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Fashion’s Fit Problem Won’t Be Solved by Virtual Dressing Rooms

More than 90 percent of consumers are unhappy with the fit of their clothes. That means that an industry worth $3 trillion is selling stuff that fits almost no one.

But is it the fault of the brands, or are consumers simply buying the wrong sizes because they don’t know any better? According to Mark Charlton, vice president of technical services at PVH Corp., the apparel industry has a problem managing expectations around fit.

“We spend a lot of time perfecting fit, we spend a lot of time as a product creation team working on fit, fit iterations, fit models, fit standards, sizing specs. We spend so much time but still, 90 percent of our consumers are unhappy with fit,” he said, speaking Tuesday at Lectra’s Fashion Forward event in Bordeaux, France. “Something’s happening in the industry, or just in the world actually, culturally, that’s making it harder to fit our consumers.”

The problem is three-fold: fit is subjective, bodies are more diverse than ever, and brands don’t understand which type they’re targeting. Instead, they try to be everything to everybody and end up catering to nobody.

Pick a lane

“I think it’s important as a brand to pick a lane and decide if that’s your fit standard how do you communicate that? Or do you have a range of size mediums? Do you try to get an acceptable fit on a range rather than a perfect fit on one?” he said. “We’re all different sizes, we’re all individual, but as a brand, what is the smallest size we want to fit, what is the largest size we want to fit, and what are the increments in between?”

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Despite the rise of virtual fitting rooms, Charlton said they’re not the answer and won’t revolutionize the industry.

“Today when you go and try on garments in a fitting room, this is the thought process that you go through: this is my body type, this is my shape and my size, this is my individual comfort boundary, this is what I consider to be the right trend for me at this point in time, this is my individual ease preference,” he said. “And because fit is very subjective, the consumer will say ‘There’s a problem with this garment because it doesn’t fit me.’”

That’s where managing expectations comes into play and Charlton suggested that fashion should take a leaf out of the food industry’s book.

“Most of us have probably returned more items of clothing bought online than meals in a restaurant. Why is the food industry much better at managing expectations of what they’re going to deliver to you versus?” he said. “How does a menu manage your expectations of what you expect to receive and whether you enjoy it?”

The solution: brands need to first understand what body type they’re aiming for, use technology to help fit those shapes and sizes, and then communicate that point of view clearly to consumers.

As Charlton put it, “Try to deal in black and white as opposed to gray space.”