Clothing Fits…. Who Exactly?

A few months ago I posted a video about measuring and sizes and it included a link to a survey. I wanted to get some insight into the mystery of clothing sizes and fit and have actual data on what sizes and shapes people are. By far the most common complaint I hear is that people have trouble finding clothing that fits, so I was hoping the survey might show me what common fit issues there are and maybe I could have some stats that would be helpful to show brands where improvements with sizing and fit could be made.

First, I want to say a huge THANK YOU to everyone who filled out the survey! You input has been incredibly helpful.

It’s taken me quite a while to wade through all the numbers and to be honest the scope and variables of this kind of data collection were a lot more complex than I initially anticipated. However I found it really interesting and also was quite surprised by what I learned.

Housekeeping and info about the survey

The survey received 955 complete responses, I was hoping for 1000 but still think it’s a decent sample size.

Since the survey was mostly filled out by my audience (although it was also shared on social media and through some other ethical bloggers). It’s important to acknowledge that there might be some bias with the results because I assume people who are following fashion bloggers for clothing and brand recommendations are more likely to follow someone who is a similar age, speaks the sample language, maybe are from similar parts of the world, or maybe even has a similar body type to them so they can see how clothes might look. These are all speculative and of course we follow people for different reasons but it’s just good to note that this isn’t a totally random sample of people.

Also I think it’s very important to point out that the data was all self-reported. Taking measurements in particular can be difficult and even though I provided some instructions there was no control over how people were measuring themselves and therefore likely some variation and inconsistency with that.

Some basic demographics

The vast majority of respondents were 18-44 with the bulk of that falling in the 25-34 age range.

The respondents are also mostly from North America and Europe:

While I really appreciate the men that filled out the survey there unfortunately weren’t enough to have a good set of data so I just focused on women’s sizes for this project.


So what did I find?

Let’s start off with a more simple one…

Height & Petite vs Tall Sizes

One thing I was interested in was height and what percent of people usually wear petite or tall sizes. This chart shows the height distribution of respondents (in cm – sorry everyone who prefers inches but I work a lot better with centimetres so had to convert everything) and what portion wear petite or tall sizes. Typically petite sizes are for those under 160 cm although some also go up to 162 while tall sizes generally start at around 171 cm. However these sizes are mainly for limb length, so for example if you are a average height but have long legs and a short torso or the opposite you might still wear tall or petite sizes and I think that’s why we see some overlap.

Something I found interesting is there are slightly more taller people than petite people however more people wear petite sizes than tall sizes. Maybe this has to do with availability or how clothes are designed, but I found it interesting because I assumed it would be the opposite – since it’s possible to hem regular clothes for petites but you can’t add fabric for taller people.

Measurements & Sizes

This is the data I was really interested in. With my background in fashion design and pattern-making I’ve always used a “standard size guide” for drafting patterns which as far as I understand is based on quite old measurements. I was really curious how closely these measurements matched real people and also how closely the respondents fit into clothing brand’s size charts.

Everyone was asked what letter size(s) they usually wear and these fit relatively close to the way stores typically order sizes, with medium being the highest and tapering down from there (a standard curve), although compared to the survey data stores would likely order more larges and fewer smalls.

Although as I’ll explain shortly this graph isn’t totally accurate and this is also where things really got interesting.

Looking at the measurements (participants measured their bust, waist and hip) there was so much variety in sizes and shapes that it was very difficult to find commonalities and overlap to draw conclusions from. I basically had pages of measurements that really just illustrated how diverse and unique women’s bodies are.

One thing I wanted to do was see how easily people fit into brand’s sizes, so I decided to average the size ranges of 10 popular brands (I used a mix of regular and sustainable/ethical brands) to get my average size ranges. This on its own was interesting to see the variations from brand to brand – they were relatively close for the S-L range but then getting into plus sizes the variations were so drastic it was basically impossible to find a good average.

I then looked at how everyone’s measurements fit into this average size range and assigned a letter size to the bust, waist and hip measurements.

Something that I found incredibly interesting is only 23% of people are the same letter size across their 3 measurements (ie. M bust, M waist, M hips) and this is a generous percent as I also included people who are at the edge of the size range above or below (for example someone who is M bust, M waist and L hips but close to the bottom of the L size range I still included in this %). So this means at least 77% of people don’t fit a single letter size! Most people should be wearing different sizes for tops and bottoms, although even with that, often people’s waist and hips, or waist and bust are different sizes, which can cause fit issues, nevermind buying a fitted dress that needs to fit all measurements. I’ll talk later about some things you can do though!

how to measure bust

This is also a good time to highlight the fact that these are a VERY simplified set of measurements, we’re not taking into account things like torso length, bust point, shoulder width, upper hip/lower hip, neck size, thigh size etc. Even with the most simple measurements we could possibly have, there already is a ton of diversity with women’s bodies. Letter sizes are also more simplified than number sizes, so if there is this much of a difference in letter sizes than it must be even greater with number sizes. I of course expected there to be a lot of different shapes and sizes but was surprised at how different everyone actually is even with such basic measurements.

Something else I found really interesting is 27% of people fit a totally different size than they say they wear, and this is a very conservative estimate because I only included people who were significantly different in size than they said. Some of this might have to do with brands having variations in sizing, for example if your favourite brand fits really small or large, or people wanting tighter or looser fits, but I was still surprised at how high the percent of people wearing the “wrong” size is. I also didn’t find commonalities of people saying they wore larger or smaller sizes, for example there’s women who wear an M but fit in a XS size range and women who wear an M but fit in a XL size range.

In hindsight I should have added another question for clarification – asking if people purposely size up or down for fits they like, because I don’t know if a lot of people are doing that on purpose or if a lot of people don’t know what sizes they should be wearing.

Common Fit issues

The one commonality I did manage to find is many women have wider hips than clothing brands account for. The waist-to-hip ratio needs to be larger for a lot of women’s sizes and this was echoed with the question about what common fit issues people had – the biggest issues were hips fitting too small and waist fitting too big. Thighs fitting too small was also very high and also relates to the waist-to-hip ratio issue.

Everything thing else was relatively close with people needing certain areas larger or smaller, so it would be difficult for brands to make changes. Although offering different inseam options could potentially be helpful.

Something else that really needs to be talked about, especially in the ethical fashion space, is inclusive sizing. Many conscious brands only have a S-L range, or if you’re lucky a XS-XXL range. Based on the data I also found there is an under-served market in ethical fashion of about 11% of people who need size XXL or larger and 7% of people who need size XXS or smaller.


What’s the takeaway?

To be honest, going into this I hoped to come out with a list of recommendations and things brands can do to better serve the fit needs and sizes of their customers, and ideally a better size chart that more closely reflected people’s measurements. However what I learned is that clothing brands essentially have an impossible task, women’s bodies are just so different! And this was from only looking at the very simplest of measurements – while people might fit the bust/waist/hip they could have have broader shoulders, larger cups, longer arms, etc. Basically clothing perfectly fits almost no one.

For reference I compared the “standard size” I was taught to draft patterns for and the same measurements many brands use for their sample size (this size is supposed to be the ” average customer”) to the data and not a single person exactly fit the base size! 4 people (out of 950) were pretty close but it still blew my mind that no one actually fit the measurements which entire brand’s sizes are based off. Out of all the sizes less than 1% of people were the base size measurements for the different sizes I and so many fashion students are taught to draft and grade patterns for.

I tried to come up with a new size guide based on averages of the measurements, and even creating clothing for the average person in each size only actually fits a few people and not even perfectly – there is just too much variation.

After discovering this I was actually surprised to see over 25% say it was very easy or fairly easy to find clothing that fits. Although this is pretty close to our 23% of people who fit 1 size in their measurements and it still shows that about 75% of people have issues finding clothing that fits.

How easy people said it is to find clothing, 1 = Very Easy, 5 = Very Difficult

So what can brands do?

  • Utilise stretch in fabrics (although most everyone already does) to fit a wider range of people
  • Go for a niche market and focus on designing for a specific body type instead of for everyone – use customer feedback and different fit models to develop fits
  • Offer custom sizing or do alterations
  • Possibly try a larger waist-to-hip ratio as this seems to be a common fit issue

However we have to recognise that things like custom sizing cost a lot more and targeting a niche market really limits your audience so I unfortunately can’t see many brands going that route.

I would also recommend brands use a medium size as their base/sample size to grade from since that is the most common size.

Is it too much to expect clothing to fit off the rack?

I hate to say it, but yes.

We’re so different and yet we expect brands to make clothing for all of us. It’s also important to point out that this is a relatively new expectation, historically it was normal for everyone to get their clothing tailored, custom made, or do alterations themselves, but with the rise of fast fashion tailoring has been dying. With clothing that is so cheap and abundant we care less about how it fits and don’t want to spend extra money to get it tailored. There also has been a huge rise in knit clothing and spandex because it allows clothing to fit a larger variety of people.

What can we as customers do?

  • Know your measurements and always compare your measurements to a brand’s size chart, don’t just go off what size you usually wear. (Also make sure you know how to properly measure yourself)
  • Fit your largest parts first! Since we learned most people wear different sizes based on their bust, waist and hip measurements it’s best to go with the larger size and have it taken in to fit the smaller areas.
    • Although this depends on the garment you’re thinking of buying – so you want to pay attention to what areas are most fitted, for example if you’re buying a dress with a fitted bodice and flared skirt the hip measurement doesn’t matter as much but you want to fit the bust and waist measurements.
  • Check if the garment is a knit (like jersey which naturally has some stretch) or a woven which has no stretch, or if there is any spandex or elastane. This will affect how the garment fits and will give you more flexibility with determining the size you need.
  • Find a tailor or learn to do alternations yourself. My biggest lesson from this project is how important tailoring and alternations can be for a good fit.


Conclusion

With all the variations in size and shapes it actually feels like a miracle that someone can walk into a store and find a piece that fits perfectly (although I’m pretty sure that miracle’s name is Spandex).

It’s easy to blame the clothing industry for not making clothes that fit but from the perspective of someone who has experience working in the fashion industry and drafting patterns, after combing through all these measurements it seems basically impossible to make clothes that will even fit the majority of people. Fitting about 1/4 of people mostly well doesn’t actually seem so bad when you look at all the variation.

I do think though that if we understand our bodies, proportions, and fits we like, then we can get better at finding the kind of cuts that fit and also know how we can alter things ourselves or with a tailor to get that “fits like a glove” garment.

However if clothes don’t fit this DOES NOT mean we should blame our bodies. I sadly hear this all the time, instead of “these pants are too small”, people often say, “my butt is too big”. We should never be criticising ourselves when clothes don’t fit, it’s an issue with the clothes not you! This project really showed me is how incredibly unique everyone is, of the 950+ participants the vast majority of people have completely individual measurements and at the very most share measurements with 1 or maybe 2 other people. I think that’s pretty incredible. We love to compare ourselves to others but I actually think it’s really freeing and empowering that everyone’s body is uniquely theirs!

I’m leaving this project with 4 main takeaways:

  • There’s definitely some frustration from the designer/pattern-maker side of me seeing how incredibly difficult it is to design and make clothes that fit well. The only real solution is custom sizing but that unfortunately isn’t realistic for most brands and customers.
  • It’s really disappointing that we don’t see more of this incredible diversity of bodies in the media.
  • This project really emphasised for me how terrible it is that we’re taught to see the things that make us unique as “flaws” which should be hidden and to wear “flattering” clothes to try and create the illusion that our bodies are different – typically with the goal to look like whatever body shape is currently idealised.
  • It’s amazing how unique we all are and horrible how critical I and so many other people can be of their bodies. Nothing is “wrong”, “weird” or “different” – everyone’s body is different! While it might make trying on clothes frustrating I think that uniqueness is something we should celebrate 💕

I’d also love to hear what you learned or took away from this!



If you made it through this whole post, congrats! It was probably the longest post I’ve ever written – definitely the one I’ve put the most time into 😅 and hopefully it wasn’t too dry and data heavy. Even though I feel like it isn’t full of revolutionary findings that will change the ethical fashion industry I still hope it’s helpful and interesting. I found working on this fascinating and would really love to hear your thoughts! Also if you filled out the survey, (thank you!!) was this what you expected to come out of it?

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13 Responses

  1. Malina
    | Reply

    This was super informative. Thank you for taking the time to collect and analyze the data! I definitely struggle with finding clothes that fit my longer than standard limbs…I’m 5ft 6in and that pits me in an odd place because petite clothing fits torso wise, but tall clothing fits better length wise. I don’t know any brand that makes longer sleeves for taller womens shirts like they do with pants. I prefer shirts with longer sleeves as I like to cuff them or just have that extra length to keep my fingers warm :p I also wish more brands would have adjustable waist bands in their jeans (I swear this was a thing that existed when I was younger) to accommodate for the different hip and waist varieties out there.

  2. Alma
    | Reply

    So informative and interesting! I had been keeping my eye out for when you posted these results. I was very surprised by your findings! I expected variety in women’s bodies but to hear that we’re al so different that only a couple people shared the same size was really eye opening! The background info regarding how clothing companies actually make their clothing was very insightful. Thank you for taking the time to do this.

    • Verena Erin
      | Reply

      Thanks Alma!

  3. Elaine Beale
    | Reply

    What an interesting topic! I’m sorry I didn’t see your survey or I would have participated. Being a very short female (152 cm/ 5 feet) and having worked in health and safety until I retired a couple of years ago, anthropometric data is one of my favourite subjects. Basically nothing fits me, from the clothes I wear to the chairs I sit in and the car I drive. The best I can do is go for the closest fit. All our garments, furniture and equipment is designed to fit a range of sizes but if you’re in the smallest 10 per cent (like me) or the largest 10 per cent, nothing fits without alteration. The Anthropometric data we have is now old and outdated and people are much larger than they used to be, so far more work needs to be done in this area. It would be a massive undertaking so its hardly surprising that the work haas not been done, but it does make life difficult for some of us. Most of my clothes need to be altered. Everything is too long and even petite or shorter length garments don’t fit well. Tops, pants, skirts and dresses all need to be taken up. Even if the length fits, the body size doesn’t. Dresses are the most problematic for me as the waistline sits too low and usually can’t be altered satisfactorily. Then there’s the cost of alterations…… but the thing that really doesn’t make sense at all is the sizes fashion companies use. I was a size 8 in Australia 30 years ago. Surprisingly im often still a size 8 even though I am over a stone heavier and much larger than I was in my early 20s. I’ve had many conversations with other very short and very tall people and we all have the same problems- nothing fits and it costs us a fortune in alterations. As frustrating as this is for me, I understand the problem. We are all different shapes and sizes and our size and shape varies as we age and at different times of our life. When I was young I was very skinny; as a young adult I struggled to keep my weight in check; when I was pregnant I was an enormous round ball; having gone through menopause I am now fatter than I have ever been. But I’m still a size 8! Am I happy about it? No, not at all. I know I’m much larger than I was 30 years ago. I don’t mind ageing (the alternative doesn’t look great) but I would like to see more consistency in sizing. It would help everyone including manufacturers if the sizing was consistent over time and in all stores. Thanks for the interesting topic!

    • Verena Erin
      | Reply

      I agree, “vanity sizing” has created a lot of problems and all because brands wanted to trick customers into thinking they are smaller so they buy more from them 🤦‍♀️

  4. Chloe
    | Reply

    This is such a good article, I totally agree that petite ranges have way less choice when it comes to sustainable fashion! I wonder how long it will take retailers to get bigger ranges. I found this really interesting article about the impacts of fast fashion in particular if you wanted to take a read at some the consequences – https://www.businessleader.co.uk/hm-and-zara-the-sustainable-fashion-brands-killing-the-environment/56166/

  5. Merav
    | Reply

    Hey Verena!
    Great post, I agree with the comments before me 🙂 would love to see fixes for fitting clothes.. I would also love to see this going to practicality, say showing a couple of sizes and the fit of the same garment as opposed to how it should look, because it seems to me I don’t really have clothes that for me right!

    Have a great WE

  6. Elena
    | Reply

    Well done, really interesting article. I also hoped there would be an easy solution for this dilemma. Nevertheless it is healthy to acknowledge the diversity of our body’s shape and size and bring some nuances from the normative size model. Keep going!

  7. Andrea
    | Reply

    It would be great to have some tips on doing alterations yourself. Would you consider doing a “how to” blog or video on this?

    • Verena Erin
      | Reply

      It’s definitely something I’ve been thinking about. Just not exactly sure the best way to do it though since I buy very few clothes.

      • Pia
        | Reply

        Maybe you could try to do a video about alterations (documenting the process) the next time you go through that process? Or you could film how you teach a friend how to alter a piece of their clothes?

  8. Malia
    | Reply

    Great job and thanks for putting so much work into this research. I believe the results are really interesting, both for clothing providers and customers. And a must-read for anyone planning to start a clothing business. To address one of the leftover question marks, I began sizing up a few years ago, because I just felt better and more comfortable in baggier clothes. In my 20s I used to dress in fitted garments (usially S size, or 34-36). Now I’m in my mid 30s and although I still can wear S, I prefer Ls, they leave more room for layering.

  9. Nicole
    | Reply

    Wow this is interesting! I am very tall and I think there can be several reasons people don’t say they wear tall sizes. One is that that’s not so widely available. Two is that brands that have a tall range (as opposed to just inseam options) fit very differently from regular to tall sizes. I remember the sizes in the tall range just being absurd- sleeves way to long, clothes too big and straight cut, and the fit just being weird. Another thing that comes to mind is that many brands offer inseams that fit someone taller than the average (though not much taller) due to the fact that adding length is impossible while tailors can quickly hem pants.

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