Pant length ponderings

I have two female friends. One is ‘almost’ 5ft 5in or 165cm, the other is 5ft 7in, or 170 cm. Which one of those two women do you think is an average height?

The answer is neither. Both of them are taller than the average Australian female, which the Australian Bureau of Statistics tells us is 161.8cm tall (that’s about 5ft 4in on the old scale).

So, if they are taller than average, why do they both always need to have their pants legs taken up whenever they buy them new?

Last year, in an article titled ‘You’re not Barbie and I’m not GI Joe, so what is a normal body?’, The Conversation suggested that if you’re like most Australians, you might sometimes feel that your body isn’t normal.

However, they theorise that it’s actually all the ‘virtual’ bodies around us that make us feel that way, and use the example of Barbie and GI Joe whose body shapes are anatomically improbable.

But apart from children’s dolls, we’re also surrounded with other virtual examples. Female shop mannequins, for instance, are on average 172 centimetres tall. That’s about 10 centimetres taller than the typical Australian woman. The average male shop mannequin is around 183cm yet Australian men, on average, are 175.6cm tall.

Theresa Avila writing in online magazine has said that ‘a mannequin, after all, is supposed to show how the clothes are supposed to look on real bodies – not dictate how the real bodies are supposed to change to fit the clothes’.

But what do manufacturers and clothing designers believe is a ‘real’ body? In Australia, there is no standard for adults’ clothing sizes so designers and clothing manufacturers base their sizes on a whole bunch of information ranging from sales history, market research and what they think is their target customer.

From this information, they make ‘blocks’ or template/patterns from which their garments are made. The cost of making these blocks is exorbitantly expensive and labour-intensive. As a result, designers tend to create just one block, in sample size 8–10 for women and then use mathematical algorithms to proportionally ‘adjust’ size up and down, including for length. A similar process is used for men.

Just to complicate matters, overseas designers do the same, but ethnicity and geography can also impact on their target market’s size. For example, the Dutch are the world’s tallest people at 184cm for men and 171cm for women, while Indonesians are the shortest at 158cm and 145cm respectively.

From a commercial point of view, pants and shirts that are longer will capture a wider demographic, because garments can easily be shortened, but they can’t be lengthened.

Interestingly, online retailers with far bigger markets and less physical stores, have greater financial viability to create designs in wider size and length variations (think petite, regular, tall) and so we may one day see more clothing offered in varying sizes.

Until then, people can take advantage of our $18 tailoring and always have garments that perfectly fit their height.

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