The Feminine Mystique
Go find a cardboard box. It can be square or rectangular. Then, grab a piece of paper (newspaper, wrapping paper, tissue paper, doesn’t matter). Wrap the box. Even those who, during the holiday wrapping bonanza, invariably find themselves covered in little scraps and pieces of tape—not to mention the proud giver of a misshapen, lumpy gift—will agree this is (conceptually) a fairly easy task.
Now, try and wrap a vase.
It’s hard, right? With all the tucking and folding involved, the act requires something more akin to superior origami skills than mere wrapping prowess.
This is the test designers for women’s wearables face every day, noted Eric Rubin, president of Blue Generation by M. Rubin & Sons, Long Island City, N.Y. “We know there’s a very wide range of women’s fits out there. … That’s always a challenge in this industry because a person does not get to try on a shirt,” he said.
If the Pieces Fit
But finding fits that flatter a wide variety of “vases” isn’t impossible. Getting the scoop on the various components of a women’s apparel item is the first place to start. Here are a few areas where distributors can get ahead of the curves:
1) Fabric. “I usually like to go for the softer fabrics when I’m doing the women’s-only styles,” noted Gina Gaudet, director of design at Medford, Massachusetts-based Charles River Apparel. This design inclination, she added, will manifest itself in a soon-to-be introduced polyester fabrication that feels like chenille. Also, Gaudet said, “Fleeces work well, a lot of the fabrics are more forgiving,” which is a positive when trying to meet a host of sizing needs.
Though these particular innovations are meant to be comfortable and cozy, there are other ways to appeal to a woman’s material needs. Rubin explained that fabrics with a mild amount of elasticity can go a long way to achieving an optimal fit. Of the company’s stretch poplin offering, he said, “The addition of the spandex enables the fabric to stretch in just the right places to conform to the wearer’s body.”
What to look for: Try fabrics that give a little when you apply tension, maintain their shape and have a good hand feel.
2) Construction. Because of the need for a little more flexibility in women’s styles, knits are often a better choice. Both Rubin and Gaudet agreed that designing and manufacturing a woven is, by its nature, a difficult process because the piece requires more tailoring. “The wovens are really tough,” affirmed Gaudet. And as such, in order to make them wearable, Rubin explained that woven fabrics must be nipped and tucked all over the item to create its form-fitting silhouette. Princess side seams are often included, which are “panels” of fabric that are stitched together around the middle in order to better hug the body, he added.
But despite a less labor-intensive design, knits aren’t meant to be inherently shapeless. To avoid a boxy or dowdy look on a women’s polo, Gaudet explained she adds a dart around the bust and tapers it at the waist. “Also, if I make it a little longer and shape it around the hip, that kind of helps, too, so you’re really showing the woman’s body as opposed to straight side seams,” she said.
What to look for: In wovens, princess seaming as well as fabrics with even a slight bit of stretch will help fit everyone. When it comes to knits, notice how the item is shaped, particularly around the middle. “If it’s on a hanger and you’re holding it up, if it just kind of hangs and the shoulders collapse, it’s probably a boxy fit,” said Gaudet. To be clear, we’re going for a “vase.”
3) Sizing. “In order to accommodate a wide range of body types in a given style, we generally keep the fit in the middle of the road,” Rubin said. This includes the offering of two distinctions—classic fit and trim fit. Although, he added, the company has a very wide range of sizing available, these two different silhouettes help distributors find the most flattering shape for
At Charles River Apparel, where Gaudet has been known to go around the office and try each piece on different body types, “What we do is we fit every size, because what looks good on a medium, when you get up to 2X or 3X, the proportions get a little different,” she explained. The areas that are the most trouble to fit are armholes and the bust. “If it’s poorly fitting around there, it doesn’t matter how good it looks, you probably won’t buy it,” Gaudet said.
What to look for: If you know who your end-user is, noted Rubin, it’s easier to work backwards to pick a shirt. For an older, more corporate customer, a classic style is best so it’s not too form-fitting. Younger prospects will enjoy a trimmer, more contoured look. Also, get samples.
4) Style. Years ago, promotional women’s wear was merely promotional men’s wear in disguise. “We used to take a men’s style, shrink the fit, maybe remove the pocket and make a ladies’ version out of it,” Rubin said. Today, however, little design additions make all the difference when it comes to adding a bit of feminine flair. He reported that such details as three-quarter sleeves, cuffs, spread collars and pearlized buttons really help achieve a higher-fashion sensibility for women. Although Rubin was quick to mention, “If it’s too fashion-forward, there’s always the possibility the style will be short-lived,” Gaudet said she circumvents this problem by updating her styles via color, as opposed to jumping onto the trend bandwagon. She explained that a plum fleece recently did well, as well as teal, white and pink as additions to the standard black and navy offerings (which are also essential).
What to look for: Necklines and sleeves are probably the two best places to search for pretty, feminine extras. Note the buttons, the cuffs as well as sleeve length, in particular. Fresh color choices, like jewel tones, flatter a variety of skin tones.