March 6, 2013

the Myth that is Perfect Fit



image source - note that the image says just right, not perfect

I was teaching a class on fit just last night and I had an awesome bunch of ladies who were just great. We had a lot of fun. There was a moment in the class when I made the claim that there is no such thing as perfect fit. One of the ladies in the class disagreed with me stating that, "there is such a thing as perfect fit, but for many of us it is unattainable." Now, I don't mean to put anyone up on the chopping block and I certainly think that everyone has a right to their own view, but as someone who has fit and overfit myself many times and has fit many others of various body shapes and sizes, I absolutely can not agree. I do not believe in perfect fit - even if it did exist, at what cost does it come?

This is not to say that there is no such thing as bad fit - there is. Especially when it comes at the cost of our comfort, which I believe should be the first call to order. If something is not comfortable, in the way that it should be comfortable (note: strapless gowns will never feel like pajamas so let's not go there) then something needs to be done to the fit to make it feel better. For myself this includes a broad upper back adjustment so that I can put my arms in front of me without pain in the sleeve. Does that make sense?

This is also not to say that there isn't such a thing as good or great fit - there is and its worth your time to get a book or two on how to fit your body. I've seen plenty of garments that have absolutely wonderful fit and I don't usually notice flaws in the fit unless I'm looking for them. And even then, usually if there is a flaw in the fit I only notice because someone points it out ie: the person who stitched it. After looking at yourself in the mirror a bazillion times and trying on the garment at several stages and all that jazz who wouldn't notice every single wrinkle and fitting imperfection?

Aspiring to perfect fit is absolutely crazy - and it will make you crazy too. Ask me how I know - seriously because I could give you volumes as to why this is soooooo maddening! Aspire to fit your garments well, not perfectly. Let things slide that really don't add to the overall fitting quality of the garment or especially if its not that big of a deal and you can't for the life of you figure out how to fix it. Here's a quote from one of my favorite authors that really puts the cap on perfectionism, in any form, for me:

"Once a close friend gave me a priceless gift. She convinced me that my sanity is much more important than the subtle nuances that I adore. The subtle nuances are the essence of perfection. The subtle nuances trigger the "Ah" response. But a life spent seeking the subtle nuances leaves little time to enjoy the big picture."
---Sarah Ban Breathnach

Instead of seeking the subtle nuance of perfect fit, just make yourself some great clothes and stop haggling with your sanity over the price of tea in China, I mean a wrinkle here or there.

What do you think? Is perfect fit attainable? Do you drive yourself bonkers with trying to achieve perfect fit? Jump in - this conversation is all about your opinion! Maybe you don't agree with me - you have the right! I want to hear why.
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44 comments

  1. I believe perfect fit is attainable...but you need to invest time and patience to achieve it. I started being interested in fitting a garment properly when I realized my sleeves were not fitting well and this caused pulling in the garment. So in the end my me-made garments were not as comfortable as ready-to-wear. Since the whole point in making your own garments is also achieving good fit (OK it's also because I have fun sewing and making stuff myself!) I thought it was worth investigating.
    A wrinkle here and there is not a big deal, but at least I want to ensure my sewn wardrobe is as good as a non-perfectly fitting ready to wear...:o)

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  2. Honestly, I totally love that you said there the perfect fit is a myth. I'm still a novice, and there are times that I think the pattern actually fits me perfectly and I wonder what I'm missing. Sometimes there are huge adjustments to be made, which are obvious. However, most of the time, I think that no matter how much I fiddle with the fabric, it will only look 5% better!

    Also, I am afraid to make things perfectly tailored because on any given day, my weight fluctuates a bit here and there. Therefore, if I were to take it in just a bit more, my favorite party dress can only be worn if the time is right. That doesn't seem like it would be a perfect fit for my closet!

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  3. I agree with you. I have seen many people on their blogs over fit their garments. I have seen what I believe to be a great fit on someone only to have them continue to tweak the fit. I saw one women make 5 muslins and in the end she went back to her second one and the fit was fine. We have wrinkles in our clothing because we move. We're not mannequins standing still all day.
    I agree that how the garment feels is very important.
    I do have to say that the dress Halle Berry wore to the Oscars did look like it fit her perfectly. I am sure there was a lot of tape involved. The dress looked like it was molded to her body. Again that is Hollywood and not our real life.

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  4. I decided early last year to stop driving myself crazy seeking to attain "the perfect fit". I relaxed about it and set about to have a "good fit" --and oddly, since that decision my clothes fit beautifully. The clothes I've made over the last year have not only fit me better but looked overall nicer and better suited to my lifestyle. Hardly a day goes by that I'm not wearing something I've made. And I think it all fits fine!

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  5. I completely agree that the perfect fit is not attainable. I think great fits can certainly be acheived, but nothing can ever be perfect. Honestly, I may not be the best person to speak of this but because I don't believe in the perfect fit or the perfect garment, I don't agnoize at all when something isn't exactly perfect, especially because I know that no one will be able to tell unless I point it or perhaps they have the observation skills of Sherlock Holmes, in which case nothing will ever be perfect so why bother?

    I also have to say that this hits me a little personally too, which also means I'm reading entirely too much into this(!), because I just finished watching both America the Beauitiful documentaries. In case you haven't heard of them, both generally focus on how people, esp women, feel about themselves and their bodies and their image. Imagining someone say the perfect fit is unattainable for them, that they COULD achieve the perfect fit "if only x was different..." makes me so sad. We should all embrace our different, unique quirks and understand that to acheive perfection is not worth it.

    Ahem, anyway, sorry to hijack your post, that was what just sprang to my mind! Also, I just love the quote above and generally the entire post.

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  6. I believe one can achieve a perfect fit on a manequine. When there is no movement involved, no need for ease here and there that will show a little extra in a form of a wrinkle or two under certain angles. But while fitting for a person, one should have two things in mind - proportions and comfort. Once you achieve a good balance, when a garment doesn't limit free movement and works well with proportion of the body it is being fitted for, it is as good as it gets.

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  7. I have never looked for the perfect fit...I don't belive its attainable unless you are a shop dummy. I'm quite happy if something fits comfortably I don't go for all this I'm such n such measurements so I need to do a FBA etc. Instead I try it on if I can move freely without it falling off I'm fine with it...as for wrinkles well that's what in irons for isn't it ;)
    Its like I have a dress I'm sewing technically it should fit snugly but it came out looser coz of the ease but I can live with it...not the end of the world. I may put on weight when I'll be glad of the extra ease.

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  8. Brilliant! I wish you could come and explain this to some of my maddeningly perfectionist students! I'm going to read them the quote and see if it helps. Thanks.

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  9. This reminds me a lot of a conversation I had with my students in an Art History class I was teaching. I was trying to explain that Greek statues did not represent an individual, but rather an ideal that did not exist "in nature" and my students argued with me, saying that a figure like a Greek statue COULD exist, it just wasn't any of us. How sad! It makes me think that the belief in perfection as a standard is something that is deeply ingrained in us (perhaps to constantly make us feel like we fall short...?)
    Regardless, I'm with you - I don't believe in "perfect" ... anything! Especially not perfection in sewing or fitting. I, like you, aspire to have my me-made garments fit my body comfortably and effortlessly. And I think you can get pretty near "perfection" by lightening up a little. Most of the times its all in our own heads anyway.

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  10. I think perfection in anything is static, and life is not static. Perfection requires that we stand still in the river of life, and real people cannot do that. Who doesn't gain and lose 5 pounds every six months? Who isn't subject to the continued effects of gravity? At my age, I am constantly reassured that gravity exists, believe me! I say that good enough is just that, good enough. Or as my mother so wisely put it when she sewed for me when I was growing up, "oh well, it will never be seen on a galloping horse"!

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  11. I guess it just depends on what your definition of "perfect fit" is. For me, the perfect fit results in a comfortable garment, that looks good and I feel great wearing. If there are a couple extra wrinkles, what does it matter? Clothes are not our skin, nor do they need to be as "perfect" fitting as that. We need some room to move and live in our clothes, not have them take over our lives if we're making them.

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  12. I'm teaching kid's sewing right now, and even as children we have this desire to make things perfect. They feel like if it didn't come out the way they had it in their head, it is a failure. Not so! I try to gear my projects for them to ones that encourage the creative process rather than "getting it perfect". Perfection is loose, intangible, and ever evolving. They're like your dreams at night, nice to think of from time to time, but a little too weird to try to live out the real world. Great post, very timely for me. Thank you.

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  13. I'm new to sewing but that isn't the reason why I agree. I will NOT sit and spend months and hours making muslin after muslin to try to "perfectly" fit an everyday garment. I could see if you were making a gown (wedding, other special occassion, etc) but I'm not making several muslins for a BLOUSE! lol!

    Nothing against those that do...I'd rather have things that I like to wear and like to make. I don't want sewing to become some chore that I dread because it's going to take me a month to make a shirt...

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  14. Well, this comes at the perfect time...I was just about to start a third muslin....for a T-shirt. And you know what? The second muslin looks pretty good. And I don't really know how to make it perfect, and it's a T-shirt!! So I am going to get over it and just sew the darn thing already :) Thanks for saving my sanity a little.

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  15. Even if there IS "perfect fit," it would only work if you never moved or breathed while wearing the garment. You can, indeed, perfectly fit a mannequin. I am not a mannequin, therefore I am quite satisfied with "adequate fit." If I can achieve "good" or "great" fit, that's a very welcome bonus!

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  16. I am no sewing expert, but I totally agree with you about there not being a perfect fit. I decided early on in my sewing that if I strived for total perfection that I would kill any joy I had in sewing. I try for a good fit, but not a perfect one because it will never happen. I don't worry if the top of the zipper on my dress is not perfect because my hair will cover it. I am still working on sewing good fitting pants, but I have about decided that will never happen for me. I am just going to have to get the best fit I can or either not wear them.

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  17. I have always thought the goal of fitting is to make sure the wearer is comfortable and that the garment is flattering. I have been sewing since I was a child and making clothes for myself and others for decades. Focusing on making muslins and tweaking for perfect fit can be disheartening. For me, trying so hard for perfection takes the fun out of creating. Measure the pattern, make obvious adjustments, try a muslin if need be to be how the garment feels and whether it suits the wearer. Fix obvious problems but don't become obsessed over every wrinkle. Enjoy making lovely things that fit and suit you better than rtw. And don't, please don't, tell people about whatever you think you did wrong when they compliment you! Say thank you and add with pride, "I made this!".

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  18. This is a great post! I agree, there's no such thing as perfect fit.. The clothes are an imitation of the body, and therefore can never compete with the perfection that is the human form. We can fit well, to a point, but I think that even that is a set of social standards of what looks good and of how to best represent the human form.

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  19. Fit is totally subjective. For some good fit is equal to tightness, or for others is can be proportions. Either way it depends on your point of view.
    For me good fit is when I make a pattern that can fit a lot of different bodies with minimal adjustments needed. In my line of work it is more about fitting many, not just one.

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  20. I completely agree with you. All of the clothes I have made are a good or great fit. Comfort is incredibly important to me mainly because my stomach can bloat fairly often through a day! Attempting a perfect fit when this happens is just not realistic. Plus life is too short, I want to sew more garments than reaching for perfection would allow!

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  21. I agree wtih Betsy -- fit is subjective. I'd rather talk about proportion, which is easier to get right, though of course that's subjective too. I think the important thing is getting what look and feels right to oneself, for the purpose that one is going to use/wear the garment. If it feels perfect for me, than it is, right?

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  22. I'm no expert on fitting, and quite honestly I don't want to be. I came to the whole issue of fitting because I started with a Japanese pattern book. Nothing fit me! So I was forced to learn a little, and it's been enough. If I wanted a hobby that's all about perfection I guess I'd take a course in mathematics. Ugh.

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  23. This is such a great line of thinking. I think we can obsess over fit until the cows come home. I don't strive for perfection, even if on occasion I have to remind myself I don't have to hold myself to the standards other people may hold themselves to. And what is a perfect fit, anyway? The garment looks perfect when I'm standing still? Eating a sandwich? Or how it's actually functioning? I don't know that the two are always one and the same.

    I myself can only obsess about it to a point. I want a good fit. I want to feel good about what I'm wearing, and feel good IN what I'm wearing. And feel good about what I created. That to me is more important than fitting to death and obsessing over ever single wrinkle or drag line.

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  24. Well, I suppose it depends upon how one defines perfect. I suspect there may be some variation between people. Hey, sometimes "perfect" might just mean that it's done and I can get the waistband buttoned.

    In a broader sense, if "perfect" means an ultimate aesthetic ideal, then it's a complex thing. Aesthetic ideals are usually combination of cultural and personal preferences. These are constantly evolving factors. So in a sense, "perfect" might just be a moment in space and time, captured. This is can be observed in visual art, but I think it affects broader ideas as well. I think "fit" ideals are probably a combination of fashion and self-perception and/or body perception. What is the ideal fit is discretionary, and so it is subject to a changing notion of "perfect" as well.

    ~Jen

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  25. Ermm perfect fit, I can't even get Right fit happening sometimes!
    Great quote :)

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  26. Sewing has brought me to the reality of a wonderful concept : perfect enough .

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  27. Eleanor (undeadgoat)March 7, 2013 at 10:13 AM

    I recently realized that part of the reason I haven't made myself many garments recently is because I am afraid I can't make things that fit perfectly--I gain and lose a few pounds regularly, and occasionally go through severe digestive distress, and these factors combined last year to rip a hole in the waistband seam of my overfitted Lonsdale--I was sucking in at the thinnest I've ever been to make the envelope measurement, truth be told. I've used this information to inform myself as a designer, and I actually try and avoid seams on expansion points like the true waist, using princess seams, dropped waists & underbust seams for figure flattery & to accommodate figure changes. But at the same time, in class I almost always have to make my clothes fit dress forms, not models or myself, and I personally do require some sort of alteration in the upper back which I haven't figured out because I don't actually sew for myself very much. But I just thought I'd throw out another reason that perfect fit doesn't exist--because our bodies are NOT static!

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  28. I agree that perfection is unattainable, and not worth striving for. For me, it takes the joy out of sewing. Getting good fit is sooo important to me, though. That is what lets me wear a style I couldn't in RTW because my really narrow upper back makes almost every woven top bubble ridiculously in the back. I guess the trick is finding the line between good & perfect and leaving it alone there. Still figuring that line out!

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  29. TOTALLY agree with you! I've seen a lot of really over-fitted, over-worked garments in my time and they don't fit any better than if the person had stopped about 10 tweaks in. I agree that "perfect fit" is comfort, ability to move and no obvious glaring fitting imperfections, but I think that sewists are so much harder on themselves than if they were purchasing from a store, even if the store was quite expensive!

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  30. It's mainly a just an argument in semantics, but I think perfection may be attainable if you consider that people have different concepts of what perfect fit is. I've made a few things that I describe as fitting perfectly, but I only say that because I'm excited that they both look pretty good and are comfortable to wear, not because they are actually fitted to absolute visual perfection. Maybe I should say instead that they fit exactly the way I want them to, but why not just say perfectly? Wearing ease, design ease, cultural expectations, and so many other factors make the issue of an objective perfect fit very complicated, and I think we are probably better off when we try to think about what we want from a garment rather than some abstract, and yes, mythical ideal fit.

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  31. I think perfection is like the carrot in front of the donkey. Just when we thing we got there, it moves a little farther out of reach. Perfection is unattainable,as it should be. If we could be perfect we'd lose all the joy of the journey.

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  32. The perfect fit= a latex body suit.

    But I guess it might be inappropriate for everyone to walk around like a dominatrix all the time. HA.

    But for real: I think the perfect fit is attainable, but I think it takes years to get it right. And honestly, who has time for that?! Close enough is good enough for me.

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  33. I think that perfect fit does not exist in wovens, but it can happen in knits.

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  34. I'm so happy your wrote this article because I've just come back to sewing after many years away with the idea that I'm going to learn how to fit myself in order to make clothes I like & want to wear. So, I've been taking a Craftsy class on fit & there's a lot to learn & a lot to remember. And, as I attempt to follow her guidelines I keep asking myself if I'm doing it right. So there is that pressure (personal pressure) to do everything just right. Having read your comment on fit I could feel my mind relax. I realize I have to allow myself to try & fail & do it all over again, if need be. Thank you, Sunni, for such timely advice. I will try to remember what you said as I make my way through this process.

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  35. People don't pay for bespoke tailoring because they think it fits 'a bit better' than ready-to-wear. It fits exceptionally well, in fact as perfect a fit for that particular customer as a unique draft and several fittings can achieve.

    The images in your post seem to refer to an off-the-peg idea of perfect fit and less to fitting unique customers. Playing on the word 'perfect' as a commonly unattainable ideal is a metaphysical discussion that is beside the point. The real point is that it's possible to achieve the ideal fit for a person with proper fitting, which is the core of any custom cutter/tailor's skill.

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  36. Thank you for this! I don't believe in perfect fit either, in part because we're constantly moving so the fit is constantly changing. My body is never exactly the same size and shape as the day I sew or buy a garment, either.

    I'm sewing trousers right now and am focusing on fitting them well, not overfitting, and fixing the problems without getting mired down in details. I'd like to be able to wear them this spring, too!

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  37. I do believe in a perfect fit. Last year I've seen it. A dress a woman made with a 100 % perfect fit, it was beautiful! I was so impressed.

    But I also believe it's really hard to achieve the perfect fit, especially when it's a complex design and you have no help with fitting the garment. It can also take a lot of patience and time to get there.

    When I started sewing again I was really focused on a perfect fit. But I also realised that it's not easy to get and that experience will help getting there. So now I try to be satisfied with a less then perfect fit and hopefully I will get it someday!

    I have limited sewing time and I'm already a slow sewer, so I compromise with a good fit, otherwise I would only sew a few garment during a year.

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  38. Oh this is so timely for me. I've been obsessing all day after a sleeve wrinkle only to remember I'd changed the seam allowance and set it in wrong! I do obsess over fit with self made things compared to RTW. I think it's because I don't want my things to look too 'handmade' and I worry that a poor fit contributes to a handmade look, but in a bad way. There's nothing more disappointing than spending hours on a garment to find its a sloppy fit, and conversely nothing better than finishing it up, putting it on and thinking 'that's not bad at all'! I say do the best you can, learn from each project - there's just so many amazing resources on the interwebs such as this awesome blog that its almost impossible to not get better with practice!

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  39. I read this with interest today - it landed on my computer on a day when I was battling this very topic. I am working to 'perfect' a basic dress/hip-length block for me...and my unique body. I am not too fussed with perfection, but I would like to have a way to create some basic garments with ease, without time consuming fitting each time!

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  40. After thousands of hours fitting clothing to myself I would agree! I have a very difficult body to fit because I have scoliosis, and I have spent MANY hours trying to find the perfect fit.

    Not all of it has been in vain. I have perfected my upper body sloper so that I am really quite pleased with the results, and I would even dare say all the pain and frustration were worth creating this sloper. Granted, it isn't "perfect", but it is so much more comfortable than anything I will ever buy, and looks much better on me too.

    The bottom half has been a different story. I have made dozens and dozens of slopers trying to find that pair of pants that doesn't have any wrinkles. After observing the backs of many people's pants I made a brilliant observation....no one, not anyone I have ever seen, has a perfectly wrinkle-free backside, especially when moving. Ah ha! Yes, you are right that there is a difference between bad fit and good fit, and striving for a good fit is a worthy goal, but trying for that perfect fit....insanity!

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  41. Oh man. I totally agree. I really struggle with fit because my body is so oddly proportioned. It's also the reason I got into sewing. The things I make generally fit better than RTW.

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  42. Once you distinguish between wearing ease and style ease and add or remove the appropriate amount of each according to the shape of the wearer and required design, then perfect fit is easily attainable. The problem appears to be that some people who sew confuse "the perfect fit" with the word "tight" or "completely unwrinkled when in motion". These are both foolish ideas and have never been what professionals mean by "perfect fit". Frankly, you seem to be setting up a straw man here and its not doing inexperienced dressmakers any favours. Do a couple of sensible posts about wearing ease and style ease and then talk about fit, and it might make sense.

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  43. I think "perfect fit" is relative and personal. You can drive yourself bonkers over almost anything. Garments that don't grab me in the shoulders, gap at the waist and cut across my thighs AT THE SAME TIME fit PERFECTLY! as far and I'm concerned. Learning when good enough is good enough can't be universally defined. Perspective is everything. Your mileage will vary. :)

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  44. This is enough for me to throw up a halleluja and I'm not even churchy. I get soooo frustrated with guys who come into my studio for alterations and just can't get their head around why I can't give them that PERFECTly slim, trim, snug, custom made look. Ladies too. When you start with a ready-made garment, you can only do so much.

    Would you consider 1. allowing me to use the graphic and a snippet of your post with permission on my blog?

    2. Doing a post on why men and women should not get hung up on manufacturer sizing at the expense of an ill-fitting garment?

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