I am learning to draft patterns. Progress is slow, but definitely enjoyable; drafting your own patterns is definitely rewarding. However I have come across several issues, all of which involve me lacking pattern measurements.
No, I am not referring to the standard bust, width and hip measurements. They are relatively easily to get hold of; after all, it’s only a few clicks away to look at what popular companies (such as Vogue) are using and to use the same.
For example, the following table is the measurements that Vogue uses:
The measurements I am referring to are measurements such as upper bust girth, under bust girth, side length, waist to knee-length and so forth. These are measurements I found that are needed for drafting patterns, but not necessary for altering or sewing a pattern. Many people don’t adjust the height of a pattern – unless they are petites or tall – and use the “industry standard”. But what exactly are those industry standards?
A bit of digging around on the internet can provide the results for various sizes, but not necessarily for the sizes that I am drafting for. Accuracy is important; if I get the wrong measurements to begin with, the entire drafting process can be thrown off and ruined.
This post won’t give you measurements – sorry. If you are interested in them, consider buying the Standard Tables of Mody Measurements for Adult Female Misses from the ASTM. This post will cover the issues that are faced with creating standardization.
General History of standardisation
The leading in measurement standardisation is the ASTM, previously known as the American Society of Testing and Materials.
The original ASTM research was conducted in 1941 by O’Brien and Shelton as part of a study by US Department of Agriculture. They conducted the study roughly 20 years after garments started being mass-produced. The primary purpose of standardisation was to reduce backslash from the fashion industry; the primary reason for garments being returned – and profits lost – was due to ill-fitting garments. Though the study sample consisted of 10,042 women, that study was biased as it “consisted of a convenience sample of young, white, southern US women volunteers.”
Over the years various measurement charts were created. In the 1960’s a number of health surveys suggested that “adults were somewhat taller and heavier” than the original charts suggested. This caused a number of changes to the measurements charts, in particular to grading. For example, the older chart system graded the hip girth proportionally to the bust, whilst the newer chart system graded at a constant 2″ interval between sizes.
Issues of Popular Standardisation
There are various issues with trying to create standardisation in the fashion industry.
Unfortunately, no new study of women’s measurements (specifically for the misses sizing range) have been undertaken since 1970. If you are using the ASTM measurement charts, much of the measurements have been influenced by the 1940 surveys. That means that the most popular sizing standards are 75 years out of date!
Body shapes of people have undergone wide variations since that time due to generational variability, gender and race variability, changing lifestyles (nutrition, activities, environment, etc.), and other demographic changes.
Several studies have been undertaken, but none have been adopted by the US government as a standard (which is the largest influence on standardisation). In many cases this was due to the smaller sample sizes – i.e. less women were measured.
Women have different body sizes since the 1940’s. In many cases, the population in general tends to weigh more. There has also been notable changes to bust sizes in women since the 1940’s, with a larger number of women measuring as a D cup compared to the popular – and still used in the fashion industry – B cup. Remember, that most women don’t know their real bust size: our post How To Correctly Measure Your Breasts and Fit A Bra can help with that.
Volunteers vs. Compulsory
The first 1940’s measurement system was gathered from volunteers. There have been some suggestions about why this may produce inaccurate results: such as, only people who are comfortable with their body would have volunteered for the study. This implies that the study did not consist of an exact view of the entire population, but potentially women with smaller frame structures (since larger women tend to be more self-conscious about their body).
Race and Culture Influences
I’m not being racist when I say that different races of people have different measurements on average. It’s not a stereotype that asian women tend to be shorter than western women on average.
The original study consisted of mostly white women; however today’s society is much more diverse.
Vanity sizing has also become an issue in the fashion industry. Garments are increasingly being labeled as smaller sizes than the real body measurements would show through standard sizing. Women are more likely to buy garments of “smaller” sizes, simply for self-esteem or vanity purposes (thus the term vanity sizing).
As companies have progressively been creating smaller and smaller vanity size labels, they have moved away from using standardisation and instead measurements arbitrarily chosen by the manufacturer.
You probably already have come across brand’s where you measure a size 8, such as, but must use a sewing pattern size 14.
Whilst a standardised chart can recommend pattern sizing, it can be difficult to get apparel companies to actually update their sizing labels – even internally – to show these changes.
Catalogue and Internet Sizing
Merchants have found that clothing is more likely to be returned if the clothing is too small, whilst larger clothing can be tailored for better fits. To counter for this, many companies are shipping garments up to one size larger than the same item is a brick-and-mortar store for any garment bought online or through catalogues.
standardisation do have a purpose in our fashion industry, but unfortunately a lack of updated data has caused many companies to adjust their patterns and create their own sizing systems. This practice has caused significant discrepancies between brands, resulting in confusion by consumers over similar fitting garments with different labelled sizing.
To add to the difficulty of introducing updated standardisation, many fashion companies risk significant costs being introduced by suddenly changing sizes in their apparel lines if using the same vanity sizing systems that they have adopted.
As more and more customers are turning to online ordering, companies are beginning to release recommended measurement charts where they once were not published to the public. Perhaps fashion companies may push to find a standardisation to aid the future reliability of online sales – the biggest concern consumers face is the risk of ill-fitting garments.
What I would love to see is a development of an online database accessible to anyone to add their own measurements; perhaps whilst the larger companies have yet to push for updated data, the general home-sewing industry (that’s the majority of us) can correlate our measurement averages.