Shirt/Blouse/Jacket Fitting Series Part 2 - Fitting The Body

Your Best First Impression

Step 2: Properly Fitting Men's & Women's Tops

by Alexander Kabbaz, Master Tailor
This is two articles rolled into one:
Properly Fitting the Body Shape
Fitting Differences Between the Male and Female Body.
It is difficult to show, with any degree of accuracy, the inter-gender body-fitting relationship without realistic images of the human body, some of which may be considered "not safe for work". For those reading on a publicly viewable screen we have also provided a significantly less accurate version using black & white "outline" renderings. Click here for the Black & White version.
My two most recent fitting articles dealt with the upper parts of shirts, blouses, & other tops such as jackets, including properly fitting the Shoulder Slope and Shoulder Shape. Under the wild assumption that those were understood, it's time to tackle the parts which depend upon the shoulders being correct ... the garment's front and back.

The subjects being intertwined, this text will cover the proper fitting of the human body and discuss the gender-based similarities and differences.

As an aside, these fitting concepts require careful study and concentration. Unless you happen to be a bespoke clothier or someone with expertise in tailoring garments, you may not be able to put the lessons of this article into practice yourself. You will be able to look your tailor or shirt/blouse/jacket maker in the eye and say, with authority, "That is not correct. Here's what you need to do."

Except for average width (man 19"; woman 16") there are no differences in fitting the shoulders for men and women. That does not hold true for fitting the front and back. The average shapes of men and women exhibit major differences ... but you probably knew that already.


Basic Shirt/Blouse/Jacket Pattern Showing Body Shaping Points

Male/Female Shape Differences

Furthermore, although people come in an infinite variety of shapes, this article is based upon the "normal" or "average" male and female body types. Suffice it to say that no matter the variation from average, all clothing patterns need to begin with the average shape as a template. Alterations are made from there.
Here are the dimensional proportions which are considered average:

Commonly expressed as Chest/Bust - Waist - Hips:
Man: 42-34-40 ... Woman: 36-24-36
In greater detail:
Man: Chest 42", 10" down from the shoulders
Woman: Chest 36", 9" down from the shoulders
Man: Waist 34", 19" down from the shoulders
Woman: Waist 24", 15" down from the shoulders
Man: Hips 40", 25" down from the shoulders
Woman: Hips 36", 19" down from the shoulders

Basic Shirt/Blouse/Jacket Pattern Showing Pattern Shaping Points

Body Fitting Points

Summing Up:
Man: 42-34-40 over distances from shoulder of 10-19-25 - A total distance (nipples to hips) of 15"
Woman: 36-24-36 over distances from shoulder of 9-15-19 - A total distance (nipples to hips) of 10"
A couple of questions explain the significance of these detailed measurements:

Q: Why have I listed the distance down from the shoulder in every case?
A: Correct vertical placement of each circumferential dimension is crucial to a proper fit. For example, placing the waist dimension on a man's pattern 15" down from the shoulders would put the smallest circumference 4" above the actual waist. Conversely, placing the woman's waist 19" down from her shoulders would place the smallest body dimension squarely on her hips. Simple logic tells us that this isn't good!

Q: Which body is more difficult to fit?
A: The female body is infintely more difficult to fit than the male body for two primary reasons: The average circumferential differences from bust to waist and waist to hips are not only larger but occur over a significantly shorter vertical distance. Add to that the fact that women's rear waists are more suppressed than men's. Note the outlines in the first image above (man: blue; woman: fuchsia) and you'll notice that this holds true in all three-dimensional views - front, side, and rear.

Have a firm grasp on the importance of measurements? Good. Now let me further confuse the issue.
Were we to divide those measurements in half for the front and back, the man's 42" chest circumference would consist of 21" for the front and 21" for the back. Ignoring for now that this is rarely true, making the shirt 21" in front and back leaves out a critical element: Most people like to breathe. Some even like to be able to move. To allow for this an amount of "fullness" must be added to the pattern. There are varying standards for this, the usual one being "8-7-8". In other words, 8" of additional fabric for the chest, 7" for the waist, and 8" for the hips. Thus we would have an actual (fabric) chest measurement of 50", waist 42", and hips 48". Other standards include Fitted: 7-6-6; Loose: 10-8-9; Skin tight: 5-4-5. Have I made tighter? Yes, but usually only for those in the body-builder profession. As the average woman is proportionately smaller, the standard usually used is 7-6-7.

We're getting there. We now have the dimensions to be used for the basic pattern. If your measurements aren't "average" - and whose are? - simply add or subtract from the standard to create your ideal pattern. Don't forget to add the fullness. Need your measurements? Here is the Measurement Form and Instructions.

Now for the hard part: Fitting. Assuming that you have the correct Shoulder Slope and Shoulder Shape, fitting the front and back should not be too difficult. In reality, if your front and back pattern has been created using the standard shape with adjustments for your particular measurements you should already have achieved a decent fit. Let's work on refinements.

The first refinement is to divide the measurments between the actual dimensions of your front vs. your back. In this example I shall again work with the man's 42" chest. Take out your tape measure. You'll need an assistant for this. Place the 0" mark under the center of your arm at the level of your nipples. Measure around to the center of the front. Let's assume that measurement to be 11.5". Double it and you now know that the 42" chest is actually comprised of 23" in front leaving 19" for the back. Now, using your measurements, do the same thing for the waist and hips. For discussion's sake, our ideal man will have these dimensions: Front Waist 18", Rear Waist 16"; Front Hips 20", Rear Hips 20".

Taking Measurements

Taking the Necessary Measurements

Now refer to the shirt pattern (above) on which I have removed the sleeves for clarity. The red line on the front & back is the chest; green the waist; blue the hips. Adding the 8-7-7 fullness (by dividing it equally between front and rear), the front chest will be 23" + 4" = 27". Draw half of this measure (there are two fronts) on each red line. The rear chest is 19" + 4" = 23" which you'll draw on the rear red line. Do the same for the Waist and the Hips. You now have your ideal measurements marked on your pattern. Gently curve the lines from Chest to Waist to Hips connecting your marks and your pattern is finalized. Or is it?

Traditionalists, of which I am admittedly one, consider the use of darts in mens' shirts to be the sign of either a cheap "custom" shirt or an inexperienced shirt fitter. Having said that there is one qualification. If the circumferential difference between the chest and the waist is greater than 14", e.g. Chest 52", Waist 36", fitting sans darts is extremely difficult. Here is where lies the greatest difference between the male and female body. The "average" woman of 36-24-36 has not only a 12" difference between Chest/Waist and Waist/Hips, but those differences are over a considerably smaller distance than an average male body. In womens' shirts and blouses multiple darts are not only necessary but also are considered quite fashionable.

Dart Placement

Dart Placements

To create a dart, note the dart diagrams for the front and rear darts. A dart is sewn by holding together the two wide points and sewing to them from the top point and then from them to the bottom point. In the case of bust darts, they begin at the side seam, pinched together at the wide point, and are sewn closed to the end point.
There are three types of darts commonly used in womens' tops: Rear Darts, Front Darts, and Bust Darts.

The most common are two rear darts, one to each side of the center back. See the photo of the pink shirt. These darts are used to reduce the amount of fabric on the average woman's considerably suppressed rear waist.

The second most common type are called "bust darts". These are used to shape the shirt around the breasts. Picture, if you will, a paper plate. Cut a pie wedge out of the paper and pull together the two edges of the missing wedge. You'll notice that the plate shapes into a cone. On a blouse, this "wedge" is created just under the arm and should point slightly upwards toward the nipples. See the red shirt and the second light blue shirt.

The final type of dart is the front dart. This is used where there is an extreme measurement difference between bust and waist. Trying to accommodate this entire difference using only rear darts will distort the shirt. See the first light blue shirt photo.

All three types of darts are shown on the pattern diagram.

Front Darts

Rear Darts

Bust Darts

Bust Darts

Princess Seams

There is an alternative method to accomplish the same effect as front and rear darts. This is called "Princess" (or "Prince") seaming. Note the seams on the black & white shirt. Not only do they offer style enhancement by emphasizing a fit, trim waist, they have been cut where they join so as to remove the fabric which would otherwise be sewn into darts.

The only area not covered so far is that from the chest to the shoulders. You may see a vertical wrinkle in the front just where it joins the sleeve. This can be easily cured by cutting the armhole slightly deeper in this area. Do this by pinning the wrinkle, measuring how much you have pinned, and cutting slighly less than you measured out of the front armhole. In the rear, there should be at least a wrinkle's worth of extra fabric at the back of the top where it joins the sleeves. Without this you will either not be able to lift your arms ... or you will split open the shirt in doing so.

Fitting the top of the Shirt/Blouse/Jacket

Fitting the Top of the Top

That just about sums up fitting the body and the differences between the genders. However, this article wouldn't be complete without a few notes about issues which are actually quite common but may strike you as abnormal.

Mens' rear waists can, especially on those with excellent posture, be quite a bit smaller in the rear than the front. Not only is the waist suppressed in back, but abs and stomach contribute a great deal of size in the front.

Many people have large, prominent shoulder blades. In taking measurements, make certain that the tape measure goes around the blades when measuring the chest.

Womens' rear hips and buttocks are often quite a bit larger than the front of the hips. Not only is there additional fat tissue on the buttocks, but the front pelvic area is considerable suppressed. It would not be strange for 36" hips to be comprised of 21" in the rear and 15" in front. This is easily seen in the photo of the orange shirt with the gold leggings.

Bespoke Shirts

Notice the front hips suppression

Notice the Front Hips Suppression

Although I mentioned bust darts as being used on womens' shirts, many older men have "moobs" - especially those who worked out when younger, developing large pectorals, and stopped or reduced their workouts as they aged. In this case, the bust dart is the solution for men as well.

Just as with yokes in the Shoulder Shape article, the left and right of chests, waists, and hips are not necessarily the same dimensions. When you take those half-body measurements of the three areas, measure both sides. They may vary by an inch or more and this should be built into the pattern.

How can you know if you have taken those half-measures correctly? Easy: The side seam of the shirt, blouse, or jacket should be both straight and also fall directly under the center of the arm. If at the waist, for example, the side seam curves toward the back, you have suppressed the rear waist too much and the front waist is too large.

Fitting the top of the Shirt/Blouse/Jacket

A Bespoke Shirt

So what wasn't answered? If I had known before I started writing, it wouldn't have been omitted. If you think of something which was missed - or simply have a question - please write to me. You'll get your answer and I'll be able to improve this article.

Thank you for your time.
Copyright © 2020 Kabbaz-Kelly & Sons. All Rights Reserved.