to do with not many people making their own menswear at home ... leaving it up to the various brands who certainly won't publish anything for free ... whilst there are many people making women's clothes at home. It may have something to do with Fashion Schools concentrating more on women's wear. It might just be that 80% of the fashion industry revolves around women's clothing. Who knows beyond the fact that a reliable men's sizing table just isn't available anywhere I could find.
Now if you thought the variation in women's shapes was difficult, then you won't be any more excited by men's shapes. The same concept of increased variation in shape with increased size still applies ... only more so. Men can store fat just about anywhere no matter what chest size they are. So while the trend lines for one measurement compared to Chest are clear, there is an awful lot of data that doesn't lie right on top of those lines ... making this chart seem like it's designed only for a fit body (the fit body just so happens to be a fraction under the trend lines so really this table represents a reasonably healthy guy carrying a few extra pounds - Mr Average). I've still got to get more data for the calf measurement and some for arms.
While it doesn't look like much, this innocent looking spread sheet is probably the most significant table of measurements on the entire Internet! Once I have everything in it I'll do a more thorough analysis for everyone ... but in the mean time, have at it! All measurements are in centimetres.
Total Data: 516 persons
11. Head Sizing
Just In Case You Wanted To Know
I'm not entirely sure if including this section is a good idea. Head sizing, or more accurately hat sizing, isn't divided up between male and female. It's a hat industry thing whereby they take the head crown measurement and arbitrarily assign a size to it depending on which country you come from. So what do hats have to do with stretch pattern making? Read on...
There is a whole industry out there making full face hoods, be it for neoprene diving masks or Lycra kids’ ballet animal costumes or even some highly complex theatrical costumes. To my dismay they all use the hat sizing system. This system makes no reference to face diameter or the sizing of features, like chin width ... obviously because they have no part to play in hats. So why use it when designing hoods? Well apparently they must all think hoods are still hats. Thankfully, the other head measurements are relatively proportional to crown circumference in as far as hood design goes so nobody has really noticed the problem unless their nose or chin are particularly large. The average male crown is 58cm and average female crown is 55cm. The Asian chin and nose are usually significantly smaller for equivalent crown than their western counterparts.
I found this photo somewhere in my travels and have no idea where it came from. I don't know if it's a once off thing or available for commercial sale but it's so cool I just had to include it. If you're the one making it, or know who does, please let me know and I'll link it in to you. It's a neoprene diving hood ... I have no idea if anyone would use it for that, but if they did I'd bet they'd have less trouble with sharks.
Of course custom pattern makers only need to consider actual measurements, but those designing hoods and masks will need to adapt some kind of system (usually dictated by the designer).
Face is a full diameter measurement taken at right angles to crown circumference when looking side on. The face measurement is, coincidentally, the same as the crown when we're looking at averages; however there can be considerable variation toward either end of the range, so always take it no matter how consistent you might think it is. The neck measurement is the smallest diameter of the neck.
People making latex hoods for fetish wear will obviously need to take a lot more measurements if they're looking to be anatomically correct on facial features. In this case things like position of the eyes, nose and mouth are critical to the function of the garment. The nose is often made as a separate pattern piece and often serves to locate the garment so it needs to be very accurately positioned.