One Size Does Not Fit All – Is Back to The Future The Answer?
Have you ever wondered why finding well-fitting clothes can be such a frustrating task? The size and fit of garments can be vastly different between different styles, retailers and brands. More often than not sizes are regarded by customers as a bit of a guesstimate for what might fit. It’s a pretty tall order to fit all the various human body shapes into a limited set of standard sizes and it’s a problem that manufacturers have been battling for over a hundred years.
The history of sizing
Clothes sizes as we know them today have evolved through a complicated history dating back to the Victorian times. Before the 1800s, clothing was hand sewn and made-to-measure. Wealthy customers would buy their fabric for a skilled tailor or dressmaker to cut and stitch by hand, whilst the poorer would wear second hand or home-made. In the 1830s the first machine-based clothing manufacturer was opened in France in order to supply mass orders of military uniforms. The simple garments were produced in a range of sizes and fitted according to the chest measurement, which was deemed an adequate indicator of overall body size.
By the turn of the century the majority of men in Europe and North America were wearing mass-produced clothing, but it wasn’t until post-WW1 1920’s when attentions began shifting to women’s wear in response to a much greater demand for affordable fashion. It was soon realised that the chest measurement sizing system used for men just didn’t work for the female figure and with no standard ratio between bust, waist and hips, the development of a standardised sizing system was puzzle for many years. The following decades saw conflicting and confusing sizing charts, poorly fitting clothing and an unsustainable surge in shop returns.
In 1939, a US project was begun to formulate average sizing for American women. The year-long programme, run by the US Department of Agriculture studied the weight and 58 body measurements of 14,698 women. The study concluded that five measurements were key: weight, height, bust, waist and hip circumferences and an arbitrary sizing system, akin to shoe sizes, was recommended along with the suggestion that manufacturers only make every second size. The study gathered dust in the war years but was eventually developed into a formal set of US Clothing Standards for men, women and children published in 1958. But there were challenges. Body shapes had changed since the 1930’s and, thus, the standards were revised in the 1970s to form the US voluntary standards. In the 1980s fashion retailers realised that people felt better about themselves if they were able to buy smaller sizes, so they started reducing the sizes without changing the measurements – a phenomenon known as vanity sizing. By 1983 the US voluntary standards were dropped, and manufacturers adapted the sizing to suit their needs, often using different sizing data sets.
Sometime during these decades the American sizing system was adopted by British manufacturers and further adapted to suit their needs. This has continued to evolve to the present day, with many brands and manufacturers using their own sizing catalogues, tweaking their numbers and modifying their own sizing data sets. Vanity sizing is prevalent in women’s clothing - even men’s clothes rarely bear honest measurements anymore – and the result is a rash of vast inconsistencies throughout the whole industry, and ultimately very confused and frustrated customers!
100 years on and the challenge still remains: no two bodies are the same and several sizes do not fit all.
So, what’s the answer?
At Terrain Clothing we set out to break away from the standard sizing system and turn the clocks back in time – but with a difference. Using advanced technology we are able to speed up the production of made-to-measure garments and offer our bespoke fit clothes at a price to compete with the mass-manufactured clothing industry.
As a team of dedicated mountain bikers, mountain biking clothing seemed like the right place to start, so we got to work developing the OriginMTB Jersey.
Using a set of 10 body measurements taken by the customer, we use computer modelling to create a tailor-made pattern for a perfectly fitting top. Because we make each top from scratch in our UK base, we are able to engage the customer in the design process, allowing for the configuration of sleeve length, neck shape and panel colours to truly make it your own.
Our website includes a lot of detail about how to take your measurements, including small gifs if a demonstration is needed. We have also developed an in-built checking function to identify possible mistakes in the measuring process.
The results have been really pleasing for the whole team. High quality, made-to-measure tops in which the customer has been engaged in the design process, delivered within a week of the order being placed.
So now there’s no need to settle for uncomfortable, unflattering and poorly fitting mountain biking kit anymore! In returning to a made-to-measure approach, helped by modern technology, we are almost going back to the future! It has important environmental benefits too, which we will talk about more in the next blog post.