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Chapter I: The "Universal Standard" - The biggest misconceptions about apparel sizing

Aktualisiert: 6. Feb. 2020

Quick read: Your unique body measurements are determined by the age range and ethnic background of your target customer(s), along other criteria. They are a fundamental ingredient of your brand DNA and therefore should be handled as a valuable asset. Use any available source of information to make sure your body measurements reflect your target customer group(s).

If you ever wondered what the Dunning Kruger effect is all about than try to grasp the concept of “apparel sizing”. Explaining is equally challenging as understanding it, so not many step forward to even try. In the pre-3D area I made the experience that sizing is one of those company topics that is handled in the category: “Little talk – little problem”. Well, there is more to it than that.

Just when I passed my exam as a pattern maker I was confident becoming something like the next Messiah of flattering silhouettes. When one starts the studies it becomes clear that pattern making is a lifelong learning process. And that is what thrilled me about it. In one of my first years I was heading a department of a well-known fashion week label in Berlin that was quite focused on silhouettes and fits. It was a stressful six to seven days working week but it was also a hell lot of fun to learn more and more each day. Although the deeper I got into the topic the harder it became to explain it to non-technical people. I found myself becoming so nerdy and confused at the same time, nothing that came out of my mouth made sense. What was created by my hands though, improved massivly over the years.

The inspiration to share a way more sophisticated version of the technical mumbo jumbo and to write this article came from a conversation with a CEO. He was quite close to the operational part as an executive of a middle sized international clothing brand. I met him during a visit of one of the fashion fairs in Berlin around fashion week time in summer 2019. We talked about one of my favourite topics: return rates and ended up in discussing the return rate driver no.1: size-related returns. He assured me that everything was ok so I asked him: “How do you know whether your size M fits well?”. Quit puzzled he answered: "Well, it's written in the books what a size M fit is!"

To be fair: I don’t expect any C-level executive to understand the detailed concept of sizing but to believe good measurements can be found in a book was so surprising to me, I didn’t really know what to answer. Especially as sizing is the number one return reason for most commercial fashion brands. As written in Forbes magazine earlier this year:

“Worldwide, appr. 17 billion items are returned every year. It totals to 4.7 million metric tons of CO2 emitted yearly and if we are able to decrease that figure with just 10%, it would be the equivalent of the power used by 57.000 US homes for an entire year.”

Good news is: we can bring down that number of returns by tackling to number one trigger: sizing issues.

So as an independent consultant I’m heading off to make the myths and sagas around sizing accessible to industry executives. In the age of customer centric design a brand can provide an amazing fit but with body measurements not matching your customers you’ll run into some major problems. You can also have the most sophisticated body measurement chart in the market – with a bad fit you end up leaving customers frustrated. And we all went through that frustration in our lives. Remember when you bought your first pair of denims? You went from brand to brand trying on several styles and fits until you finally found the one that made your X look sexy (replace X with anything that was the It-bodypart of your generation). Some of the other brands you found so “bad” in fit that you never went there again. Not even for a shirt or jacket. To be fair, we know that denims drive a way higher customer loyalty rate than other product groups but you get my point.

I’ll take on the reoccurring misconceptions about sizing. Starting off with the often discussed standard body measurement system, over to what defines good fit, what this “grading” actually is and which role 3D plays in all of this.

“Soon there will be one universal standard for body measurements.”

This is probably the starting point of all discussions around sizing and there has been plenty of articles about it. The latest one I read and highly recommend was released this October by journalist Tracy E. Robey on She beautifully managed to explain a non-professional audience the history of how we ended up discussing sizing topic in the first place. Also she gives a good overview what is going on so far technology wise to tackle sizing issues especially for the online businesses.

The believe that there should be a standardized body measurement or fit ignores three key factors:

  • posture changes with age

  • proportion changes with age

  • proportions are different depending on ethnic background

Leading sizing institutions add even more criteria’s to their questionnaire when asked about the “perfect body measurement”.

Truth is: the bigger your target consumer group the unlikelier you’ll be able to work with “perfect body measurements”.

On the other hand that means that the better you can define your target consumer group(s) the better you’ll be able to benefit from today’s available data. The chances are higher to get really close to an actual and valuable set of body measurements. I believe that especially body scan companies will be the key drivers to this discussion in the future.

I’m actually against the idea of THE ONE measurement table or sizing logic. Switching to a universal standardized body measurement would mean sacrificing a huge part of your Brand DNA and would leave even more people struggling with finding well-fitting clothes. It’s best described by an example from another business area. Let’s just imagine the beer brewing industry would agree to standardise the type of malt used in the brewing process. Let’s say the aim is to make the ingredient more affordable by massively scaling up the production amount of one type by eradicating all others. This might sound like a fair point as in the end mainly the spices will determine the taste of each beer brand. Still the variety of fine differences of flavours will decrease, some might even disappear for good and companies would have to put more effort in finding other USPs that convinces the consumer to go for their product and actually keep it.


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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