Design apparel study searches for better-fitting jeans

Doctoral student says jeans designers miss the connection between body shape and pattern.

by Heather L. Mueller

For women, a good-fitting pair of jeans is a wardrobe staple, much like a little black dress. But, it might also be the most troublesome garment to shop for.

“I gave up on women’s jeans and now shop in (men’s),” said math sophomore Nicole Thompson. “Girls are so curvy so it’s harder for us to find pants that fit our shape.”

Even though jean retailers have begun to take notice of women’s curves, College of Design apparel doctoral student Ellen McKinney said designers are missing the connection between body shape and pattern.

McKinney is unlocking the fit mystery by applying the 3-D measurements of women, specifically the waist, hips and crotch curve, to pant patterns in McNeal Hall’s Human Dimensioning Lab.

The goal of the McKinney’s research is to learn how a 3-D digital body image can be accurately applied to a 2-D pattern in order to create a pair of jeans that conforms to an individual’s specific body shape.

“Just because they say it is a certain size doesn’t mean it’s going to fit all body types,” said Ariel Perkins, a physical therapy graduate student.

Jeans are problematic for women because of tight-fitting trends and styles.

“When pants don’t fit, women take it personally,” McKinney said.

Research participants aged 18 to 25 put on a skin tight scan suit and receive a 3-D laser body scan while standing on a platform.

One laser and two cameras scan the body head to toe. Participants – who had an average hip circumference of 40 inches – had to have a healthy height-to-weight ratio.

The 3-D image can then be rotated and cut into cross sections, such as at the waist or hips, using a computer program. From the scan, a digital tape measurer can provide approximately 100 surface measurements.

The cross-sectional shape of the 3-D image shows McKinney the participant’s body shape and where she carries her weight -drumming up a quantifiable idea of where the problematic fit areas exist and how to work around them.

Dr. Karen LaBat, University professor and primary investigator of the Human Dimensioning Lab, said although women who wear a size 10 might look similar, digital imaging and body scans reveal a number of differences.

“You actually start looking at them and there’s all kinds of variations – where the muscle is, where the fat is, your posture all kinds of different things,” she said.

History of science graduate student Rachel Dentinger said the apparel industry assumes if you have “a behind” then you must have more weight around the waist. But in many cases that isn’t true.

“By the time I get to a pair that fits me in the butt and thighs, it’s like a paper bag around my waist,” she said. “I only have two pairs right now that I’m satisfied with.”

Based on the body scan and dimensioning research, McKinney will create a jean pattern for each participant and

invite them back to try on the final product to evaluate the final fit. McKinney plans to finish her research in the spring of 2007.