Fit is about so much more than a dress size label and changing consumer and industry trends are fueling the need to go beyond standard sizing to find a more personalised, better fit for customers. Consumers no longer accept that they have to fall between sizes or that they must wear something that is uncomfortable or not fit for the purpose they bought it for.
“Better explaining the fit of a particular garment and giving as much information as possible about how a particular garment fits is vital,” says Will Goodridge, EU digital marketing manager for GSM England Retail – which comprises brands including Billabong, Element, RVCA and Two Seasons.
“There are two clear benefits, retailers will sell more when visitors are given confidence on how a particular garment will fit, and secondly, it will decrease the number of returns,” he says. As a result retailers are responding to how they sell fit - both with better fit options but also better fit explanations. They are providing items more applicable to use or specific customer types – such as tall or plus size, while the increasing use of technical materials in clothing is making it more of a performance product – where fit is also more important than ever.
Whilst in standard clothing fit preferences can vary hugely – whether that’s for comfort (maternity), performance (active and sportswear) or body confidence (plus size) worldwide fit preferences are even more varied. For example, as well as cultural differences about what parts of the body can and can’t be on show in the likes of Asia there is also a trend for baggier items in the likes of Japan whereas Europeans tend to like their clothes more slimly fitted.
Retailers and brands are doing more than ever to react to all these trends to ensure that the products they sell more closely than ever meet their customers individual needs wherever and whoever they may be.
Where once a baggy t-shirt and a pair of tracksuit bottoms may have sufficed, the activewear market is huge today and one where fit is more important than ever, whether it’s comfy and functional for yoga stretches or sweat wicking lycra for road cycling.
“In the case of technical wear – for us wetsuits, boardshorts and ski-wear – how a product fits takes on an even higher level of importance,” explains Goodridge.
And it’s a trend that’s not restricted to working out and doing exercise. The apparel market has seen an explosion in the trend for athleisure – a sector that has seen outfits traditionally only seen in the gym move into everyday wardrobes. This has been fueled in particular by celebrities embracing the trend and launching their own ranges – such as Kate Hudson’s Fabletics brand.
The athleisure trend is encouraging more consumers into more performance-led activewear too but it’s here that customers often need educating about how such fabrics work and the role of fit within that. Different leisure activities will require different eases or stretches of material for example. This could range from the close fitting, sweat wicking functions of high intensity sportswear to the layering options required by other activities such as walking or climbing.
The issue of fit is – unsurprisingly – a particularly emotive one for plus size customers and it’s something that retailers who operate in this space are hugely sensitive to. Not only must sizing be right but such retailers and brands must ensure that the fit and cut of the garments they are selling actually flatter a fuller figure too. It’s no use simply reproducing a miniskirt that looks great on a size 8 model in a size 22 and expecting it to look the same. Rather than simply scale up existing items retailers need to consider what will flatter a fuller figure and what will give their customers the confidence to feel comfortable in what they are wearing.
Fashion retailer Quiz’s Curve range for plus size customers does exactly that since the brand talks about empowering its customer – giving them the body confidence they are after. “Our collection has been lovingly designed to hug your body in all the right places,” says the retailer of its latest range on its website.
As with the plus size market the maternity market is another where promoting body confidence through fit is also important, since women are often conscious of their changing shape and size at this time. Indeed Rakuten Fits Me research suggests that women change body shapes 31 times during their adult life - with pregnancy being the most drastic time. As with the activewear market a loose t-shirt and dungarees is no longer standard maternity attire. Instead retailers and brands create products that celebrate pregnancy and show off the growing miracle happening inside.
Whilst fashion is important here there is of course the primary requirement of the need for a comfortable fit for both mother and baby – so cut to accommodate the growing bump without cutting off circulation for example. Specialists such as JoJo Maman Bebe realise the value of this. It says its designs put comfort high on the agenda. “Wearing clothes that fit well really makes a difference to how you feel – especially during the later stages of pregnancy,” says the retailer.
Whilst specialists have flourished a number of high street names also offer maternity wear in addition to their core ranges. New Look for example launched its first maternity range in 2004 – the same year that TopShop launched its maternity range ‘b’.
This feature first appeared in Fit for purpose: the apparel fit trends report for ecommerce, published in association with Rakuten Fits Me. Click here to explore the white paper in more detail, and to find out more on the areas where fit matters most, including tall, short, half-sizes and tailoring.