I like to save money on clothes just as much as anyone else does, so let’s talk clothing prices. Specifically, reader Blake would like to know why larger clothing sizes cost a few dollars more than the standard sizes.
When shopping for shirts, whether t-shirts or casual button down shirts, I can wear XL, but for comfort I prefer to buy XXL. Why do the companies that make or sell these shirts price XL and XXL $2 more than the S, M and L sizes? Is there that much more material used from L to XL or XXL? It seems that they are discriminating against us larger sized consumers. I am not fat, but I am over 6’ tall, have a very slight belly and weigh about 250 lbs. It would be nice to lose some weight, but …”
At first glance it does seem like manufacturers might be “punishing” larger consumers, but this isn’t the case. If you have an understanding of how garments are cut from cloth, it might help you understand how larger sizes indeed do cost a little more to make. When a manufacturer cuts the fabric for a single shirt from a bolt of cloth, they typically don’t cut six identically sized shirts from the same piece of cloth. They cut a variety of sizes – as many as they can get from the same bolt of cloth. These will be arranged, puzzle-piece style on the fabric in the way that reduces as much scrap fabric as possible. Think about rolling out a circle of cookie dough. Do you drop cookie cutters wherever you want, or do you arrange each cut as close as possible to the previous one, using large and small cookie cutters to utilize as much of the dough as you can? Clothing is laid out the same way.
The website Fashion-Incubator.com has a great explanation of this that includes graphics of how several shirts of different sizes can be cut from the same piece of fabric if you’re having trouble envisioning this. It notes that a medium size is typically the size that manufacturers sell the most of, so the patterns will be arranged to get more mediums than any other size out of that single piece of cloth.
Now, let’s bring the XL and XXL shirts into the equation. When these shirts are laid out on the fabric, they take up more fabric than the smaller sizes do – that much is obvious. But the real reason that the price goes up for the larger sizes is the fabric that’s wasted when larger sizes are cut – there’s not enough left, width-wise on the bolt of the fabric to utilize for another shirt in any size, so it is scrapped. Ultimately, not only do you pay for your shirt, you end up paying for that extra “waste” fabric that didn’t actually go into the manufacturing of your shirt. Because they can’t use that fabric for anything else, the cost of the wasted fabric is rolled into the cost of your larger shirt.
Rest assured, you’re not the only one who has to pay a little more for a larger size. I’ve seen the size-based pricing on children’s clothing, too. Recently, I ordered some pants for my son online. I ordered size 10 for him, but I noticed that sizes 12 and 14 cost $1 more per pair than sizes 2-10 did. Why? The manufacturer likely sells many more of the smaller-sized pants and bases their fabric layout around the smaller sizes that sell the most.
I’d like to continue talking about clothing costs in next week’s column too, as I’ve got another story to share about clothing prices and the costs of fashion. This story started very simply – my son needed a new pair of sweatpants. This should have been simple – go to any store and buy them, right? Wrong. Next week, I’ll share what happened next …
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