T-shirts for Trying Times

How to find fit, style, and comfort in loungewear

By Kitty

If you’re one of those people that work from home in impeccable business casual outfits, I applaud you. 

If you’re everybody else stuck at home during the pandemic, you’re most likely reading this while lounging in a T-shirt, and maybe pants if you’re feeling dressy.  Either that, or my standards are really going the way of handshakes in the time of COVID-19. 

Though my day job is pretty much in suspension right now (not a lot of people are shopping for Steampunk-inspired fancy clothes right at this moment), and though most of my day consists of spreading alpaca poo in the miniature farm we’re building in the backyard, my brain never stops spinning design thoughts.

So, here’s my thought of the day:

Have you ever noticed that most T-shirts really, really don’t fit right?

At least they don’t if you, like me, are the proud owner of a massive bosom. 

The idea behind a T-shirt (and other stretchy clothes) is that the elastic material can expand to accommodate everybody’s figure variations.  Within reason, this works.  For example, if you’re a moderate D cup, a super-stretchy T-shirt might cover you acceptably.  You might notice the fabric gets a bit thin and see-through where it’s straining over your assets, but at least there aren’t any buttons to pop.

However, if you’re say, DDD cup or larger, things really can get dicey in T-shirt land.  For example, look at this photo of Kitty in a garden-variety T-shirt with no bust shaping:

Standard Shapeless Tee

Note that while this T-shirt is plenty big enough to go around me, there are major fit issues.  For example, the front hem rides up, and making the shirt shorter in the front than in the back.  This is because my chest is much bigger than the B-cup size that generic T-shirts are designed for.

To make this make sense, think of it like walking over a hill that’s 50 metres high, versus one that’s 100 metres high.  One walk is much longer than the other.  In the same way. The distance over a large bust is much longer than the distance over a smaller bust, so it takes more length of fabric to cover.  The front length of a T-shirt meant to cover a B-cup bust is just too short for a DDD-cup size, resulting in the short-looking front hem.

Fabric in Front Has More Ground to Cover

Maybe you didn’t see it at first, but look at the height difference between front and back.

A Substantial Difference in Height

Also, there’s some major wrinkling around the armhole area:

This is the result of trying to cover something round with something flat.  I already explored this problem in my previous blogs about why dress shirts don’t fit women with generous busts, and even why some face masks have terrible gaps while others don’t.  But here’s an even simpler illustration, in which I throw a flat piece of fabric (which is that the front part of a generic T-shirt really is) over a three-dimensional object:

Flat 2D Fabric Doesn’t Work on a 3D Shape…

The fabric is never going to conform to the curved object without some kind of shaping.  So say I pin out some triangles of fabric here and there to make a nice dome shape to cup around it, like so:

…Until We Add Some Darts

This is essentially what we have to do to the front piece of a T-shirt if we want it to accommodate a larger cup size.  Those little triangles I pinned out in order to make a 3D shape out of the flat fabric are called “darts.”  And if your bust is above, say, a D cup or so, you absolutely need darts in your clothes if you want them to play nicely with your chest.

Apart from looking unsightly, those armhole wrinkles are very uncomfortable!  They’re bulky and they bunch up.  If you’re being active with your arms (say, while raking alpaca poo), the bunched fabric can even chafe, and they definitely cause the shirt to ride up and dig into your armpits.  Many of us have stopped noticing it because we’ve been forced to get used to bad fit, but once you try a shirt that fits smoothly in this area, you’ll never be able to go back.

So in order to make a T-shirt that fits me perfectly, I had to lengthen the front, but not the back, and still make the front and back side seams match up in length.  I needed to add darts to create space for my bountiful bosom.  While I’m at it, I added longer sleeves (because no one with large breasts needs sleeves that end RIGHT at bust level).  This is how it came out:

I also added a forward-shoulder adjustment just like I did for my perfect dress shirt; this is because most of us now have shoulders that are rounded a bit forward as a result of hunching over our desks or keyboards for hours every day.  If you’ve ever wondered why any of your high-necked shirts kept crawling up your throat trying to choke you, now you know how to stop it.

Finally, I added a seam going down the centre back of the shirt, so I could shape it to follow the in-and-out curve of my spine and bum.  Look, no matter what the rest of your figure might be like, ALL women have an in-and-out curve over the back and buttocks.  The normal flat single-panel back of the generic T-shirt truly does a disservice to this most enticing part of the female anatomy.  Look, compare the flat back profile to the shaped back profile, even for me and my nearly-nonexistent butt:

By the way, if you’re better blessed in the buttock department than I, you might find that off-the-rack shirts “catch” and ride up over the fullest part of your bum, making horizontal folds.  The centre back seam would stop that from happening, because you could add fabric just where you needed it, without making the whole shirt bigger and drowning your waist.

In summary, here are the two shirts, flat and 3D-shaped, side by side:

Your generic T-shirts probably fit better than my off-the-rack shirts because there are stretchier fabrics and more shaping than my version available out there (I chose this one because I wanted the clearest illustration of the principles I was covering).  Still, I’m willing to bet that some of you have never found one that fits just the way you wanted it, especially if you’re exceptionally gifted in either the bust or buns. 

If that’s you, keep an eye out for my next project, which will be T-shirts made for different cup sizes and hip/buttock shapes.  I’m hoping to have the prototype available on the website fairly soon (in the Tops & Shirts section).  Far be it from me to dissuade you from weathering the lockdown in your corset and Victorian finery, but us mere mortals could do with a few super-comfy T-shirts that look as fabulous as they feel….

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