I posted this in the Women’s Forum at ADVrider, and I think it’s good enough for general consumption.
I can write a book but will try to keep it not too long. I am trained in patternmaking, that weird job where you create the flat fabric pieces that get turned into 3D shapes. It illuminates so many of our fit issues. Understanding your body shape can go a long way to finding gear that fits and knowing why gear doesn’t fit and might not even be tailorable to fit.
Women come in four basic shapes, combinations of two tops and two bottoms. Tops are either wide shoulders or narrow shoulders, and bottoms are wide or narrow hips, both measured with respect to waist measurement. When you combine them, you get the following:
Narrow shoulders and narrow hips: Column (sometimes called apple). This is the traditional boy shape. If you are a column, awesome, you can wear mens’ gear most of the time, unless you have big boobs. About 50%
Wide shoulders and narrow hips: Triangle. This is the athletic shape. You can wear guy stuff, too, But the size mismatches will get funny. Boobs usually fit, but jacket waists will be a mile wide. 5%
Wide shoulders and wide hips: Hourglass. Oh, you are screwed. You might look like Marilyn Monroe, but no one else does, so no gear for you! A very surprising 10%
Narrow shoulders and wide hips: Pear. This is the shape that is most confusing to designers, because it is the opposite of their runway models. You might have thighs, too. Yikes! Nothing fits well. 35%
How the shapes break down into patterns
Narrow shapes are based on drops (difference between hip or upper chest measurement and waist measurements) that are smaller – 6″ or less for pants, 3″ or less for jackets. These fits are often called ‘straight’ cut. Wide shapes are based on larger drops – 7″ or greater for pants, 4″ or greater for jackets. These fits are often called ‘curvy’ cut. Curvy varies from 7″ to 10″ and greater. The Silver Jeans website has a wonderful description of how these fits work for pants.
The pattern must be cut to account for the drop and enable the wearer to move comfortably. This practice is called ‘adding ease’. In straight cuts, the ease is added to the hips. For curvy cuts, it is added to the thighs. This is why curvy girls struggle with pants – low drop straight cut pants will give them swimming pool butt with large gaps at the waist, because their waists are so much smaller relative to their hips and thighs. Ladies with narrow hips will find everything is baggy below their waist, a poor choice for keeping armor in place. Ease placement is why it is so difficult to make pants fit when cutting them down at the waist. In reality, you also have to add at the thighs and reshape the entire butt. Not practical with technical gear.
The same applies to jackets, with one additional issue: backwaist. Backwaist is the measurement from the neckline to the waistine. Women are generally about 15-20% shorter in backwaist than men. It is actually a primary physical marker we recognize about women. A jacket designed from scratch for a woman will reflect this. It will also include boob room. Boob room is independent of shoulder room, though! Shoulder room is cut into the back of the jacket, boob room into the front. Boob room requires aggressive shaping of the waist line and is the bane of most patternmakers’ existence, honestly. One wrong grain line layout and nothing works. This is why many women’s jackets come with adjustable waistbands: it is possible to add boob room and still cinch the waist down to an appropriate size. Jackets are actually easier to tailor because the main issue is cutting down the waist. Note that actual shortening of a jacket generally requires it to be shortened at the waistline, not the hem.
Beginning your shapely adventure
Have a friend measure you. It works better. Stand tall, relax, and breath gently. Measure at your belly button, around your boobs, above your boobs (upper chest), and at your hips (7-9″ down from your waist). Know your drops. Know if you need boob room – typically anything over a B cup will need boob room. Bs can fit lots of places and As are lucky ducks. Look carefully at the sizing cards for gear lines. They will reveal a lot. However, they are guides and some manufacturers do actually have curvy fits.
Feel free to ask me anything about fit. Thanks are due to my mom, who still believes that a solid understanding of flat pattern is a required life skill.
Alpinestars Stella is pure straight fit top and bottom Size Chart
Dainese has both curvy and straight, you have to try stuff on Size Chart
Rev’It has both, try it on Size Chart
BMW has mostly straighter fits, but the new Tourshell is definitely curvier and GS Dry is too Size Chart
(German) polo – each brand line has a specific fit model, all are different
(German) Louis – same as polo, lots of variety
(German) Hein Gericke – all curvy-friendly
Olympia is big boob friendly, but no curvy fits Sizing link
Joe Rocket has some nearly curvy stuff, but the fits varied across sizes too much for my comfort Size Chart
Speed and Strength was a big surprise as they have curvy stuff Size Chart
Klim Size Chart
IXS generally straighter cuts, will note curvy styles on tag Size Chart
First Gear Size Chart
Aerostich they have not really figured out thighs yet, but seem to be trying Size Chart
Worse for Wear great jeans with well-defined fit models Size Chart
Icon Size Chart
Fieldsheer Size Chart
I will add as I try on other gear here and there.