Tips for Designing for Plus Size

There is enormous potential for plus size clothing. In fact, 67% of the US women’s population is plus size, which translates to a market of around $21 billion. However, many fashion brands that are looking to extend their existing collection into the plus size range tend to approach the process in the same way they would a straight size collection. They grade up from the straight size pattern to a size 18 and send it off to the factory for their first plus size PPS (pre – production sample), only to find out that it does not fit correctly during the fitting with a plus size model. However, this is not the optimal way to incorporate plus size clothing, and as a result, many times even the second and third PPS don’t make it into the approval stage. This scenario represents an amalgamation of the frustrated tech designers that reach out to us, and oftentimes we are asked for the “magic grading formula” to make sure the new size fits correctly. While there is no magic formula, we’ve shared some tips & experiences below to help guide you through the best way to make clothing to fit the plus size customer.   


  1. It is a process just like your straight size fit process. Everything you do for the straight size range you must do for the plus size range. This is an investment of time, capacity, and money.
  2. Before you start, analyze your sizing chart and grading rules for your existing straight size range. You’ll need to make sure that your sizing chart can extend into the plus range smoothly from your straight sizes. Then your grading rules will follow.
  3. Find a pattern maker and technical design team that are experienced in making plus size clothing. You do not want to put pressure on your team who does straight size really well to do something outside of their wheelhouse.
  4. Create a plus size pattern separately from your straight size pattern by draping on a plus size dress form.
  5. Get yourself a plus size dress form, which is a close match to a plus size fit model you’ve selected.
  6. Remember, plus size patterns are not just larger, they are more 3-D.
  7. Fit on the plus size fit model you found.
  8. Make a proto sample before you have your factory start the PPS process.
  9. Have your knowledgeable and experienced plus size development tech team guide your factory on making plus size clothing in production. Especially if your factory is creating/touching the patterns, assume they have never actually seen a plus size women’s body.
  10. Make sure you have a T/A calendar for your plus size development and pre-production process, you want to make sure you have built in enough time to get the fit right before getting your product to the consumer. 


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We often are asked “How come I can’t just grade up?”.  The short answer is that a plus size body is more three dimensional.   This is an exaggerated example but let’s say a straight size body/pattern is a square shape and a plus size body/pattern is a hexagon.  If you tried to grade up by applying a grading formula to the POMs (points of measurements) of a square it would never become a hexagon.


Some brands do get away with grading up because many plus size consumers are used to being an after-thought and may not know how clothing is supposed to fit on their body; they have years of experience adjusting ill-fitting clothing as they wear them. Brands also try to select styles that are easier or “less risky” to make – the kind of styles that are less fitted/shaped.

We find that most brands and designers simply don’t account for the full cost and time necessary in order to expand into the plus size range. However, with a bit of forward thinking and longer-term planning, you can simplify the process.  If brands really want to get into the plus market and be successful doing so, they cannot oversimplify the process and they must invest their time, capacity and funds effectively.