I recently had a conversation (with Julie on the Really Pretty Good podcast) about whether expensive clothes fit better than cheap ones. Julie felt like this is true from her own experience, but asked if it is true in general and whether there is a reason behind it. I thought this was a very interesting question – both for consumers of fashion trying to figure out what items are worth buying, and for brands wanting to make clothes that fit. Is there a correlation between price and fit? Let’s explore.
What makes clothing fit
The keys to good fit are design, shape, movement, and proportions. Each of these elements needs to be thoughtfully considered to create the best fit. The garment should fit the designer’s vision for the look of the style. The shape of the pattern and silhouette of the garment need to fit the body shape of the customer. The garment needs to be designed to accommodate movement as the wearer does different activities throughout their day. And finally, the garment needs to be proportioned to fit the body across each size of the size range.
These four elements may seem simple, but each detail in the garment needs to pass these tests. (Julie and I commiserated during our podcast conversation over some examples of small details that were forgotten in the fit process such as a fly zipper on a pair of curvy jeans that was too short to get the pants over curvy hips or back pockets that look comically small or large on the body.)
Good fit requires attention to detail, lots of testing, understanding of the customer who the garment is made for, and the time to devote to getting the fit right. Inherently, good fit is not something that is a direct cost that adds to the expense of clothing. In other words, paying more for an expensive garment doesn’t guarantee good fit.
What makes clothing expensive
Luxury brand name premiums aside, what makes clothing expensive is quality materials, complexity of the design, the cost of paying fair wages, and the cost to develop the garment. It is the materials and the development that relate the most to fit.
With fabrics, you generally get what you pay for. Cheap fabric will lose its shape more quickly and twist, shrink excessively, stretch out, or pill up if you wash or wear it a few times. Fabric has a big effect on the fit of a garment and if the fabric quality, look, and feel don’t hold up, the fit will change.
Developing a well-fitting, quality garment takes many steps and involves the work of the designer, patternmaker, samplemaker, fit model, factory, and others.
Steps to develop well-fitting clothes:
- Understand the customer’s needs and preferences
- Look at relevant trends and sales data
- Design the concept
- Source fabrics
- Test materials for shrinkage, durability, care, etc.
- Draft first pattern
- Make first sample
- Fit sample on real fit model
- Wear test sample in end-use circumstances
- Have a 12-message email thread discussion about the precise location of the hip pockets (or something else that seems similarly trivial, but actually makes a big difference in the fit or usefulness to the wearer.)
- Make changes as needed
- Repeat changes, sample, and fit until approved
- Finalize tech pack with construction, size, and quality standards
- Grade pattern into other sizes
- Fit test a size run either on live models or in 3D to confirm each size is proportioned appropriately
- Get a pre-production sample from the factory
- Make any additional adjustments to the pattern for increased production efficiency
- Approve for production
The sheer number of steps here and the number of people involved in creating clothing that fits does cost money and therefore makes the price of the finished garment more expensive. Making sure each tiny detail of the garment fits the customer and their lifestyle and values isn’t something that can be rushed either. Contrast the list of steps above to those that fast fashion brands known for cheap clothing go through below.
Steps to develop cheap clothes (fast fashion):
- Look at trends and sales data
- Design the concept (or knock off another designer’s concept)
- Send sketches and desired fabric description to factory
- Pressure the factory for the cheapest price possible (which often leads to poor quality and unfair wages)
- Receive sample from factory
- Fit it on a dress form (if you’re lucky, a live fit model for some styles)
- Approve for production with changes
There simply isn’t time in a cheap fast fashion model to give that attention to fit, fabric, and quality that more expensive brands can afford.
The relationship between fit and cost
So, do expensive clothes fit better than cheap ones? While expensive clothes don’t guarantee a good fit, cheap clothes are more likely to fit poorly because the low price doesn’t allow the time or budget to get the fit right.
It is not so much that you will need to pay more as a designer to develop a garment that fits well compared to one that doesn’t, but that if being cheap is the most important thing to you, you will be tempted to cut corners on the process and skip over the details that make good fit possible – and force those working with you to do the same. I believe a little bit more time, thoughtfulness, and, at times, upfront investment in good fit pays off through a high-quality product and fewer returns in the long run.