How to Spot a Badly Designed Garment for Your Body


Is it me or the clothes?  Women, notoriously blame the garment when it doesn’t flatter them or fit them, but in fact, if we look closely at the design of the garment, we will soon realise that it is not our body (which is perfect) that is wrong, instead, it’s a badly designed garment.

How to Spot a Badly Designed Garment

What do I mean by this?
Well, if most women are curvier (not all I know!), then why are so many garments cut and sewn not to cater for this?  I can spend hours shopping with an X, 8 or A shaped woman and we’ll never find a pair of trousers that will flatter and fit.  They will either pull across the crotch, and then gape at the waistband,  there will be pockets at the hips that gape or draw widening horizontal lines across the hip/thigh area which is the last thing these women want on their pants – see below for an example of a pocket to be avoided unless you’re a V or shape.
How to spot bad design so you don't buy it
Before I knew what I know now, whenever I  would try on a pair of pants like this I tend to have a mental dialogue that tells me to ‘lay off the pies’ rather than really looking and saying to myself BAD DESIGN! (Here’s another example I found on a shopping trip).
Then, for many of us who don’t have defined waists, there is the problem of the patch pocket on jackets – which just draw unflattering and widening horizontals across the waist we wish we didn’t have.  Plus the flaps just add some extra unnecessary bulk.  Sure the garment may look less interesting without the pockets, but it would be a lot more flattering!
Those breast pockets too – add more volume to your bust, so if it’s not smaller and you want to make it appear larger, avoid the breast pockets as well.
And then, of course, there are cardigans with unflattering pockets at the thighs, and that end across the widest part of many women – again drawing unflattering horizontal lines.  A cardigan (like the pink one above or the blue one with red stripe) will look fine on someone who has very slim hips and thighs but put it on many non-models and it won’t look so hot.
How to spot bad design in clothing so you don't buy them
Then, there is the issue of pattern, for all you lovely petite women, let’s put a large scale pattern on a petite garment, just to completely overwhelm your frame and swamp you, such as this large scale and obvious pattern – anyone who is not really tall with large facial features and a dramatic personality will disappear in this top.
Then what about jeans – why not put low or long back pockets on them that make any but the leggiest woman look short legged.
Alternatively, why not ruin a perfectly good jean with some unflattering distressing across the crotch creating extra and unnecessary horizontals?  All this distressing does is draw attention to your crotch and add an extra curve to your hips.

It’s Not You, It’s the Clothes

So next time you’re in the shops trying on clothes, make sure your mental dialogue is saying “these pants aren’t made to fit over my delicious, luscious butt”.
What bothers you most about clothing design?  Do you blame yourself when something doesn’t look good or the clothes?

Discover What to Look for To Flatter Your Body Shape

Not sure of your shape and what flatters? Then why not do my Body Shape Calculator Quiz and download your free Body Shape Bible.  Alternatively, if you’d like my professional opinion on your shape, you can get this as part of my 7 Steps to Style Program (along with a personal colour analysis and lots, lots more to help you really define and refine your style).

Imogen’s Three Rules of Horizontal Lines

Horizontal Stripes – the rules

E is for Elongation



I'm not sure if it's for you but how would you feel if you learned all about the colours and styles of clothing that suit your individual personality, shape and style? Just imagine what it would be like when you can open your wardrobe and pull together fabulous outfits that make you look and feel amazing every day? If you'd like to stop wasting money on the wrong clothes and accessories plus join an amazing bunch of very special women also on their style journey - then my 7 Steps to Style program is right for you. Find out more here.

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  • Thank you for providing this rogue’s gallery! What about shapeless tops (cut like like maternity wear) which have once again risen from the ashes this spring. Curvy women look like bales of hay, small-busted women like little kids.

    Also: most dolman-sleeve jackets- no fit across bust, no defined armhole, and usually with oversized cheap plastic buttons.

  • Being busty and short-waisted, my biggest gripe with tops or jackets are pockets right over the boobs. Gah! And belts/ties! Why must every single jacket or cardigan have something that ties around the waist??

    When it comes to trousers/jeans, my two biggest complaints are not enough curve in the cut (gaping waistband if big enough in the hips) and rise that’s too high in the front and too low in the back. Oh, and not keeping back pockets proportional with the size, so even the size 10 has the same itty bitty pockets as the size 2, which make one’s derriere appear huge. (Banana Republic which otherwise does brilliantly with the curvy thing is guilty of this with their jeans.)

  • Seeing as most of the fit models that I have seen and used are generally very balanced proprtianally and without distinguishing characteristics like full hips or small bust I am frequently amazed that women are able to find anything at all to wear off the rack. As for patch pockets I have to say that I am a fan I think they are a very sweet detail, but I agree that they aren’t the best on everyone and denim with whiskers is one of the worst ideas ever.

  • Wow!
    I’m just going to say that, probably everything in my closet is a “bad design”!!!! Thank goodness….!!!! I can ease up on myself. :^)

    Thank you!

  • Duchesse – so right – I had to stop myself from writing the world’s longest post here! There are so many instances I see of bad design every time I walk into a shop!

    Deja – I’m so with you – for cardigans, ignore the waist tie, I just cut them off. And pockets on the boobs are a definite no-no for voluptuous gals like you and me! Rises are a whole issue in themselves.

    Cosmo – as someone who works in the industry – why is it so? Does no one think about design principles and designing flattering garments that look good on those other than proportioned, slim fit models?

    Cynthia – it’s time to feel GOOD about your body.

  • Imogen – It is certainly not taken into account about individual body quirks. I worked in the juniors market mostly and so there are far less curves taken into account than the companies that I worked with that do contemporary or misses.

    Also a lot of seasons the details that are on garments are based off of the sales of similar garments from previous season. The awful whiskers on denim are something that customers keep buying so companies keep making them. Clean denim doesn’t sell as well probably because it doesn’t fall out of trend as quickly. Most people don’t buy a new pair of clean dark denim very season let alone a couple of pairs every season. Distressing is very seasonal and has to be replace to be in fashion.

    Also by going down the middle with fit models they have a wider range of people who will find a garment good enough than if they go one way or another. For this example I will use the trouser waist/hip fit issue. Very few women take the time and care to have clothes bought off the rack altered to fit them. I never do because I am lazy, though I am going to change this with my renewed wardrobe. Anyway, if I go to try on a pair of pants that fits in the hip but huge in the waist I am not surprised and I am likely to wear the pants with a belt and a shirt that covers the wrinkling in the back and the same pair of pants will suit a woman with the right waist measurement and a flat butt equally as well/badly and she will buy and wear it knowing it is going to sag. If they went one way or the other more people would put things on and say there is no way my waist is that small or no way is my butt that flat. Drastic changes in sizing could remedy this to a point though.

    So basically what I am saying is that there are so many different shapes of women’s bodies that the companies generally try to pick a fit model that will allow them the most sales within their target market. Also they choose design details that will create the most sales. In my best guess if women revolted and all started buying custom that suited them they would change they way they design to follow the money. I have never been in a design meeting where the question was ever asked “will this make the woman who is actually going to buy it look and feel beautiful?” Though I am sure that there are some companies somewhere that consider this they are probably small and very focused.

  • Cosmo – thanks for answering my question. It makes for a thought provoking piece. My experience is that women buy because that is all that is offered, and as expressed in the previous post, they are never happy with what they have in their wardrobe, because of so many reasons – one of which would be bad design.

    As Cynthia just mentioned, her whole wardrobe is like this – did she buy it all on purpose because of this? I doubt it, it’s just that most women buy the best of a bad bunch, rather than something they love.

    Interestingly, when I ask women about their favourite garments, these are the ones that are well designed and everything about them is actually perfect for that person.

    I understand that women’s bodies are so varied – for example, you and I would never be able to fit the same pant, but I also wonder why more brands don’t focus more on one shape than another – say curvier, or straighter, rather than this no mans land of middle ground that doesn’t really work in some ways.

  • I HATE how everything comes with some stupid tie/sash now too. I’m constantly cutting the little holdy-strings (I’m making up terms now) off and either throwing the whole tie out or putting a different one on in a much more flattering place!

  • first time commenter. I love your blog… Your advice is wonderful and so useful! I wanted to let you know I linked your blog about “why we love what we buy…” in my blog post scheduled for Sat. for my virtual shopping game.

  • Well said Imogen, no wonder we find shopping Sooo frustrating! I have a short neck so all shirt collars end up under my ears, and don’t even get me started on trousers….

  • Taylor – so true – I’m always cutting the darn things off too!

    Margo – thanks so much for coming by and de-lurking! I love your comments. Great idea about what you’re not buying! I find that by shopping for my clients regularly, I don’t feel the need to shop for myself quite as much!

    MaryKathleen – there is so much wrong out there in clothing retail world! I could go on and on…

  • Thanks, Imogen. You hit a lot of nerves with this one.

    Poorly designed or ill-fitting clothes are the reason I joined Wardrobe Refashion, because I’ve decided that to get clothes to fit me I have to change what I buy. I have to fix pants, and I have to do things like take off those patch pockets near the waist that you described. All things that make my clothes less than flattering.

    And what about the modernized version of empire tops or dresses, that have the horizontal line going right across the boobs? This is a style that works for me, but I find myself looking for 1990s empire styles because the bodices actually fit over my bust.

    You are right on target with this!

  • After reading Cosmo’s interesting comment I had to add this: I did alter a pair of pretty cheap pants-Dockers that were thrifted–to fit me exactly, and now they are my favorite pants and almost the favorite thing in my wardrobe. I never knew the joy of something that really fits. It almost doesn’t matter if they were cheap. They fit MY body. I will definitely go to the trouble of altering things now.

  • My gorgeous 15 year old gets so despondent when shopping and ends up hating her body. She is petite with very ample boobs. I do my best to tell her how beautiful she is and that it is the clothes that do not suit. But it is hard when she just wants a new outfit and nothing fits!
    Personally I make most of my clothes so they do fit and I can have the details that I want.

  • Thank you for re-framing the shopping angst (not that I’ve experieinced it recently).
    I have to say since I found Gap ankle length Curvy jeans I haven’t looked back. As you know, I am an x-shape and petite. I have a terrible time finding flattering trouers.

  • This is part of why I’ve started sewing more clothes for myself. So much of ready-to-wear is unflattering crap now. I realize that there are still quality pieces to be ha, but they seem much harder to find.

  • Yes! You hit the nail on the head. I’ve fought with poor design for years, although I have found that some manufacturers make clothes more to my body shape than others.

    By the way, those pants in that first picture don’t even look flattering on the model!

  • Thank you for this most re-affirming blog entry!
    We need to stop questioning ourselves and begin to question bad design.

    My current pet peeve is trousers. I am constantly trying on trousers that have a little curve of fabric on outside seam just below the hip. So the slacks look like they are cut for an Oompa Loompa.
    I always wonder who would look good in those slacks.

  • Then there is the really long legged pants and jeans that I have to cut about $20.oo worth off to fit my short legs! LOL

    I just hate those big flower patterns on dresses and tops – makes you look like a mobile lounge chair!

  • Fantastic post. It’s so tiring to go out and try clothes on, only to find out that nothing fits or flatters. I don’t know how this game can be won. I went to a so-called “trunk” show last year where a store I frequent brought in next season samples, so you coud pre-order. Obviously, you’re somewhat obligated to purchase the item, at full price, but you do have the right to say sorry, it’s not for me.

    So, I “pre-ordered” one blouse. It came in, but due to customer demand, the curve at the waist had been taken out, and the top had a very straight cut, with a self belt. I guess it’s sort of the same idea but part of the reason I loved the original blouse was that it was shaped, permanently, no tie to fuss with, or fall off, or slip.

    Fortunately the store offers free tailoring, and so they nipped it in at the waist for me.

    I just find it odd, that when even when you get this type of chance to look at merchandise far in advance, that it can change so much between viewing and getting.

    And of course, the models are a US 2 so you need a lot of imagination to decide if that same dress is going to look good on your size X body.

    Sorry, a bit of a rant, but even when retailers try to help with solutions, they seem to miss the mark. At least they’re trying!


  • I loved this post. I am very slim but still have trouble finding clothes that fit (ie., the waist gapes, the shoulders droop, the crotch is too tight or too loose…) I should probably spend more time altering my own clothes and less time making miniature clothing out of paper!

  • Yesterday I tried on about 13 pairs of pants that look a lot like your first photo and by the end I wanted to kill myself.

    I’m happy to hear it’s the pants and not me. It looks like I’m sticking to skirts and trouser jeans AGAIN this summer.

    (I’m a 5’10” size 14/16 X shape.)

  • Sallymandy – Alterations make such a difference to clothes!

    Vicki – please make sure your daughter understands that it’s not her, it’s just they’re not making the clothes for her!

    Jane – your challenge has probably given you and angst free year so far!

    Diana – I wish I had the time to sew these days! If you have the skill utilize it.

  • Mom Huebert – so true – they look terrible on the model – why would anyone want to buy them?

    Laura – thanks for stopping by.

    Chris – I too have to take in this bit of fabric – we’re just not designed for those trousers – but it’s a simple alteration I’m happy to make.

    Lady Jicky – there are a lot of patterns out there at the moment that are more suited to upholstery!

    Christine – happy for you to rant here rather than at the poor shop assistants – who don’t design or make the clothes! Never buy if it doesn’t suit, that’s my motto.

    If we all stopped buying, then maybe the clothing manufacturers would start to get the idea that they need to improve their ways.

  • Ingrid – such a pity your paper minatures would disintegrate in the rain!

    RB – I’m glad you didn’t kill yourself, if you’d realised that those pockets were a killer you wouldn’t have taken them into the change room! The more empowered you are with knowledge, the less suicidal the shopping trip!

  • I appreciate the post (and wish I understood this 3 years ago!) and I’m especially fascinated about the fashion/sales industry discussion between Imogen and Cosmo. I’m amazed at how many poor designs are replicated from store to store! Sometimes poorly designed pieces really do seem to be the only thing out there.

    I know this is a terrible thing to say, but sometimes I’m willing to settle for something that is 80-90% perfect if that is all I can find after a long search. Such as my one and only pair of clamdiggers I bought last season that look/fit well on me, but they have whiskering which I dislike. I really needed a pair and wasn’t able to find any others that fit right and were within my price range.

  • It seems to me that if my shirt goes slightly past my thighs, it actually creates an elongating/slimming effect. As someone whose hip measurement is 10-12" larger than her waist, this is a good thing. The illusion is lost whenever layering happens, though. >.>

  • What can I say…we keep buying bad design so ‘they’ keep making bad design.

    I read a quote years ago…Once upon a time we made clothes to fit the body, now? we try to make the body fit the clothes.

  • Thanks, Imogen! From now on I won’t blame my shopping skills for spending looooong hours in a mall, trying on zillions of trousers/shirts/cardigans and not buying even one. Not a single one. Okay, maybe only one but I needed several.

  • Imogen, I think there’s a typo in the first sentence. I think you wrote garment instead of “their body” (or similar).

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