April 09, 2015

Grading from body measurements pt. 1

Pattern grading is the process by which new sizes are developed from an existing pattern. There are various methods or processes used to grade a pattern. These methods include slash-and-spread, shifting, and CAD. At the end of the day, each method accomplishes the same thing, a new size.

The apparel industry has received a lot of criticism for their sizing, especially of women's clothing. At it's core, sizing goes hand-in-hand with pattern grading. You have to define your sizes in order to grade a pattern. In order to grade a pattern you have to know body measurements for each size. The common grade rules for women's apparel is the 1", 1.5" and 2" grade rules used in the United States. Similar grade rules are found in Europe and the UK. The primary criticism is that these grade rules are not based on anthropometric data, or actual body measurements. Instead these grade rules are just pulled out of a hat without regard to women or their fitting needs. These arbitrary grade rules are merely for the convenience of industry.

This is the point of view taken by N. A. Schofield in her article Pattern Grading found in the Sizing in Clothing book. The goal of her research was to test the idea of creating grade rules based on actual body measurements rather than an arbitrary grade rule. There has been a lot of criticism of the industry over sizing and it is a worthy goal to research alternatives. Asking the why questions. Why does the apparel industry do things the way they do? Why do we grade women's clothing this way? Can we do it differently? I've asked a lot of these same questions as I've looked at children's clothing. When I started out, I didn't understand the why and sometimes the answer was not satisfying. Well, that's just how it is is not a very good answer. I can totally get behind Schofield's motivation.

And yet, I feel like I am setting up to be very critical of Schofield's research and I don't want to give the impression, as an industry professional, that even asking the questions were wrong. She was right to ask the question and to test an alternative. The results of her research are interesting and ironically (and indirectly) add support to current practices.

So here are some of Schofield's main arguments:

1. 1", 1.5", and 2" grade rules are not based on anthropometric data. Meaning it is not based on body measurements or the proportional relationships between body parts/areas. These grade rules were intended for the convenience and ease  of hand grading.

2. Grade rules should be derived from body measurements. This means that grade breaks between bust, waist, and hips should not be consistent. Instead of a 34-36-38 chest measurement, we should be seeing a 34-35.5-38 (just as an example), chest measurement.

3. Size prediction and also body measurement prediction needs refinement. This idea is rather complex. Body measurement studies create a lot of raw data. In order to make sense of it, statisticians will test size prediction by using one or two body measurements. So can you predict the overall body size by using just the height or chest measurement? And if you do that, what influence does that have on other body measurements? If a person gets taller, do they also get wider? It is a complex question and not easily answered because there are so many variables. Statisticians bring order to raw measurement data so that we can organize the body measurements into sizes. They do this by averaging and, in some cases, normalizing the data so we can work with it easily. Schofield implies that we should just rely on the measurement data.

The ultimate goal of this study was to improve overall fit of women's apparel by basing grade rules on actual body measurements. I'll have to break up my review of this study into multiple blog entries because I have a lot to say about it. So stay tuned.

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