Chapter III: The "Visual Translation Effect" - The biggest misconceptions about apparel sizing

Aktualisiert: Feb 6


“The customer wears products according to how we design them.”

Quick read: Receiving the feedback of “bad fit” might be caused by the visual translation effect, rather than wrong body measurements or wrong fit. Use customer feedback and returns to understand how they want to wear your clothes.


We all have that one relative who claims to wear at least one size smaller than his or her actual figure looks like. One of my beloved family members would end up in the spectrum of confection size 42 or 44 just going by the body measurement chart of her favourite brand. But she orders size 40 being convinced that the brands fit just “comes out bigger”. Interestingly when I check the online picture of the model against how it actually fits my family member there is a visible gap. I call it the “visual translation effect”.


When we see something online or in a shop worn by a mannequin we tend to create a vision of what that garment might look on us. Depending on our fit preference we translate what we see into what we think is a good fit. You don’t need to be a behavioural specialist to understand that once an appealing garment catches our eye we tend to visually imagine it on our bodies in the best way possible. The further you are away from the displayed size, the more room for interpretation is left in terms of the visual translation effect.


Besides the visual translation effect doesn’t always take the designers intention into account. You can hire the most professional technical staff working with proven body measurements. But good fit is and always will be a subjective thing. Let me try to explain in simple sketches looking at a top seller shape I developed that sold over many seasons. In the left sketch you see the confection size 36 worn by a size 36 model. On the right you see a size 44 model wearing the size 44. The fit on both represents the accurate scaling from small to large size. Both are equally casual and lose fitting. There is plenty of space around the waist and hip area.

Surprisingly some customers have a different expectation that goes a bit more in the below direction. On the left again you see the size 36 worn by a size 36 model. On the right you see a size 44 model wearing a size 42. The fit of the larger size represents the visually translated version that the size 44 customers imagines when looking at the size 36 shop picture.


This customer will eventually order his true size 44 first, send it back and re-order size 42 and be happy with the result. In the illustration you can see a way more fitted waist and hip area. The perception of lose fit varies massively in on the size spectrum.


There are two conclusions that we know customers usually draw from the described experience:

Fit decisions are led by the design and shape or silhouette for sure. But how customers imagine to wear your clothes can be quite different from what you expect. Their have been trials were garment measurements were not graded according to the customers body measurement but followed smaller steps. And it worked. We know that lose fits for example only work for certain commodity groups and therefore grading must be adapted according to the visual translation effect. This was just one example as there are other visual translation effects not only in lose and tight.


Experienced designers, buyers and technicians are trying to take the visual translation effects into account when fitting prototypes but the farther we move to worldwide shipping the less the key decision makers in fit learn about customer preferences of their own product line. That represents both a big threat as well as big potential that lay in return rates. Customers will return articles for sizing based on their fit expectations – not on yours.


By the way the visual translation effect plays into the fact that 3D avatars based on the customers body measurements mostly don’t work in online shops. What are you more likely to order: a semi-sexy truth or an awesome imagination? Undeniably there is this sparkly magic of unpacking a garment and trying it on the first time for most of the customers. Taking this away and replacing it with an unemotional computer generated truth will hit sales numbers directly.

Self-reflection is quite a subjective thing and has always worked in fashion’s favour.




Read the other articles of this series here:



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