Apparel firms base their sizing systems on a standard figure. The South African apparel industry adapted an old British sizing system that is not only foreign but is also out dated and inaccurate. Consumer populations consist of varied body shapes and sizes. Yet the South African industry like a majority of apparel industries around the world does not cater for figure shape variations. Consequently, consumers whose body shape characteristics differ from the ideal figure are likely to experience fit problems from the standard apparel. Ready-to-wear (RTW) apparel fit problems are further compounded if the target population consists of diverse ethnic groups, as body shapes, sizes and proportions differ between ethnic groups. An individual‟s body shape characteristics and ethnicity influence one‟s body cathexis. Furthermore, consumers of different body shapes and ethnicity are likely to have different RTW apparel fit preferences. This research aimed to compare body measurements, measurement ratios, body cathexis, fit problems and fit preferences of 234 young African and Caucasian women selected by the purposive and snowballing techniques.
This descriptive and exploratory research employed quantitative techniques for collecting and analysing the data. The data was collected using a 3-D body scanner, a questionnaire and a Body Shape Assessment Scale. Virtual body images were generated, from which measurements were extracted. Thereafter, the drop values: hip minus bust and bust minus waist circumferences were used to classify participants into different body shape categories. Virtual images were then used to confirm and adopt the assigned body shapes. Descriptive statistics, Chi-square and Kruskal-Wallis tests were used to compare body measurements, body cathexis, fit problems and fit preferences of the predominant African and Caucasian body shapes.
The three most predominant body shapes were the triangle, the hourglass and the rectangle in varying numbers among the African and Caucasian women, showing a significant association between body shapes and ethnicity (p = 0.004). A comparison of the body measurements of the predominant shapes with those of the Caucasian hourglass, assumed to be identical to the Western ideal figure used by the apparel industry, reveal that most differences that impact on apparel fit are between the Caucasian hourglass and the Caucasian triangle, the African hourglass and the African triangle. The present study also found body shape differences between African and Caucasian women of the same body shape, which strongly points to the role of ethnicity in body shape differences.
In most cases there were discrepancies between predicted and perceived fit problems. The Caucasian triangle experienced the predicted fit problems and apparel tightness around the hips and buttocks, which did not record significant differences. Even though the Caucasian rectangle did not differ much from the Caucasian hourglass, they experienced a too tight fit at the bust, stomach, abdomen, hips and thighs and not at the significantly larger waist where tight fit was predicted. Ethnicity proved to influence body shape characteristics as the African hourglass recorded a significantly smaller abdomen than the Caucasian hourglass and as predicted resulted in loose fitting skirts and trousers just below the waist. However, the African hourglass did not experience loose fit around the abdomen. The African triangular body shape had a significantly smaller bust, smaller abdomen, with larger hips, buttocks and thighs, and therefore, loose fitting in the waist of bodices and tight fitting in the lower body were as predicted. The African rectangular shape had a few minor differences compared to the Caucasian hourglass, yet they perceived a too tight fit at the bust, stomach, abdomen, hips and thighs although none of these were predicted from the body measurements.
The African hourglass was the only shape that was satisfied with all body parts, while other shapes were dissatisfied with most of the lower body parts. Although almost all the predominant body shapes mostly experienced a too tight fit at stomach and abdomen and lower body parts, all except the Caucasian rectangular, preferred closely fitted apparel at all body parts, despite their dissatisfaction.