March 05, 2015

Communicating size and fit

The primary way most clothing brands communicate size information is through a size label. This works in most retail settings. Online (and print catalog) clothes shopping adds the benefit of including an easy to use, sometimes interactive size chart. Additional instructions on how to measure yourself is also helpful.

A pictogram showing body
dimensions for a specific size.
None of these solutions are completely fool proof. First, the manufacturer interprets and adapts measurement data to meet the needs of their identified customer. This means they have created and implemented a size system in anticipation of what their customer wants. But a customer may want something to be closer/looser fitting, and shorter/longer lengths than the manufacturer. How does one balance size and fit for a diverse population with ever shifting expectations?

The current trend among new fashion companies is to design for a very narrow customer profile. By targeting a very specific customer, the manufacturers can optimize the fit of their brand to their customer. Larger big box brands have to fit a wide range of body shapes and sizes and their clothes will never fit as well as a more exclusive brand. In some cases a manufacturer will modify their sizes for an existing size system, so that they change what a size means for their target market. In other words, a size 8 for one brand will mean something entirely different for another. This is why there is so much variation in the marketplace between brands.

On the surface this sounds like vanity sizing run amok. If manufacturers change the underlying sizes to fit their version of a size, then surely they are deceiving us into believing we are a smaller size than we truly are. Truth in advertising and all that, right?

The problem with only one size standard across brands is that it does not allow for variation. Women in particular have a large variety of body shapes and sizes. Because manufacturers are free to adapt to meet the needs of their customers having multiple versions of a size will allow people to find the version that fits them best. Once they do, and if the styling is right, they will become loyal customers.

The problem comes back to how to communicate that to the customer. As I said at top, providing more information helps the customer to make a more informed choice. And that is the true challenge.

*This blog entry is part of my on going review of Sizing in Clothing, and is a discussion inspired by the article, Communication of sizing and fit by J. Chun. This article goes into a little more depth about how sizes have evolved and what they might mean.

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