#KnitPetiteProject: Should there be a compulsory (inter)national sizing standard that companies must adhere to?

Our last post outlining how the standard for petite is different than the standard for misses/women.
The #KnitPetiteProject plan.

All other #KnitPetiteProject posts.

When I started the #KnitPetiteProject I was convinced that there should be a sizing standard adhered to across the board: from the perspective of a consumer, I thought this would make it so much easier for me to select items store-to-store, and at the very least I would know that all items would need alterations in all the same ways.

The more I read, the more I have become convinced that this is a very difficult, maybe impossible and undesirable goal.

Adopting a worldwide clothing sizing standard, especially for body size dimensions, is difficult if not impossible, given the wide variation in body dimensions and cultural diversity in shopping and product expectation.”1 emphasis my own

Sizing Standards are Voluntary

As we’ve seen over the past few weeks, the creation of sizing standards is a large, research-intense undertaking by governments or international standards bodies, whose findings are voluntary for manufacturers and retailers.

As a refresher, some standards-creating bodies currently are ISO and ASTM.

Smaller Population Target = Higher Accuracy of Fit

A research guide from Tufts notes a few important guidelines when it comes to working with anthropometric data:

  • Most data sets focus on particular populations, such as children, populations sharing a particular medical condition, or members of a profession, such as the military or an athletic sport.  These should not necessarily be extrapolated to general populations.

  • Apples must be compared with apples, not oranges.  When merging multiple data sets, make sure that they share common features such as units of measurements, the physical condition or age of the subjects measured, etc.  Pay attention to the terminology for specific measurements.

  • Chronology and geography is important.  Averages evolve over time due to migration, changes in diet, mortality, and other factors.  Data collected in a one country or region 50 years ago may not apply to a later population in a different location.

Even if a widespread, representative body scan project was implemented in the United States today, all the data collected would have to be revisited in a few years to ensure accuracy. It would also have to be narrowed into representative groups of individuals (in this case outlined as children, those with certain medical conditions, etc). Of course, this applies to the segment of adult females as well.

A researcher we’ve referenced earlier, K.L. Labat, states that “[t]he need for an international standards organization is not in developing a worldwide standard with a one-size-fits-all agenda, but to coordinate and make available body measurement data from all the countries wanting to participate in world trade of apparel.”2

Also noted from Labat is the desirability of defining sizing systems for specific target markets, gaining a better understanding of the differences and similarities of human bodies. I’d like to think we’re working toward that with the #KnitPetiteProject!

Variations between Nations + Ethnicities

To flesh out the idea of smaller target population, take a look at this info: Labat outlines a number of different countries and their work toward developing a sizing system. Check out the info below and how much it varies:

  • Germany (1983) published a system that identified 9 figure types using the height by hip as the key dimension.
  • Hungary (1986) created its system using height and body build with 3 key body measurements.
  • Korea (1990) used 5 height groups for its system.

Even within the same nation, there may be a variety of body type differences associated with ethnic backgrounds. The data we looked at last week from the CDC (pdf) gave us a bit of insight. This article from scholars C. L. Istook and S-J Hwang Shin argues the importance of understanding the shape of diverse ethnicities: “This study revealed that ethnic groups had different fit problems and significant body shape differences. Even within the same figure type category, a variety of body dimensions existed in each ethnic group.”

Size as Marketing

“…is it possible to satisfy all of the female population with a manageable number of standard sizes? Based on the conservative estimates expressed in our question above, a retail store would have to carry some 72 different sizes to cover the entire female population!3 emphasis my own

Susan Koger, co-founder and chief creative officer of ModCloth, wrote this op-ed for the Business of Fashion in April 2015. Through customer feedback and independent 3rd party surveys, ModCloth discovered that 88% of women size 16+ would buy more clothes if they came in larger sizes.  There was considerable work involved in order to serve this segment of ModCloth’s market: as Koger says, “…we set up a dedicated team to ensure fit and proportion are properly executed across all sizes, and shared this with designers that sell on ModCloth, as many lacked the resources to extend their sizing.” Ultimately, this was a very successful and valuable decision for the company.

Personally, I know I have made purchases through this website because of its brand-attitude toward body positivity – they appear to very much believe in this ethos, not only creating / supporting / selling clothing in larger sizes, but also including (un-photoshopped) images of larger sized models.

Size as marketing is powerful: this ModCloth example demonstrates how a company looked into their market, did their research, worked through all the follow-up steps, and delivered on their value statement, becoming attractive to customers because of this work, as well as the pure existence of the clothing sizes they sell.

If ModCloth had to stick to an (inter)nationally dictated sizing system, this work may not have been accomplished. The company was able to look internally and serve its market.

Companies and manufacturers with up-to-date anthropometric data can select out the numbers for their own target market and serve those individuals with a greater accuracy than, say, a company that relies on charts/data that represent an average woman from the total female population. Or, even more skewed, a set of data from a female population entirely apart from the one they wish to serve.

The lack of an enforced (inter)national sizing standard means that as consumers we may lose the ability to hop from shop to shop, knowing we’re always a size 12. But it also means that we may be able to find a shop for whom WE are the target, and have an even better fit experience, consistently, within that manufacturer.

Fun Fact

Perhaps this fact isn’t “fun” so much as interesting: according to the Youtube stylist Lauren Messiah, within the fashion industry “tolerance” allows the garment creator a margin of human error: it means they can mess up within 2 inches ie: cutting too much fabric from the pattern, machine skewing and messing up seam allowance, etc… You can pick up the same shirt/brand/style/size within the same store and they may not be the same at all!

“The number on the tag doesn’t determine your worth, and it’s not even true most of the time.”


Have you ever purchased clothing (IRL or online) from a foreign country? Did you notice any differences in the sizing?

#KnitPetiteProject Wants to Know…

In May, we’re going to start looking at the nitty-gritty of different petite mods for knitwear. The first post of the month is going to give some real-life examples of knits that have been modified for petite bodies.

Want to help out? Please let me know your experience with making petite mods to your knits. What modification did you make? Which pattern did you choose? Are you happy with the results? Contact me by replying to this post, or email me at canaryknitsdesigns at gmail dot com.

Thanks for your help!


1 K. L. Labat, “Sizing Standardization”, Sizing in clothing: developing effective sizing systems for ready-to-wear clothing. S. P. Ashdown, Textile Institute (Manchester, England) Woodhead Publishing in association with The Textile Institute, Apr 20, 2007. pg 100.

2 Ibid, pg 102.

3 Marie‐Eve Faust, Serge Carrier, Pierre Baptist, (2006) “Variations in Canadian women’s ready‐to‐wear standard sizes“, Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management: An International Journal, Vol. 10 Iss: 1, pg 80.

#KnitPetiteProject: Should there be a compulsory (inter)national sizing standard that companies must adhere to?

4 thoughts on “#KnitPetiteProject: Should there be a compulsory (inter)national sizing standard that companies must adhere to?

  1. I lived in Korea for a year (I’m from Canada). As a petite woman, I thought that I would have an advantage for shopping, but I didn’t really. Torso lengths in clothing tended to be longer, and clothing tended to be smaller in general (more slender arms, etc). Even socks gave me a hard time. I did buy a couple of short-sleeve polo style shirts that were great, and a great jacket, but with the jacket I had to hem the sleeves and move the buttons a little. I don’t think I bought any pants there. I bought a skirt that didn’t quite fit right, but I wore it out of stubbornness because it was so hot in the summer. I think was the hip area where it was tight, but the waist fit.

    1. Interesting!
      In the reading I’ve been doing, Korea comes up as one of the nations that, in recent decades, has done a large overhaul of their sizing standards. They are also, I believe, one of the countries that have made use of the 3D body scanning technology to more accurately represent their population.

      While not exactly the same demographics, I recently came across some stats from the CDC that break down body measurements from people of different ethnicities. There is a noticeable different between groups of people based on that information!

  2. “Please let me know your experience with making petite mods to your knits.”

    I usually modify the shoulder area and sleeves, and the waist. I need to make the shoulder area smaller (my best sweaters are the ones you knit in pieces and seam together, a la Amy Herzog) so I measure how long I want that sleeve cap and make adjustments. I also make the sleeves shorter (but I need to make sure I don’t make them narrower at the same time), and I raise the waist-line and make it shorter. I also make the hip part a little wider.

    I don’t make raglan sweaters anymore, despite how cute they are, because they just don’t fit right. I’m sure there must be some way to get the math down, but I usually end up disappointed. I have 1 yoke sweater that I like, but again, my favourite ones are knit in pieces and then seamed.

    1. Thanks for this!
      If you don’t mind sharing, what’s the yoked sweater design that you enjoy the fit of?

      It’s interesting to hear your preference for seamed sweaters. I’ve taken Amy Herzog’s class Knit to Flatter a few times. I love her body positive attitude!

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