There are some really great things about running a store- I get to see customers trying on clothes, understand what looks good on what type of body, and I can usually guess by a glance what size will work.

I also see how clothes can be difficult to fit if someone is particularly tall or short, broad-shouldered or narrow-shouldered, has a tummy, pregnant, very skinny, or very overweight.

Here’s how it works, from a designer’s perspective:  your clothes will fit best on someone who has a figure similar to your fit model, and the further you deviate from that model, the less well they will look.   There’s a range of about 10 circumference inches that my clothes will definitely look good on.  so, bust sizes of 32″ -42″ will work, any further and we need adjustments or custom sizing.

additionally, it’s more difficult to fit people who are overweight.  My best explanation for this is because people tend to be thin in the same way-  i.e. closer to the basic shape of the skeleton.  Please don’t imagine that I’m designing for skeletal models-  I carefully avoid working with models who are underweight.  And I use myself as a fit model-  I wear a medium.  But, the basic shape of the skeleton is pretty predictable.

however, someone who is overweight can have very different horizontal proportions-  i.e., their bottom can be much larger than their top, or their stomach can be bigger than their bottom, etc.  It’s not as predictable.

(I’ve never had to fit a body builder, but I can imagine it would require extra work if the dress, jacket, or shirt had sleeves and shoulders.)

I always try to clearly define what body measurements a size will fit best-  i.e. a medium will fit best if you are 36″ bust, 27.5″ waist, 37.5″ hip.  If you deviate more than 1″ from those measurements in any place a tailored garment is cut close, it won’t work.  Working with stretchy fabrics, such as the organic cotton jersey, gives a lot more leeway, and, frankly, items sell better because stretch is more comfortable and more forgiving.

I do make size XL: 42" 32" 43"

there are studys I’ve read,  evidencing how thinner people buy more clothing.  (can’t remember the link.)  However, the question, of course, is do thinner people buy more clothing because sellers offer more interesting clothing for the smaller sizes?  or do they buy more because they are more confident with their bodies and enjoy the buying process?

(I hate buying clothing, which is why I make it.  And when I do buy jeans, I just buy cheap ones so I don’t have to try them on.  dealing with sizing, from a buyer’s vantage point, makes me miserable.  If size charts were offered, and the clothing adhered to those sizes, it would be so much easier. )

finally, regarding custom work.  I get the question a lot, because many people who walk into my store think I work as a tailor or seamstress, rather than a designer.  Generally speaking, the market in maine won’t bear the price of doing custom work in much quantity. I’m not desperate for work (i.e. income), so it’s a better business decision for me to spend my time focusing on my design vision.  I have, at times, made custom sizes of my designs for customers who are larger than my size range.  I try to steer them towards styles that are simple cuts in stretchy fabrics, since I don’t actually charge more for the service.  however, I won’t do complicated cuts in custom sizes, primarily because I don’t like to charge by the hour and I’m not comfortable quoting the price that would make it worth it to me.

an example-  a dress that retails for $200 in a standard size, might realistically be priced at $1000 for a custom size, depending on the person’s body.  this is because:

  • I have no way of fitting the garment without having the customer in the room.  I can’t exactly have a dressform custom-made for each customer (though that is how couture houses do it.  however, they can charge $40k for a suit.  and I can start to see how they calculate that number.)
  • without a dressform that matches the size, I have to pattern-make, not drape.  with pattern making, it’s more difficult to account for all the potential variations of body a person might have.  So it requires careful measuring and fitting…multiple fittings.
  • finally, with my personality, I can’t stand working on someone else’s schedule, so the idea of working with a customer in the room, waiting for me to tear apart muslin #1 to make muslin #2 makes my jaw clench.  too stressful.

So, as said above, my fit model is my own body, and I’m a medium in the size chart above.  my size chart is pretty similar to most other designers in my price range.  Grading is the process of making smaller and larger patterns from your starting sample pattern. Given the comfortable 10″ circumference range for grading, it’s tough for me to make larger sizes without a larger fit model.  And I’m not comfortable in the maine economy quoting the price at which it would be worth it to me to make custom sizes for larger women.

I am surprised there aren’t more larger designers actively focusing on fitting larger sizes, honestly, because regardless of the study mentioned above, it’s a definite that larger people buy clothes and look for interesting clothes in their size.

I’ve often said that it’s very difficult or impossible for most chefs to make decent vegan food unless they’ve tried living as a vegan (well, based on my experience asking for vegan meals at mid-range restaurants.  the really expensive ones do know how to, in most cases.)  Similarly, it’s difficult for me to design clothes properly for plus-sizes.

Posted by:Brook DeLorme

2 replies on “on sizing

  1. Very impressed by your articulate, factual, and practical explanation of clothing and sizing. As someone who sells clothing, I often have to explain why garments are only available in certain sizes. And, as your post explains, this is a matter of common sense, not a personal prejudice against women with a larger body type. Thank you!

  2. You’ve explained the sizing situation very well. I’m very happy to see you online with your clothing ventures again. I remember reading the story in Threads about you and was very inspired. I love reading about people, particularly women, who take an avante garde approach to what they do. As a larger size woman, I guess I should take lemons and turn them into lemonade! Thus, I know my own body very well and I guess I should or could do as you do and design for my own figure. It really is difficult trying to find clothes in a store that will flatter a voluptuous, petite-5’0″ frame.

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