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The future of fit

Drapers consults five fit experts on future trends in body-dimension data and fit. 

Jennifer bougourd for drapers (002)

‘Shape more critical than size’ – Jennifer Bougourd, visiting lecturer at the London College of Fashion and former manager of 2002’s Size UK project

Fashion retailers are beginning to realise that shape is much more important than size. Before 3D scanners, retailers didn’t have the means to measure and identify shape, but it’s slowly creeping into the general vocabulary.

Customer perception also plays a role. For example, some women still believe that every retailers’ size 12 should be the same. That was much easier to do in the 1950s, but market segmentation wasn’t around then, so customer perception was different. Clothing is now being targeted more towards age and shape. If you look at shape data, though, a size 12 for a younger person is very different to a size 12 for someone aged 40, 50 or 60. It’s the same measurement, but a different shape.

Today’s digital-fitting systems allow you to scan yourself in store, and this technology will eventually enable people to do it from home. That will be the future. Consumers buying clothes online will be able to see clothes on themselves before they buy. These systems are already being taught in UK universities. Nevertheless, while there is a lot going on to help ameliorate the fit problem, we’re not there yet.

Pia ostermann

‘Body-dimension data will help cut excess inventory’ – Pia Ostermann, fashion analyst at Euromonitor International

Consumers are increasingly demanding, and fit remains among the most important product characteristics within apparel, together with comfort and value for money. The use of body-dimension data within the fashion industry therefore gives brands the opportunity to sell products that better fit the consumer. We expect this to increase in popularity, especially since millennials are tech savvy and want unique on-demand products.

Fashion brands and retailers such as Hugo Boss and Marks & Spencer make use of body-dimension data to sell made-to-measure shirts and suits. In-store technologies such as body scanners can also provide a buzz as a part of a short-term marketing strategy – for example, when Selfridges used bodymetrics pods in store to create an interactive shopping experience.

There are many benefits for the larger operators, not least minimising excess inventory and collecting consumer information. Nevertheless, there are challenges, including costly implementation, privacy issues and returns.

Meanwhile, niche brands can gain an advantage by focusing on providing the perfect fit for a specific product, such as jeans or lingerie. Wearable tech companies such as Like a Glove produce leggings that help to accurately measure a consumer’s shape and then make suggestions on the best-fitting jeans, as well as advising on jeans fit for brands such as Levi’s. The lines between fashion and tech are expected to increasingly blur, providing more affordable made-to-measure options for consumers.

Tuoc luong

‘ID codes will hold customers’ body data’ – Tuoc Luong, chief executive of BodiData

One of the challenges of body-dimension data is that it’s difficult to acquire. Only a small segment of the population is willing to wear tight-fitting clothing in front of a camera system to be scanned. But as technology evolves – for example, we’re developing a hand-held scanner that can scan people while they are wearing their normal clothing – this will change.

If you acquired a mass of body-dimension data, the insights could transform your business. You could offer a consumer experience that doesn’t exist today. 

A lot of people don’t buy clothing online because of size uncertainty. Many who do buy two or three sizes and return the ones that don’t fit, at huge cost to the merchant.

If you could create a system whereby consumers have been scanned and given unique fit IDs, which would allow them to pass on their body dimensions to the merchant, it would create a very personalised, powerful experience. 

In bricks-and-mortar stores, customers could use an app to scan clothing and find the size that will fit. That data could also be used to show geographical size differences at a more granular level than ever before.

Anne marie ng

‘Body data is an international sales tool’ –  Anne Marie Ng, menswear design consultant

Consumers are becoming increasingly discerning and vocal about demanding wider choices of better fits, particularly as more people make online purchases and are keen to share their looks via social media, even to show badly fitting online purchases.

There is also definitely a trend towards fashion retailers using detailed measurement data to sell stock. You can see this particularly with larger, online retailers such as Net-a-Porter and Matchesfashion, which include international size conversion charts, and sometimes helpful illustrations to show how and where to measure on the body. The trick is to balance giving enough fit information without overwhelming the customer.

Fashion retailers will continue to offer more choice of fits to international consumers, as well as using body data as a marketing tool for made-to-measure or even bespoke designs. At the end of the day, a fashion consumer is prepared to search high and low for the right product, whether online or in real life.

It will be mostly the larger retailers and brands, however, who can afford to use body-dimension technology and data to stay ahead of their competitors. Data will become easier to gather, although more complex, as retailers and brands identify who their customers are, which could change and broaden over time. 

Patrick gottelier 2017

‘The solution is to manufacture at point of sale’ – Patrick Gottelier, master of apparel and product design at the DeTao Masters Academy

I left my masters in industrial design at the Central School of Art in London in 1975, lured by Marks & Spencer to work on its sizing/fit redesign. They were still using size charts based on a size survey conducted by the Ministry of Defence in 1951. At the time, Marks & Spencer staunchly refused to give up retail space to the frippery of changing rooms. Needless to say, they had a returns problem.

More than 40 years on we’re still looking at body-dimension data to solve what is essentially a stock ratio/merchandising/selection/buying problem that can’t be solved by data alone. Great fit is subjective and dependent on emotion, style, fashion, culture, context – and even the time of day. Ultimately, reducing land fill caused by faulty buying ratios or fundamentally bad fit can only be solved by customised fit or even custom manufacture at point of sale.

We already have the technology: by joining up digital-body scanning, computer-aided design, co-design, and visualisation and computerised knitting it’s feasible to manufacture at the point of sale.

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