Friday, 21 January 2011

Sizing and anthropometrics

I wrote an article on here a while ago which covered the topic of Anthropometrics, and i'm damned if I can find it now, but I am inspired to revisit the subject after listening to an article on Womens Hour BBC R4 yesterday with Gemma Seager, fellow blogger at "Retrochick" and a chap called Ed Gribbin, president of Alvanon, a company which advises clothes retailers on size and shape of people.

Anthropometrics, the study of human measurement, is obviously a topic of great interest to the fashion trade and anybody else who uses or cuts dress patterns and makes clothes.  I find it absolutely fascinating!  The subject covers amongst other things,  human proportion and therefore clothes measurements .. ie: a human head will fit into a human leg about 7 times  (fashion models who embody the 'ideal' standard of human perfection are known in the trade as "8 headers" because they have extra long legs!), the distance from waist to upper upper hip is 10cm and from waist to lower hip is 20cm,  the bust typically has an 8cm radius etc.,

Though the study of anthropometrics has existed for centuries, Standard sizing in the clothing industry was only 'discovered' by the Guild of Military Tailors during WW2 when they noticed a certain 'uniformity'  in the clothes they were making for male and female soldiers and military personnel.  The 'standard' sizing in use today as the model for all other sizing charts, is still based on those dimensions from the 40's when women, men and children were a very different shape and size to their counterparts today.

Many high street clothing brands make up their own 'standard' sizing building clothes which conform to a certain body shape and a certain demographic - a teenage size 12 is not going to be the same as an elderly size 12, or a middle age size 12.  The trouble is (apparently) that clothes brands don't find it important to mention which demographic they are aiming for and so clothes shopping for the average woman can turn into a black pit of pain, panic and horror after the first three changing rooms! 

In practice, for me as a typically 'curvy' female who's shape has not altered that much over the last 20 years (notwithstanding the recent middleaged spread), this means that if I shop in Next and M&S - aimed at the post 20's-middle age market, I know I'm a size 8 in bottoms and a size 12-14 in tops, but in Jane Norman - a shop aimed at the teenage and early 20's market,  I am a size 14 in everything.  I can therefore go into any of those shops, pick something up without trying it on, and know that it will fit.  

On the other side of the coin, I  know that Levi jeans never fit  because their target demographic is 'twig' - it's taken me 20 years to deduce that fact.  Similarly, Karen Millen and Coast (owned by the same company) only make clothes for tiny flat chested pixies - deduction time = 5 minutes.

The same goes for more 'intimate' apparel.  I know that the Bravissimo style of bra sizing suits me.  I also know that bras sold by other retailers who conform to that method of sizing, will fit me, and I know who they are.  M&S underwear makes me look like an ugly pink overflowing sausage whatever size I choose.

Confusion continues to reign at home when I am making my own clothes, in modern dress patterns I am a size 12, in vintage dress patterns, a size 18.

In short, womens sizing is like womens hormones ..  All over the place! You have to know how to deal with them in order to avoid a life of despair!

So it was with interest I listend to Womens Hour on Radio 4 yesterday to hear talk of a proposed new system of standard sizing for the high street based on modern womens size AND SHAPE.   Actually Queen Bravissimo thought of that first - here is the Bravissimo sizing chart:

At first I thought "goodlord! how complicated is it going to be just to buy some clothes?" but after some contemplation, I think it will be a good thing IF retailers ensure that there is plenty of stock for all - ofcourse it could mean that their stock increases three fold if the industry advisors have their way - they suggest 3 sub catergories:

straight - for the a 'boyish' figure
moderately curvy -  60% of women fall into this catergory
quite curvy - hourglass figure and mathcing the original standards of the 40's

Will retailers clothing policies become more transparent - will they want to encompass all or just one type of fit? 

The question is

Will this sizing system make our lives better or worse?

I am not so sure it is the answer - there are so many variables to shape and size in our modern age that I wonder if it is possible to find a definitive standard that fits all.  It was this very problem which put me off shopping for life and turned my attention to the sewing machine ..

What do you think Readers?

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