Clothing Sizes and Specifics- An Answer to Some Questions

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This post was originally done when I released my tentative size chart for my Wearing History Clothing Kickstarter campaign.  At the time, and still, I am a very small, one person run company and I was very sad about having to limit my sizing.  This post was made to help others understand what goes into standard sizing, including size range, grading, and the differences in “blocks” or base sizes.

Although at present we have a very limited stock on Wearing History Clothing, following the success of the Kickstarter campaign I was able to add plus size in two of the clothing styles.  Due to the high expenditure, we will not be able to make new Wearing History Clothing at this time, but this post will help you to understand sizing standards whether for ready to wear clothing or sewing patterns, and why very small companies often have to limit their ranges.

Re-Sizing Patterns & Base Patterns

There’s a real, technical, reason behind sizing and sizing standards.  When you take one pattern and change it to different sizes, it’s called “grading.”  It takes a LOT of math.  But, as you’ll see, not all sizes can be graded from one pattern.

Generally, a “safe” grade rule would be up and down two to three sizes from your “base pattern”.  A Base Pattern is the pattern you draft your original pattern from.

But what is this Misses size vs Petite, Tall, Plus, and Junior’s?

All of those sizing types are based off of different proportions

Because of this, no amount of math will let you change from one size type to another.  So, for example, you can’t take a Petite and change it to a Misses.  You can’t take a Junior’s and change it to a Plus.  There may be Junior’s Plus, or Petite Plus, but that’s different than just Junior’s or Petites.

Why?  Because when we “grade” a pattern, we do this flat, with math, in 2-D.  The body is different.  It’s in 3-D, and it not only is 3-D, but it moves, and has different needs based on age, size, height, and weight.  That’s why we have each of these different size “types”.

Your Base Pattern Size Limits Your Size Range

In my case, my Wolf professional form is a Misses’ 34″ bust, which I bought after I graduated from fashion school, over 10 years ago.  Sadly, that means I’m already not in the middle of the size range for misses’ sizing.  That means my size range is already limited, because I can only size up so much and still have accurate grading from a small base pattern.

Why Can’t Startups Start with a Bigger Size Range or Different Size Types?

Well, most of it comes down to financial reasons and skill sets.

As of now, I’m not making any profit, of course, because my clothing line hasn’t launched yet.   I’m on a pretty tight shoestring right now, so I’m using the tools I already have, which includes the smaller professional dress form.

My Kickstarter goal will only cover production costs- not startup fees OR pay for my time developing this line over the past few months, or for filling orders or time I spend working after the launch.  After I actually am able to make a profit,  some of that will go into a new professional form, which can cost over $1,000.  It’s big money up front for a startup who’s not got much to start with!  So all of my “base patterns” are for my size SMALL form currently have.  All of my patterns are Misses’ sizing, because that’s what my form is.

Now, if the Kickstarter goes gangbusters and we go above and beyond the goal, adding larger misses’ sizing is a definite possibility with future releases!  But right now, I just don’t know, because, ultimately, my time and work and the future of my clothing line are in the hands of the future customers (that’s you!).

However, down the line when I get a size medium or large misses’ form for drafting my base  patterns, I still won’t be able to do plus sizes by using that form and my skill set.  Because to do that I’d need a different dress form, and a different, unique skill set for making those types of sizes.

Other Sizing Types Require A Different Skill Set

In general, fashion school teaches you to draft misses’ sizes, not plus, petites, or tall.  We did have one junior form in fashion school, and none of the misses’ outfits we drafted ever fit it, or vice versa.  I remember, we always had to be careful not to grab that form.  It made out outfits we were graded on look bad!  Because our outfits were drafted for misses’, not juniors’, and we were graded based on both our pattern drafts, and how our mock up looked on the form.

People can spend lifetimes perfecting their skill set.  A lot of experience and skill comes from knowing how to fit your unique figure.  I’m misses’ size and I have been making clothing in my personal size range for a great while.  I don’t have personal experience making plus sizes, or petite’s sizes, or tall sizes.  But people who ARE in those sizes and have spent a long time learning to do what they need to for their size type are generally more used to the unique concerns of that size group.  (Update:  I was able to purchase a plus size form following the Kickstarter, but am still very much learning how to redraft misses’ patterns to plus size patterns.  It has taken sometimes up to ten revisions and mock ups before each pattern was redrafted correctly.)

So Why Does Sizing Vary So Greatly WITHIN a Size Type?

Most fashion companies use Misses’ sizing.  But there is no standard size chart, so a company is free to use whatever measurements they want to use to make up their sizing, and they are free to change it down the line (add or subtract sizing, change measurements, etc).

If a size chart doesn’t say it’s Junior’s, Petites, Tall, or Plus, you can bet it’s Misses’ sizing.  In general, it’s the industry standard UNLESS it has a target audience within the other sizing types.

Some have size charts varying depending on the particular design, too, so ALWAYS check your size charts before buying!

What are you doing for your size chart?

In my case, I made my “tentative” size chart based on what I felt I could safely grade from my Misses’ size base pattern.  I compared this to what other companies that my target customer base buy from, and I made my sizing.  It falls closely in line with Revamp, Stop Staring, and ModCloth.

So that’s it, in a nutshell.  I hope you can understand a little more clearly about how sizing works.  Truly, if other companies are like me, they WISH they had the resources and skill set to offer fashions for EVERYONE!  I really do.  It makes me totally bummed when I hear some people can’t wear what I’m making :(  But I can only hope that in the future I will be able to do so.  I’m hoping so, because I REALLY want to make this happen!

If you’re interested in more of a technical reason behind sizing, make sure you check out these links:

Colette Patterns:  Grading Patterns for Plus Sizes

Fashion Incubator:  What is an Optimal Size Range, Pt 2.

Fashion Incubator:  What is a Size Break?

Fashion Incubator:  Why Existing Manufacturers Don’t Add Plus Sizes

Fashion Incubator: Grading is Not Morphing

7 Comments on Clothing Sizes and Specifics- An Answer to Some Questions

  1. ljhs
    July 20, 2014 at 11:17 pm (2 years ago)

    Thank you for the explanation about pattern grading and although I am still sad that your sizing won’t fit me at this time it now leads me to ask you another question about the sewing patterns that you sell. I notice that these do cover my size and even larger, how have you managed to grade these accurately? I know it is up to the sewer to make adjustments to fit their own personal size but how true to sizing are they?

    • Lauren
      July 20, 2014 at 11:58 pm (2 years ago)

      No problem, glad that you found it useful.

      Yes, you are right. For the longest time I didn’t do anything above a 40″ bust for this reason with the sewing patterns. However, talking to some other people I know convinced me to size them larger, but note that there may be alterations needed.

      With sewing patterns, it’s assumed the seamstress can make adjustments needed. So I did do larger sizes, but would usually include a disclaimer like: “This is MISSES sizing, not Plus Size”, or “This is graded from a size “x” misses’ size, plus sizes may need adjustments”.

      Basically, what happens with grading Misses’ sizes larger is that the armhole circumference will not be large enough, but the torso and length will be way too long. Some people have made up the patterns in the larger sizes and not needed the adjustments because they were really tall, but those are in the minority. The majority of people will find that Misses’ sizes graded to larger sizes will usually be too long in the torso and not proportioned correctly with them. While this is ok when you expect people to make a mock up, as most people I asked who were larger sizes said they’d rather start with something close to their measurements and would be ok with making adjustments in the mock up phase, ready to wear clothing is a whole different animal. With ready to wear clothing, if it doesn’t fit off the rack, most people won’t but it or will return it, rather than get it altered.
      It also explains, why in our “fast fashion” times, that so many clothes are ill fitting. A lot of companies don’t bother to test fit and size as much as they should before selling garments. And most people don’t really know the difference, because we’ve become accustomed to a lower standard in general, since most people have no knowledge of what something should really look like.

      I really wish that the explanations of sizing and how they work were more widely known, as for the longest time I didn’t understand the nature of plus sizes verses larger misses sizes myself. I think it’s something that’s hard to grasp, because you have to personally see the adjustments needed in person. Once I worked in theatre and saw lots of different fittings on lots of different types of body shapes it started making a little more sense. There really isn’t a “sizing standard”, because, as you can see in the charts on the larger size patterns on my website- the numbers can look the same in inches, but it’s how the shape is proportionally with torso length, neck width, armhole width, sleeve fit and width, etc, that make such a big difference.

      Hope that helps explain :)

  2. Brittany
    July 21, 2014 at 6:03 am (2 years ago)

    Thats an excellent explanation! I am able to sew your larger sized patterns and they fit me like a dream but Im 5’7″. I have graded very small vintage Misses patterns to fit me but it took a ton of little changes to make it fit well enough to wear and even then, I wouldn’t be confident in selling it.

    • Lauren
      July 21, 2014 at 7:41 am (2 years ago)

      Thanks, Brittany! I was actually just talking with my husband about what you made from my patterns last night. Your overalls were the first I ever saw of a pattern I graded to a larger size that I saw photos of. It felt like a little victory for me. I am SO happy that they worked out so well for you. You are quite tall, so that probably does help with the sizing :)

  3. Laura Mae
    July 22, 2014 at 11:38 pm (2 years ago)

    What a wonderful explanation – I cannot imagine the amount of time and effort it takes to draft and grade a pattern. Brava for your brave journey. The sneak peeks of the finished garments look absolutely wonderful!

    I was sorry to see some of the negative comments on your instagram post with the sizing chart; please know that you are incredibly talented and your skills are amazing. I think it is incredibly wise to create a product with a limited size range that you are proud of to get your fledgling company off the ground.

    Wishing you the best!

  4. Laurel Shimer
    August 4, 2014 at 10:31 am (2 years ago)

    The way I understand it, and I’m trying not to repeat what you said, is that often bigger ladies and gentlemen *girth* up in just certain areas. So while the neck opening and other parts of the anatomy are more or less the same, other parts of the body, like abdomen and bottom for example, may likely expand a whole lot more. And people girth up differently.

    Then there are people who are simply made bigger, but aren’t necessarily fleshy. So a natural size 16 or 18, might have a pretty flat stomach and bottom, but somebody else, with a much smaller torso, has entirely different draping/pattern making needs.

    I thought the Sew Forth Now podcast where Lori interviewed Connie Crawford, author of that classic draping book I have and can’t find this second, has a good explanation of this by Connie. That podcast is still available through iTunes and if you want me to find it I will :-) Laurel

  5. Laurel Shimer
    August 4, 2014 at 10:50 am (2 years ago)

    I would email this to you, except I cannot find an email reference on this wonderful new-to-me web site you have. (Nor can I seem to get the subscribe button to take my email – it must just not be my day) I’m *not trying to promo* my blog/podcast, but thought this might be pertinent for cost concerns regarding dress forms. Not sure if it applies to you, as you obviously are busy enough with your business…. Last fall I did a show on my experiences making my own two dress forms. One of them was a “Uniquely You” dress form, which has a foam core that allows for draping (versus the duct tape dress form which I think would be hard to stick pins in). IN the podcast I talk about the costs I incurred and what it was like to put this kit together working with others in a small group setting. Separate from the costs of the class (through local community college so more affordable, but I thnk ASG arranges for these sometimes) , I think I spent about $250, and I know I talk about that in the show along with what it was I did to create it. But it is, of course, a ton of work – 3 very full Saturdays I seem to recall. I talk about how much time was involved in the show. Also for a business owner, who would they make the form to fit when you say a larger person? However, for people who work with your patterns, perhaps that would be helpful

    Here is a link to the show notes. It includes links on listening to the audio right on the web, or to iTunes to download it to a mobile device. Again I’m *not* doing this to promo my podcast, feel free to remove this comment and I will not feel bad!

    Here are the show notes (I have the same show notes on two different blog names)
    http://enchantedbysewing.blogspot.com/2013/09/ench-by-sew-12-dress-forms.html

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