A Brief History of Standard Apparel Sizing

By | Fashion Industry

The standard sizing system that we use today (which breaks clothes down into buckets like small, medium, large and extra-large) was initially created in the 1800’s to meet the demand for uniforms for soldiers fighting in the Civil War. Initially soldiers uniforms were custom-made because, well, that’s how clothes were made in the 1800’s. As the Civil War continued and demand for uniforms grew manufacturers decided it would be more efficient to build factories to mass produce clothing.

Civil War Uniforms

Now rather than having a different size garment specifically made for each soldier, soldiers were grouped into four different size categories, small, medium, large and extra-large. While this only fit 25% of soldiers just right, it didn’t matter if the fit was a bit off for everyone else, as long as they could pick a size and the uniform fit “okay” they were ready to head-into battle. The idea was simple, fit didn’t matter, making uniforms as quickly as possible did.

Mass producing women’s clothing took a slower path since the demand was much lower – women weren’t fighting in the Civil War. In fact, women’s clothing continued to be mostly custom-made until the 1920’s. Then as the processes for mass production improved and cities grew, an urban professional class started to develop and soon women’s clothing started to follow the path of mass production.

1920's Clothing

Fast forward a century later, it’s 2014 and now people shop for just about everything online, except for clothes. Only 14% of people buy clothes online, 86% still shop for their clothes in physical stores. Why is that? The sizing system from the 1800’s doesn’t apply today, at Fashion Metric we build technologies that eliminate the ambiguity of the size chart and make it easy to buy clothes online.

Apparel eCommerce stores are now stuck with low conversion rates (~2.5%) and high return rates (~28%) because standard sizing makes shopping for clothes online nearly impossible. If you run an apparel eCommerce store and are ready to evolve past the sizing system of the 1800’s we’d like to hear from you. Welcome to 2014, welcome to Fashion Metric.

Photo Credit: expertinfantry and stefelix via Compfight cc

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.