A few weeks ago, I was a guest on That Sewing Blab, and an interesting question came up about patterns being “true to size”. We discussed why that question is one of my pet peeves, and you can watch the replay of that episode by signing in at the link above (which is free), but today’s post is extension of that discussion so I could deal with the issue in more depth.
Generally, when people ask the question, it’s phrased as, “Does XX Pattern run true to size?” or “Do the patterns from XX company run true to size?” The major problem with answering this question is that there isn’t a specific “size” to be true to.
What do I mean by that? Well, let’s first compare 3 size charts I grabbed from some clothing retailers.
This is from Ann Taylor.
This one is from Lane Bryant.
And this one is from Old Navy.
So let’s imagine you have a 44 inch bust and a 35 inch waist. At Ann Taylor, that puts you in an 18 with a tight waist, at Lane Bryant that makes you an 18 in the bust and between a 14 and a 16 in the waist, and at Old Navy you’re going to be in an 18 with a loose waist.
In theory, at one point in time there were standard sizes, based on measurements compiled by the ASTM. And in fact, I use those charts in creating my own size charts. And the history of women’s sizing is actually an interesting tale, because the women they measured for the original standards were not “average” women. You can read more about sizing standardization in this article.
The current ASTM regular women’s chart has 2 body types they have average measurements for, so right off the bat you have to decide – am I drafting for “straight” “curvy” or am I splitting the difference between the two?
And then the ASTM women’s sizes only go up through a size 20, which is a bust measurement of 46″. Which leads to another problem in deciding on a size – the standards for the plus size chart were just revised last year. Which means that the charts have suddenly changed – again. While this revision was much needed, it also means that the plus size chart includes curvy and straight body type measurements, and that the new measurements vary from the old ones. So manufacturers and designers can either update according to the new standards (which means that people who fit well in the old standards will have to adjust) or continue to use old standards (which are not as accurate for the changing shape of modern bodies).
Do you see why answering the question “is this true to size?” is not a simple proposition at all? First, you have no idea which store’s size chart the person considers the “true size” and then, even the standards on which sizing is based have variation and wiggle room within them.
The thing is, at some point all designers and manufacturers have to choose a size, and have to choose a cutoff. And while there are plenty of numbers to back that decision, one set of numbers we haven’t addressed is the sales numbers. Studies like this one have shown that people (women in particular) have a complex relationship with size numbers and respond positively to being perceived as a smaller size. With sales dollars as an incentive, who can blame manufacturers for choosing smaller numbers for their sizes?
The final problem with answering this seemingly innocuous question is that the standards are averages, and almost no one hits average measurements for each target area. This is why I started to sew for myself – so that I could make clothes that fit size ME, which is not exactly the same as anyone else and doesn’t perfectly align with any size chart. This is the same reason I don’t really recommend dress forms as a way to improve your fit for yourself – because if patterns don’t fit out of the package (and really, they probably shouldn’t) then a dress for won’t mimic your body perfectly either.
So, what’s a customer to do?
When a customer is asking, “Is XX pattern true to size?” I think what they’re really asking is, “Will this pattern fit me?” And despite this long article, the answer from the perspective of sewing garments is actually really easy. Measure yourself (or the person you’re sewing for), then use those measurements to determine your starting size according to your pattern’s size chart – which may or my not be what you think of as “your size” in your favorite ready to wear. But the only pattern that doesn’t fit its own size chart is a poorly drafted or poorly graded one, so go with the size chart.
Here’s a post to make sure you’re taking your measurements correctly.
If you’re concerned about ease in the pattern (the amount above your measurements included for movement and style) and if your pattern doesn’t include finished measurements, measure your pattern. Here’s how to measure a pattern – I’m using an example from the Blanc Tshirt pattern here.
To measure the bust, first determine the bust point if it’s not marked on the pattern. You can actually hold the pattern up to yourself and mark on it. Then measure across each pattern piece at that point. Subtract seam allowances, then add the measurements together and multiply by 2 to get the bust circumference.
So in the example above, if I measure 10 inches across each piece at the bust, then subtract 1/2 inch seam allowance from each piece (since they’re cut on the fold) that leaves me with 9 1/2 for the front and 9 1/2 for the back. Add those together and you get 19, then multiply that by 2 and you get 38 inches for this size M, which means there is 1 inch ease over the size chart for that size. One inch of ease is pretty close fitting for the bust area; your bust can change by that much just by inhaling.
When you get good at doing this, it becomes easier to let go of an ideal size number you hold and instead get excited about clothes that fit size YOU.