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Chapter IV: "Grading - Body vs Style" - The biggest misconceptions about apparel sizing

Aktualisiert: 6. Feb. 2020

“Once body measurements across all sizes are clear the garment measures are too, right?”

Quick read: Body measurement grading does not equal garment measurement grading as the latter follows aesthetic guidelines. Make sure to have at least one fit expert in your business taking care of this matter across all product categories. Measure the success of your visual grading based on customer feedback and returns.

"Body grading equals garment grading" - Trust me when I say: even the experts wish that was true. But unfortunately it isn’t. Some call it rocket science but let me try to break it down here.

Grading is the exercise of increasing or decreasing the size of pattern pieces according to certain values. You increase or decrease pattern pieces to create the bigger and smaller sizes of your size range. The values are called grading rules and they determine the vertical and /or horizontal movement of the points of the pattern outline. How far a point moves in the x or y direction is determined by the amount of centimetres a whole garment is supposed to get bigger or smaller.

This amount is given by technical people (mostly garment techs or pattern makers) with the right amount of experience. They are translated in ready-made measurement charts which are also used in quality control scenarios. So far so good.

Now if we have figured out how the body grows across all sizes why can’t we just apply the same values to these measurement charts? Because it doesn’t make sense for two reasons:

  • Proportionally it would look weird

  • Different body sizes have different fit preferences

In the following graphics I will demonstrate why we can’t just take over body measurement grading values for garment grading values in some cases.

In the sketch below you see an experiment of the front panel of the women’s top. It’s graded according how the body would grade. The bigger size obviously increased in width but not so much in length, because our body height does not grow proportionally. Female customers are not becoming 4cm taller, but around 4cm wider in chest and hip width each size.

If we used this pattern that is graded according to body measurement than the result wouldn’t look that flattering. In the sketch below you can see the size 36 on the left, in the middle the experiment size 44 and the optimized size 44 on the right.

The length of the experiment looks cropped, the shoulders are much more exposed and the neckline looks quite narrow. The top looks boxy and does not have the same visual appeal as its size 36 equivalent. The proportion just seems to be off.

Plus size experts know: bigger sizes prefer to have their shoulders covered a bit more and the bodice length providing more coverage in the hip area.

The effect we are seeing here lets pattern makers apply the so called “visual grading”. They are not grading according to body measurement in favour of a visually proportional and aesthetic outcome. Additionally other factors come into play as posture and silhouette changes up and down the size range. That knowledge takes years to acquire which explains why some fit experts/pattern makers in traditional houses are paid very well, sometimes more than designers as rumour has it. That also reflects why grading (both x/y values and ready-made measurement charts) are among a brand's most protected assets. I saw manufacturers treating measurement charts like the secret formula of Coca-Cola.


Read the other articles of this series here:

Comments are highly appreciated and I would love getting to know you, so message me regarding your specific interest or book a 20 minute call today.

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