Womanhood is as much about making personal fashion statements as it is about feeling empowered or breaking through the socio-economic glass ceiling. And speaking of fashion, the average Indian woman has several choices — ranging from flowy, airy drapes and custom ornate top-wear to mass-produced western and branded traditional wear. While there’s hardly any issue with custom traditional garments, the same can’t be said for factory-produced one-cut-fits-all branded wear. “The only time I get a perfect fit is when a designer makes me a dress. But it’s practically impossible to wear designer outfits every day, so obviously, we have to rely a lot on retail stores. Though I’m not exactly a shopaholic, retail therapy does work for me. But every time I shop for clothes, the size bug starts getting on my nerves. Nothing seems to fit, and I usually walk out of a store carrying a compromise. Even online, the confusing size charts drive me nuts,” said model-actress Sauraseni Maitra.
Sauraseni is not alone. Millions of people, especially women, face the same problem with readymade garments in India, where the apparel industry uses tweaked versions of international size charts. And that’s exactly why the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) recently announced that India will finally have its own size chart by 2021. In doing so, it will join the ranks of countries like the US, Canada and Mexico, which have their own standardised size charts. Moreover, 14 countries have successfully completed national sizing surveys. In India, a group of professors and teachers from NIFT, Delhi, has already started working on a survey under the aegis of the ministry of textiles. As part of the research, 25,000 men and women across six major cities will be measured using 3D whole-body scanners.
Noopur Anand, a professor from the department of fashion technology, NIFT, Delhi, and a principal investigator of the project, told us, “The Indian apparel industry uses size charts that are tweaked versions of the ones from other countries and made from the manufacturer’s instinct and experience, rather than proven scientific study. This usually results in fits that leave a lot to be desired. Providing well-fitted garments in the absence of a standardised size chart is proving to be a big challenge for the domestic textile and apparel industry. India is attempting to undertake its own anthropometric survey to take care of disparities and inconsistencies in apparel sizing systems and provided fits.”
Revealing more about the `31-crore Size India survey, Siddhartha Sankar Ray, associate professor, NIFT Kolkata, who’s handling the project in the city, said, “We are getting three 3D scanners within four months, following which we’ll start the survey. These scanners can measure body dimensions in 20 minutes. While one scanner will be used in Kolkata and Shillong, the other two will be used in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Hyderabad.” The Indian size chart will not only help desi buyers identify their accurate size, but also serve as a blueprint for apparel designers and retailers. Most women are already looking forward to the chart, as they think it might help breaking stereotypes around the ideal body type and will also make online shopping easier.
City-based fashion designer Abhishek Dutta said even the small, medium and large sizes used by Indian retail brands are not standardised. “That’s why the fit varies from brand to brand. Though we designers usually customise clothes for our clients, we make readymade garments following the UK size chart, in which size eight is roughly medium. But Indian body shapes don’t match those of people in the UK. Standardisation will help us solve this problem,” he said.
Most garments designed for mannequins
Though the project is still in its initial stage, women are already hoping that it will help shatter stereotypes around conventional body structures. Actress Subhashree Ganguly, who tied the knot with filmmaker Raj Chakraborty in a private ceremony on Tuesday, is really happy about the development. “My UK size is six and usually, the garments I buy abroad fit me well. But I once tried a gown and found that it wasn’t made for my body type. The reason: our body structures are very different from theirs and so, most international apparels don’t fit Indian women. Once the Indian size chart is created, our problems will hopefully end,” she said with a smile.
Even models have to go through several fitting sessions because some designers go with the US and UK size charts, and those clothes end up fitting only mannequins. “Nobody is mannequin size, so why design according to that size? No two Indian women have the same body structure. I often fluctuate between UK size six and eight because of my hips and if one thinks that models would fit into any clothes easily, they are wrong. Indian women’s bottoms are usually heavy and the UK and US size charts are for women in those countries who have different body structures,” said Hasleen Kaur, Femina Miss India Earth 2011.
According to Noopur, identifying the various body structures in India is one of the challenges that has to be overcome after completing the survey and coming up with a size chart that will probably cater to 60-80% women. “When you talk about body shape, it’s primarily the ratio between the bust, waist, hip and thigh, so once we get the data, we’ll be able to analyse how Indian women fit into those classic descriptions of body shapes. The next step would be to understand body structures and coming up with a more specific size chart with variations,” she said.
Ambiguity over size hinders online shopping
At a time when designers and retailers are shifting towards online shows and tying up with online platforms, there are shoppers who can’t order their favourite dresses online because they don’t know their exact size. Somashree Choudhury, a first year Master’s student of Jadavpur University, told us that online size charts confuse her to no end. “My size is medium for western garments, while it’s small for ethnic wear. And this disparity is really annoying, especially when I’m shopping online. It’s not possible to keep a measuring tape handy and use it every time I check out a dress. And it is almost impossible to get a size that fits me perfectly. Usually the one that fits my body usually has the wrong length and vice versa,” she said. Freelance writer Priyanka Saha seconded that. “I buy my dresses online for two reasons — it saves time and offers more variety. But size issues keep bugging me. I once ordered a short dress of my size (small) and had to exchange it twice. Once, because size small wouldn’t fit owing to the cut, and then the larger version was too long! We Indian women are usually much shorter than our American counterparts, so the length is an issue,” she said.
For Shramana Gupta, a Master’s student of St Xavier’s College, online shopping took some figuring out. “Garment sizes usually vary from one brand to another, but for me, the small-medium-large set had always been the benchmark. And that went for a toss with online shopping. I would go crazy trying to figure out sizes like eight, 12 and so on till I managed to figure out what these were. So, an Indian standard size chart would truly be a blessing,” she said.