I fell in love with the Lands’ End Web questionnaire. It was so unexpected, even a little mysterious. Could it really produce a garment that fits? I had to give it a try.
This story first appeared in the July 14, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The site wants to know my bra and shoe sizes, whether my dress size fluctuates, and whether my arms are long or short. All these questions flatter my ego: Finally, a retailer who shows an interest in the troubling relationship between my shoulders and my hips. The questions make me wonder what body type is most common and whether designers are making clothes for the majority or a tiny subset. A majority of women (60 percent) are pear-shaped, according to TC2’s SizeUSA study, but no one can tell me whether it’s true, as I suspect, that all apparel is made for the 9 percent of women who are inexplicably shaped like Charles Atlas. This shape is also known as the inverted triangle.
The styles at Lands’ End are conservative. They offer jeans and chinos in straight and tapered versions (no boot cut) and a basic shirt. But I realize that the shirt can be configured into a cute little short-sleeve button-down that will fit right into this summer’s preppy trend. Even better, it comes in one of my favorite colors, olive green. I pick that color in the 100 percent cotton 80s pinpoint for $59, and then I choose among five style options, such as whether I want a sewn-on placket (yes) or left chest pocket (no).
It arrives three weeks later, as promised, wrapped in a navy-blue grosgrain ribbon that is buttoned, not tied. The ribbon is decorated with white woven lighthouses, the Lands’ End corporate logo. I think of Nantucket. I think of Hermès, American-style. I am charmed.
I rush to try it on. The fabric has a beautiful luster, but the shirt is an inch too small in the hips and two inches too big at the neck. There are so many extra folds of fabric at the back, I look like a Shar-Pei.
I fill out the reorder form online. It is simple, with just a few questions, but after I request an inch increase in the hips, I get stuck. The form will not let me decrease the collar by more than an inch. Nor is there any place to explain that the back and shoulders are much too big, though I could decrease the “body.” But I worry that this might decrease the bust and the hips at the same time.
I call a customer service rep, who answers immediately and has an accent just like Marge, the police chief in the movie “Fargo.” No outsourcing to India for Lands’ End. (In fact, Bert Kolz, the e-commerce manager, says the company specially trained a small group of its most experienced operators to answer technical questions about custom fit.) She tells me that the shirt should have a traditional, not oversized, fit, and that if I take in the body, it will decrease the back, as well as the depth of the armhole. Good.
I return the first shirt and order another. Three weeks later, I am back scrutinizing myself in the mirror. It fits. “It fits!” I tell my colleagues. One of them repeats, “It fits!” then looks thoughtful. “What about the back?” she asks. “The tent fits!” exclaims another editor. I immediately see his point. With no bust darts, this is not a fitted garment. It’s still too big in the collar, shoulders and back. Wait a minute. It seems I’ve ended up with Charles Atlas’ shirt after all. I wear it for a few minutes at my desk but then I feel silly and take it off. I can’t decide whether to order a third time or give up. I guess I’d better call customer service again.