I’m comin’ at ya real casual this week! By this time, I’ve given you tons of homework, so this week we’ll take a break and I’ll rant a little bit about ready-to-wear and mass production. Don’t get me wrong — I don’t want to bite the hand that feeds, but as I mentioned in my very first intro video, RTW is incredibly exclusionary in terms of fit. There are not enough sizes, or too many that have been graded off the wrong shape, fit issues that happen for a myriad of reasons, quality compromises, and I haven’t even got to how it exploits people and the environment. There are so many problems! Ugh.
Reasons RTW doesn’t fit:
- Poor Initial Fit
- Cutting Stacks
- Human Error
- Bad Grading
- Poor quality
If you strip all that away, though, there is a lot to be learned from RTW — I can vouch for technical designers as a whole: if there’s ever been a group of people who obsess about details and research and problem-solving, that would be us. We conduct focus groups, size set fittings, work with fit models of all sizes, wear test, stretch test, and wash test. We put our hands in pockets, button and unbutton, tie, pull, zip, crack and count stitches. We look at armholes, peer at armpits, move models’ arms back and forth, cut garments while on a live person with real scissors, and create visual cheat sheets for on body standards. We communicate with master pattern makers and production managers around the globe to make the best possible product we can, with the tools we have to work with.
If you think about it, any garment you pick up in a store has had *at least* 20 – 60 people think about it, talk about it, sketch it, meet about it, fight about it, price it, cut it, sew it, pack it, and ship it. That can be off-putting. But, it can also tell you that in better quality stores with higher price points, those garments have been handled with as much love and frustration as any make you have labored over, by *at least* 1 of those 20 – 60 people, whether or not it fits.
So, I’m not telling you to go to a store and try things on and figure out what silhouettes you like. And I’m definitely not telling you to buy the things you like and take them home and measure them and take pictures of their shapes. And I’m wholeheartedly telling you to absolutely not return the garments the next day. 😉
Have you had issues with RTW? Rant in the comments! I want to learn what kind of experiences you’ve had, why you sew, and what you actually do like to spend money on and why. (Personally, I spend money on RTW outerwear, because I can’t replicate the kind of performance aspects at home the way some specialty retailers are able to.)
Can’t wait to hear from you 🙂
*Please note that I am speaking from the position of a person who has been a corporate employee in the U.S., purely about mass produced apparel and its production. If you’d like to learn more about apparel manufacturing from a global standpoint, and some of the life-affecting issues at hand, I highly recommend researching the Rana Plaza disaster of 2013 in Bangladesh. There’s also an excellent documentary that is currently streaming on Netflix called “The True Cost” that is incredibly enlightening- just to get you started.
Gabby is a technical fashion designer, fit specialist, and prolific googler. She lives in Denver, raises tiny littles, reads, embroiders, makes, experiments, fails, learns, tries again. See her on instagram @ladygrift.
Long swimsuits! Any chance? They are very few and far between. I’ve even had a go at making a long swimsuit, but it is hard work. Much as I’d love long legs and a shorter body, nature has decreed otherwise. Obviously I look sensational in a bikini, ( especially as the top and the bottom are miles apart…) but it’s not fair on the other girls on the beach. Even so called long swimsuits are a bit short – I appreciate I’m not painting myself in the most flattering light here- but maybe there money to be made in an adjustable swimsuit. Hey…..!!!!
I can see how this would be so frustrating! Land’s End carries some, and a few other specialty swim retailers – my vote would be to bring back the Rudi Gernreich Monokini 😉 perhaps with a bandeau underneath?
I have the same need and I’ve had great luck with LL Bean
I feel ya. I’m fine in a 2 piece because I’m camp effyourbeautystandards, but there’s days I’m actually swimming with my kids and don’t want to deal with putting the girls back in my top. I’m long in the torso for my height (5’8″+) and have had luck with the 1 piece speedos at Costco.
And people wonder why I hate online shopping and always want to try my clothes on LOL. I always have to order 2 sizes because I never know what size is going to fit!
Me too! What a pain. I really don’t like trying things on in stores though, it’s such an intimate activity to see yourself that way and to try to be objective about things that you pick emotionally, standing feet away from strangers – I’d much rather try things on at home or sew them myself 🙂
I love the blithe assumption that anyone who is wearing a shirt must be a b-cup. And the related idea that anybody who is larger-busted must also have broader shoulders and longer arms.
it’s really interesting to think that the reason we fit the way we do is based on sales data – size medium is usually the size that is purchased the most, and size mediums are fit on B/C cups.
based on sales data that is self-perpetuating, isn’t it? I mean, if I don’t have an option to buy something in another cup size….then I have no option other than to fulfill this data expectation. Sales data is in direct conflict with scientific data, in particular US size data. If the entire scientific and medical field says humans in the US are getting bigger, but RTW sales data is skewed to show they sell what they provide… both can’t be correct. The latest study by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation further throws a lot of assumed size data out the window – that size is not an indication of health (duh, we knew that, right folks?) Maybe RTW needs a data shake up like the medical industry just got?
PS I’ll note of course I’m just pontificating – I realize this isn’t yours to solve. I’m curious about it. I’ve removed myself from the RTW world, which means RTW has also lost that revenue and won’t get it back. It’s small potatoes in the big scheme of it all, but I’m intrigued by the incestuous nature of their own data. If I only provide a market with X, and I sell X, of course my data will show that the majority of my buyers purchase X. Even if I sandwiched it with a slightly varied W and Y and maybe even throw out a Z for specialty online ordering only….and my data still comes back that my consumers are mostly those that fit in X…my data is skewed. My revenue growth is limited by my own data pool….which I did to myself.
So, yup, basically! And are you ready for the creepy spying deep-dive answer? Of course these companies track purchases based on credit cards used, so not only are they tracking what sizes and styles are being sold, but to who- ethnicity, marital status, age, where they live, etc etc ad nauseam. This data is then passed along, and you may have noticed an uptick in special sizes offered- curvy, for example. Then the styles that are fit on a “curvy” model (waist to hip ratio over 10″+), will be offered specifically in the areas that trend towards buying larger sizes, and “test” it to see how it does. But, who lives there? They’ll choose a model who represents the majority of the customers in that area. Like, you wouldn’t buy packable down outerwear at a department store in Miami, Florida, would you? The same way they use climate data to set specific product types, they use sales data to test different fits developed for specific body types. I will say that things are changing, but it takes so long- apparel for any appreciable amount of quantity takes *at least* 6 months to a year to initially develop and set in a store. Additionally, if you consider that the main product draw is always for straight sizes, the “extended” sizes are considered niche and generally offered online only, for the most part. And, of course, I can speak only about major big-box retailers here, which, if anyone reads about, they seem to be dying a slow death for reasons just like this.
So, it’s not like they’re not trying, they’re just not trying very hard, and they’re not flexible or mobile.
I see this a lot in advertising. For awhile “big data” was the big buzz phrase, but the public has pushed back, so it’s not called that out loud anymore… I wince when I see “GoodRX” ads or people recommending them….they are one of the largest compilers & sellers of personal medical data…people volunteer their demographic, then download a coupon for their prescription. They’re beyond evil. Customer rewards are the same way esp if you use the same rewards # for groceries & prescription, and recently Shopify tried pulling some similar shit. I get wanting to know customer data for better service…it’s what I’m versed in, but it’s gotten ugly. (She types on her iPad next to her Alexa…) But yeah. A couple years ago I wrote a couple articles in both HuffPo & Apple News predicting more RTW decline. I wrote it won’t be because of market pressure tho, it’s because the financial model isn’t sustainable. I amend my original thesis to add to my theory of going back local…the choices will be local or Amazon and Walmart/Google, less sure about the latter… Im sure we talk shop for hours 😂
The cup-size thing drives me nuts, too. For example, here in the UK, M&S still sells more bras than any other shop. And the median cup size they sell is definitely not a B. Yet all their womenswear is cut to fit a B cup! Why would they do this to their customers, especially when their womenswear business is struggling? They have all the data on the cup sizes of their market, but they don’t apply it to the rest of their clothing line. I don’t get it.
the most exciting thing was when you told me about ‘tolerance’ – I had no idea. I’m glad you shared it here…. it explains SO much. Well, this whole thing… explains why one day I got buy a pair of pants, then a month later, go buy the exact same pair, and it’s completely different. Now I get why. Love this. Thank you Gabby.
anytime, pal 😉
I’m tall, so I’ve always have trouble with leg and sleeve length. I’ve found higher end brands will make longer inseam pants (they probably assume you can afford to tailor – which fortunately I don’t need, BUT buying jeans/pants is painful because they are so expensive). But coats, blouses, sweaters – ANYTHING long-sleeved is never long enough and is cropped on my arms. And I feel the long torso thing people are talking about too!
If you can find it- if brands offer tall & extra tall online, you’d probably be looking at something like +2″-3″ for a sleeve length (long sleeve) from Missy, and 3″-4″ for a full-length inseam from Missy. But, that stuff is so hard to find… that is an excellent reason to sew.
My rant is the bait and switch fabric trick. I buy something (a bra for instance) and I like it. So I find the style number on the tag, and order another one. But when this one shows up, it is slightly less well made, and in much cheaper (ie: crappy) fabric. 😡
this drives me crazy too. it usually happens when a style does surprisingly well for one delivery or season, and then they’ll want to rush order back into it for the next season, and offer it again with more units. but the original fabric might not be available (fabric development takes a really long time) or they’ll switch the fabric to something cheaper to make more money on it. 🙁
I’m tall and plus size – talk about a unicorn in the RTW world. They assume if you’re tall, you’re skinny and if you’re plus size, there’s no way you could be tall! Sooooo sick of long sleeve shirts that after one wash are no longer long sleeve!!
oh man we were just talking about shrinkage yesterday! so frustrating. that’s also tough- we always tried to make sure as many extended sizing variations possible were offered, but that’s no guarantee that they would ever be ordered into 🙁
I know I’m not a standard shape, so am not surprised I can’t find RTW, at 5’2″, and having lost weight am back to very boyish, no hourglass here:
32E (UK – is that US DDD?) bust, 29″ waist, 34.5″ hips, 30″ inside leg, long crotch rise relatively, so very short torso. Boys age 11 or 12 (152/158) jeans do as do boys’ t-shirts and jumpers (stretch over the boobs) and coats.
My current pattern fitting issue is trying to fit shirt patterns. I’ve tried size 10/38 with FBA and think I’ve worked out that the issue is that my rib cage is very deep, it’s really affecting underarm and bust fit. That 32″ is 10″ across my front and back, but 6″ deep. Next experiments are going to be FBA on boys’ patterns in the hope that works better.
Love how you’re using other size ranges to experiment!! You might also try Asian clothing brands, which are usually fit to a smaller body type. I bet also vintage patterns would be a good way to go.
RTW dresses are the hardest to find for me, unless they are wraparound ones. Basically, I’m 34E but with a slim waist and then big hips! Oh, and narrow shoulders. Bit of a nightmare! And I swear the width of sleeves is getting smaller and smaller…