Why clothes don’t fit (and it’s not about fat)

For ages, I stopped making clothes for myself. When you invest a heap of time and money into making your own clothes , and they look crappy or don’t fit, why would you? It’s not like you can just try something on – to do that requires making a muslin, which is just extra effort!

Now that I’ve embarked on this whole new clothing adventure though, I really do have to figure out how to make clothing that looks good, and fits. My starting point for making some style decisions was my wardrobe. I spent ten minutes pulling out everything that I felt comfortable in, and therefore looked best in. It was pretty eye opening, because it clearly showed that about 80% of the clothes I have need to find new homes. The other 20% was very informative, and definitely gives me a clear direction to move.

One of my favourites is a black shirtdress I’ve had for years. It has a V neck, which is flattering for my shape, and the fabric has enough rigidity not to cling. I went hunting for a similar pattern, and came home with Burda 6760.

Burda 6760 + Cotton linen blend
Burda 6760 + Cotton linen blend

Now, I’ve had issues with the sizing of Burda patterns in the past, so I spent some quality time with the size chart, and boy, it was a revelation! Now bear with me as I get all Mr Miyagi on you and slowly share my learnings…

1. The number of your size is arbitrary. Seriously, do not invest any emotion into the number on the label, because it is just made up and has no real meaning. Heard of Vanity Sizing? When I was in Paris, I really liked a pair of jeans, but they didn’t come in my size. It turned out there were three different versions of my size! For real!

So leaving aside what size I’d be in Australian ready to wear (RTW), I got out the tape measure and did my bust, waist and hip measurements, and marked them on the chart.

Bust, waist and hips
Bust, waist and hips

Size 18. To prove my point about size being arbitrary, here’s me wearing a RTW size 18 shirtdress. See? Arbitrary.

You could fit another person in here!
You could fit another person in here! It’s not even tight on my waist in this photo, and the sleeves are falling off both shoulders. You should have seen the back!

2. You have a shape, not a size. Ladies, you are much more interesting than just your bust, waist and hip measurements. And I’m pretty sure there’s nothing average about any of you!

Consider your other measurements, because they give a much more complete picture of your real shape and proportions. On the size chart I also plotted my Back length (base of back of the neck to waist, in blue), Front Waist length (top of shoulder to waist, over nipple, in yellow), and bust point (top of shoulder to nipple, in green). Very different result.

Ohhhh, so this is what short-waisted means...
Ohhhh, so this is what short-waisted means…

So what does that mean? Basically I have the torso height of a size 10. If I make a straight size 18, I can expect the bust and waist darts and the natural waist line to sit in the wrong spots. If I make my own clothes I can adjust for that, but in RTW, I just have to hope that the cut of the item can fit my proportions.

3. Sometimes measurements don’t matter. Now here’s where the size chart just gets ridiculous. Here’s what happens when I add my height and side leg length onto the chart:

Boom! Off the chart!
Boom! Off the chart!

If I even attempted to make a pair of pants designed using this size chart, I’m destined to fail. That’s why it’s so important to understand the many, many ways bodies are shaped differently.

Looking at measurements only can also be misleading – you need to look at the overall picture. I’ve done some dodgy photo editing to give a better idea of my proportions (although it is really simplified!).

overall-shape-comparisonBy having a short waist and long legs, there are styles that suit me better than others, and I’m slowly figuring that out.
The Good:
– Long legs can be used to draw attention from other areas
– Height means I’m not easily ‘swamped’ by maxi dresses or skirts
– Even though I’m tall, because of my short torso I can still wear clothing from the ‘petite’ section (except pants, unless I’m looking for capris!)

The Bad:
– Clothes that have high necklines can make me look really square, unless they’re balanced by being really wide
– Creating shape on my torso is challenging
– Because my waist is high, finding skirts or pants that fit below my waist but aren’t too big around the thighs can be difficult to find.

The Ugly:
– Because I have a high natural waist, the distance between my crotch and my waist (basically my stomach) is really quite big, especially when compared to my chest. See how the yellow shape in the picture above is larger, and the pink smaller? Add a post-baby belly, and you have a really tricky spot to dress. You will never, ever see me in anything high waisted, because that’s the spot that style highlights (unless it’s covered, and holding in my tummy!). Pants that fit my hips and thighs will often give me a wedgie, trying to sit close to my natural waist, and if I pull them down, I get a big ol’ muffin top.

You can see that if my sense of self worth was based on the number attached to my clothing, I’d be a basket case.

What do your measurements tell you about your body shape? Any surprises for you?

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10 thoughts on “Why clothes don’t fit (and it’s not about fat)

  1. I recently went through the same process as you, and measured myself as a pattern (vanity destroying) size 18 with a few tweaks. However, I then went on to make a dress that swamped me! I just couldn’t understand it, until some internet research – It seems to really keep us on our toes, patterns build in an alarming amount of ease – the last dress I made was meant to be close fitting, yet had 4″ of ease built in! I’m just about to blog about it actually! Taking the excessive ease into account (which is marked on the pattern by a circle with a cross through) I took my general pattern size down to a marginally less vanity crushing 16 and found I got a much better fit, despite most of my measurements clearly sitting at a size 18.

    1. So true, ease is another killer! I always measure the pattern pieces themselves, especially when using single size vintage patterns, just to get a better idea of the final product. So often I’ll think I need to add some ease in, only to find there’s plenty already.

  2. This is really interesting. I have only ever bought one pattern for clothes and after plotting my measurements got completely disheartened because they were spread across so many columns that I didn’t know where to start. I need to learn how to adapt patterns for my individual figure.

    1. It’s so true, it can be completely disheartening. I made a romper for myself last summer, and made the assumption that because I was short waisted, it would fall below my waist, which would be much more flattering. Unfortunately, it was a high waisted design (pictures were deceiving!) and looked HIDEOUS on 😦 My next drafting challenge is to try and lengthen the pattern’s torso, including the crossover front – wish me luck, will definitely do a muslin first!

  3. Hi Jess, we met a million years ago with your Auntie!
    Interesting topic, how did you go with your crossover dress?
    My 2c worth! All patterns are based on a certain height individual, so if you’re taller than the pattern’s model you have to add length to somewhere. Thats pretty logical I guess, but where you need the length is an eye opener. I need a bit of my length between underarm and shoulder point and some between apex and waist – hmmmm! My patternmaking teacher says – vertical adjustments first, horizontals 2nd. The verticals will be quite consistent between pattern companies. For horizontals its worth creating a chart with your preferred ease at each point – bust, waist, hips. That chart will mostly be the same and when the paper pattern is measured it will be easier to work out whether or not the pattern has more or less ease than ideal for your preferences. I really must find that chart and use it!!

    1. Hi! Which auntie?
      I really need to find myself some pattern making classes, because I know I have a strange shape! I stumbled across some books on pattern adjusting in an op shop just recently but really need to find the time to study them.

      1. I thought so! I’m on the sunshine coast these days, unless I have a sewing holiday to Sydney, I might need to find someone a little closer…

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