#KnitPetiteProject: How to identify your petite fit needs

Our last post discussing petite women and national demographics.
The #KnitPetiteProject plan.

All other #KnitPetiteProject posts.

We’ve defined petite, and talked about how many women may fall into that category. So now, let’s focus on identifying our petite fit needs.

As I hinted in earlier #KnitPetiteProject posts, having petite fit issues is something that extends beyond the boundaries of women who are 5’4″ and shorter. There are many interacting factors at play for any one person’s ideal fit. We’re going to focus on vertical fit issues, but getting something to fit YOU perfectly will be an interplay of vertical and horizontal modifications. Ultimately, please keep in mind that fit preferences are complex and are an interplay of subjective assessments and objective evaluations.1

DISCLAIMER

It’s important to me to touch on a few things before we move forward with looking at and measuring our bodies. I am passionate about body postitivity: I want us all to work together to demystify sizing systems to make it work for us. The #KnitPetiteProject is about uncovering the assumptions that standard sizing make so we have the knowledge and tools to modify things to our own tastes. The #KPP is a safe space, without judgement or preconceived notions of how you want to look. I want us to create clothing for our joy, instead of creating clothing to cover our “flaws”. I will not dictate style and taste. Believe me, I’ve had enough of that garbage in my life!

Is that something you’re down with? Let’s move forward together.

An Under-served Market

In the chapter “Sizing systems, fit models and target markets”, J. Bourgourd explains that research into numerous target markets showed that the three groups who were dissatisfied with fit were petite, plus size, and pregnant women:

The extra small petite consumers were the group least satisfied with garments at the neck and shoulder width…(s)imilar issues were identified by the petite plus sizes…2

This is significant  because, as many knitwear design experts will tell you, getting a good fit in the shoulders is crucial to the overall fit of the sweater.3 So, how do we do this? Let’s talk about the important body measurements and how to take them so that moving forward, we have a base of information that we can use to compare our own numbers to standardized sizing systems.4

Taking your Measurements

By the end of this post, we’ll have the following measurements taken and ready to be compared to sizing standard charts in the coming weeks:

HORIZONTAL

  • Upper torso
  • Bust
  • Waist
  • Hips
  • Cross Back
  • Upper Arm

VERTICAL

  • Armhole Depth
  • Back Waist
Upper Torso

In her CustomFit software, Amy Herzog has produced a tool to help knitters create bespoke items by plugging in their measurements and generating a pattern unique to those numbers. Part of the process is, of course, taking good and careful measurements of your own body. This CustomFit pdf outlines the ways you can take those measurements.

Your upper torso measurement (also called high bust) is the number that Herzog says is important for selecting your “base size”. This number will reflect your body’s frame and better fit your shoulders than relying solely on the bust measurement would.

Here is how Herzog describes you should take your upper torso measurement: “Place the measuring tape all the way up in your armpits, as high as it will go. Some bust tissue is included, but not very much (especially important for busty figures). Pull snugly, breathe, and measure with arms down at your sides.”

A bit more about relying on that bust measurement: in her detailed and very informative book Little Red in the City, Ysolda Teague advises the knitter on how to choose a size, underlining the importance of gaining an understanding of sizing standards and how YOU may (will!) differ from a standard sizing system:

The main thing, which doesn’t seem to be talked about much in the knitting world despite being common information in dressmaking resources, is that sizing charts are generally based on the proportions of a fit model with a B cup… Clearly if the bust measurement given as the size in a pattern is based on a B cup and you’re an E cup your full bust measurement is going to be much larger in proportion to the rest of your measurements.5

Though this is a horizontal measurement, the torso (or high bust) measurement is distinctly important in deconstructing and demystifying how sizing standards work and their implicitly accepted “truth” and rule over our clothing choices and options (even within the world of makers and customization!)

Bust, Waist, Hips, Cross Back, and Upper Arm

These three horizontal measurements and how to take them are described here at the Craft Yarn Council’s (CYC) Standard Body Measurements/Sizing. This link is significant, and we’ll be referring back to it rather frequently in the #KnitPetiteProject, because this is the source of sizing standards very often referred to (in my experience) for knitwear design (including publications and independent designers). There are other sources designer use, but that’s a discussion for a future post!

And, as outlined by the quote from Ysolda above, it’s important to identify your bust measurement as THIS is the number set as determining your size in knitwear (and other areas of standardized sizing).

Armhole Depth

Here, the CYC says you should “Measure from the top outside edge of the shoulder down to the armpit.” That, you may well be thinking, is going to be tricky to determine. In my personal experience it’s been frustrating to take vertical measurements because these lengths seem less clear and distinct than finding the widest part of your bust or determining where your waist is.

You can refer to videos where people take these sorts of measurements to get a live-action version: here you can see Amy Herzog taking someone’s armhole depth measurement (with some valuable advice for sweater fit as well).

Back Waist

Have you ever even bothered to take this measurement? I know I never did until I got into knitwear design. It’s easily overlooked, but it has a great effect on how your knits look on your body. I will tell you right now that sizing standards for regular size clothing very likely assume your waist is in a different place than it is (depending on what kind of petite you are! More on that below).

And as a knitwear designer I can tell you that it matters very much to me and the math I do where your waist is (or rather, where I assume your waist is based on standardized sizing). Waist shaping happening in a place other than your waist may not be the look you’re going for, and so it is important to know your back waist length and what the pattern assumes your back waist length is!

This is how the CYC says you should take your back waist length: “Measure from the most prominent bone at base of neck to the natural waistline.” FROM that most prominent bone isn’t super clear; and in some cases, when looking at a schematic, you’ll see the vertical measurements broken up into segments including armhole depth, and then armhole to waist, and then waist to bottom hem.

So, another way to have a look at your back waist length is to measure it that way: take your armhole depth and then measure downward to your waist. Amy Herzog demonstrates taking this measurement in this video.

And how to find your waist? The general advice is the smallest part of your torso, but that isn’t clear or applicable to all people. A helpful tip is to bend to the side, and see where that crease is when you bend. Tie a string around that part of your torso. That helps to clarify the waist for this measurement.

Ways you can be petite

With our numbers in hand, let’s take a wee look at a recent study6 and what it has to say about different ways a person can be petite.

This paper used data from SizeUSA, a bank of information gathered using 3D body scanning technology. The significance of this study is that it’s the first to analyze the clothing industry petite sizing system using population data. They took SizeUSA measurements from 18-35 year old petite women and compared them to both regular size women and over a dozen apparel companies. Immediately, I’m sure you can see that this study is limited: they only used measurements from a total of 2,714 women (1, 618 who were petite), and all those women were aged 18-35. Nonetheless, it reveals some interesting information for us in the #KnitPetiteProject.

The study found that the industry sizing system does not represent the average petite woman except for their stature. They also identified four different body types within the petite women’s data: top petite, bottom petite, regular petite, and plus size petite.

Top Petite

This group represented 30% of the population the study examined and had the shortest torso and relatively average limbs. The authors also discovered that this petite body type is generally represented within the ASTM D7878 sizing, which I swear will make sense and become VERY interesting in a few weeks’ time. For now, just know that the top petite folks are the ones who are represented in the voluntary sizing standards put out by ASTM.

Bottom Petite

This group represented 30.8 % of the population the study examined and had the shortest limbs and an average torso length. These would be the individuals who would be more likely to need shorter pants and sleeve lengths, for example.

Regular Petite

This group represented 23.6% of the population the study examined and had relatively longer torso and long limbs.

Plus Size Petite

This group represented 15.4% of the population the study examined and had larger body volume.

And just how do you determine which of these petite body shapes you may fall under? It’s all about comparing YOUR body measurements to standard sizing charts (or a detailed knitwear garment schematic!)

Here are some numbers to reflect on: the chart pictured below is from the study and gives numbers comparing the 4 petite body types, ASTM petite, industry standards from 14 different companies, and the ASTM regular sizing standard. The ASTM standards are behind a paywall, but you can get some of the size info through Wikipedia.

fullsizerender

A few interesting takeaway quotes from the paper:

Because the petite size proportion does have different dimensions from sizes for children or smaller adults of regular height, petite clothing should not simply become smaller in its aspects of length and circumferences. pg 49

So, that seems to say that our knitwear modifications may indeed be more involved than simply making things shorter!

Little research has addressed petite women’s body proportions and shapes…No study has analyzed petite size women’s body proportions and figure types using the recent and larger amount of anthropometric data now available. pg 49 – 50

We’ll get more into the challenges of this sort of data collection next month, but for now it’s worth remembering that the standards we have now are outdated and inherently flawed.

The petite group showed significantly lower mean values than the regular group for all the vertical measurements…[the petites] also had significantly shorter lengths than the regular group by 0.14″ at shoulder length, 0.82″ at the back waist, and 1.52″ shorter for arm length. pg 55

Fun Fact

Remember how I mentioned above that many knitwear design takes the CYC’s standards in order to create their sizes? Not all do! Another popular source of sizing information are the charts created by Ysolda Teague. A number of years ago she removed the charts she had created in order to update them, and the new charts came out earlier this month! Timely for us here at the #KnitPetiteProject! You can read the charts (and more about Ysolda’s thoughts on them and sizing) here; I’d suggest giving it a look before we dive into comparing different sizing systems at the end of March.

Question

Have you ever used a standard sizing chart to create clothing? Which chart did you use?

Resources

1 J. Bougourd, “Sizing systems, fit models and target markets”, 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 130.

2 Ibid, pg 127.

3 You can find this refrain fairly commonly throughout the knitwear design world, but two people I return to again and again for their fit expertise is Ysolda and Amy Herzog. In particular, Amy Herzog’s Knit to Flatter Craftsy class (and book) outline the importance of determining your base size through the shoulders in order to achieve a good fit, and modifying the rest of your sweater from there.

4 As the year goes on, the measurements might change. That’s ok! We want these numbers so that we can get an idea how sizing standards deviate from our own body.

5 Ysolda Teague. Little Red in the City. April, 2011. pg 34.
Note: Ysolda also makes note for those who may have proportionally smaller busts on pg 38: “In terms of sweater sizing the range of sizes below a B cup isn’t going to have a very significant effect on the fit of your sweater. You can probably get a pretty good fit working with your full bust measurement… It’s still a good idea to compare your other measurements to the standard though, if you have a small bust and broad shoulders you may find that the rest of your measurements indicate going up a size. A good fit in the shoulders is crucial and the resulting positive ease at the bust can actually be quite flattering to smaller busts.” (emphasis mine, not Ysolda’s).

6 Youngsook Kim , Hwa Kyung Song , Susan P. Ashdown , (2016) “Women’s petite and regular body measurements compared to current retail sizing conventions“, International Journal of Clothing Science and Technology, Vol. 28 Iss: 1, pp.47 – 64

#KnitPetiteProject: How to identify your petite fit needs

#KnitPetiteProject: Petite Women and National Demographics

Our last post outlining how we’ll define petite.
The #KnitPetiteProject plan.

All other #KnitPetiteProject posts.

Now that we’ve defined what petite means, let’s examine how many of us there are.

And to kick this post off, we’ll begin with a story:

My Story: Shopping for Fashion

My own fashion awakening happened when I was about twelve years old – peer pressure started to make me feel I had to change the way I dressed and be cool. This also happened to be at a time when I was extremely heavy.

The subsequent trip to the mall with my mom was my first exposure to selecting my own clothes with an eye to how it looked on me. First, as you may imagine, it was hard to find things that fit (and were child-appropriate) for an overweight, 5’1″ kid. I don’t remember having a lot of fun, but I do remember saying something negative about myself and the salesperson saying that the “clothes are wrong, not your body”.

And I’m sure there were myriad reasons I was experiencing frustration; in hindsight, I think one of them was that I was intent on shopping in the COOL stores, not that ugly, dowdy, petite women’s store. Walking past it, I remember asking my mom about the shop; I certainly fit into that height category, but not a single thing in there held any appeal to me!1

So, in a very casual way, I was aware that petite applied to women who were 5’4″ and shorter, and noted that certainly, since there was only one store in the mall that catered to petites, petites must be the minority.

FYI: that store still IS there and has at some point in the intervening years added a petite-plus section and now has this self-description on their petite-plus page:

Explore Laura Plus Petites for a chic and fashion-forward wardrobe. We believe in comfortable and easy-to-wear pieces to make every woman look and feel wonderful. Designed in sizes 14+ for women 5’4” and under.

This experience shaped my ideas of my own body, and specifically my height. I’ve never felt badly about being short, but I was always under the impression that it’s unusual to be 5’4″ or shorter because “there’s special stores to cater to those people”. It’s not normal; it’s not regular. It’s not the average and it’s not the standard.

National Height Averages and the Petite Woman

As it turns out, stats reveal a different story; in all the countries for which I could find information, the average (important to note that this is the average) height for adult females is 5’4″ or shorter. Incidentally, I encourage you to look up average adult female height for countries not listed here!

United States

The National Center for Health Statistics says the average height for adult females is 63.6″ (5’4″ / 1.68 m). More specifically, you can download the pdf of those stats tables here, and a simple search of the words “average height female” return loads of results.

The data I’m referencing here from the pdf linked above has this to say about its collection:

Data are from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), a complex, stratified, and multistage probability sample of the civilian noninstitutionalized U.S. population. Anthropometry measurements were obtained from 20,015 survey participants. The anthropometric measures included weight, height, recumbent length, circumferences, limb lengths, and skinfold thickness measurements.

Canada

As you may know, Stats Canada has just begun publishing their most recent data from the extensive survey done in 2016. I’m anxiously awaiting the newest info, but for now, we have archived data from 2005-2009 that gives the mean height of 162 cm (5’4″) for adult women aged 18-79.

The source for this info is from the a subsample of the 2008 Canadian Community Health Survey, 2007-2009 Canadian Health Measures Survey, and a subsample of the 2005 Canadian Community Health Survey. You can read more about the current Canadian Health Measures Survey here, and about the Canadian Community Health Measures Survey here.

And, just for interest’s sake, here’s a July 2016 article from the CBC that cites data from Imperial College in London, saying that like many other countries’ populations, Canadians are getting taller, but not at the same rate as other nations.

United Kingdom

The story isn’t much different in the UK.

Information gathered (pdf) from SizeUK shows that the average adult women is 163 cm (5’4″); we’ll get into just what SizeUK and SizeUSA are a bit more next month.

Australia

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2011-2012 the average woman was 161.8 cm (5’4″) tall.

Why this matters

There are plenty of fit points at which sizing standards will not serve you as an individual human.2 Creating ready-made clothes relies on picking some sort of data on which to base numbers.3 But it’s important to keep in mind that not only does averaging things out mean no one gets a perfect fit, these average numbers are a moving target that are subject to being skewed through insufficient or unrepresentative data collection (which we’ll get into in March).4

I was unhappy about not finding clothes to solve my un-coolness problem when I was twelve. Not being represented in clothing stores where people my age shopped made me feel like there was something wrong with me. That (culturally preferred) standard demonstrated by my options is, as has been revealed through data I’ve been encountering, demonstrative of a cultural standard (read: preference) that doesn’t really represent the average woman.

There are lots of reasons why this outdated system is flawed4 (we’ll address in March!), but for now it’s important to state that petite, as defined by the fashion industry for decades, is actually pretty close to the average woman’s height in many countries. What we find in regular, non-petite clothing stores skews taller than the average woman. Depending on the designer, the amount of skew will vary, but all this is to say regular size apparel designers operate on the assumption that as an adult woman, you’re taller than 5’4″.

Fun Fact of the Week

According to this 2017 CBC article, the country with the shortest average adult females is Guatemala at 149.4 cm (4’11”) and the country with the tallest average adult females is Latvia at 169.8 cm (5’7″).

Question

What data can you find regarding the average adult female height of your country’s population? Can you find data that gives an estimate in real numbers as to the percentage of the adult female population who are 5’4″ and under?

Suggestion: Wondering where to start looking? Based on some advice5 I followed from Anthropometry, apparel sizing and design, you can start with resources provided by your government, academia (see if you can access resources at your local public or university library), and information from the apparel industry itself.

Resources

1Incidentally, these 2013 stats from the NPD group demonstrate that there is still a gap in the market, particularly the Canadian one, for plus-sized teens from 13 – 17.

2Preface to 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.
From Susan Ashdown, a professor at Cornell University in the Department of Fiber Science and Apparel Design: “Since the time of the industrial revolution and the first widespread introduction of mass-produced clothing the apparel industry has struggled with the inherent contradictions of providing well-fitted clothing within the constraints of economical and practical sizing systems for the variety of people in a population. People vary along many dimensions, resulting in a multitude of sizes, proportions and postures to be accommodated.” Ashdown goes on to state, ” The complexity of sizing for clothing is unmatched by any other consumer product.” pg xvii

3ibid, in the chapter “Creating Sizing Systems”, by A. Petrova, pg 63. “The structure of a sizing system is based on the division of the population into groups with similar body measurements. The body dimensions that are used to classify the population in groups are called control dimensions…The primary control dimension separates the population into major size groups along the body measurement that is considered to be the most important control dimension for a specified type of garment.”

4 ibid, in the chapter “Sizing Standardization”, by K. L. Labat, pg 94-95. “Basing a sizing system on ‘good’ data is a necessity but the acquisition and interpretation of valid data can present problems. Most standard sizing systems available today are based on old data that do not represent current consumers. In many cases, the methods used to collect the data were flawed.”

5 In particular, I pulled these suggestions from the chapter “National size and shape surveys for apparel design” by J. Bougourd and P. Treleaven, pgs 146-149.

#KnitPetiteProject: Petite Women and National Demographics

#KnitPetiteProject: What does Petite Mean?

Our last post, outlining the plan for the #KnitPetiteProject.
All other #KnitPetiteProject posts.

Before beginning this knowledge + skill-building journey, it’s best to first clarify the parameters of the folks who this may apply to.

That is, what does petite mean?

The English language uses that word in a bunch of different ways, but if we’re demystifying this weirdly mysterious sizing system we live in, let’s start here:

For the purposes of the #KnitPetiteProject, “petite” means any woman who is 5’4″ tall (1.62 m) or shorter, or has vertical body measurements which align to a shorter length than is served by established sizing systems.1

Let’s break that down a bit.

Height

You’ll note in the definition above that total body height is the only clarified measurement given. That’s because having a height of 5’4″ or shorter makes it more likely2 that you’ll have vertical measurements that are shorter than the established sizing systems.

The height of 5’4″ wasn’t chosen at random; it’s a well-established line that clothing retailers have drawn in the sand, excluding 43% of American women from the “regular” size that is catered to. Next month we’ll get into why and how that line was drawn.

Vertical Measurements

Human bodies are all different, which may be obvious but is worth repeating, particularly in a discussion of this sort. The definition of petite we’ll be operating under for the #KnitPetiteProject makes note that a person may in fact be taller than 5’4″, and still have vertical measurements that are shorter than the established system may presume. This brings these 5’4″+ folks under the #KPP umbrella because they too may face vertical fit issues.

Body Shape: Weight

A question that arose multiple times in the first #KPP survey was:

Does petite just mean short or does it mean a more general slight stature? Because I am short but round.

Here is where we should emphasize that while the word petite may mean a variety of other things in the English language, for #KPP’s purposes, it applies to vertical measurements only. All weights are included. We’re not just talking about (or even focusing mostly on) slim women.

In fact, the petite-plus market is growing, and clothing retailers would do well to serve these people.3

Body Shape: Age

Also of note is that the #KnitPetiteProject is talking about women of all ages.

In the very interesting chapter on sizing in the home sewing industry in Sizing in Clothing, the authors explain that “[o]ur bodies do change with age, but everyone changes differently and at different rates.” They also note the kind of changes that commonly occur with age, including “…shoulders that move forward, a back that becomes more rounded, shorter overall height, a thicker waist, a lower and fuller bust, a rounder abdomen, smaller hips, flatter buttocks, and a tilted waistline (higher in the front and lower in the back).” (pg 341-343)

Much of this information will come to bear in our discussions on measuring our bodies (later this month) and determining approaches to making our clothes fit us.

What do you think?

The #KnitPetiteProject is collaborative; if you have any questions or would like to add to the info above, please comment on this post!

Fun Fact of the Week

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, petite, as a size in women’s clothing, is attested from 1929. We’ll be getting into the history of sizing standards much more in March.

Question

Because the #KnitPetiteProject is a collaborative effort, I’d like to ask questions each week to help gather as much info as possible.

What sources can you find that explain why the petite size for women’s clothing is a) a specialized, out-sized category and b) defined as 5’4″ and shorter?

Resources

1 A clarification on terminology, taken from K.L. Labat’s chapter “Sizing Standardization” in Sizing in Clothing:
on sizing standards, “…a published document that has been developed and established within the consensus principles of a governing standards organization. In the USA, ASTM International provides a structure for developing and updating voluntary clothing sizing standards that may be used by clothing producers.” (pg 88)
on sizing systems, “…the total range of size and fitting combinations available in ready made garments, with each system containing a number of size ranges, each catering to the sizing requirements of a specific group of the population.” (pg 88-89)

2 For more info, taken from S.P. Ashdown, L. M. Lyman-Clarke, and P. Palmer’s chapter “Sizing for the home sewing industry” in Sizing in Clothing:
“The term petite refers to height only…Someone who is a petite size overall would be shorter proportionately in every part of her body that an average height person. However, a person who is 5 feet 2 inches or under is actually not necessarily petite overall, as she can be short in the legs only. Some women who measure petite in statue are actually longer in the waist and crotch that a tall person.” (pg 340)

3 Here is a 2008 article from the CBC and a 2016 article from Retail Dive. There’s many more such articles, many of which cite data from the NPD Group (see Resources above for more info about them). Assuming the validity of the NPD data and all the news sources that rely on it, 43% of American women are 5’4″ and shorter, AND the average American woman now wears between a size 14-34. That Venn diagram could certainly have a significant overlap of petite-plus women!

#KnitPetiteProject: What does Petite Mean?