Body Shapes, Size Charts & Measurements


Time to read: 9 minutes

Sizing on the one hand is a fairly boring and technical topic, but it can be loaded with emotion too. What most people ask me is, how are sizes created and what measurements do you need for your design? I’ve broken this down into 4 easier topics, let’s start with part 1! 


Part 1: Body Shapes


As you are probably aware, bodies come in all shapes and sizes. Age and ethnicity usually play the biggest part in body shape. Lifestyle can also be a factor. There are, unfortunately no ‘standard’ body dimensions that are internationally recognized. Partly because shapes differ so much, but also our bodies are also changing shape from how they were 50 years ago (we’re not getting thinner)!

ASTM and the BSI have some standard measurements for body sizing, but these aren’t used much in the industry any more. 

Note that, infants, children, women and men all have distinct body shapes and proportions.

All these categories have their own size designations for a reason. Also important, are hip-waist ratios. The average difference between hip and waist for women is 10” while for men it’s 6”. This is why you would need 2 sets of measurements for a womens product and a mens product - even if the design is the same.

Size groups are usually broken down into the following rough categories:

  • Infant: Ages 0-24 months

  • Toddler: Ages 2-4

  • Younger girls: Ages 4-7

  • Young boys: Ages 4-7 (The younger boys and girls really have the same body shape and could actually be in the same category. Stores just like to keep them separate so they can design separate/more collections)

  • Older boys: Ages 7-14

  • Older girls: Ages 7-14

  • Juniors: This a young womens category that comes in large range of sizes. The bust & hip to waist ratio is smaller than traditional womens, as are the lengths.

  • Womens: US sizes 0-20

  • Womens plus size: 14-28

  • Womens petite: For women 5’ 3” and under

  • Womens tall: Women 5’ 7” and over

  • Mens: Shirts 14 - 18 1/2, bottoms 38 - 46

  • Mens big & tall: for men 6’ 2” and over or with 18” neck or 46” waist


Part 2: Sizing


There are 2 types of sizes, numerical or alpha/dual sizing. Numerical sizing refers womens and mens traditional sizes, like 6, 8, 10, 12, etc and 30, 32, 34, 36, etc. 

Dual sizing refers to S, M, L and XL size breaks. These usually encompass 2 numerical sizes, eg: S = US 4-6 and M = US 8-10 . Dual sizing is usually used for casualwear and sports clothing. These often use stretch fabrics, so you can afford to have less sizes but still get a decent fit. 

To keep things complicated, size designations differ across different countries. For example, a womens US size 6 is a size 10 in the UK, which is a French 38, which is an Italian 42. 

Then, to make matters EVEN more confusing. Sizes differ wildly across different brands too. 

As a super rough rule of thumb, the big box retailers tend to have bigger sizes. While high end designers often use much smaller measurements for the same sizes. H&M being the main exception I can think of, their sizes are tiny.

Women’s clothing retailers do not conform to any standards, are not regulated, and actively use vanity sizing. So what can we do about this? Stay tuned for next weeks’ edition where we go over a useful tool…. size charts!

PS: Men have things much easier (in this department too). Tops are sized by neck widths, eg; 15, 15 1/2, 16 and trousers are sized by waist eg: 32, 34, 36. Can’t really add any vanity sizing there!


Part 3: Size Charts


As we’ve discussed, there are no official & agreed upon size standards. Traditionally, brands create their own body size data, written in a chart. This details the body measurements of their target customer, gained through research on their shoppers. 

The benefit to creating this chart is to keep sizing on all new products consistent. All future styles will be developed to fit this body. You want your customer to consistently know their size in your brand. It makes it easier for them to shop and increases trust in your brand too. 

Here are some size chart examples from Levis, Under Armour, and Brooks Brothers. As a new brand, you might not a have a size chart yet. It’s not compulsory but is definitely something you should consider developing, when you can. 

Presumably, you don’t have the budget to survey and analyze body measurement data from 1000+ customers. An easier starting point is to look at other brands your customer shops at. See what data they use in their size charts? 

Check out several different competitors or bigger brands and try to spot a pattern. You can at least aim to be in the same ‘size ball park’ as other places where your customers shop. 

Size charts and body measurements are not to be confused the with measurements in your tech pack. Now I will expand on how to actually get the measurements you’ll need to create your own sizes and tech packs. 


Part 4: The Measurements


The icing on the cake, finally! If you’ve not looked at a tech pack before... you should have a page inside that details all the measurements for your product. Notice that each ‘point of measure’ (aka POM) is for a different section of the garment.

An example measurement specification from a tech pack

An example measurement specification from a tech pack

These measurements are the dimensions of the product/design, not the body dimensions of the wearer. (Which is the size chart).

Different garments have different standardized ‘points of measure’. A t-shirt will have different standardized POMs to a pair of trousers for example. The fabric you are using for your design will also influence your measurements.

The difference between the garment measurements and the body measurements is called ‘ease’. Ease is added to body measurements so that the garment can hang nicely and leave the wearer some room to breathe. 

Traditionally, these measurements would be developed from scratch using a paper pattern. A sample would be cut out and made using the pattern. This would then be tested out on a ‘fit model’ to check the measurements and fit. Called a fitting or fit session. 

Nowadays, tech packs and overseas manufacturing have become the norm. Measurements for a new product are adapted from another existing garment with a similar fabrication and design. This is usually easy for big brands to do as they have a huge library of old products to draw from. 

Most brands are trying to increase their speed-to-market. (How quickly they can make and sell new products). Using tech packs and measurement specs are a great way to do this.