Saturday, December 05, 2009

Are You Boobalicious?

If your bra cup size is anything more than a B, then ready-to-wear (RTW) clothing made of woven fabrics will not fit.

T-shirts, sweaters, and other garments made from knitted fabrics will stretch to cover the subject, but most women who are amply endowed like to wear clothes made of woven fabrics, and they like to wear clothes that are fitted to their figures. In earlier decades, women almost always wore very fitted clothing, like the costumes on the television show Mad Men. Nowadays, most of the clothes that we wear are looser by design, but for formal attire, like wedding gowns, a close and precise fit is essential.

Most women know their correct bra cup size, but did you know that clothes have a cup size, too? They have to. A bra has to fit your breast size, and fitted clothes have to fit correctly over that bra.

Most clothing sold today is drafted to fit a B cup. Most commercial sewing patterns are also drafted to fit a B cup. If you are a C,D, E, F, G, H or I cup, you are out of luck when it comes to RTW. There are important reasons for this shortcoming.

Drafting is the process of drawing the complicated shapes of the pieces of cloth that make up the clothes that we wear. Some garments only have 3-4 pieces of fabric in them, such as a tank top, which might have a front, back,  and maybe a neck and armscye (armhole) binding. Other garments can have 40 or more pieces of fabric in them, such as a menswear-styled tailored jacket or a woman's wedding gown. When the shapes of these pieces are drafted, each of the individual pieces must be the right length, width, and shape to fit the various parts of the wearer's body; each of them must fit together precisely; and each of them must comprise the intended design of the garment after they are sewn together. That's complicated!

Drafting garments is a very technical process.  There are generally two approaches to figuring out what size and shape to make the pieces that make up a garment.

One is draping. With this method, pieces of inexpensive fabric, usually muslin, are layed over a dressform that has the intended design lines, such as seam lines, neck lines, and so on marked on it with black tape so the draper can see the lines through the muslin. While paying very carefull attention to grainlines (the direction of the weave of the fabric), the draper uses her hands to "sculpt" the fabric into the intended design, pinning and cutting as needed. When the drape is completed, the right and left sides are trued, or adjusted, construction lines are marked, and seam allowances are added so that the garment can be cut and sewn. Draping works well, especially for some types of garments, but in the RTW industry the draping is nearly always done on a standardized dressform that is tall, thin, and has a B cup size. Sometimes draping is done on an actual figure, but in RTW, that figure is always about the same as a commercial dressform: no G cups to be found in industry.

The second method is flat drafting. There are hundreds of hand drafting systems around that use paper, pencil, rulers, compass and other tools much as an architect would draw a blueprint, using the basic principles of geometry. Nowadays, drafting is nearly always done by computer using Auto-CAD programs. After the first pattern drape or draft is completed, all the pattern pieces for a garment are enlarged in length and width to make larger garment sizes using a process called grading. The grading process assumes that everyone gets proportionally and regularly taller as they get bigger around (we wish), and it assumes that no one has any figure variations, in other words, that we look like standardized dressforms.

When fitting women's busts (the polite and professional term for "the girls"), this process gets even more complicated. Breasts vary tremendously in size, shape, and position on the torso. As anyone who has tried to follow those little measurement charts in lingerie catalogues to order a bra can tell you, there is much more to cup size than numbers.

Cup size is really a kind of short-hand way of describing the difference in circumferences  around the torso from the chest above the bust, to the fullest part of the bust, to the torso just below the bust. Cup size also describes the volume of the breasts.

To explain this geometrically, the base of a breast is basically a circle. Imagine two circles drawn on your chest where your breasts are. The size of these circles varies tremendously with the size of the woman. For a tiny woman, that circle might have a diameter of 5 inches, while a large woman's breasts might be represented by a circle that is 10 inches in diameter. If you remove a segment, (think of taking a slice out of a pie) from this imaginary circle, and then you bring the cut edges together, you get a cone shape, which looks like a breast! If you take out a relatively smaller segment, the cone on its base will not be very high. If you take a larger slice, the resulting cone shape will sit up much higher. The larger segment or slice corresponds to a larger cup size. Both the size of the circle and the size of the segment vary with body and breast size, and they need to vary with garment size and cup size to fit each body.

Those pie shaped segments are like darts in fitted garments. Darts are those triangular or diamond shaped folds that are stitched down inside a garment to fit the bust, as well as other areas of a body. The size of these darts must correspond to the cup size of the wearer or the garment will not fit correctly. The position of the darts on a garment must also correspond to the position of the bust on the torso.

Even more complicated, many garments are not fitted only with darts, but with dart equivalents, such as gathers, pleats, tucks, shaped seams such as princess seams, yokes, and so on. The fit for the bust can be hidden in numerous design details.

Because RTW is mass marketed, profit is far more important than fit. That is why RTW doesn't even bother to tackle the cup size issue, and consumers just buy what they can find.

Alterations can help, but if you are boobalicious, you need custom clothing that has been adjusted to fit your cup size, or you need to adjust patterns for cup size if you sew for yourself. My first book, Sewing for Plus Sizes, shows you how.

More later on how to judge  good fit.

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