In the U.S., a standard for men’s clothing sizes was established during the Civil War when the government had to buy uniforms for soldiers in the North. Women’s sizing standards came a bit later in the 1940s when the government had to buy nursing uniforms during World War Two.
Despite a long history of standardization and measurement, are you ever the same size in every store you shop? A 4 in J.Crew is a 2 in Banana Republic, meanwhile you’ll be busting buttons if you try to squeeze into a 2 in most high-end fashion designers.
For decades, custom apparel meant prohibitively high costs. But today, thanks to ecommerce sites and new technologies, affordable, well-designed clothes that actually fit us are just a click away. Check out a few of the globe’s newest startups leading the way…
The newest custom apparel site to graduate from Harvard Business School is Quincy Apparel, which launched on March 26th, 2010 with 5 styles of custom-fit blazers. The two co-founders Christina Wallace and Alex Nelson met at school and bonded over a shared struggle to find “tall girl pants”.
Quincy has created a custom wardrobe collection based on three key considerations – sizing, design, and fabrication. In addition to measuring bust size, cup size, and torso length, users answer a sizing quiz that helps them understand their measurements to pick the correct size and provides data on the backend to help with forecasting and demand planning.
“Ecommerce play is what makes it possible to do this approach to sizing,” explains Christina. “If we were a brick and mortar store it would be impossible to have all of these size proliferations.”
“There has to be a conversation around the fact that women’s bodies vary more than the dress standard takes into account,” she continues. “Women range from curvy, pear-shaped, hourglass and straight-shaped. You can’t just have one cut of pants that fit them all. Our approach is to offer a couple different cuts based on shape.”
After you set all your measurements, and pick the style and fabric you like best, a custom fit blazer arrives 3-5 days later, which is incredibly quick. Christine tells me this is because the jackets are pre-made in a wide variety of sizes. It’s a different approach to sizing than completely custom, but the startup offers free shipping and free returns (a la Zappos) so if you’re not completely satisfied, you have nothing to lose.
Quincy Apparel will add women’s blouses and dresses in multiple fabrics later this spring.
And now for the gents. Launched in 2008, Proper Cloth is a New York City startup that provides customers with various methods for determining size to help them create “the perfect size” for button down dress shirts. Men can follow video tutorials on how to measure their own body, answer a “smart sizes” survey, choosing from a database of other brand sizes, or by just going with simple standard sizes. Founder Seph Skerritt says if you’re going to buy your boy a shirt and you want it to be a surprise, you should sneak into his closet and measure his favorite shirt when he’s not around. “I will gladly send out a measuring tape to help with this,” he says.
Folks in New York City are welcome to drop by their office for a fitting too.
Cut On Your Bias
If you’re looking for clothing with a little more style for casual wear, check out Cut On Your Bias, a new e-commerce-meets-crowd sourcing site that lets customers pick which designs get put into production. The New York City startup, which launched in February 2012 offers a few sketches of dresses, shirts, pants and tank tops for both men and women with voting options for different cuts and colors. Once the votes are tallied, the winning style will go into limited production, with just 15 to 20 pieces on sale a week later.
A few years ago, Carrie Hammer hated what she had to wear to work for her job in digital ad sales. “I couldn’t wear anything fun. Meanwhile, men have a million professional go-to stores. I have 3, maybe?”
So one day, inspired by her her parents, who are both entrepreneurs, she decided to quit her job and launch an affordable, custom dress line. In April 2012, Carrie Hammer arrived.
“Off the rack dresses are built for an ‘average’ 5’6″ woman. But what is average? Womens’ bodies are ridiculously different! I think a lot of our bodies issues come from saying, ‘I have to be a 0, 2 or a 4.’ And at a lot of places, these sizes aren’t true, it’s just vanity sizing.”
Carrie Hammer’s made-to-measure dresses are very Mad Men meets Zac Posen. They walk the fine line between flirty and professional, high-fashion and high-fun. Custom dresses like these usually cost in the $1,000+ range, but Hammer’s dresses cost just $295.
Her collection includes 10 different styles with names like Sarah, Danielle and Pamela (all named after her friends) which can be mixed and matched according to which top or bottom you prefer. (I ordered the Danielle top with the Raya bottom!)
To ensure a perfect fit, Hammer takes 10 different measurements such as dress length, shoulder width and bust size. Online, she asks that you send in these sizes. In Manhattan, her associates will visit people’s homes and offices to measure them. The made to measure dresses are manufactured and tailored overseas and ship in 3-4 weeks time.
Shoes of Prey
Need something cute to wear on your feet with all your new custom apparel? Don’t miss Shoes of Prey, a UK-based startup that offers custom, design-it-yourself shoes ranging from sandals and high heels to snakeskin booties. The shoes come in a wide variety of heels, styles and leathers including soft leather, patent leather and fish skin and can even be made narrower or wider for you. Pricing starts at £100 with deliveries worldwide, including New York, San Francisco, LA, Paris, London, Amsterdam, Auckland, Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne.
ariadna de raadt via shutterstock