A few weeks ago, my friend Kaelee posted a TikTok about shopping for ski pants. It went viral, and there are oodles of commenters asking, “why do they think we’re all rectangles?!” And I know the answer, so let’s get into it:
As you probably know, sizing isn’t standardized. It’s frustrating as hell for customers, but I swear we’re doing it for a reason on the business end. As a brand, you want your best selling size to be a medium, followed by small and large, then extra-small and extra-large. Your sales make a nice even bell curve. You make your medium your “reference” size, and then you grade up and down to make the other 4 sizes. (The more you grade away from the reference size, the weirder fit starts to get).
The problem is that every brand has a different customer base. Some brands cater to young women who outgrew Gap Kids yesterday. Some brands cater to menopausal women whose figures tend to be at their fullest. Some brands target rich, skinny, White women. Some exist only to address the gap in access to fashion for non-White women. And therefor, a medium changes from brand to brand.
There’s a company that makes all these unique mediums happen called Alvanon. They do 3D scans of bodies, from all over the world and across a broad range of ages and parse them into sizes, and then sell old school fit mannequins or 3D fitting software. They sell a lot of standard fit forms with some standard options (like forms for each major geographical market, and different forms for juniors vs women vs petites). But they also offer custom fit forms, where customers can look at specific body types. For example, Reebok scanned the bodies of dedicated Crossfitters while designing their Crossfit apparel line. They wanted to ensure that their elite athletes would fit in the clothes just as well as the average gym goer.
They post their standard dimensions online, but I thought that was a good place to start looking at how our bodies change across age and genetic background. I pulled sizes closest to a 30” waist, and then calculated 3 ratios: bust to waist, hip to waist, and thigh to waist. This way we could see which bodies come with a dumper and thick thighs that save lives:
This chart confirms a lot of body stereotypes we have in society. Asian women have smaller frames and very straight figures. Countries with more White people tend to be straighter. Countries with a higher Hispanic and/or Black population tend to be curvier.
This can either create opportunities or challenges, depending on your brand and business.
If we’re one of the top clothing brands and selling jeans we’re moving an insane number of units. Some of the most popular jeans sell 40,000 pairs per day. That’s 14.6 million pairs per year. If I’m American Eagle or Abercrombie, I can use diverse sizing as a selling opportunity. I can sell straight and curvy fits across both plus, petite, and regular sizes. I easily have the money to add tall sizes through Alvanon’s custom services. I’d generate enough money that I can sink a huge R&D investment on the right stretch fabrics and how to perfectly contour the waistbands so that they fit a variety of bodies better. Having high sales volume means you can cater to body diversity and market the hell out of fit.
Body diversity is a complicating factor if you’re a global, niche outerwear company.
First, we’ve got to do a little math. That best selling pair of jeans sells 14.6 million pairs per year. It has 16,978 reviews over 1-1.5 years. So their reviews to sales ratio is .00116288. If we look at the Arc’teryx Sentinel AR, it has an average of 9.5 reviews a year. Assuming people write outdoor apparel reviews at a similar rate, we’re ballparking demand somewhere around 8,500 units per year. And those reviews are global, with locations like Sydney and London on the list. If we look at the Patagonia PowSlayer bib, it has 6 reviews. Using the same ratio, that would put a demand estimate at 5,2500 units. Their reviews don’t include location, but I could see that being annual demand. Color minimums in my line of work were 3,000 units before paying an upcharge. They traditionally only do 1-2 colors per year, and this year, they only offer black.
So if we’re a ski brand selling top tier gear, we’re moving a moderate number of units across a global marketplace. I learned from the Boot Product Manager at Atomic that Europe is the largest ski market. Europe has a straight and Atelier (curvy) fit, but Alvanon shared that only 15% of European women need a curvy fit. So brands are definitely looking at the European straight fit. We also know that, in the US, skiing is most popular in the Rocky Mountain region. Those states tend to be the Whitest and thinnest. And we’ve got to factor in that White supremacy has infiltrated both fashion and ski culture. They’re probably also looking at straight fits for the US population as well. And then there’s China. China is a fast-growing market for skiing. They’ve got money to spend and tend to do a lot of research on gear, and tend to pay the upcharge for top tier products. Arc’teryx has a strong presence in China. All these factors encourage brands to err towards a straighter figure.
Now, a lot of the premier brands probably have a custom fit form by Alvanon, but the regional fit specs should be a solid starting point. Then we’ll layer on top of that the other customer demographic information that brands are using to build custom fit forms. Brands like Patagonia and Arc’teryx aren’t just building their fit spec for skiers. They serve climbers, hikers, and trail runners from a single size chart, and not every sport builds your thighs and ass quite like skiing does. Brands may also use a similar strategy to Crossfit, using their elite athletes to influence their fit vs. focusing on the average recreational skier. A brand’s target market might also be more targeted than the general population of women, and instead target in on more specific demographics.
If it feels like you hear nothing but complaints about gapping at the waist, you’re not wrong. It’s just that a lot of people that are satisfied with the fit live oceans away from you, or know better than to show up in your comments stating that most brands fit them fine.
So how do you find pants that fit if you’ve got a dumper that just won’t quit?
- Start with brands that specialize in skiing. Brands tend to make 1 fit spec so that people can expect to be in the same size, regardless of whether they’re looking for winter ski clothes or summer climbing attire. Most brands with a substantial climbing business tend to compromise between strong glutes and hammies that make for a powerful skier, and the long, lanky climber body stereotype. Brands that specialize in skiing tend to have more room for junk in the trunk.
- Then look at brands from your region that specialize in sales for your region. Generally, North American brands tend to be curvier than European brands to match the body shapes in each country. But some North American brands have a large international distribution, like Arc’teryx sells well in Europe and is growing quickly in China. The Arc’teryx technical design team has to create a fit that compromise with some less curvy countries. On the other hand, Columbia has a strong business in North and South America, women are curvier here, so their pants are curvier as well.
- Decide how much you want to prioritize fit vs. function? With the current market, those items at the top of the price scale are going to trend straighter because they need to sell across all the biggest markets to have adequate demand. So do you really need Gore Pro, or will the regular stuff get the job done? Does it need to be ultralight-but-strong nylon, or can you stomach a few extra grams for a thicker and burlier polyester? The lower the price point, the more demand units there are, and the more each individual brand can put their own fit or spin on their product.
- Fight beauty, body, and sexualization standards from seeping into ski culture. One thing that could make fit easier is if brands didn’t make them so trim. A looser fit creates more room for body variance. But brands keep cutting pants trim and showing off ass, some more dramatically than others. Here’s some butts, with the men’s and women’s versions of the same pants stacked on top of each other. Now, I don’t know many men with a lot more ass than the men in these pictures, but I know a lot of women with more junk in the trunk given their proportions:
- Deconstruct ageism in fashion and ski culture. The interesting thing I noticed when I looked at the Alvanon fit forms is that their standard forms are made from women ages 25-45 (with the exception of Juniors, which is younger). Women’s figures slowly fill out each decade until they peak just after menopause (mid-50’s), then we tend to lose weight. Brands making custom fit specs might include older women, but given ski culture’s tendency to cast off women after they give birth, I’m not optimistic they’re being more inclusive.
- Deconstruct White supremacy in outdoor spaces. This is yet another example of how diverse participation helps everyone. If snowsports were safer communities and accessible to Black and Hispanic women, the market for curvy snowpants would be much larger and more brands would be competing for curvy fits.
Below, I’ve compile a list of brands and their size charts, as well as their bust-to-waist, hip-to-waist, and thigh-to-waist ratios, along with some of the Alvanon fit specs (in grey). But remember, these are just body measurements. Some brands may fit curvy women better than their size chart suggests because they have a more relaxed fit. For example, Trew has a large cut thigh compared to any of the Alvanon standards, and their hip-to-waist ratio is more middle of the road. But I’m not surprised it gets strong reviews from curvier skiers, since they’re one of the few brands not trying to asphyxiate my ass in a waterproof shell.
And lastly, when you share your favorites or solicit advice in a public forum, you will inevitably get men showing up in droves to contribute “BELT” to the conversation. Drop this chart of all these men around the world with a 1.1-something hip to waist ratio and let them know that they’re drastically under-prepared to be a productive voice in this conversation.
3 thoughts on “Why are women’s ski pants so tight in the butt, hips, and thighs?”
This was a fantastic read. There was math, we saw charts, we learned about ski bodies, we got mad. Excellent work and thank you for all you’ve provided us non-plank folk!
I so wish i had found your post two weks ago!
I am a plus size skier, with a dumptruck and two tree trunks, but also short to boot.
In the past I’ve had to resort to mens XXL sizes and chopping off 40 cm off the legs!
This year i was determined to actually find ski pants that fit. Unfortunately my size (UK20) is generally not stocked in-store in most places…
9 pairs of Amazon ski pants (from 6 companies and 7 designs) later i have one pair that fits nice, but i may still have to shorten the legs… unfortunately it was very much a case of going for whats available rather than what i actually WANTED… (a lower spec insulated trousers instead of shell bib pants)
Consulting your chart may have led me in the right direction sooner… 😉
Ps: i would have LOVED a graphical representation of the different shape norms!
@Joanna, as a tall skinny man (aka “Slim”) I have found Cioch Direct to be very useful, they make only custom garments, so one can get the proportions one needs, along with the features one wants.
I got one pair of ski pants from them, and when they wore out (after a few years of frequent, near daily use), I knew even better what I wanted. I have been happily using my perfect pair for the last few years.