Women are not 1-dimensional…

…so why do their clothes assume they are?

Men’s trousers are 2-dimensional: waist and inside-leg.  Men’s shirts are 3-dimensional: collar, chest and arm-length.

Since women have a more complex topology you might expect their clothing to vary in more dimensions, but for some reason this is not the case.  Women’s clothing typically varies only in one dimension, the “size”, famed in myth and legend.

Now, as I understand it, knowing your size at best gives you a starting point: whereas all the shirts/trousers I own which fit are the same sizes; an average “size 16″ lady will own clothes sized one or even 2 sizes each side, all of which fit as well as things which are nominally correct.

The reason for this is that clothes are designed around either an actual woman or a mannequin, and her/its dimensions are then adjusted using some essentially arbitrary scaling rules to make all the sizes they want to sell.

The only way you’re going to get clothes which fit perfectly is if you happen to be exactly the same dimensions as the result of these shenanigans; which is extremely improbable unless you are the model around whom the clothes were designed.

Frankly, this isn’t good enough.  While some of you might enjoy spending days traipsing around to find something which fits; many more of you get bored and/or desperate after a few hours and buy whatever you feel is closest to right, or possibly whatever is closest to hand.

I don’t feel qualified to comment on the female perception of this, but from the male side of things it’s unsatisfactory for two reasons:

  1. We’re likely, in our rôles as boyfriends/fiancés/husbands/fathers, to get dragged around after you on your near-futile search for clothes which work; we’re unlikely to enjoy this.
  2. The better your clothes fit, the better you’ll look, and the happier we’ll be to see you.  Happy is good.

So, ladies of Britain, I call on you to rise up and campaign for better-fitting clothes: if not for you, then for me; if not for me, then for your daughters; if not for them, for your sons.

I have some ideas how it could be done; but perhaps that’s something for another day…

9 Responses to “Women are not 1-dimensional…”

  1. Jenny

    Naturally the situation is highly unsatisfactory.

    There *are* some bright sides. There are some companies (the one I’m most familiar with is Bravissimo, who do now sell outer-clothes as well as bras) who have multi-dimensional measurements. And of course most of the time we’re buying separates, not dresses, so that there are fewer confusing dimensions to be involved. And furthermore, of course, fashions and styles are such that *perfect* fit is rarely necessary. Nor necessarily even entirely desirable – something that’s totally close-fitting isn’t going to let me move my arms, is it?

    But broadly – I entirely agree with you. It is deeply frustrating. Personally I diverge very substantially from the normal – I believe there are some measurements where I am in the bottom 10% of UK female range and others where I am in the top 10%, thus, erm, I don’t hit the norms at all well – and, yes, clothes shopping is a pain and an evil and so on and so forth.

    Naturally I attempt to vote with my feet, and when companies supply more useful measurements I use them. And One Of These Years I shall live somewhere where I can actually have room for my grandmother’s sewing machine and I hope to then do a lot of making for myself.

    If you have any other recommendations for what I should do – bearing in mind that one generally gets unhelpful flannel from companies who claim to be doing good stuff and aren’t, and campaigning is tricky and time-consuming – feel free to throw out ideas.

  2. Phil Willoughby

    I didn’t mean to equate “perfect fit” and “close fitting”: I’ve seen my share of outfits which, shall we say, reach the parts others don’t, and it ain’t pleasant.

    What I meant to convey by “perfect fit” was clothing which fits the wearer in the same way that the designer’s original fit her model; so the bits which are meant to be tight should be tight and the bits which are meant to be loose are loose, to the extent that they were tight or loose originally.

    I hope that’s made some kind of sense.

  3. Michael

    Brassieres are two-dimensional.

    And quite a lot of men’s clothing is one-dimensional; underwear, some trousers and most tops (including many shirts) have sizes in {small, medium, large, extra large} (possibly extended with extra extras, but I think we can safely say that men come in more than four or five discrete sizes between “runt” and “lardarse”). Socks come in shoe sizes.

    But why on earth don’t they use the waist/leg system for womens’ trousers?

    For tops I suppose the problem is that if you have a, say, six-dimensional size system (torso length, arm length, chest, bust, waist, hips) with reasonably small variations in each dimension, you go from needing maybe seven different sizes (even numbers 8-20) to… Well, with just four variations in each dimension that’s 4,096 different sizes for just one item of clothing. Even three dimensions with four different sizes in each is 64 sizes. Manufacturing all of those is probably not “economically viable”.

    Maybe it would help if the sizes were, at least, consistent between different suppliers and based on a reasonably representative “actual woman” shape. Possibly with modifiers for common significant differences; busty, hippy or whatever.
    Even if you got a more accurate measurement system there’s no guarantee that all the combinations would be made, potentially leaving you where you are now but just with more numbers on the label.

    Or /possibly/ the problem started in the first place because the current system was set up by a couple of blokes who’re perhaps not the world’s foremost authorities on dressmaking ¬_¬

  4. Michael

    Pah, the comments thingumybob stripped my “pedant” tags from my post. Opening was at the start, closing at the end of the second paragraph (ending “shoe sizes.”).

  5. Phil Willoughby

    My next post will reveal the solution: how all shapes and sizes of woman, including busty hippies, can be catered-for without stocking 9 billion versions of the same thing.

  6. Mark

    I do wonder what Phil was doing when this particular topic occurred to him.

    I recall once reading an article saying that modern women’s clothes sizes were based on models of women’s shape from the 30s, and “researchers” had found that women today were shaped considerably differently from then, and that it was about time they came up with a new standard. I’m sure I read that a few years ago, though, and obviously nothing has been done about it.

    Perhaps that’s a reason why women love shopping so much: managing to find something that actually fits against such long odds could possibly give a huge feeling of elation, like you’ve somehow beaten the system, whereas finding the 32×32 section for blokes is hardly exciting. Maybe not.

    For proper fitting clothes you have to go to a tailor, or adjust your clothes yourself, which is, of course, how stuff was done in years past, depending on whether you were rich or poor. Recently the only person I can think that had clothes adjusted was Flic for her wedding dress (though I presume that’s the norm, we just heard about Flic’s because of what happened).

  7. Phil Willoughby

    And you shall continue to do so – I don’t want to set a dangerous precedent.

  8. Gem


    Interesting ramblings everyone :)

    I think I should point out that these days, women’s trousers at least tend to come in “regular”, “long” and (most useful to me) “short”, although it amazes me that even someone as vertically challenging as me can sometimes find the “short” length stops mid calf.



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