Academic journal article Human Ecology

Body Scans: Getting the Best Fit and Function; Susan Ashdown's Body-Scanning Technology Is Positioning the Industry to Design Better-Fitting Apparel for Larger Consumers and More Functional Clothing for Police Officers, Pesticide Applicators, and Even Astronauts

Academic journal article Human Ecology

Body Scans: Getting the Best Fit and Function; Susan Ashdown's Body-Scanning Technology Is Positioning the Industry to Design Better-Fitting Apparel for Larger Consumers and More Functional Clothing for Police Officers, Pesticide Applicators, and Even Astronauts

Article excerpt

In the apparel industry, a business where the bottom line depends on knowing the size of the human body, Associate Professor of Textiles and Apparel Susan Ashdown has a point--300,000 data points, actually--to make.

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"Anthropometric 3-D body scans take 12 seconds and produce about 300,000 bits of information that define our size and shape," Ashdown says of a futuristic technology her laboratory helps to advance.

"Scans of hundreds of people of various sizes, shapes, ages, and ethnicities increase the number and accuracy of measurements used in size prediction," adds Ashdown, the co-leader (along with Suzanne Loker, the J. Thomas Clark Professor of Entrepreneurship, also in the Department of Textiles and Apparel) of the Cornell Body Scan Research Group. "A process that combines objective fit information with fit preference can be industry's most realistic way of satisfying customers."

America's current obesity "epidemic" is posing new challenges and opportunities for the apparel industry, Ashdown observes. "Plus-size clothing has been recognized as a new market opportunity because there has been a lack of well-fitted, attractive clothing for larger women. The goal of the industry is to satisfy the needs of all women," she says, "but this is easier with ready-to-wear sizing when there is not such a wide range of variation among people in the population."

Some manufacturers resort to flattery, with an unstated policy of "vanity sizing" and adding extra material to make women think they still fit into a fondly remembered, smaller dress size. (The approach also works on men with the "hidden inch" waistband that allows growing gentlemen to say, "I still wear a 38 waist.") Ashdown knows why vanity sizing works so well: "Many women find their dress size to be a powerful measure of self esteem," she says. "They feel more comfortable with the size label they are used to, irregardless of the actual measurements of the garment."

The resulting confusion in size designations could be resolved by labeling women's clothing with actual body dimensions, as is done with blue jean sizes labeled with waist and inseam measurements, according to Ashdown. "Apparel companies that believe their sizing gives them a competitive advantage maintain that women do not want to see their body measurements on a hang tag. But surveys show that many women would prefer this to the current guessing game about sizes."

Will the time ever come when the traditional system of women's dress sizes will be meaningless and the more detailed specifications from a body scan will be confidential information between the consumer and her dressmaker? Ashdown predicts a mix of different sizing strategies in the future. When custom apparel is manufactured from scan data (such as the men's suits currently made by Brooks Brothers), then ready-to-wear sizing designations will become irrelevant, she predicts. …

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