What Makes a Size Large, a Size Large?

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Fit is one of the trickiest things for any apparel manufacturer to get dialed in. We want our apparel to fit the largest amount of people possible. However, we don’t want to sell garments that are the equivalent of textile or leather garbage bags.

The problem takes on a special importance in our line of work. A fashion design house doesn’t have to deal with potential safety concerns resulting from an ill-fitting blouse. But moto gear that either limits movement or places armor in the wrong spots could be potentially dangerous as well as uncomfortable.

The first thing we do when making a decision on fit is to consider our marketplace. We’re an American company and we sell largely to an American group of riders. This means that the fit of our jacket isn’t going to mirror something pulled straight from Japan or Italy. We still want our garments to have a tailored fit for safety and style, but we don’t want our core consumer to have to have to buy two or three sizes up in order to wear our gear.

In the old days a lot of the technical motorcycle gear in America came straight from Europe, and riders got accustomed to gear fitting smaller than they expected. In more recent years we’ve seen a reversal to this and many American companies have made what we would consider “relaxed” fit apparel. Our goal is to avoid overshooting in either direction – we don’t want to make gear that people are swimming in, and we don’t want to make gear that is so tight it restricts blood flow. Essentially, we want to be like Goldilocks and get it just right.

Once we’ve determined our target fit we pester every living soul that we come across to try on samples. If you happen to be within 50 feet of a Pilot employee during our sampling phase, odds are good you’ll be used as a fit guinea pig. We’ll put a jacket or a pair of pants on someone and ask them what size they think it is – generally we’re looking to get an unbiased answer based strictly on their idea of how it feels. If we can get someone in a size large, and they think it fits like a large should fit, then we’re a step closer to where we want to be.

We’ll also take copious amounts of notes designed to address specific areas of the garment. We pay close attention to how the panels of the piece interact, ensuring that we don’t have spots that bind or ride up. This is an especially important part of the process since certain issues don’t make themselves readily known in 2D specs. We usually go through three or four samples until we’re satisfied with the way the piece feels and looks on the body.

Even with this amount of thought going into the fit of a piece, we know that there will always be variation from individual to individual that we cannot account for. To correct for this we believe that all our street gear should offer some level of adjustability to fine-tune the fit. Position of armor especially should be adjustable, be it through straps designed to reduce the sleeve circumference or vertically adjustable armor pockets in our pants. Ideally we want our customers to try on their size and have it fit at least 95% perfectly, then offer them the adjustability to dial in the remaining 5%.

So now we’ve got a jacket we worked on for months and we’re confident we’ve got the fit dialed in. We’re good for years now, right? Not quite. After we release a product we continue to monitor the response. We want to keep a close watch on reviews and customer input. If someone feels like our sizing was really off, we want to know why.

A few years ago we made a change to sizes 2XL-4XL based completely on customer input. We found that the standard increments in which we increased dimensions on the sizes weren’t creating a great enough size difference between our sizes as they went north of XL. So we adjusted our patterns and went back to step one. Ultimately we came up with a new sizing metric and we’re still using it today.

Making clothing for people isn’t like machining a new pair of rear sets or an exhaust system. It can’t be approached with that type of rigid engineering. It requires taking a lot of variables into account, which, without proper diligence, can go unconsidered. We’re committed to providing the best-fitting goods we can, and we’ve got the sample racks and notes to prove it.

(Of course fitting custom leather suits an entirely different business altogether. We’ll get to that in an upcoming post. I’m sure you’re thrilled.)

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