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RTW Explained: Why Size Inclusivity is Not Always Practiced

Posted by Betsy C on

We should all have clothes that fit. No one group should be left out. But they are. 

This is a problem not only limited to ready to wear, but we also hear the same discussion in the world of home sewing patterns. It’s an issue that encompasses both worlds. 

Women come in all shapes and sizes so why are there not clothes for all? It’s a crime that "Fill in the blank"——designer only goes up to a size 12. 

Trust me, the fashion industry (and independent sewing companies as well) hear loud and clear there is a huge market for bridging the size gap. However, there are obstacles in the way that aren’t so black and white. I'm going to focus on the plus size aspect of this issue, but the same principles can be applied to other categories like petites, talls or other specific fit initiatives- regardless of whatever size is chosen to start from.


Anyone who thinks they can grade up a fitted bodice from a size 4 to a size 28 has no business making plus sizes. Yes, they may be saying they are inclusive but they are not going to fit well. It can be done for some styles, but 90% of the time you need a brand new pattern that is drafted specifically for a plus sized body. The plus size body has different proportions and fit considerations so anything above a 16- 18 really needs a fit specific to a different body type. 


When you make a second pattern automatically your development costs and time invested double and can easily add up to many thousands of dollars more to add to the product development cost. 

  • Two patterns
  • Two samples (at least)
  • Two patterns for grading
  • Two separate model fittings on multiple occasions
  • Double the amount of fabric you need to buy for samples (or triple). 

Fabric Required to Mass Produce

Then there is the fabric. Plus sizes take more yardage and in some cases wastes more because the space they take up on a marker, leaves gaps that cannot be used. So before the designer even makes a sale, she is already counting on adding more cost to the fabric she is purchasing. For designers on a shoestring budget or those that work with very high end fabrics that cost $$$, it is a big investment gamble.  


Most RTW is produced overseas in countries that have no concept of what plus size looks like and have no point of reference. But yet we rely on them to make a garment that fits. Trying to develop a plus size range this way can be the stuff of nightmares and is not for the faint of heart.

Not everyone can make a plus size pattern. It’s an oddity but a reality. RTW is not that old (I'm talking around 1940/1950 ish). Drafting methods and formulas have been developed based on a traditional misses size 6 or 8. With a fairly proportional body this was easy to formulate. However, body shapes have changed dramatically in the past 50 years to include plus sizes (yes, there were before but that was probably more in the category of "custom"). With that in mind, if a patternmaker was taught to draft according to a size 6 they are used to approaching the fit from this point of view. Depending on the patternmakers eye, they may not know how to make the transition to plus size. Case in point- I spend a better part of my life (I'm not even being dramatic here) just fixing plus size patterns made by different patternmakers around the world. It was initially thought that if you showed them photos and described problems then they would know how to fix it. It didn’t work, so here is where I fit in as I work to improve patterns that often make the following assumptions:

  • Chest is a lot bigger in the front than the back
  • The front body needs to be wider in general 
  • Bust darts need to be especially deep
  • If her hips are big the rest of the leg must be also
  • If she’s bigger than her shoulders are wider

But here's the thing: I wouldn’t say that these are incorrect assumptions of a plus size body, but when it comes time to fit a pattern that looks like this, it’s going to be a hot mess on a live person. 

Plus size is not standard

Finding a plus size fit model is a hard task. When you get above a size 18 there are more figure types. Do you fit a pear shape or an upside down triangle? It’s hard to know what group to cater to. You can aim to fit many but you have to average it out. But how and where? This can be a hard call to make and each company decides who they want to cater to and it may not fit all plus sizes. Oftentimes year long studies are done to determine who a plus size customer actually is.

Every company that I have worked for has at one point been on the quest to find the right plus size fit model. A process that could take months, even in NYC where there are lots of agencies that represent plus fit models. The right ones are few and far between and you will pay top dollar. Typically a plus size fit model makes more than a misses model (so factor that back into the budget as well).

Will she buy?

I hear this from some of the smaller designers that have direct access to their customer base. The customer is in love with a style, but it is an investment so she wants to make sure she will get a lot of wear out of it. However, she’s planning on losing a few dress sizes and will come back after she’s lost the weight. She never does and the plus size dress hangs on the rack, and eventually the sale rack just to get rid of it. There are many women out there that embrace their size, but even more that are always looking to change it. 

Please don’t judge designers too harshly if they aren’t offering an extended size range. Most designers that I work with who have added larger sizes have done so slowly and thoughtfully to make sure they were putting the best product out there. It’s not just about grabbing a new corner of the market, it’s about doing it right and ensuring the business model can absorb the doubling of all supplies and labor.


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  • This is late, but I wanted to throw my 2 cents in. I found your article really informative. What I gleaned from the info provided, just like every other company it’s profits over people. I have the opposite problem, I’m not a plus size, but a petite size. I honestly wish some plus size styles were made in my size. The style and fit is so flattering 😩 I literally taught myself to sew because none of my clothes ever fit, and have made spandex my bff. In a world of photo shop and Kardashians I don’t think there is any hope for us regular folks in RTW.

    Rachel on
  • Proportion is not a linear exercise. I really do believe that we ought to be teaching and instructing on the construction of garments, and making more use of a sloper for home/custom sewists/dressmakers as well as more instruction on doing draping for garment design.

    A design for an armscye is NOT an impossible task, nor is getting a neckline fitted, or having proper wear ease in a skirt or pair of pants.

    Sandra on
  • PS If there is not a large degree of standardization in plus sizes, how are all of the plus size clothiers like Avenue, Lane Bryant, Torrid staying in business?

    Martha M Bryce on
  • I’ll volunteer for a plus size tester pool at any time! 22/24 Putting out a call for this on sites like this, on Instagram, on Facebook could get you enough volunteers.

    Martha M Bryce on
  • Sorry but I find these excuses ridiculous. The reality is there is no such thing as a “proportional” body type. All my friends, from size 2 and up have trouble finding clothes that fit them well, all clothes require alteration because we are all beautiful and unique. I am a 36” bust with small breasts, large rib cage, long torso, and wide shoulders. Yes I fit into “standard” measurements, but do clothes fit me like a model? Absolutely not! I understand more fabric costs more, but the industry needs a revolution when it comes to thinking about designing clothing. Most of the population is not 4-12, and everyone deserves clothes that fit them and patterns of that speak to their size. These excuses about proportions and models are not good enough.

    Sarag on

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