What is fit, and why do we care how things fit? I am constantly explaining this to people who are not as familiar with garment construction and pattern making as I am.
Yet people say things like “it doesn’t fit”, “I don’t like the fit”, “why doesn’t it fit me?” “Who is this supposed to fit?” or “This isn’t comfortable.” “This is too tight.” “This is too loose.” “I don’t like the way it fits.” So apparently there are many opinions about fit, even if one isn’t clear on what goes into “good” fit or “bad” fit. Before we go any further, let’s define our terms.
Fit & Ease
Fit, in terms of clothing, is how the body and the garment interact. The component pieces of a garment are fabric, cut of individual pattern pieces, silhouette, seaming or construction, detail, overall design. Added to that is something that is bandied about quite a lot, which is ease.
Ease is the space between the body and the garment. The amount of ease varies on different body parts, from negative to positive. There isn’t a “correct” amount of ease; the designer chooses ease to help create the relationship desired between body and garment.
Within the knitting community, and perhaps the entire garment community, ease has become a huge thing. Ease is blamed for poor fit, whether too much or too little, but that isn’t really the culprit in my opinion.
So what do I think is the culprit? Read on. . .
Let’s first look at the body. I like to look at the generic body, or my body, or try to imagine your body. All you need to think about is your body and a generic body.
This literally keep us upright. I cannot resist singing the lyrics to Dry Bones in my head. Without connective tissue, dem bones will not hold together. So the connections are critical and help give us stature. If you poke yourself (go ahead) you may feel bone, or just sense that the bone is there underneath all the other stuff. To your skeleton, all this other stuff is added, and that is what makes it our body.
Inside that skeletal structure sit our organs, venus and nervous systems, other fluids, and adipose. On top of the skeleton are also found venus, nervous, fluids, muscle, other connective tissue, and adipose, then the biggest organ, our skin.
Our skin is flexible, and changes as needed to hold everything. Sadly, as you get older it becomes less flexible, but it still holds us into a package.
I’ve written before about the impact of hormones, genetics, environment, and inputs, on our package. Safe to say that few of us have exactly the body we would choose if given a choice. But we are what we are, and then some: what we put into our bodies also work with hormones, genetics, and our environment, with differing responses results. I now have three different sizing tables in an effort to reflect that. I imagine it will be years, if ever, until we have tables for hybrid shapes. If you think from the Skeleton outward, a person with a hybrid body can find their size approximation and adjust it to meet their body within the three frameworks I provide. I don’t do menswear.
Designs aren’t created for your body, or mine, or anyone’s. They are created for a mythical average body.
You are You
So there you are. You are you. I am me, etc. But clothing is sized for averages. None of us match the averages, and that is not the point of those tables of measurements. They exist to say, “you might approximate these measurements.” The assumption has always been that appropriate ease will be added to those measurements. Beyond that it is assumed we will choose the garment that fits us the best overall, and that any further intervention needed is ours to make.
Walmart-ing the Fit
This is where we are now. We have reduced fit to the lowest common denominator. Fabric properties are little understood by those choosing fabrications. Garment construction must be cheap (really cheap), patterns are cut to maximize fabric, not to create shape to fit bodies. Lots of space is built into garments, so the garment will “fit” the maximum number of bodies. We are dished up a fashion diet of “kind of”, “looks like”, “could be” options. At ridiculously low prices, consumers rarely think beyond the first couple of wearings.
Not only have we lost fit and style, we have lost any pretext of clothing having a relationship to our actual or even averaged bodies. I think it is a good thing that knitters are complaining about fit, but I think we need to make sure those complaints are appropriate and realistic. But do complain.
Ease and Fit
Our bodies are not the same — even when we have the same measurements. Ease is very personal, and also related to fabric and design. Let’s take a closer look at what ease actually is and does.
We think of ease as the empty space between our body and the garment, which it is, but we also kind of picture the garment as standing away from the body uniformly. That is not what actually happens.
I could write a book on this but in very few words,
How you like that space to interact with your body is developed over years and adjusts as our bodies change. We have all had the feeling of suddenly (or so it seems) having everything grab at a newly sprouted muffin-top. Even though there may be plenty of “space”, this new formation causes fabric to behave differently.
So there is no point in my saying there is “X” of positive/negative ease in a garment. All that is important is how that fabric, that measurement, your body, and gravity work together. What works for me, will not necessarily work for you. But you can know how you like things to fit your body, and how you want the fabric. Your measurements are crucial to your understanding of ease and fit for you.
Fit for Knitters
As knitters because we are literally creating both the fit and the fabric and the shape at the same time, and it is difficult to know the final result until many hours have already been invested in the project. Some time spent at the front-end of your project might change the fit in positive ways! We are investing in what we wear with our time and with our dollars.
Our bust/ease measurements may be the least valuable measurements for finding fit, despite the fact that that is where we tend to put all of our eggs. Fit at multiple areas is likely more important than actual ease added. By working with your measurements, and the designers measurements, you can find fit that works for you.
Here are some general thoughts on ease in a garment. They are not what works in every case. I look at each garment I am creating and add ease as needed to achieve my goals:
- Shoulder Width (usually negative ease)
- Neckline (varies)
- Across front chest (likely little ease)
- Across back chest (same)
- Upper Bust (usually positive ease)
- Bust (usually positive ease)
- Upper Arm (usually positive ease)
- Waist (varies)
- Hip (usually positive ease)
The thing with ease at horizontal points is that it doesn’t evenly sit around the body, and how your body is shaped, gravity, fabric, and your posture will determine where that ease gets distributed.
- Back Neck Drop (fixed)
- Front Neck Drop (no vertical ease)
- Shoulder Drop (fixed)
- Armhole Depth (usually positive ease)
- Bust Depth from Shoulder (negative or none)
- Side Length (none but usually adjusted across sizes)
I think knowing the actual body measurements at points above your bust will give you a better fit than knowing any of your measurements from the bust downward. This is the frame on which your garment will hang. Knowing those measurements in the garment is also crucial!
The Cost of Fit
There are costs associated with fit and with lack of fit.
Lack of Fit Costs
- Time and effort
- Seeking solutions
- Associated notions & tools
- Time and effort
- Seeking solutions
- Associated notions & tools
- Unhappiness with final product
As you can see, the costs are virtually the same. If you do not realize something won’t fit you may skip over seeking solutions and go directly to Unhappiness. Obviously you will get more in the long terms from a project you are happy with and that fits. How you spent your time and effort may not be markedly different in the long-term, but your satisfaction and happiness may be!
As designers we create a garment we envision in a sample size, then grade it out or in to other sizes. Some of us have different sizing tables for different body types. Grading is expensive and time consuming. Personally, I work out all the sizes at the time I am developing my sample size so I can make adjustments before I have set anything in stone or paid to have it knitted! Others do it after they have knitted their sample size. We are all making our best possible assessments to create the same garment in other sizes. Without a full understanding of the body, fabric, fiber, stitch pattern, and to some extent physics, geometry and algebra, this is where things usually go awry.
It is incumbent upon you as the consumer to do your due diligence. Only you have control over the outcome. Of course I think you might want to consider gauge, fiber, and design before you launch into a project, but it is your time and effort. Despite the work and expense that a designer has expended to create a beautiful and quality product, they have, in effect, left it in your hands to create your final product.